A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Aug 24, 2014
I wonder if Pharaoh ever had second thoughts about killing the Hebrew peoples’ boy babies instead of their girl babies.
Because if you read this story, the men aren’t much of a problem to Pharaoh. They are slaves. They are brutally abused. They build palaces and pyramids for Pharaoh.
It is the women who cause all of the trouble.
Shiphrah and Puah the midwives were so important to this story that their names are recorded. Pharaoh’s own daughter’s name doesn’t get recorded. Moses’ parents aren’t mentioned by name here either. One of my friends pointed out to me that not even Pharaoh is mentioned by name. Just Shiphrah and Puah.
All these many years later, we can thank Shiphrah and Puah by name for refusing to abide by Pharaoh’s unjust command.
When summoned before him, and asked why the Hebrew boy children keep showing up on the playground, they make up a story and start talking about “lady parts”, and you know how Pharaoh doesn’t really want to hear about that.
So they continue to go about their resistance to Pharaoh’s infanticide policy. And God blessed them for quietly working for justice, no matter what their instructions had been.
But Pharaoh wants what he wants. And so the lives of all boy children are at risk.
So Moses’ un-named mother and father are in a bind. They have this beautiful son, but they cannot parent him. He will be thrown in the crocodile infested river. They will likely face punishment as well.
So his mother hears the command of Pharaoh to throw the child into the Nile and comes up with an idea.
Perhaps she trusts that God would not have blessed her with this boy child if there weren’t hope.
Perhaps she is so desperate with love for her baby that setting him loose on a small raft seems like a viable plan compared to certain death. Whatever the case, Moses mother obeys the letter, if not the spirit, of Pharaoh’s command, and casts her son into the river.
See why I’m wondering if Pharaoh had second thoughts about which gender he should have killed?
We know, of course, that women are not the only ones who find their way around unjust laws and policies. Men can be sneaky and crafty too.
The Pharaoh’s laws and policies were horribly unjust.
Pharaoh may not still be ruling Egypt, but if you listen to the news, his policies still play out today.
–Human trafficking still happens in our streets, long after slavery has been loudly declared illegal and immoral.
–Children facing danger on our streets because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live.
–Children hoping for a chance at life after fleeing their homes and countries and seeking asylum at our borders.
–People who love their children as Moses’ parents do, but who do not know where the next meal will come from because economic policies and realities make hope hard to find.
–Parents and children displaced by war, terror, uncertainty, famine, and violence—set off to be refugees as Joseph’s family had been in the days before Moses.
–Christians being persecuted and killed for the misfortune of living in territory now taken over by religious extremists from other religious traditions.
What are we to do in the face of Pharaoh?
These are not small problems, easily solved.
Yes, we participate in the political process, electing people to hopefully enact just legislation and policies.
We recognize, however, that Pharaoh and the structures he represents, don’t care about elections. Racism. Sexism. Economic classism. Religious persecution-ism. Those “isms” flourish in any and all political systems because we are imperfect and broken people.
Yet, we as inheritors of Shiphrah and Puah are called, no matter the oppression we see and experience, to work for LIFE, to actively seek and create justice, despite all the structures that seek DEATH.
Theologian Walter Wink tells a story in his book, “The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millenium”:
“Shortly before the fall of political apartheid in South Africa, police descended on a squatters’ camp they had long wanted to demolish.
They gave the few women there five minutes to gather their possessions, and then the bulldozers would level their shacks.
The women, apparently sensing the residual puritanical streak in rural Afrikaners, stripped naked before the bulldozers. The police turned and fled.”
I know, or I suspect, none of you are eager to strip naked for the gospel.
There are other ways people work for life and hope and justice, with clothes on.
I’ve told the story before of some farmers who were Shakers.
And their crops kept getting stolen.
So the sheriff came to them and said, “if you’d put up fences, it would be easier for me to protect your property from thieves and keep the crime rate down.”
But the Shakers talked it over and told the sheriff that if people were stealing their crops from the fields, it was an indication that too many people in the community were hungry, so rather than build fences, they would spend their time planting more acreage.
This past year at spring break, Alden and I got to see Oskar Schindler’s factory in Poland. During World War 2, in the face of the holocaust, he knew that speaking out against the Pharaoh of the Nazis publicly would have had him arrested and sent to a labor camp. So, instead, he built a factory to build enamelware for the army. And he hired Jews so they would not be sent to the camps. He built another factory and built bullets—bad ones that wouldn’t work—in order to hire Jews and keep them from the camps.
Shiphrah and Puah live on when people are willing to have LIFE as the most important rule and policy, rather than Pharoah’s rules that lead to death. Those simple acts of life make a huge difference in our world.
Where have you seen Shiphrah and Puah? In the news or in your life?
How are we called to be God’s agents for LIFE as they were?
It’s hard in the face of such big issues to know what to do. Yet it is our call as followers of Christ to have HOPE that transformation is possible. We serve a God who showed us this hope by becoming human and living among us, full of grace and truth.
In Jesus, we saw someone who stood up to the Pharaoh of his day—Rome— by showing that strength wasn’t found in legions of armies but in the loving death of one man. He stood up to the power of his day by turning the other cheek and always returning evil with good, not with retaliation.
Paul tells the church in Rome:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The ‘will of God’ is no easy thing to determine. So Paul reminds us why the Body of Christ has so many different types—because it takes each of us using our particular gifts, to come together and transform the world.
The story from Exodus involved two women who had and used very specific gifts—they were midwives who helped women draw new life out of their very bodies.
God draws out, from each of us, a particular strength to aid in the transformation of the world. Like the video I shared earlier in worship—small acts done with love change the world and bring new life and hope.
Paul lists some of those different gifts. And then he encourages us for the journey with one of my favorite passages from the bible:
Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil,
hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal,
be ardent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.
Friends, we’re about to start another program year. Sunday School resumes after Labor Day. Bible Studies and book discussions return. We’ll read scripture together as a congregation.
I want to invite you to consider another way to help this world around us seek life and trust in hope. September 14, we’ll be calling new House Churches. House Churches are ways we gather in small groups, focused on one particular type of service to the community. We’ve had house churches working on equal rights, and tutoring at the homeless shelter, to name a few.
What particular gifts and interests do you have?
How could you come together with others to transform our community, to show Pharaoh that injustice doesn’t win?
Do you want to plant a garden?
Or teach kids to build a better world?
Do you want to advocate on behalf of the voiceless?
Or feed the hungry?
Do you want to teach someone to read?
Or start some kind of worshipping community in southeast Boise now that Trinity will be closing its doors?
House Churches come together for a one year call. Most of them meet twice a month, either in homes or here at church, for study, fellowship, worship, and service. House Churches invite the congregation to join them in their service too. Please pray about whether or not this is a way God may be calling you to participate in the transformation of the world.
In all things, let’s come together, seek life, and trust God will use our simple acts to transform the world.