Last Epiphany, Year A, 2017–Final Sermon at St. Paul’s, Ivy

“Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

Jesus has started getting real with his disciples. In Chapter 16, Matthew tells us that Jesus has started warning them that he will undergo great suffering. This has the disciples on edge. Ministry has been exciting so far—following Jesus around, watching miracles, learning from a great teacher. They have become comfortable in their new routine of moving from place to place following their teacher and friend. But now, Jesus is kind of ruining it with his dark talk.

Peter even confronts Jesus about this. You can just imagine him pulling Jesus aside, “Come on man, you’re being a real downer. Let’s just go make some blind people see, okay?” Jesus looks right at him and says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

So, things have been a little tense. Maybe the disciples are second guessing their choices to drop everything in their lives to follow Jesus. Maybe things are getting a little too real for them.

Whatever the reason, God arranges a huge gift for Jesus, Peter, James and John. They hike up a mountain and suddenly Jesus becomes transformed. The disciples see the divinity with him and suddenly they also see Moses and Elijah flanking him. To gild the lily, God’s voice breaks through and says, “This is my son, The Beloved” Whatever doubts they have had are suddenly washed away. THIS is the transcendent experience they hoped for when they began following Jesus.

And when we have a transcendent experience, we want to bottle it, right? We want to stay in that moment of connection with God. We want to make it our every day. Peter does, too. He makes the generous offer to set up three tents so Jesus, Elijah and Moses can hang out indefinitely. It’ll be great! They can invite the other disciples up the mountain and then they can just party there for the next fifty years or so.

Lord, it is good for us to be here!

But if Jesus and the disciples stayed on the mountain, God’s good news for people would never have spread. We wouldn’t know how much God loves us or how we all belong to each other.

Jesus is going to suffer. The disciples’ lives are going to get dangerous. They cannot avoid the hard part of their ministry. But the experience of the transfiguration also transforms the disciples so that they will have the strength to carry on even through difficult times.

The trip up the mountain was important. The trip up the mountain was renewing. But the trip up the mountain was never meant to be permanent.

Jesus is not a top of the mountain kind of guy. Sure, he goes up periodically to get renewed, but he always comes back down again. He spends his time in the midst of human beings experiencing all the pain that comes with being human. He is Emmanuel—God with us.

This is the God who chose to be incarnate. He is 100% divine and 100% human. He can experience the glory of being in the presence of Moses, Elijah and God the father. But he doesn’t choose to stay there. He chooses to be with us.

If I leave you with anything from our four years together, this is what I want you to know: Jesus is with you. Jesus is not up in the clouds looking down on you in judgment. Jesus isn’t off on a mountain somewhere communing with the Saints. Jesus is here with you in this sacred space.

Lord, it is good for us to be here.

And Jesus is not just here with you. Jesus is out there with you. Jesus is with you when you brush your teeth, when you wrangle yourself and your family out the door, when you walk into your office, when you are in the grocery store, while you’re driving, when you greet a stranger, when you’re doing every ordinary and extraordinary thing you do in your life.

Jesus does not run away when things get hard, either. Whenever you or someone you love is suffering, Jesus is right alongside of you. He is not afraid of your pain. He is not turned off by your mistakes. He is with you to remind you that you are deeply loved, just as you are.

Jesus isn’t with you just to make you feel good. Jesus wants more than your affection. Jesus wants you to be his disciple. Jesus wants you to change your world by following him in all those ordinary and extraordinary moments of your life.

[At the 10:30 service] today we will our baptismal vows—those promises we make when we decide to follow Jesus. We promise to renounce the demonic, evil and sin. We promise to trust that Jesus loves us and to follow him. When we walk this path, God transforms us. As we get closer to Jesus, we don’t sin less, necessarily, but we realize it sooner. And we have more courage to ask for forgiveness and to work for reconciliation. We have more energy to reach out to those who are in need and to fight for justice. But it all starts with that knowledge that Jesus is already with you.

When we realize that Jesus is with us always, suddenly it is good to be everywhere! We don’t need to stay in our transcendent spaces if the transcendent goes with us. The beauty of the incarnation is that every place in our life is holy, no matter how mundane it may feel. A cubicle becomes holy when Jesus is there. A hospital bed becomes holy when Jesus is there. A grocery cart becomes holy when Jesus is there. You bring the transcendent with you and you can offer it to the world as a gift.

