Prayer of the Day
God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you. Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 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. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
5 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. 6 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. 7 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?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 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. 10 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.”
1If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel now say;
2if the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us,
3then would they have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us;
4then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over us;
5then would the raging waters have gone right over us.
6Blessed be the Lord who has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
Shiphrah and Puah, those are the women I want us to look to in our story today. Who were these remarkable women? Why have their names been passed down through the centuries? What do their actions tell us about their faith, our faith, and the God we worship?
But first, let us do a little orientation. Pharaoh had given Joseph command of the entire land. Under his direction the Egyptians had stored up food during seven years of bounty. They had more than enough for the following seven years of famine. Joseph was, in the end, reunited with the brothers who sold him into slavery. Joseph asked his brothers to go home and bring their father Jacob to live with them in Egypt.
The first seven verses of the Book of Exodus include a list of the names of Joseph’s brothers and they record Joseph’s death. It does not take long, just one generation, for the leadership of Egypt to forget how much they owe Joseph and his descendants. They quickly forgot that they might not be alive without Joseph’s ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and manage the resources.
The beginning of Exodus starts on a chilling note. What does a ruler do when he wants to solidify his political base? He identifies a common enemy, a scapegoat to blame for whatever current problems plague society.
You have all seen this played out before—on the world, national, and even local stage. Perhaps the most common manifestation of sin is defining ourselves over and against others. In the process, we deny others their essential humanity, their status as beloved children of God.
This time around, it is the ancient Israelites. They get fingered by a Pharaoh who forgot. He has conveniently forgotten that for generations the Israelites had been considered allies and honored guests. And so, he first enslaves them. Then he turns to even darker means, telling the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys that are delivered.
Here is a great irony worth pausing for. It is the girls who are apparently of no account to Pharaoh that he should fear. It is first these two women, and then three more — Moses’ Hebrew mother and sister and Pharaoh’s Egyptian daughter — who are Pharaoh’s undoing. First, these two midwives refuse. They do not kill the boys. They lie to Pharaoh, telling them that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly, delivering the babies before the midwives arrive on the scene. With every birth, these midwives choose life.
It is a courageous act that changes history. One of the boys that is spared will be called Moses and he will lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. He will deliver God’s law to the Israelites and bring them to the promised land. And it all starts here, with two women willing to say “no” to an act of injustice. They were changing the world, just by being faithful, by following the dictates of their hearts, by heeding the call of conscience. By fearing God, instead of Pharaoh.
It reminds me so strongly of the moment in the service of Holy Baptism when I ask, “Do you renounce the devil and the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” The candidate or parents reply to each question. “I renounce them.” I renounce them and say yes to God and yes to abundant life.
The midwives’ vocation from God is to preserve and protect life. The midwives succeed in saving the lives of both Hebrew boys and girls. In the process, they protect the birth of one special child named Moses, the eventual leader of Israel, who would overthrow Pharaoh and lead Israel to freedom. This is what Christian vocation is ultimately, saying yes to life in the face of whatever is threatening it.
I have never preached on this text during a pandemic before. Warzones and disease outbreaks were always things that happen somewhere else. We give thanks today for the doctors, nurses, and staff who are learning how to treat COVID-19. We pray for people working to create a vaccine. Those of us not in the medical professions can take a page from Martin Luther. In 1527 he wrote these words in his “Whether One May Flea from a Deadly Plague,” “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others.”
We have said in meetings, studies, fellowship time, the regular hard stuff that threatens life could care less that we are going through a global pandemic: cancer, other illnesses, homelessness, poverty, joblessness, racism, sexism, consumerism, and the race to keep up with the Joneses. These all go on. All of those say “no” to life. We are called to resist. In our small corner of the world we are called, like those midwives, to shout back with our words and actions, “yes!” Yes to life.
