August 24, 2014 – The one who draws out

Acts 7:9-22

“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied until another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

Exodus 1:6-22

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Exodus 2:1-10

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.   The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses (the one who draws out), “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Pentecost 11 A August 24, 2014   Acts 7:9-22, Exodus 1:6-22, 2:1-10

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We’ve just finished a sermon series in Genesis, first book of the bible. Now we’re in Exodus, which picks up where we left off a week ago. Still in the land of Egypt – but now 400 years have gone by – and a new Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph, the Israelite who co-ruled in Egypt with an earlier Pharaoh – Joseph who saved Egypt from starvation…

When we left Genesis last week, there was no nation of Israel yet… Just one not-very-large family – seventy-some sons and grandsons of the patriarch Jacob, whose name is also Israel, God-Wrestler, who left Canaan and settled in Egypt to escape famine. (Women and children were not yet counted in most ancient census-taking. Probably there were several hundred altogether when the family first emigrated to Egypt…) But the family of Jacob has been doing the first commandment – “be fruitful and multiply” – really well. The Israelites “were fruitful and prolific, they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them…”

Now a new Pharaoh rose up in Egypt… who didn’t know Joseph. Joseph’s brothers, remember, sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he become Prime Minister and Secretary of Agriculture through his extraordinary gift of dream interpretation. Joseph built up Egypt’s grain reserves during seven years of good harvests, and kept Egypt and surrounding nations alive through seven following years of famine.)

During the famine years, all the Egyptian farmers came to Joseph and sold him, first their land and cattle – then, themselves as slaves to Pharaoh, in return for food. Most Egyptians became slaves to Pharaoh during the famine. And Joseph was in-charge.

So there’s some karma in the background… Though as my mother often said, ‘two wrongs never make a right.’ And Joseph probably did more good than harm. Still whatever we do does come back to us, sooner or later… And now a new Pharaoh, king of Egypt, comes to power, who didn’t know Joseph. Didn’t know, apparently the history of the great famine and everyone staying alive thanks to God and Joseph.

And now this new Pharaoh is suddenly talking about the great Immigrant Peril. All these Hebrew foreigners, who, Pharaoh says, are breeding so fast, soon they might out-number us native-born Egyptians and side with our enemies.

Paranoia spreads. Even though the people of Israel have up to now been living quietly, not causing trouble – still soon, all Israel is enslaved at hard labor… Then comes the slippery-slope descent into genocide – mass murder of Hebrew baby boys in the River Nile. A pattern that will recur again when Jesus is born, and King Herod murders the children of Bethlehem when he hears of the birth of a king… whom he fears will be his rival… A brutal preview also of what God’s people will undergo three thousand-some years later in Nazi Germany…

Exodus begins in agonizing times… Times like the present…

Yet the bible focuses our attention primarily on hope… On life… And on God’s presence… Though unseen… Still God is always present… Seen or unseen… Working through human hands… And especially women’s hands…

First the chief midwives, Shiphra and Puah, refuse direct orders from Pharaoh to kill every Israelite male child at birth. All we know about these midwives is that they’re in awe of God. And they’re not afraid of Pharaoh. We don’t know if they’re Hebrew or Egyptian or from another ethnic group. We only know that they’re motivated by compassion and empathy. But we don’t need a political science degree to know it’s risky to disobey a king’s direct command. Yet these midwives obey God, not Pharaoh… And God rewards them for their faithfulness…

Next, Moses’ mother (later we hear her name is Jochebed) joins this informal civil disobedience network, building a miniature ark for her baby boy. The word ark used here to describe a basket lined with pitch, is only used one other time in the whole bible – to name the ark that Noah built. And as with Noah and the first ark, now again, the fate of God’s people is afloat on the waters…Now with only tiny baby Moses inside, aboard this second ark…

Now the whole epic story of Israel’s origins as a nation – escaping cruel slavery in Egypt – passing through the Red Sea waters – receiving the law on Mt Sinai – living on manna from heaven till forty years later they pass through parted waters again and enter the promised land…

All this begins with a baby… afloat in the waters of the River Nile… A little baby boy, drawn up from out from the waters…

Next midwives and Moses’ mother are joined by Pharaoh’s own daughter. Defecting-in-place, acting, with them, in civil disobedience to the rules of her father’s empire. Here also is Moses’ sister – later we learn her name is Miriam – tagging along, watching, assisting in the rescue of her baby brother… Suggesting to Pharaoh’s daughter a Hebrew midwife who could nurse the baby for her… Pharaoh’s daughter says yes to Miriam’s suggestion. Later she will name the boy Moses, “because,” she says, “I drew him out of the water.” Moses means “drawn out” or “he draws out.”