One of the gifts of being your priest has been these little glimpses of how you bring Jesus into the world. I have seen patients who offer kindness to their nurses, even though they are in pain. I have heard many stories of ministry happening at the Harris Teeter. I have seen a chef collecting unused produce from his colleagues for our food pantry. I have seen doctors taking extra steps to care for their patients. I have seen those who have walked through the experience of loving someone with Alzheimers mentor others going through the same thing. I have seen parents doing their best to raise children who contribute to the world. I have seen teachers create a safe and loving space for their students. I have seen you loving people who are difficult to love.

You, cooperating with Jesus, make it good for people to be where you are.

Lord, it has been good to be here. It has been good to be here with Eric and the rest of your church staff who work so hard every day. It has been good to be reunited with Allison and with those of you who had been at Emmanuel. It has been good to meet some of you for the first time, and have the privilege of walking along side life with you. It has been good to be with you at bedsides and weddings, in yoga and Sunday School classes, around lunch tables and over coffee.

Thank you, Eric, for inviting me to serve here. And thank all of you for your many kindnesses to Charlie and to me. It is always a challenge when a priest moves on from a congregation. This has been a stressful year in the world and it is hard not to carry that stress with us wherever we go. We will miss each other and saying goodbye brings anxiety. One way you can honor the relationship we have had in this transition is to take the words Ra often says at the end of our church yoga class to heart:

“Offer compassion to yourself and others. Every one is doing the best they can with what they think they know with where they are from.”

Jesus is with you. Jesus is with you in staff meetings, and vestry meetings, and in every conversation you have here at church. He will show up for you. It is good for you to be here.

May God bless you, your ministry in this place, and your ministry in the world.

Amen.

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Epiphany 6, Year A, 2017

Choose life.

This is Moses’ final message to the Israelites. Moses has been called by God, led the Israelites out of Egypt, wandered around with them in the desert for forty years and now, now finally, they are about to cross into the promised land.

But what Moses knows, and what the Israelites don’t know yet, is that Moses won’t be joining them. He is 120 years old and is dying. He has been with these people for so long and put up with so much from them. He has put up with their whining for better food, for their worshiping of a Golden Calf, for their longing for a past in which they had been enslaved. And yet, Moses still loves them. Moses wants what is good for them.

So Moses asks them to choose life.

He sets before the Israelites a choice: choose life and prosperity or death or adversity. Easy choice, right?

But choosing life hasn’t been an easy choice for the Israelites, because in this context choosing life means choosing God’s law. And choosing God’s law means worshiping God above everything else. Worshiping God means no longer creating idols—either literal ones like the Golden Calf or metaphorical ones like money, or how we look, or our families.

But Moses has seen what has happened to Israel when they have chosen other idols. He has seen them struggle, seen them wander in the desert and he wants more for them. He wants them to be able to settle down in the land of milk and honey. He wants for them to live at peace with God and with one another. He wants them to prosper.

God’s laws—from the Ten Commandments on—were always meant to be good for people. They were meant to give us boundaries on our life to help us live in peaceful community. Worship God. Do not murder. Do not take what does not belong to you. Honor your family. Don’t lie. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t even have lustful thoughts towards another person’s spouse. All these boundaries are good for us. And Jewish law has always been situational. The Israelites renegotiate the Covenant with God twice once they reach Canaan and rabbis were famous for deeply examining and arguing and working with Jewish law to apply it to new situations as they arose. God’s law is ancient, but it is flexible and it is meant for our good.

The law helps us make good decisions when our instincts are telling us otherwise. I ordered a new duvet and set of shams from West Elm a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised when I received two boxes. When I opened them, I realized they had accidentally sent me a double order: two duvets and four shams. My first reaction was joy! It was a bedding jackpot! I was mentally storing up the extras so I would have a bonus set. But then, sadly, the law kicked in. I reluctantly looked at the return slip and sure enough there was an option to return things because the store accidentally sent you extras. Keeping the bedding would have been stealing. (Even though, to be clear, it was totally the company’s fault.)

