Exodus 2:1-10, Romans 12:1-8
Have you ever seen something that needed to be done? Some sort of action that need to be taken that you know would enable another person’s situation and life to be just a bit better? But, for some reason, you hesitated because you didn’t know if they really wanted the help, or your didn’t want to offend them, maybe you just didn’t want to stick your neck out or maybe it just wasn’t clear to you if it was the right thing to do. Probably we all have at some point in time passed up that momentary opportunity. And, if you’re like me you spend the rest of the day kicking yourself for not taking action.
But sometimes you just have to take action and do the right thing risking vulnerability, without second-guessing yourself or asking permission. Because it is the right action to take at the time, and you have used your best judgment considering all of the facts and given the circumstances.
I could have very easily entitled this sermon ‘Five Mothers and a Baby’ since there are five prominent women who take the opening two chapters of the Book of Exodus by storm. Prior in Exodus there are the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah and then three unnamed women of which we will hear more about in a minute. All heroin’s in her own right. All chose and took a course of action that would change the events and the lives of the people around them. May their vision and hearts be blessed for their trust and courage.
The Book of Exodus opens with a new King arising over Egypt. He could care less about Joseph, the favored of Jacob’s twelve sons. In fact Joseph and his whole generation were long gone. This was bad for the Israelites who, by now, were tipping the population charts in their favor. And this population explosion did not make for a happy Pharaoh so he made their lives miserable, more miserable than usual. Forced labor, imposing menial and backbreaking tasks, Pharaoh was ruthless.
So he orders the midwives of the Hebrew people, Shiphrah and Puah, to murder all of their male children right after birth. But they did not. They loved God, they feared God and they let the little boy babies live.
Pharaoh yelled at them, “Why did you do this?”. They pleaded, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women”. “The Hebrew women give birth too fast before any respecting midwife can get to them.” Sneaky? Yes! The truth? No! Did they save lives? Most definitely!
Shiphrah and Puah stood up to the mighty Pharaoh with their civil disobedience, and then blessed by God they had families of their own and the Hebrew people became even more prolific and strong. They exercised sober judgment and upheld what was right and good for their people no matter the cost to them. They didn’t look back; they acted quickly and saved lives.
But as we see Pharaoh continued on his murderous rampage even with what Shiphrah and Puah did and life dragged on for the Hebrew people and the baby boys were still in danger. Let’s pick up Exodus the 2nd chapter and back to the Hebrew people.
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 for 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.’
Here now enters three more women, all unnamed. There was the mother of Moses who, later in chapter 6 is named as Yocheved. There was Pharaoh’s daughter who was the Princess and then there was Moses’ sister whom we later know to be Miriam. But for now, we don’t know anything of these women. All we know about is their motherly acts toward this little baby boy. It doesn’t matter whether one was the birth mother and the others adoptive mothers, all, in some way acted as a loving mother to Moses and secured, unknowingly, the future of the Hebrew people, the Israelites.
God had a very large stake in our story from Exodus. God’s providential handprints are all over this story of mothers – birth mothers, adoptive mothers and siblings who chose to seize the moment, to do the right thing, and act in a ‘Godly’ manner. They are the ones who will love and nurture Moses, the eventual leader of the Israelites who will bring them out of slavery to the Promised Land. These women were open to promoting goodness and love and they too, like Shiphrah and Puah exercised sober judgment for this future leader. I don’t think their actions were just willy-nilly. They were carefully, well thought out actions that allowed for this transformation from possible death to life.
It was Moses birth mother Yocheved who unselfishly let him float away in that little basket so that he could have a chance at life. This was a decision made with compassionate love and sobering judgment for the good of her child.
It was his sister Miriam who so lovingly protected him and watched out for him when his own mother couldn’t be there. She left the familiar, the comforts of her home and family to be with little Moses – a big decision for someone so young.
