A sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16
Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
About 70 sons and grandsons of Jacob, now named Israel, and all their families moved to Egypt. Jacob is buried with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Leah in the cave in Machpelah. Undisclosed years later, with three generations of his own grandchildren at the ripe old age of 110 Joseph tells his sons to bury him in the land promised to their forebears, and dies. The Israelites, better translated sons of Israel, proliferated in to a strong people; a nation. (Hoezee) (Strong’s) So much so they terrified the new Pharaoh, probably Seti I, (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa) who set out to destroy them.
At first he tried to over work them. But the harder and more oppressive the work, the more the sons of Israel grow. The Pharaoh tells the midwives Shipharah and Puah to kill all the baby boys, but allow the baby girls to live. They fearing, or honoring God, more than Pharaoh allow all the babies to live. When challenged they tell a tale of vigorous, or lively, women. (Howard) (Young’s) (Strong’s) Plan B; Pharaoh instructs his army (Hoezee) to throw all the baby boys into the river. It must have met success; at least enough for a Levite couple to attempt the radical plan of floating their infant son to safety, in a basket, literally ‘an ark’; (Harrelson) in direct defiance of Pharaoh. The boy’s sister joins in the defiant act by watching the basket. Pharaoh’s daughter joins in the defiance, by having her maidens (Young’s) (Strong’s) fetch the ark from the river. Believing the crying child to be a Hebrew, and though the efforts of his sister, she arranges for a Hebrew woman to nurse him for her, and when he is weaned, give him to her to be her son. She names him Moses, meaning drew or pulled out” in Hebrew, and a possible derivative of the Egyptian “to beget a child.” (Ellingsen)
Scott Hoezee poses the question “Where is God in these two stories of the sons of Israel post Joseph?” (Hoezee) There has been enormous divine energy expended in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, now Israel, Rachel, and Leah and Joseph. After the patriarchs, plus Joseph, plus three generations, so after seven generations has God finally had enough? But why now? especially when the current crisis, unlike all the preceding ones is not of their own making but is the consequence of Seti I fear of a prosperous, people ~ nation, with-in his own borders. Where are: the miracles of birth, or the hand staying death, or the dreams, or the improbable appearance of a caravan (or two) headed toward Egypt? Where is God?
The names of Foley and Ferguson; the continuing drama of Ebola, the tension surrounding a convoy of white trucks, the drought ~ a trillion gallons of water gone, enough so that the earth’s crust has measurably risen, (Lewis) individually could and collectively do raise the question “Where is God?” Within my own tiny sphere of existence: fear of necessary but sudden change, fire, theft, the possibility of familial abuse, and someone discharged from prison with AIDS, multiple prescriptions but no resources, and unexpected death likewise raise the question “Where is God?” Where are the miracles? In this day and age of science, and the measurable, where do we even look for miracles?
One place may be quiet differences. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” He then asks “Who do you say I am?” First I noticed that Jesus refers to himself differently; why? Then I noticed ‘I am’ is the how God refers to God’s self “I am who I am.” A note of caution; it always dangerous to make inferences across languages. Yes ‘I am’ in Exodus are the same words as ‘I am’ in Matthew. However, Exodus is written in Hebrew and translated, and Matthew is written in Greek, and translated and my linguistic skills and resources are not up to the task. Nonetheless, the shift in how Jesus refers to himself, points to how language effects perception. What we call something effects how we relate to it and how we understand it. I.E. we may not see a miracle, because we do not refer to it as a miracle. We do not see it as a sign pointing to God because we do not call it so. We do not see our many gifts as miracles, signs pointing to God because we do not call them miracles.
I’m not sure Paul would call gift miracles. I am sure Paul understands the diversity of human skills are gifts of God by the Spirit. I am also sure Paul believes God intends us to use our gifts for the benefit of the community, at large, and Christian in particular. It’s not far from here to believe that we are to use our divine gifts to reveal the glory, (John 9) the presence of God, making them at least something like a miracle, even if they are not wondrous.
The presence of God in this morning’s Exodus stories is in the ordinary. Midwives Shipharah and Puah being midwives. Parents being parents. A person treating a stranger with the respect. A sister helping her sibling. All of these are ordinary actions. All of them are people using their gifts for the benefit of another. All of them reveal the presence of God, because they all act against the prevailing human power structures choosing instead: civil disobedience, compassion, and life. (Harrelson)
I cannot speak to the use of ordinary gifts to reveal divine glory and presence on the international and national stage, those stories have not yet been shared. I can speak to the use of ordinary gifts that reveal divine glory and presence this past week, where people in this community, in this parish gave of themselves for the other from compassion. I see God’s glory and presence in their actions. I know the other sees God’s glory and presence in their actions.
Last week I mentioned holding the sovereignty of God in tension with human action. Today’s stories from Exodus show divine sovereignty and human action jointing weaving a history few could see. They help us to see last week’s local events as another sequence in that same dance. They help us to trust that similar dance sequences are in the making amidst tragedies in far flung places. They help us to name miracles – miracles. They help us to ask “How shall we dance?”
Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 11, Cycle A. 24 8 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. This Week Exodus. 24 8 2014.
Howard, Cameron B.R. Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10. 27 8 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169>.
Lewis, Tanya. US drought has literally raised the ground, say scientists. 22 8 2014. <http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/0822/US-drought-has-literally-raised-the-ground-say-scientists-video>.
Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.
Young’s Literal Translation. Olive Tree, n.d.