Now I don’t think death would have come upon me had I kept that bedding. But, if we live inside the boundaries of these laws, we are less likely to harm others and ourselves.

When God’s laws are broken, the pain from that break spirals out affecting not only the person who broke the law, but their families and friends, too. While breaking God’s law may not kill us, it can mortally wound our relationships.

If we are able to be clear about what God desires for us, it can help us resist those moment’s of temptation. What do I really want when I click on that old girlfriend’s FaceBook page? Connection? How can I get human connection in a more appropriate way? What hole am I feeling when I covet my neighbor’s new chandelier? How can I feel content in my own life?

But of course, we don’t always choose to stay within the law. When I’m talking to little kids about this, I describe our sins as building blocks that we put up between ourselves and other people or God. When we covet, when we cheat, when we steal, we lay block after block and eventually, we stop being able to relate to the person we are harming at all. We depersonalize them in order to justify our behavior.

The good news is, there is a way to knock down those blocks and start to build the trust that leads to life.

When we take responsibility for our actions and understand how we have harmed others, and sincerely ask for forgiveness, we put the people we have harmed in the position where they can forgive us, and begin to tear those blocks down. Now, it is a risk, because you will not always be forgiven. Sometimes you have broken the law so badly that the relationship cannot be repaired. Or sometimes, the person you have harmed may be putting up blocks of their own out of pain and anger.

Because God decided to take pity on us, and send us Jesus, it is now so much easier to ask forgiveness of God. We don’t save up money for any sacrificial animals. We don’t have to travel to the city to find a Temple and a priest to absolve us. All we need to do is turn to God and ask his forgiveness, and because of Jesus’ defeat of human sin, God will forgive us. Every time.

No matter how far down a path of death we have traveled, God always offers us life in exchange. And I say this at least once a year, but I think Alcoholics Anonymous gives us just a perfect example of what this transformation can look like. You acknowledge your weakness, acknowledge you need God, ask forgiveness to those you have wounded and in step eleven: “[Seek] through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

If we stay connected to God through prayer, we are more likely to stay in the behavioral boundaries that God desires for us and that lead to healthy and happy relationships.

And those in AA don’t go it alone. AA only works because its members work the steps in community. They have accountability through sponsors. The closest we have to sponsors in the Episcopal tradition is godparents, and I think we would do well to really claim that tradition. I don’t have an actual godparent, but Beth Wharton has acted as my god parent on more than one occasion! And Charlie doesn’t have godparents, because he was baptized in the Presbyterian church, but he’s had at least a dozen of you function that way for him. It is good for us to have church people we know so well that they can help us check in with ourselves to make sure we are on track. But that means we have to be honest with each other about what is going on in our lives!

I promise you, no one in this room has a perfect life. No matter how attractive they are. No matter what kind of car they drive. No matter how happy they seem. Everyone here struggles with something. Because it is hard to be a person! It is especially hard to be a decent person trying their best to follow God.

Just like Moses stuck by the Israelites, Jesus sticks by us. He is on our side, ready to invite us into life. He’s ready to guide us into a way of life that gives life to us and to those around us.

May we accept his invitation.

Amen.

 

 

 

Proper 25, Year A, 2008

I have a bone to pick with this congregation.

I leave for two short weeks and you go ahead and finish the book of Exodus without me?  What am I, chopped liver?

I guess I can’t expect the lectionary to stop when I take a Sunday off, but I will tell you that I did not expect the lectionary to whip through Exodus so quickly. I think somewhere the Israelites are irritated, too. “We wandered 40 years in the wilderness so you people could cover it for nine measly weeks???  Sheesh.”

We have learned how the Israelites ended up in Egypt.  We have seen Moses’ ascendancy as reluctant leader.  We have quaked with the Israelites as God appears to them on the mountain and gives Moses’ the Ten Commandments.  While I was gone, you learned about the fickleness of the Israelites when the formed to Golden Calf, and then last week you read about the breathtaking story where God reveals himself to Moses in a moment of unrivaled intimacy.

For nine weeks we’ve been journeying with the Israelites as they escape from the Egyptians and flee towards the Promised Land, so the culmination of that story must be when Moses, Aaron and Miriam cross triumphantly into Canaan singing songs of victory, right?

