We’re wrapping up our summer series on the family of the matriarchs and patriarchs today. We’ve seen how God was with Abraham’s descendants – God’s family – and gave them joy. Hopefully we’ve learned a little about how God is with us, because we are God’s family as they were.
We’ve made it all the way through our Genesis readings, and come into Exodus. As Genesis ended the Israelites were welcome immigrants to the Goshen valley in Egypt, invited there by Joseph and the Pharaoh.
They had lived in Egypt for 350 years by the time the book of Exodus began. That’s a long time! That’s the amount of time that European-Americans immigrants have lived around here. By way of comparison the city of St. Louis was founded west of here 350 years ago in 1664. The Israelites had plenty of time to get established. As a community, they both feared the Lord and were loyal subjects of the Egyptian empire. I supposed they believed they were very powerful in that time. Things change, though. The new king, needed to build himself up by knocking somebody else down. We rejoin the Israelites as this is happening.
Grace and peace to you from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
My friends, I confess I have had some struggles this week. There are three recent deaths in our church family: Rob Warner’s dad Richard, Eldeen’s mom Dorothy, and Paula (our bookkeeper’s) brother Dana. These deaths come after Mark’s mom Ida’s earlier in the summer. I know we’re supposed to rejoice that these people lived full lives here with us and are now resting in the everlasting arms of Jesus. I know that, but it’s still hard.
And, as long as I’m lamenting, there’s a lot of trouble in the world. There are swarms of child refugees coming to get away from violence in Central America. There’s a plague in West Africa. The long-standing blood feud in the biblical land of Israel and Gaza gets worse and worse. Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq) is full of grisly genocidal violence, claimed to be in the name of God. And the shooting of young Michael Brown near St. Louis and the violence afterwards breaks my heart. In the meantime politicians spend their time and money insulting each other instead of building up our communities.
Where is God, I wonder, in the midst of all this fear and struggle? Why is life on earth such a violent mess? What does any of this have to do with God’s kingdom? I am shaking my fist and saying, “What a mess! God, why? God, how long?”
But then, the point of the complicated story of God’s people in Egypt starts to sink in. Let’s wonder about that together.
How can you tell if a young person’s life is going well? The comedian Michael Junior said, “just ask her about her life and see how long it takes to tell what’s going on.” One person will answer, “I’m a junior at Salem State. I’m studying to be a high-school teacher.” Great. Good for you. Another person will answer, “Well, I’m taking some classes at the Community College, while I try to pass the math class and work and save up some money, so I can maybe transfer to UMass, but my mom needs the car to get to work so sometimes I can’t …” Guess which one of these people’s lives is not going so well. …. Right, the one with the long messy story. It sounds like Michael Junior knows some of the same people you and I know. We all know that both these folks have a real shot at doing well.
Now, it is good to have a short and tidy story. How long is your story this week? Are you privileged to be able to tell a short story? Or is your story a little bit longer and more complicated? Does it have some twists and turns, and setbacks, in it? God is present with us for our short and tidy stories, and with our long and messy stories. Long stories are as just good as short stories. When we hear, and tell, our stories, let us embrace them as evidence of the courage of the Holy Spirit in us and between us. Short or long.
In Exodus we got to hear a hint what the story of Moses’s childhood might have been, if it were short and tidy: “His mother conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she and her husband gave thanks to the Lord. The child grew in stature, in years, and in wisdom, and walked in paths of righteousness.” A nice short story.
But that is not what happened – well, we can guess that some of it happened. His mother DID see that he was a fine baby. If she’s like any mother I’ve ever met, his little presence filled her with rejoicing. But it also must have filled her with dread, because of the Pharaoh’s cruel program of genocide. So their family story was messy. She hid the baby as long as she could, then she threw him into the river, but put him in a basket to preserve his life.
The Pharaoh’s family story also was messy, wasn’t it? Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby, knowing full well that she was defying the program of genocide. She used her power: she paid Moses’s mother wages to care for her own baby. She must have known what she was doing: every day she was hiding this child and caring for him. She probably wasn’t shouting “no!” to her father’s systematic cruelty out loud, but she was subverting it.
Is God’s realm tidy or messy? In our Gospel reading we Jesus gave Peter the keys to God’s kingdom. Peter: the guy who didn’t always understand Jesus. The guy who got out of the boat and sank. Do you suppose that when Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom, he expected him to keep things well-ordered and tidy? It seems unlikely: Still, Jesus chose him, not some other person who was somehow better qualified to do everything right and keep order.
God gave those disobedient midwives Shiphrah and Puah the keys to God’s kingdom. God gave the keys to Moses’s mother, and sister, because they were willing to live out the long and messy story of God’s kingdom.
God gave those keys to Pharaoh’s daughter – yes, even to the daughter of that genocidal monster – because she too was willing to resist evil and live out her part of that long and messy story. God entrusted every one of those people with the keys to the future of God’s people. God wanted, and needed, them to have the keys and live with confidence in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.
Notice that God gave them all strength, joy, and love in the midst of their struggles. God favored Shiphrah and Puah. Moses’s mother’s heart filled with joy. Pharaoh’s daughter’s heart was filled with love. That’s all God’s work.
I am not saying that the evil they resisted is from God. But the joy they received, and the strength they received to resist it is from God. The resistance in their lives clarified their senses of justice and righteousness. I wonder if it was God’s way of bringing something holy from that evil mess.
Why are things so messy? Did Peter forget to lock some door or other, so the evil got out? No, that’s not it. Jesus lived and died to give us live beyond the evils of this world, not instead of the evils of this world. Peter’s job, using those keys, is to unlock the gates of our minds and hearts. When our minds are open, God’s justice, God’s righteousness, and God’s love can get in. And then we can, like Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’s parents, resist the evil of the kingdom of this world and live joyfully in the kingdom of God at the same time. Unlock our minds, do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.
That’s easy to say, but not easy to do (for me, this week, very hard to do). In fact, we can’t do it ourselves. St. Paul’s advice to his Roman congregation reminds us of this.
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.
Do not be conformed to this world, he says. You don’t have to have short tidy stories in your lives.
Be transformed, he says. Notice he doesn’t say “transform yourselves.” That’s not what the kingdom of God is about. It’s about God renewing our minds and unlocking our hearts. God unlocked all those minds in Exodus and made all those courageous women able to be holy, to discern the will of God, and to have a clear vision of what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In a few minutes we’re going to baptize young Jace. As you can see, this little guy is a fine baby. Baptism is one of the keys God gave Peter. We’ll talk about Jace being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is messy! People get splattered. But we pray, and we hope with certain hope, that God renews our minds in baptism, and we may live transformed and courageous lives. We hope Jace, and all of us, may live in the kingdom of this world and always work towards God’s kingdom of justice and mercy.