It was Pharaoh’s daughter who was able to nurture him and provide for him, and who was kindhearted towards him, who took him in as her own. Through these women God’s compassionate and maternal nature is shown. It is through their decisive and mindful actions, their willingness to do the right thing that God could grow and solidify the eventual covenantal relationship between a people and an ethical, monotheistic God.
They sacrificed much and gained so much more that affirms the creative presence of God in this world. Oh that we all could make decent decisions that uplift God’s truth and love and that God’s presence may be experienced and understood.
But sometimes we just don’t, do we? For whatever reason we fail to take some action because our minds just have gone a little dull or we’ve become complacent with the world as it is thinking someone else will step up to that proverbial plate. That’s the way it is sometimes but it doesn’t have to be. I am reminded of a quote in part by the Jewish scholar Hillel, “If not now, when?” If you don’t take action now, when will you?
I think the apostle Paul could have had this in mind when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans, after all he was of the school of Hillel in Jerusalem. Sound judgment and a renewal of the mind is what he urges those early Christ followers in his Epistle which reads:
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.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12: 1-3
He then punctuates this passage noting that the body of Christ has many members with many gifts all functioning as one.
What Paul is saying is to not do or think what most of the world would do, or think, or say but let God be the one to guide you and change the way you think and act. Let the precepts of God be your guide when making decisions in how you will conduct your life. Sober judgment doesn’t mean thinking to the extreme right or left because we know that can build up tight barriers that are impermeable. Sober judgment is to make judgments that are well thought out and well reasoned even though you have considered all of the facts. It is to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. We know ‘a mind is a terrible thing to waste’, as the moniker of the United Negro College Fund reminded us in 1972. So we are urged to renew our minds in God’s love and God’s law.
For Paul there was a lot gone wrong in his Greco-Roman world, which is why he is always rather outspoken in scripture. There was a lot that took up space in his mind just as there is much that takes up our minds today. All you have to do is read the paper or watch the news to know that racism, anti-Semitism, hatred and fear are not things of the past but are forces that threaten us still. But we can’t give in or give up. A renewal of the mind as Paul talks about summons us to discern carefully God’s intentions, what is good and acceptable, what is equitable and loving and to act accordingly, doing the right thing.
If we say we are a part of the body of Christ then we have a stake in the welfare of each of our brothers and sisters, then we must do our utmost to carry out God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, which includes slow, deliberate, and sober judgment in all of our actions.
In the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, we find the true story of a protestant pastor, Rev Andre Trocme, and his congregation and town of Le Chambon, France. During World War II when the Germans occupied Southern France, Trocme led this town to peacefully resist the Germans and to give refuge to thousands of Jews who were seeking shelter for their lives and others who resisted the forces of fascism.
But this type of response wouldn’t have just happened overnight for Le Chambon. It happened over time because Trocme built an ethic within the congregation – a very firm foundation. It was an ethic that took to heart the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – to thirst for justice, to be merciful to all, to be pure in heart, that is to have hearts whose moral intentions are unpolluted from worldly temptations and always focused on God.
It was their natural response to God’s involvement in this world. This ethic was not just a sprinkling of benevolent goodness all over town…. it was pervasive, in the ethos of how they ordered their lives. They said: "Things had to be done and we happened to be there to do them. It was the most natural thing in the world to help these people." In essence, like Shiphrah, like Puah, like Yocheved, like Miriam, like Pharaoh’s daughter they did the right thing.
Having renewed minds was the moral meaning and existence of Trocme’s parish, and ultimately this towns life. Trocme laid a very firm and functional foundation – and their actions were part and parcel of this foundation based on the teachings of Jesus. They heard and they acted the message of the gospel. Their minds were transformed and renewed.
Let us today pray for peace and transformation in our hearts and minds so that we might show some degree of understanding and love. And let us pray for peace and transformation in the hearts of others also so that shalom, wholeness and healing may begin. So that when the time comes, we may do the right thing.