Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost - August 27 2017

Before beginning my sermon on this day, I told the congregation that someone had placed flyers all over Hanover campus yesterday (Saturday) for a group calling itself the "Traditionalist Workers Party" - a neo-nazi, white supremecist group.  I read out a statement from the TWP's website (which I obtained from the website for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of hate groups across the country.)  If you would like to hear that statement, please access the audio file for today's sermon.  I have no desire whatsoever to put their words in print here.  ~ Evelyn+

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
August 27, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

If you’ll remember, I’ve been focusing in on some of the women involved in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – that is, on Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah – and now we have four women to notice: Shiphrah and Puah, and Moses’s mother Jochebed and sister – probably Miriam.  Oh, and we also have a daughter of the Pharaoh.

Women may not get the headlines in these stories, but they sure are crucial participants.  In this story, they are the resisters, those who dare to act against the government’s oppressive policies. 

Jewish traditions expand on the stories of Puah and Shiphrah – frequently they identify them with as members of Moses’s family, such that Shiphrah was Jochebed and Puah was either Miriam herself or Jochebed’s daughter in law, the daughter of Amminadab.

This places them into the family tree that led to David, the great king. 

One reason this idea developed is because the two of them were said to fear the Lord more than Pharaoh, and they refused to kill the male children. They stood up to Pharaoh with courage, and Pharaoh did nothing to them – it is possible that he knew nothing of child birth (and why should he have?) – or that in speaking the way they did of the Hebrew women, he concluded they were more like beasts than humans – which is insulting, but not exactly unheard of in many cultures, and in the instant case, saved a lot of lives.

Whether identifying these midwives with particular women – by other names – in the stories that follow or not, it is clear they were righteous and merciful and strong and brave.  That’s no little thing to be known for.

Moving on … Miriam makes sure that Moses is nursed by his own mother, in his own home.  She was a leader during the exodus, leading the women in song and dance celebrating the death of the Pharaoh’s troops after the dangerous crossing of the Red Sea.  And she was a prophet.

Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, writes: ” Although nothing much is said about Miriam in the texts, those passages in which she appears reveal that Miriam was a very strong and vocal woman, a woman who was one of the three leaders sent by God to lead the people of Israel in their journey in the wilderness, after their exodus from Egypt. The prophet Micah reveals Miriam’s leadership role in Israel: ‘For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam’ (Mic. 6:4).”[1]

Miriam made no prophetic utterances beyond the one recorded in Exodus, and called “The Song of Miriam” (we’ll see that part in late September), but she is named in several OT books – Numbers, Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Micah.[2]

Dr. Marriottini says that the word prophet referred not only to people who spoke the word of God as given to them, but also to musicians!  So by this tradition, Starla is a prophet, and Mike and Matt, everyone in the choir, and others.  How does that make you feel?  That’s enough to give one pause, I would think.

And what about Jochebed, Moses’s mother?  Daughter of Levi, wife of Amram, mother also of Miriam and Aaron, a person respected in the community, and strong, strong, strong, to give up her child to the daughter or Pharaoh, trusting in God to look out for him – and, like any mother, probably wondering what would become of him as he grew up away from her in the palace of their oppressor.  She kept the faith in the mercy of the God of her ancestors, that he would survive and thrive – and for a long time, that’s exactly what happened.  But I’m sure she never expected him to be and do what he was and did!

And finally, there was Pharaoh’s daughter.  She adopted a baby boy, when she knew that Pharaoh had ordered the death of all such children.  She raised him as her own son – yet allowed him to stay in touch with his birth family.  She hid him right in the center of imperial power, the very place he would have been most at risk if his identity were disclosed.  That’s incredibly brave – maybe a little foolish, but it worked until one day he saw an Egyptian kill a relative of his, and in turn killed the Egyptian.

One of the things about this story is its amazingly incredible unlikelihood.  It reads like a romance novel, on the order of The Three Musketeers, or the Man in the Iron Mask – and Moses is the hero who unexpectedly returns from the dead and frees his family and his people from their oppressors.

It reminds me of the story of Joseph – who was sent into slavery by his brothers but through that horrible crime he winds up in the one place he needs to be to save them – and a whole lot of other people – from famine.

Moses survives in the midst of his enemies, and then fleas into the desert where he finds himself in the exact place he needs to be to learn how to free his people from oppression and slavery.

Time after time in the Bible, the unlikely person in the unlikely place to do the unlikely thing that saves and frees the people.

And we know who else was that unlikely hero, don’t we?  Some called him John the Baptist, some Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the prophets, but Simon Peter called him Son of Man, Messiah, and Son of God.

Not that Peter really understood what any of that meant, mind you.

In fact he did not understand what that meant so much, that it’s not long before Jesus calls Peter “Satan.”  We’ll hear more about that next week.

The thing is, the whole story about Jesus is incredibly unlikely, too.  In fact, it’s an outright scandal, from his birth to a young woman who was betrothed to a man but the relationship was not consummated.  He grows up, the son of a carpenter, working with his hands, and somewhere along the line, he realizes what’s inside him can’t be kept inside him anymore.  He needs more.  He needs to do more and he needs to be more; he needs to find out if what he feels inside himself is more.

I can’t help but wonder if it was hard, when he realized what was going on for real, out there in the desert after his baptism, when he realized that none of the world’s offerings – none of the devil’s offerings – were going to satisfy the need within.

It’s important for us to know who he is.  It’s just as important for us to know who we are.

You told yourselves and each other who we are:  welcoming, inviting, inquiring, growing, rejoicing, sharing, hoping, helping, striving for justice, and, most importantly … loving

Kind of like Jesus.

 

 

[1] https://claudemariottini.com/2013/11/15/miriam-the-prophetess-2/. Accessed August 26, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

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