Exodus 1:8 – 2:10 August 27, 2017 – The United Churches
I’m sorry that everyone couldn’t go to All Church Camp at Pilgrim Firs this past weekend. It was fantastic. I know that those of you who remained were treated to a wonderful sermon by Lara. This was the first time I was able to stay for the whole weekend, and the first time since I have been here that we did everything “intergenerationally” instead of dividing up our programming according to age groups. It started on Friday night when we asked everyone who came to the retreat to bring something special to them in a brown paper bag. Adults and children paired up and had a chance to share with one another what they had brought. Then one of the pair could share with the group what their partner had brought that was special. I noticed immediate connections between adults and children…children who were not their own children. My own grand daughter broke into sobs, when I cut the sharing off, apparently a little too early. She hiccupped out that she hadn’t gotten a chance to share with the group the carved otter that Amanda Scott had brought in her brown bag.
Children and teens continued in leadership roles all weekend. Saturday night vespers was led by the children and teens. Phillip did an incredible job choosing and reading scriptures and then facilitating a discussion on prayer. Meredith shared about Joy and Caroline facilitated prayers for the community. Clara organized and led the Talent-No Talent Show, which was amazing. As far as I could tell, the adults were impressed by the leadership of the children and youth.
Much of the time, I think that our only hope for the future is our children. In this text that we just read from Exodus, we see the resistance activities of a very brave girl: Moses’ sister. We don’t even learn that her name is Miriam until later in the book. We shall come back to her.
Of course, all of the women characters in this story are incredibly brave at resisting oppression. The Pharaoh that didn’t know Joseph, just decided that there were too many Israelites. We don’t know if he conducted a census, or was just an anxious immigration fearing nutball, who couldn’t get his wall built, but he decided that there were too many, so first he tried to work them to death. That didn’t fix the problem, so then the Pharaoh decided to kill off the boy babies at birth. His plan was to enlist the “Hebrew Midwives” in this effort. Whether the women were Hebrews, or whether they were Egyptian women who were midwives for the Hebrew women is unclear. We only know that their names mean “beautiful” and “splendid.” So they may just be generic, folklore names for women. It is certainly odd that the Pharaoh would meet with them, and it is certainly awesome that these women resisted. They resisted.
I want to see this act of resistance as incredible and brave, and it certainly is. It is brave to stand against powers and resist. It is brave to stand up and act in opposition to the orders. At the same time, it is hard to imagine any woman, anywhere willing to kill a baby or throw it into the river. Frankly, it is hard to imagine any man doing it either. In order to carry out this act of genocide, you would have to convince the entire population that the babies in question were subhuman or evil through stereotyping, fear and prejudice. Despite what may have been a campaign of propaganda delivered through “fake news” the midwives initiated resistance to Pharaoh’s oppression of the Israelites.
The very release of the people from slavery in Egypt occurs through a dramatic image from birthing, the parting of the waters of the sea. As if to underline the connection the Hebrew word for Egypt (mitsrayim) is also associated with labor pains. It is powerful resistance to refuse to kill the Hebrew babies. Then the story moves to a very special baby, born of the priestly tribe of the Levites…the baby who will ultimately lead the Israelites to freedom.
As the story continues, we encounter more resistance from women. The mother who resists by placing her baby in a papyrus basket, sealing it with pitch and setting it upon the Nile. The sister who follows the baby, concerned about the safety of the basket, and the survival of her baby brother. The princess, daughter of the pharaoh who immediately recognizes that this is a “Hebrew” baby, lifting him out of the water as her own son. That my friends is some powerful resistance!
The Egyptian Princess tells the truth when she names the baby as Hebrew. Here was a baby, placed in peril, in a basket on the river. “This must be one of the Hebrew’s Children” she says, because no other mothers are reduced to this: making little baskets to float babies on the Nile, trying to save their babies from a flood of hate.” (Anna Carter Florence, “The Girl in the Reeds.”)
The baby’s sister, perhaps just a girl herself, takes a deep breath and steps forward toward the princess. This sounds so sweet in the story, but this would be like my granddaughter Alex approaching Ivanka Trump. I can’t imagine the courage it took for Miriam to approach the princess. She does this incredibly brave thing asking the Princess “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” and the princess says “yes.” And just like that they have a plan, a plan to save this baby, a baby who grows up to save the Hebrew people. These are some brave women and brave children resisting the powers…the powers of hate, persecution and fear.
I know that people get nervous when the pastor is political, but frankly the Bible is political. This story from Exodus is political. The ruler thought that a whole people group was too numerous and should die. That’s just not right. Even so, genocide happens over and over, even in our lifetime. In Exodus, we have a story of women resisting the edict of the ruler. Some of you might remember that millions of women marched around the world in January after a presidential inauguration. I was one of those women marching here in Olympia wearing my pink pussy hat (thank you Char McMullen) my daughter, her husband and granddaughter were marching in Seattle and my daughter-in-law and her niece marched in Washington DC. We marched in resistance to the misogynist, racist, anti immigrant, anti GLBTQ rhetoric we heard from the White House. And we continue to resist.
I am not a radical. I feel as though I can see a lot of sides to complex issues. I count a wide variety of people as friends. But I do know that genocide, hating groups of people because of their religion or the color of their skin, violence, and systematic discrimination is evil. I know that cutting off access to health care, kicking trans service members out of the military, trashing the environment for profit, fueling racism, and refusing a path to citizenship for immigrants is wrong. Shutting down the government to build a wall is wrong. Not calling out hate groups is wrong. No naming the service personnel who died serving our country is wrong. These things are wrong, and we can’t read the Bible and refuse to join the resistance.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a guide called “Ten Ways to Fight Hate” A Community Resource Guide. You can easily download a copy on the internet at their website. Briefly the ten ways are to 1) Act. 2) Join Forces 3) Support the victims 4) Speak up 5) Educate Yourself 6) Create an alternative 7) Pressure Leaders 8) Stay engaged 9) Teach acceptance 10) Dig Deeper.
I’m sure that on the face of it, each of these 10 ideas seem obvious except perhaps Dig Deeper. Digging deeper invites each one of us to look inside ourselves for our own biases and stereotypes. What language do we use when describing others? How wide is our circle of friends? Do we take time to listen to other perspectives? How often are we a minority? How can we learn more about the experience of marginalized groups.
I have so much hope because as I said at the beginning, we have amazing sensitive and thoughtful children who will be amazing leaders. But they too need to be mentored and taught and loved by each and every one of us. They have to see us resist oppression and evil. They have to see us join forces with others. They have to learn acceptance from us. They march with us.
What you do makes a difference. If midwives can thwart the Pharaoh, if a mother can place her baby in a basket and let him go, if a little girl can bravely approach a princess, if each of these can resist, what can you do?