Unfortunately, for them, no.

Today we find ourselves in the book of Deuteronomy at Moses’ very dramatic death scene.  The book of Deuteronomy is framed as a farewell address Moses makes to the Israelites.  The language in Deuteronomy is extremely dramatic and verbose.  If Exodus is the travel journal someone kept, Deuteronomy is Moses’ campaign stump speech.  The final scene in Deuteronomy is the death scene of Moses.  God takes Moses up on a mountain, and has him look over all the land he promised to Abraham and Moses’ other ancestors.  God shows Moses “Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain”  Then God says, “I have let you see it, but I will not let you cross over there.”  Moses dies and is buried on that mountain.

Ouch.

Moses has invested decades of his life in following God and leading the Israelites and he doesn’t even get to triumphantly enter the Promised Land?  That doesn’t seem very fair.

And even more annoying than Moses not getting to go into the Promised Land is that this young upstart, Joshua, is going to get to go.  Joshua was a military scout that Moses used to scope out this land and now military leadership of Israel will pass to THIS fresh faced newbie? Where was Joshua when the bush burned?  Where was Joshua when Moses was confronting Pharaoh?  Where was Joshua when the Red Sea parted?  He probably wasn’t even BORN yet. 

I can’t help but think of this passage when I look at our election.  I think about all the work Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton put into women’s rights.  They spent their adult lives dedicated to educating the country about the importance of giving the vote to women.  Yet both died more than a decade before women got the right to vote. 

I think of Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis, and James Forten who also used the power of education and rhetoric to persuade Americans that slavery needed to be abolished.  They showed 19th century Americans that those of African descent were just as bright and articulate as those of European descent.  And while Douglass and Purvis were able to vote, Forten died before the 15th Amendment was passed.

As we all know, though, their stories are not tragic.  In fact, these are the American heroes our children study in school.  They are heroic, not tragic, because the work they invested in this country was not meaningless-it had a powerful impact on millions of women and African Americans that would come years later.  Their work made it possible for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin to run for the highest offices in our government.  The hard work of the suffragists and abolitionists laid the foundation for years of progress and change.

And the work Moses did was also heroic-he enabled the Israelites to go from being slaves in Egypt to being a nation of their own right.  When he was told he would not enter the Promised Land he did not whine or fuss.  He just looked out over the view and let go.

We have the chance to be heroic, too! 

Whether we are aware of it or not, we enjoy the hard work of generations before us every Sunday.  Our beautiful organ was purchased after we received a generous gift from the estate of a woman named Patricia Stuart.  We were able to renovate the nursery and pre-K classroom because of generous pledges and their careful stewardship by our vestry.  Molly, who we baptize today [at the 11:00 service] is here because of that investment and the families it attracted. We have a church full of incredible leadership and energy because when you were children someone invested in you and taught you what it meant to be a contributing member of a church.  We are a hospitable church because ten years ago the leaders of Emmanuel made a decision to be a welcoming place for those who moved into the many new developments being built in Crozet.  I am lucky enough to be employed here because of your generosity and your commitment to giving the children of this place a priest focused on their education and development.

Stewardship season is not my favorite time of the church year.  Talking about money automatically makes us all feel a little uncomfortable, especially when many of us have recently lost twenty-five percent of our savings!  But stewardship is a time for us to tap into our inner hero! We choose to invest in this place even if we don’t see immediate benefits.  We choose to invest in this place because when we do, we prepare a way for our children and their children.  We invest in Emmanuel because we know that God will take our investment and transform it into doing His work in our community.  Your investment will help us preach the Gospel, feed the poor, heal the wounded and nourish the faithful for years to come. 

If you’re lucky, you may even live long enough to see some of the results of your investment.  But just remember, even if you’re stuck with Moses on the mountaintop, looking over all that which might have been, God is still at work and will be at work in this place for years to come, thanks to heroes like you.

Proper 19, Year A, 2008

Preaching this passage just doesn’t feel right without Charlton Heston here to don a long wig, robe and staff and say something really commanding. For better or for worse, the images from 1956 movie Ten Commandments burn in our minds as our primary images from Exodus.  To us, the parting of the Red Sea is a really fantastic use of special effects and drama. 

