Thursday, August 28, 2014

With Sober Judgment

Exodus 2: 1-10
Romans 12: 1-8
Sometimes you have to take action and do the right thing without too much forethought, that is trusting that you will do the right thing.  You just never know how you might impact a life or lives.  A couple of years ago I was walking up towards the train platform in Stratford.  A woman was in front of me dragging along a suitcase.  We were approaching about a ten step stairway and I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if she needs help’.  With that a business man zoomed by me and without breaking his stride walked by her, picked up her suitcase and carried it up to the top of the stairs and then continued to where he was going. 

He didn’t stop and ask if he could.  He didn’t stop and wonder if she needed help.  He didn’t even turn around to be thanked.  Of course she needed help (I would have too!).  The point is he acted immediately and without hesitation whereas; regrettably I was more cautious and didn’t act.  It was a missed opportunity for me to help someone and, more importantly, for someone in need to be helped.  Sometimes you 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.

But this was a small missed opportunity in the scheme of life as compared to the opportunities that present themselves for examination in our scripture today.

I could have very easily entitled this sermon ‘Five Moms and a Baby’ since there are five prominent women who take the opening two chapters of the Book of Exodus by storm.  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 took a course of action that would change the events of the people around them.  May their eyes 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 dead.  This was bad for the Israelites who, by now, were tipping the population charts in their favor. This 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, “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 Hebrews became even more prolific and strong.  They exercised sober judgment and upheld what is right and good no matter the cost to them. 

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.’

Enter 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 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 and act in a ‘Godly’ manner.    They are the ones who will love and nurture Moses, the eventual leader of the Israelites who will eventually bring them out of slavery into 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.

It was Moses birth mother who unselfishly let him float away so that he could have a chance at life. This is a decision made with compassionate judgment and love for the good of her child. 

It was his sister who so lovingly protected him and watched out for him when his own mother couldn’t be there.

It was Pharaoh’s daughter who was able to nurture him and provide for him, and who was compassionate towards him. Through these women God’s compassionate and maternal nature is shown.  It is through their openness and decision in a very unusual circumstance that these life-changing actions were taken. 

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 sensed and understood.

Sound judgment is what the Apostle Paul urges those early Christ followers in his Epistle to the Romans:

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 with the body of Christ.

What he is saying is to not do or think what most of the world would do, or say, or think about situations but let God be the one to guide you and change the way you think and act about what is happening in this world and around you.  Let the precepts of God be your guide when making decisions in how you will act out your life.  Sober judgment doesn’t mean thinking to the extreme right or left building up barriers and walls that are impermeable but to make judgments that are well thought out and well reasoned even though you have considered all of the facts. 

My friends the world is in dire need of people who will think and act equitably without choosing sides that mostly serve (knowingly or not) to harm others.  The events of these past couple of weeks in Ferguson, Missouri have greatly troubled me.  As you know I am from St. Louis a place that has had a history of racial tension from the 20th century because of Missouri roots in the Midwest and the South.  I remember watching the protests during the busing desegregation and seeing the ‘white flight’ from urban St. Louis to the surrounding county townships in the 1970’s.  Like many urban areas it can be a place where fear overrides justice and anger quickly retaliates.  Where sounds judgment flies out the window. 

Ferguson challenges us on many levels as a people of faith to examine racism.  Not every action is racist, to be sure, but hatred and fear do lie at the root of many actions and decisions, which destroy opportunities for compassion, empathy and justice making. 

But beyond that, beyond the universal condemnation of the actions of Ferguson, what?

We must start with our own examination of institutionalized attitudes of racism, or any ‘ism’ for that matter, racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it, it doesn’t have to be any of the ‘politically correct’ ‘isms’.  We can only begin with our own hearts and minds and our own honest inner dialogue of what we are afraid of, what makes us feel uneasy.  What fear inhibits clear thinking?  What prejudice curtails reasoned judgment?

If we say we are a part of the body of Christ then we have a stake in our brothers and sisters in Ferguson, Missouri and 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.

Let us today pray for peace and reconciliation in our own hearts so that we might show some degree of understanding and love.  And let us pray for peace and reconciliation in others hearts also so that shalom, wholeness and healing may begin.

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