Rev. Karen  Dickey

Texts: Exodus 1: 8- 2: 10; Romans 12: 1-13

It could have gone differently for Moses, for his mother and father,
like it was supposed to, with everything set in motion to make it so. But it didn’t go that way for reasons that … well, who could have imagined?!
Here is Egypt’s Pharaoh out of control wielding his power fed by fear. Looking around he sees a growing abundance of people who are not his people … and decides this can’t be good, at least not for security. So he turns on them … and sets his own people as taskmasters over them, and ramps up the brutality against them. But not only does this not subdue them in the way he imagined. No! They somehow grow in strength and number.

So Pharaoh adds another tactic … infanticide. Summoning the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah among them, he orders them to kill all Hebrew baby boys. As though the girls pose no threat.
Not such a brilliant move.

It’s here that the story offers us these telling words: “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them.” Now and again in scripture people are described that way …
as God-fearing … living with a spirit of reverence, of humility, in touch with that place from which we would say “Your will be done” not out of a sense of threat but trusting--trusting in a Great Goodness, in a Wisdom that is beyond us.
When these women refuse to comply with Pharaoh’s orders, as vicious as he is, it’s not that these women are more terrified of God than they are of Pharaoh … it’s that in spite of their terror of Pharaoh, they choose to cling to the Mother of Mercy.

Given his lack of success through the aid of the Hebrew midwives, Pharaoh draws his own people into the act. “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews,” he commands them, “you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” So the story takes us to the river … this river of life that, in his insanity, Pharaoh designates as a graveyard for baby boys.

The story takes us to the river, but not before a certain Hebrew woman gives birth to a particular baby boy. We’re told that when he was born, she saw that he was fine.  It’s the same phrase as in the creation story in the Book of Genesis where God saw what God had made, and God said it was “very good.” Not surprisingly, this mother’s instinct is to protect her fine boy … but at three months when she’s no longer able to hide him, she prepares a papyrus basket, puts him in it and places it in among the reeds on the bank of the river. From that moment on, she becomes a sister to all mothers, to all parents who face that unthinkable task of letting their babies go, whatever their age, into troubled waters.

With the baby’s sister watching from a distance, along comes a woman to bathe in the river. Not just any woman but the daughter of Pharaoh. Noticing the basket, she has it brought to her, and opening it she discovers the child, crying. She presumes this must be one of the Hebrew’s children, fully familiar as she is with her father’s “program.”

The next two moves are so disarmingly beautiful we could easily forget the swirl of fear and violence that’s spilling out of the palace just up the bank from the river.  The sister of the baby steps forward. kindly offering to locate a Hebrew woman who could nurse the child … and Pharaoh’s daughter gratefully consents, not only entrusting the child into safe-keeping, but providing the means to support this baby boy she one day will call her own.

It could have gone differently for Moses, his mother, father, sister, his people. Like it was supposed to.

But long before St Paul urged, “do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” … long before Paul said it, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’ sister, Puah and Shiphrah, they all embodied it. They all refused to be determined by Pharaoh’s assumptions and claims and orders. Each one of them chose another way.

Long before Paul ever said I appeal to you to offer your our whole selves --your heart, your mind, your hands, your strength, your ALL --as a living offering to God … long before Paul made such an appeal, Puah and Shiphrah put their lives on the line.

Long before Paul put words to this most fundamental reality we keep glimpsing and then forgetting … long before, Pharaoh’s daughter let it dawn in her heart and held it like a treasure … that we are members one of another, that we belong to one another.

Long before Paul gave us the image of the one body with its different though all essential parts … long before, Moses’ sister dared imagine that we need each other, that we could and must work together across our differences for the sake of life. Long before!!


So, here we are … a people long after Paul urged such things:
to present our whole selves, a living offering dedicated to God, and to conform no longer to the pattern of to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

How’s that going? we might dare to wonder with ourselves, with each other.
In what ways are we struggling perhaps, with withholding ourselves in some way or afraid to go against the status quo. Or maybe we’re experiencing a new found freedom to offer ourselves, our gifts, or a new found freedom to break loose from stifling convention or expectation, or rigidly held beliefs.
Imagine engaging in that kind of reflection and conversation with ourselves and each other.
Maybe we’re wondering what these urgings of Paul even mean for us, what that might look like in our own lives. There are lots of ways to not conform, but as Dr Martin Luther King reminds us, not every non-conformity is transformational or redemptive.
St Paul, in his letter goes on to give us a picture of life that is conformed to God’s grace … listen again to this description:
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 honour.
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 God’s people; extend hospitality to strangers.

And on he goes from there if you are looking for more, but maybe that’s enough, even more than enough for us this morning.

Daniel Berrigan, that great God-fearing man of our own time, he offers a more concise though no less demanding picture:
“Make your story fit into the story of Jesus.
Ask yourself: does your life make sense in light of the life of Jesus? We have enough to go on. We can’t afford the luxury of despair. Stand somewhere, says Berrigan. Do the Word. Put your body where your words are.” [1]

Which ever way you cut it, none of it makes common sense.  But then Jesus was about something much greater, more hopeful, more God-fearing, deeply trusting. Jesus is about showing us our true humanity; Jesus is about leading us into a whole new way of being together in which we surrender to and body forth an impossible love made possible by God’s indiscriminate and all-sufficient grace.

In a world in which there is such brokenness and desperate need for healing, there is enormous possibility for another way. By God’s grace, what is your part in that? What is mine? What is ours?

It was through the life-giving actions of very particular people that life unfolded so differently for Moses, and through Moses for countless others.
And so, by God’s grace, may it be so through us, for others.

[1]  Daniel Berrigan, quoted by Dan Clendenin in "Yes and No," Lectionary Essays, posted on August 20, 2017 www.journeywithjesus.net