But to the Israelites who followed Moses, and the Egyptians who lost their lives, the parting of the Red Sea is much, much more.

After experiencing horrible plagues via the hand of God, Pharaoh has finally had enough, and allows Moses to the lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Rather than taking the Israelites through  a direct, coastal route out of Egypt, God commands them to go out by way of the Red Sea, which makes no sense tactically.  But Moses obeys God, and the people follow Moses, so they set out in the dark night and trudge through the swampy wilderness surrounding the sea.

Once again, the Pharaoh’s heart gets hardened and instead of letting the Israelites go, he sends all the chariots at his command after Moses and his followers.  The Pharaoh scoffs at the Israelites, since he thinks they are wandering aimlessly right into a position where they will be trapped between the water and the Egyptians.

But, of course, the Israelites are not really trapped, because Moses stretches out his arm and God sets a strong east wind blowing, and soon the Red Sea parts and dry land appears.  The Israelites scoot across, but when the Egyptians follow they are drowned.

One can argue that this moment, as the Israelites move through the waters, is when Israel is formed as a nation.  So, for the Israelites, the parting of the Red Sea is a birth narrative.  Moses’ birth narrative begins when his basket is placed on the river by his mother.  Israel’s birth narrative begins with waters parting.  Their self-identity shifts as they realize what it means to have a covenant established between God and a people.  The people of Israel begin to realize that this God not only has chosen them, but will guide and protect them from harm, as well.  With their collective backs against a wall, only God’s intervention could have saved them-and that intervention did save them and in a spectacular way they could never forget. 

And all of that is wonderful, but I can’t help wonder-what about all those dead Egyptian soldiers?  The liberation of the Israelites leaves us feeling ambivalent-we’re excited for the Israelites, but uneasy about the slaughter that was involved in freeing them.  For that matter, what about all the dead first-born Egyptian babies after the final plague? Why does God need to show his power through such bloody means?   This may be Israel’s birth narrative, but when a nation is born, enemies are born, too.  From here on out, the nation of Israel will be in conflict with its neighbors as they take turns invading each other’s land and killing each other en masse

The Israelites did not invent this idea of nationhood or warfare, but neither does God call them to transcend their ideas about what it means to be a nation in the sense that any nation with undefined borders has built-in enemies.

Thankfully, thousands of years after this bloodshed, God will give us another birth narrative-this time of a boy born in a stable.  This boy will grow up and explain that God wants to reconcile all people to himself, not just one nation.  Throughout his ministry Jesus will come to realize that his mission is not just for Jewish people, but for all people. 

After his death, his followers, people like Paul and Peter, will have dreams, visions and experiences that lead them to invite people who are not like them-who are not circumcised, who come from a variety of cities and countries, who have different skin tones-to join this new community of believers.  These new believers will even have their own birth narratives as they each go through the waters of Baptism and come out safely on the other side, sins forgiven, members of the Christian church.  These new believers will have new primary identities-not as members of a nation, but members of a church.

And you’d think, that two thousand years after this miraculous event all humans would be able to engage with one another as beloved children of the one true God, but I guess that’s just too good to be true!  We are still wrapped up in our idea of nationhood, our nations are what define us and even within our own nation, we use religion to partition ourselves into even smaller competing factions.

Last week, Matt and I were watching an episode of The Onion News Network.  These three minute clips are parodies of news channels like CNN.  The episode we were watching was about hurricanes.  The fake meteorologist was talking about a fake hurricane that was headed right for the Texas-Mexico border.  However, instead of calling it Mexico,  he just kept saying, “Hopefully this hurricane will hit this landmass here instead of Texas.”  It was a funny commentary about how we don’t pay enough attention to natural disasters in other parts of the world. 

