A sermon preached by Rev. Erin Counihan at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, St. Louis on 8/24/14
Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Romans 12:1-8
I have been blessed with great mentors in my life. One of the best pieces of advice, for my own faith journey, that a great mentor of mine once shared with me was to put myself into scripture. Now, before you get the image of Joey from “Friends” in that London episode where he has a pop-up map of London and boldly proclaims, “So, I was in my map…” and have images of me standing inside my bible, let me explain. This mentor challenged me to place myself in the scene. To try on each role, to be each of the characters. To see the events unfolding through each person’s eyes. To live their verson of the story. To see from their angle, but to also hear with their ears, to smell with their nose and to taste with their tongue.
And today’s Exodus tale, with its oppressive regime, classism, racism, talk of brutality and extermination, fear and control, privilege and outcasts, well, given the headlines here in our community and around the world this week, it’s not too hard to place ourselves in this story.
And I don’t know about you, but I immediately jump into the role of the midwives. I want to be Shiphrah and Puah in this story. I love these midwives. They are smart and bold and caring and crafty. Who doesn’t want to be the midwife in this story? They save the babies! They save the nation! They stick it to the man. They are faithful to God.
But who are Shiphah and Puah?
Shiphah and Puah, as they are identified by the meanings of their names in Hebrew which are “beautiful” and “splendid”. They are the women charged with carrying out Pharaoh’s brutal edict, but instead use what power they have to reject his authority and remain loyal to their God. They are the only ones in this story who are named, until Moses is given his name in the end of this story, and we hear of their mighty protest, but we don’t ever really get to know them. Shiphrah and Puah are a mystery. Scholars dispute their identities. In the NRSV version of the text they are called “the Hebrew midwives” but the sentence construction could also read, “the midwives of the Hebrews”. So were they Egyptian or Hebrew? And for, this week, this piece of information is crucial. Were they Hebrew women standing up to their oppressors or were they Egyptian women standing in solidarity with the Hebrews and fighting on their behalf? Did they know Pharaoh, had they met with him before? Did they have reason to assume would believe them when they issued their little white lie? What risk were they taking here?
And what about Moses’ mom? I wouldn’t mind being her in this story either. The smart lady who hides her son. Who in faith crafts a basket for him and trusts God will protect him in the reeds of the Nile.
We could be Pharaoh’s daughter who takes in the cursed Hebrew boy. Who has pity for him and perhaps his people? Who openly defies her own father when a child’s life is at stake? Who is willing to listen to the Hebrew girl and who is willing to pay a Hebrew woman to care for this secret child.
We could be Moses’ sister, boldly jumping out to speak to the daughter of Pharaoh. Smart enough to offer his mother, her mother, for the task of raising this baby on behalf of Pharaoh’s daughter. Protecting her brother, but putting herself and her whole family at risk, too.
These are the folks we Christians want to be in this story. We want to be the heroes. We want to save the babies! We want to be the faithful. We want to be the righteous.
But can we also consider where we might see ourselves in the other characters? Can we consider how and when we might be Pharaoh? We see others, who don’t come from where we come from, who are more numerous than we are, who don’t look like us, who we perceive as powerful, but who we do not know. Who have done nothing to threaten us. Who have not risen up or taken arms against us, but who we hate just for who they are or where they come from. Can we consider how we have perhaps held others down out of fear?
Can we consider how we are the taskmasters? How we follow orders and don’t ask why. How we obey blindly. How we are ruthless in our demands and impositions?
How about “all his people”? The text says that Pharaoh commanded all his people to throw those baby boys into the Nile. Did they do it? Did other moms hide their babies? Did other moms fight back? We hear a lot about the women in this story, what were the men doing? Were they talking about this horrific situation? Were they organizing a rebellion? Were they planning other ways to save the babies? Were Hebrew men speaking with Egyptian men? Were common, every-day Egyptians aware of what was happening? What about the other children? The older siblings? The teenagers? Were they fighting back? Were they plotting an escape?
Because, in this story, we can’t all be Shiphah or Puah or Pharaoh’s daughter or Moses’ sister. These were great people of faith, but I can’t imagine that they were the only faithful in the area. So what were the others doing? How did they get involved? How did they witness to what was happening? How did they tell their friends about what they saw? How did they share the story? The grief? The hope?
Friends, because that is where we are. We were not Michael Brown. We are not his family. We were not Darren Wilson. We are not his family either. We are not a county prosecutor. We are not ISIS fighters nor are we persecuted religious refugees in the hills of Iraq. But we are the body of Christ. We are the beloved community of faith who name and claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We may not have experienced the horror of Pharaoh’s command, but we are a part of the story, we are in the scene.
So then, who will we identify with? Who will we try to understand? Can we be humble enough to see where we are in each of the players? Can we be bold enough to talk about it? Because we may not all be called to scoop babies out of the Nile or reject a harsh ruler’s command. We may not all be called to paint signs and stand in protest. We may not all be called to march. But we are called to witness. We are called to be a part of the story. We are called to examine our roles in the narrative. And we are called to recognize God’s presence in all of it. And we are called to talk about it.
So where are you in this story? Where are you in our city’s story? Where are you in our church’s story? Because, remember, church, what Paul says to us today:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.