And the bible says nothing more about Pharaoh’s daughter after this… But ancient Jewish commentaries suggest later she left Egypt with Moses and the Israelites in the exodus…

Meanwhile however, baby Moses will grow up, nurtured at his own mother’s breast, thanks to sister Miriam’s suggestion and Pharaoh’s daughter’s approval. Sometime later, young Moses moves in with his adoptive mother… Living (like his great-great-great Uncle Joseph) somewhere in the vicinity of the household of Pharaoh… The same Pharaoh now who has ordered the killing of all baby Hebrew boys.

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Did Moses and his step-grandfather actually ever sit at the breakfast table and talk? Did they ever connect the dots of their life stories? (The two best-known movie versions of the story imagine this in elaborate detail. Dreamworks studio’s animated The Prince of Egypt and Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments are entertaining and probably capture some of the spirit of the Exodus. But both movies take abundant liberties with the story told in the bible… Which tells us just the little we’ve read today, then keeps us guessing… And – )

All we know from scripture for sure about the childhood of Moses is that he grows up loved and encircled by Godly women. Women who risk their lives and freedom for him. And yet the movies (Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments) rightly draw our attention to the paradox of Moses growing up as a child of Israel…And a child of Egypt.

Egypt was the most “advanced” civilization of its time – with a sophisticated language, advanced mathematics, science, and architecture… Those pyramids, built by slave labor, took the equivalent of a bunch of MIT professors of the day to design. If God was out to pick the best and brightest nation on earth to be the birthplace of the Messiah, CS Lewis has written, he would probably have picked Egypt.

Egypt was also cosmopolitan in it’s religious life. It had a whole pantheon full of small g gods, along with a high god over all. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt was regarded as one of the gods. So too was the Nile River, considered a god.       Israel, by contrast, was a simple rural culture of shepherds and herdsmen… The only people around with only one God. Hicks from the sticks by comparison.

Moses grows up with two mothers. His birth mother, a Hebrew woman of the tribe of Levi… Who surely teaches him from the womb to love and serve and worship God who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that fills them… The God of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and his wives and children…

And Moses learns also from his adoptive mother, Pharaoh’s daughter…Who surely also loves him and teaches him survival skills for living in the culture of Egypt…

Now as he grows up… Moses must be struggling within himself to know who he really is…. Perhaps he is already starting to suspect that like both of his mothers, he too will be called to take risks, as they do, for people, who, like him as a baby, struggle for life in the shadow of death…

Children learn from their parents and families and teachers… Children learn from what they experience… Children learn in ways we can seldom fully understand… But we do know – children learn especially from those who love them, nurture them, and give them life…

Moses, whose name again means “he draws out” – will of course grow up to be God’s point-person in Israel’s long, drawn-out freedom journey…(and–)

Like the midwives, like Pharaoh’s daughter, like the mother and sister of Moses, like Moses himself…. We too need to be willing to take risk for the lives, the salvation, the freedom, the healing of others…

Like our ancestors in faith before us…We too are called to be on the side of justice and mercy… On the side of all people enslaved in any form of slavery…

We too are called to love and serve the Living God of our ancestors – who hears the cries of children adrift in rivers of death… the cries of mothers, sisters, brothers…who cry for the lost, the desolate, the desperate….

We too are called to love and serve the Lord our God – who himself has been born into this world as a little child… Born into the midst of all our human sorrow, trouble, pain, and struggle…

Who still calls us to join God, Our Living God, in the struggle of life, the journey of life… A journey that require daily nurture in the Godly rhythms of prayer and praise and gratitude…

Amen.

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