I did not think much about it until the following Monday.  I was at the gym, watching The Today Show and the guest meteorologist was talking about Hurricane Ike, which as we know has devastated the Texas and Louisiana coastlines.  On Monday, however, no one knew exactly where Ike would hit.  The meteorologist indicated that the hurricane was going to hit Cuba at full force.  He said this fact as if it was wonderful, exciting news. He explained that when a hurricane hits land it is like a top spinning on sandpaper-the whole hurricane weakens.  The hurricane hitting Cuba would weaken in for the United States.  He did not mention the hurricane’s devastation of Haiti or seem at all concerned about the people who live in Cuba!  Cuba was treated like a really handy, large sand bar off the coast of Florida. 

Now, whatever political differences we have with Cuba, what does it say about us as a culture if we cannot recognize the humanity of people who face the same threat of natural disaster that we do?  Who have we become?

I must say, I was relieved when I went to the webpage of the Episcopal Life newspaper and found a large amount of coverage of how the hurricane affected Cuba, Haiti, even Hispaniola, which I had to look up on a map!  Even in our world where nations are pitted against nations, the church can provide a bridge between nations. When we become Christians, we become part of a borderless community of those that follow Christ.  When we become Christians we become aligned not only with other believers but with all those whom God wants us to help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when a person is baptized, they were also automatically issued a passport?

That may not happen, but we can take our responsibilities as citizens of the world seriously.  We can pay attention to world news.  We can make pen pals or support someone in need in another country.  We can pray for a church that is not our own.  We can go on mission trips and immerse ourselves in another culture.  We can send money for relief aid not only for Houston, but also for Havana.

And together, we can celebrate the fact that the liberation of the Israelites was just the beginning of the liberation God had planned for us, that one day he would send his Son to liberate us not just from political powers that repressed us, but our own sin and limitations.  Whether American, Cuban, Iraqi or Chinese, Christ came for all of us and offers us the same grace and forgiveness.  Thanks be to God.

You can donate toward hurricane relief at Episcopal Relief and Development.

Proper 16, Year A, 2008

Welcome to Exodus!  Where Genesis is about God’s creating the world and then covenanting with a particular people, Exodus is about the liberation of that people after they become enslaved by the Egyptians.  Exodus also follows the Israelites’ subsequent search for the land promised to them by God. In our passage today, we find out how five women who did not even know each other, managed to save the tiny child who would go on to triumphantly lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

About a month ago, I realized that the lectionary was transitioning into Exodus.  I am embarrassed to admit it, but before I began working on the series of sermons about Joseph, I could not, for the life of me, remember how the Israelites ended up slaves in Egypt!  My Old Testament professors are somewhere shaking their heads in disappointment. I am very grateful to the author of Exodus for tying the end of Joseph’s story to the beginning of Moses’ story.  The author reminds us that Joseph’s brothers came to live in Egypt with him.  Over the years, they had children, and their children had children and before you know it, Jacob’s children were not just a family, they were a tribe-the Israelites. Remember, that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel.

God’s promise to Abraham is coming true-his descendants are multiplying.  There are not yet as many descendants as stars in the sky, but his family is getting there.  But as we’ve seen over and over again in history, when a minority group grows more numerous in any given culture, they become a perceived threat by the powers that be. 

In this case, the man in power is a king, Pharaoh, who has forgotten the important role that Joseph had in saving Egypt from famine. 

At first, this king enslaves the Israelites and forces them into hard physical labor.  But this did not stop the Israelites.  The text reads,

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”

In his translation of the Pentateuch, Robert Alter points out that the imagery here is that of swarming.  The Israelites are industrious, even when oppressed, and they keep having babies, which makes the Egyptians very nervous.  So, the king develops a devious plan.

Pharaoh pulls aside the two head midwives and instructs them to kill all boys born to Israelites. 

If all Israelite boys are killed, then the people would not be able to reproduce, but the king could still have Israelite girls and women to do his bidding, at least for a generation. 

But what the king does not count for is the brilliance, nurturing spirit and outright trickery of women empowered to do the work of God.

The first women that rallied to save Moses did not even know Moses existed.  The two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, smile and nod before the king, agree to kill the male babies, and then leave his office and continue to do their job as they have always done it. We are taught in Sunday School to always tell the truth, but here Shiphrah and Puah lie heroically and gloriously in order to save the Israelite children.  When the king asks why they have not done as he instructed them, they completely play to his ignorance and stereotypes about the Hebrew women and tell him that they are like animals and don’t even need midwives when they give birth. 

