A sermon preached at the Larchmont Avenue Church
October 13, 2013
By Rev. Julie Emery
Text: Exodus 1:1 – 2:10
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river, She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.
Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.
So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Over the past several weeks we have been talking about our family of faith. We have been sharing the stories of our ancestors in the faith, not all of them particularly warm and fuzzy, that contribute to who we are and what we believe. These stories are like a river flowing down through the ages, rushing toward us and enveloping us with courage, faithfulness, strength and gratitude. We are caught up in the stream of faith, brought into those stories even after generations have passed.
Now, these ancestors were certainly not perfect – they were far from it – but these are our ancestors, and their stories are our stories. They are stories of patriarchs and matriarchs who chose to follow God rather than the culture that surrounded them. They are stories of a mother’s deep and abiding love for her children. They are stories of brothers who battle and ultimately forgive; they are stories of the steadfast love of God who blesses us through and in spite of our struggles, short fallings, and sin.
We have traveled from the family of Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and down to Jacob’s twelve sons, and Joseph who brought them to Egypt… we find ourselves at the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites now slaves, laboring under a Pharaoh who does not remember Joseph.
This Pharaoh, is power-hungry, and yet he has made an investment that puts him vulnerable and at risk. The growing masses of Hebrew slaves are a threat to that power. Their numbers could lead to an uprising or increased support for an attack from another nations. And so, as the fear of losing our power and wealth so often leads to suffering, Pharaoh grips more tightly the power he holds, and lashes out at those who might threaten it. True to God’s blessing and promise, the Israelites continue to multiply and expand, increasing Pharaoh’s fear and brutality.
It is in the midst of this land of fear which we meet a handful extraordinary women, first Shiprah and Puah, midwives accompanying the women who continue to give birth in the midst of dire conditions. Regardless of Pharaoh’s violence and cruelty, the women feared God more than they feared the Pharaoh, and we learn that their actions to save Hebrew babies result in the salvation of one boy, Moses, who would be the salvation of the people of Israel.
It was just a moment. A transforming moment, when, sitting on the birth stool, they had to choose. Perhaps they had already decided, perhaps not. Perhaps it was something they had learned in their youth, certainly they had learned it attending to so many births: the preciousness of life, the presence of God in the act of creation, the Spirit of the divine attending the first breath, and every breath thereafter, of every child of God. Perhaps it was a foundation of faith – the fear and awe of God and not man – that stilled their hands and heart, and saved.
For Miriam, it was a similar moment: when, in the blink of an eye she boldly offered to find a Hebrew nurse-maid for her baby brother, just rescued from a basket floating in the river. In that moment, she chose risk instead of fear, hope instead of anxiety. The same moment, when the Pharaoh’s daughter chose to save the child her father was bent on destroying, a moment when the awe of the God of Creation trumped pressure and power of her culture.
What makes up a moment? What are the foundations that must be laid for those moments to happen? Years of trust and faithfulness, years of fearing God and learning one’s place in the universe, years of understanding one’s calling to participate in re-making the world in God’s image. All of it – making up one moment.
It was a transforming moment. A little scary, but sometimes that’s what transformation takes. Pouring down rain, and just about to leave for the next stop, a haggard-looking couple steps out from the shadows. It all happened so fast, the driver invited the couple to hop in the car with them for a ride and they got in. For the teenager who had never gotten so close to a homeless person, it was a little scary.
But at the next stop he received smiles, hugs, as the couple had a chance to get fresh clothes, a bagged lunch and some hot soup, a bit of compassion, even hope. It happened so fast, and yet in that moment a young man saw humanity, and the opportunity to make a difference. When he closed his eyes on the ride home, all he could see was the gratitude that lingered in the eyes of that one couple he helped, and he began to wonder… what makes them so different from me, are they any different from me?
And then…”When’s the next Midnight Run?” he asked from the back of the car.
It was a transforming moment. Well, not just one but many. It began as a black hole into which all life and joy was pulled – the black hole of unimaginable grief. But then there were people there: setting out coffee and tea and cookies, offering the hospitality she knew she could not. They brought flowers to the house, took away empty coffee cups and wiped tables. Some came and sat in the silence that remained, shared stories of their own, cried with her.
They never stopped, this army of the faithful, and the love and compassion they brought seemed to keep her from sinking under the weight of it all. Soon she was one of them, making coffee and cookies for the next grieving soul, passing on the compassion and love that had strengthened her, and kept her going, continuing a ministry that had been there for what seemed like ages.
It was a transforming moment. Not one, but many.
For one, it the moments he hears another story of death and resurrection, that help support and encourage him on the long road of recovery. He calls it “the downstairs church,” and he is here faithfully every Tuesday and Thursday night.
For another, it is the moments that make up two hours, twice a week, alongside the community that supported her during some of her toughest times. It just so happens that they did that while singing.
For another, it was the weekly support he needed to live ethically, faithfully, in a profession that tends to worship the almighty dollar and the bottom line. Those moments are his anchor, slowly transforming him into God’s witness in a weary world.
For another, it was the moments of Sunday School and youth group when she learned that God loved her no matter what. And it is on that foundation that she will make her way through a society that will tell her she isn’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or wealthy enough or successful enough. But none of that will matter, because her hope and faith is in God, who made heaven and earth and who made her too – and made her perfectly.
It was a transforming moment, and it happened here, inside of these walls or outside of these walls, it happened in this church community. It happened because God moves through the ministry of this church and transforms lives, every day.
This church transforms lives. And if you don’t think it does, you haven’t been paying attention.
Today is the beginning of our stewardship season, and it began with another story, Chris’s story, about how this church helped to transform his life – setting the foundation for a path he might not have predicted. Perhaps you have a story like his. Perhaps you would be willing to share it.
So I ask you to consider, what is something like that worth? If you could put a dollar amount on it – transformation – compassion – self-love – love of God- care for the poor – what would it be worth?
What would this kind of life-changing moment –
in the lives of your children, in the life of your aging parent, in the lives of the people we serve at HOPE Community Kitchen, or the homeless on the streets of New York, or beyond in the Dominican Republic, or at the Border – in your life –
what would that kind of transformation be worth to you?
As much as the car? As much as the taxes on the house? As much as the club membership? As much as the college alumni dues? As much as a year of sports or music lessons for your child? What can you compare it to?
How do you put a price on the transforming power of God? How do you put a price on the love that casts out all fear?
In this church, here at LAC, the ministries that help support transformation, compassion, service for the poor and vulnerable, inspiration, are budgeted to cost just under a million dollars. Last year, this congregation gave just under $700,000 to support those ministries.
It seems almost small compared to these transforming moments, added together. And yet, your part in it is not small. Because if you do not give, none of it can happen.
It is a transforming moment, just one instant – a moment like those moments in the lives our ancestors, a moment like that of the midwives, the sister, the daughter – when the foundation of faith tipped toward transformation and gave way to hope, grace, life.
They chose to risk their lives, for that transforming, life-changing moment. How much will you risk?
In the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit, Amen.