These midwives remind us that morality is complicated.  Most of the time it is wrong to lie, but if you’ve got Anne Frank in your attic, or Rwandan refugees in your hotel, or escaped slaves in your basement, suddenly it becomes your moral duty to lie your head off. 

The midwives’ trickery keeps the Israelite children safe for a time, but the Pharaoh will not be stopped.  He invites the people of Egypt to participate in genocide-to kill every Hebrew boy they see.  We have seen enough genocide in our lifetime:  in Sudan, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and for some of you in Russia and Europe to have some sense of how terrifying this must have been. 

The narrative lens focuses now and we go from fearing for all the Israelite babies to fearing for a particular baby, Moses, born of the tribe of Levi. 

Luckily, this is a boy with a very courageous mother and a very creative sister.  Mama Moses was able to nurse her baby for three months and keep him hidden, but she needed to do something drastic before Moses began to roll over or heaven forbid, crawl!  There is no hiding a crawling baby.  There is no one she can give him to where he will be safe, but there was a small chance he could be found by someone, someone who did not know his ethnic background, and that they would take him in and raise him safely.

So, Mama Moses puts her baby in a basket, waterproofs the basket, says her prayers and sends him on his way.  His sister, Miriam, has a little less trust in the universe and keeps her eye on her baby brother.  She follows him along the riverbank until he is rescued by who else but Pharaoh’s daughter!  Pharaoh’s daughter is no fool.  She immediately identifies the baby as a little Hebrew refugee, but that does not stop her heart from going out to him. 

If Pharaoh was not such a murderous dictator, I could almost feel sorry for him.  He is the man with the most power for hundreds of miles around, and yet, lowly women, Hebrew women, even his own daughter are aligned against him all to preserve the life of a child. 

In a wonderful twist, Miriam thinks quickly, and persuades Pharaoh’s daughter to let her find a wet nurse for the baby.  Miriam fetches her mother and so Moses’ mother gets to see her child grow, even if he is unaware of her identity.  Again, lies abound, but they abound in such a way that Moses grows up safely, and not only safely but with a deep knowledge of how the powerful Pharaoh thinks and works-perfect for a man who will one day need to confront him.

The five women who help Moses are acting out of human kindness and maternal drive to save one kid.  But in saving one kid, they are saving an entire nation!  By defying authority and risking their own safety, and doing what they think is right, they are setting in motion events that will liberate the Israelites from their bondage and in turn creating a story that will give hope to every generation that has been in bondage, particularly American slaves. 

Women-and men-are still in the business of rescuing children.  Last year, on an episode of, Oprah, I heard about the story of Lysa and Art TerKeurst.  Lisa and Art are the parents of three young girls.  One day Lysa went with the girls to hear a choir of Liberian boys sing.  After the performance, the audience learned that 12 of the 14 boys were orphaned and homeless after the recent war in their country.  They also learned that there were hundreds of more children in the same situation in their home country.  After the concert, Lysa had a long conversation with the boys and then called her husband.  She says,

“I had to get in the car and call him on the cell phone and say something like, ‘Hi, honey. Do we need milk? And by the way, there are two teenage boys from the other side of the world now calling me Mom.'”

Sure enough, the TerKeurst family ended up adopting two of the boys, but that is not where the story ends.  The TerKeursts live in North Carolina, and Lysa’s four best girlfriends were totally appalled by what seemed to be a spontaneous decision.  After all, who in their right mind suddenly opens their homes to teenagers from an entirely different culture?  Lysa invited her friends to a concert by the boys, and each one of her friends was so moved they each made the decision to adopt as well.

Yes, all five families now had taken in Liberian children.

And still, the story is not over.  After all was said and done FOURTEEN families in this North Carolina community took in homeless Liberian children.  They reached past their comfortable lifestyles, prejudices, and fear and opened their lives to the lives of others.

We don’t know what long term effect these adoptions may have on the boys, but we do know these families have given the children safety, security, education, love:  all the tools they will need to make a difference in the world. 

And they remind us to keep our eyes open, because we never know when we’ll have the same opportunity.

 


http://www.oprah.com/slideshow/oprahshow/oprahshow1_ss_20070129/6