And you, in so many and various ways, shout yes every day. Though school will look different this year. There will still be teachers and mentors who use new and old ways to share their compassion for children and youth. They will shout “yes” to life and the kid may go on to develop a vaccine. The banker or salesperson that sees Christ in his clients instead of the way to swindle them shouts “yes” to life and helps a whole body of people to not spend beyond their means, but instead give back to the community. How, in an election year will we say yes to life online and in social media platforms? I really do not have an answer for this one—maybe abstaining for a time. And phone calls with friends and loved ones may be crucial to get through the winter. When you listen to a friend in pain and then tell them about a God whose love has no end, you are shouting “yes” to life. Something so small can be huge.
The ministry of this congregation, both serving one another and the larger community—is all meant to give life. When Trinity Community Gardens gives food we witness to a God who wants everyone to have life. By hosting Al-anon meetings, we want people to have a place to share their stories and to be accountable to behaviors that will give them life. When we gather to study scripture and theology, we trust that the Holy Spirit is giving us insights, courage, and hope to bring the love of God into the world.
Our congregation’s guiding principles testify that for us, following Jesus, being disciples, is about life. Witness your faith through actions and words. We do not bury our faith within ourselves—we are disciples for the sake of the world. Accept and welcome all people—on the lawn, on hikes, online. Like the midwives, we show no partiality—everyone is a child of God—no exceptions. And out first guiding principle is a reminder of our adoption in the family of God in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That adoption becomes a source of life.
The midwives act of disobedience is astounding to be sure. But what is as remarkable to me is the fact that the names of these women made it into the story, a story which has been read by so many for centuries.
Our story today continues with more women and the birth of Moses. Through a complex chain of events, both the birth mother and the royal daughter care for this baby, protecting his life, and divinely providing for the most nurturing of environments. The careful placement of the baby shows the manifestation of this nurturing. The basket recalls the protection for Noah’s ark during the flood. This gentle nurturing for the baby will allow him to grow to orchestrate the downfall of the mighty Pharaoh.
When we think of God’s sovereignty, we often associate this with the mighty hand of God, and divine acts when God alters the forces of nature. But in today’s passage, God protects the baby through these women, these five women who resist again and again the power of Pharaoh and the empire. God’s sovereignty is manifest through compassion and care. In the story of the midwives and the birth of Moses, the analogy of sovereignty is manifest in the care of a newborn through mothers, whether by birth or by adoption.
I doubt the Apostle Paul was thinking of these five women when he penned his letter to the Romans. But to me, they epitomize the most important verse in our reading from Romans 12, “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.” The women at the beginning of Exodus are living a life that is filled with compassion and leaning into liberation for the oppressed.
We should not mistake this compassion for weakness. Maternal care is powerful. The passage shows that a royal edict cannot defeat the resilient strength of maternal compassion. As Pharaoh increases the oppression, the compassion of the different women ends up raising the one who will truly lead the Israelites into liberation from this oppression.
The power of God is almost hidden in this story and is sometimes scarcely made visible. Nevertheless, an undeniable “preferential option for the poor” is at work. The power of life surges among the hopeless slave community through blessed women. And so, the issue of liberation surfaces inescapably through these “carriers of liberation.” One scholar says, “The birthing turns the hopeless into powerful dangerous hopers.” That hope is also ours to claim so many centuries later.
Prayers of Intercession
Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
Lord our rock, you are our foundation in Jesus Christ, your Son, whom we confess as the living God. Prepare your church for its mission in bearing witness to Christ, both here at home and throughout the world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You call forth praises from the far reaches of the universe to the smallest of creatures. Join our songs to theirs, that a spirit of praise and thanksgiving will arouse us to cherish this wondrous home you give us. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord. Direct the leaders of countries, legislators and magistrates, mayors and councils, to walk in your ways. Help leaders regard those in need with mercy and fulfill your loving purposes in the governance of peoples. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Though we walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve us, deliver us, and fulfill your purpose for us. According to your steadfast love, grant healing and wholeness to those who are bereaved, in trouble or adversity, or sick and in need of care (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You call us into this community (name), in which we, though many, are one in Christ. May we recognize in ourselves and in one another the unique gifts you have given us for the building up of the church for the sake of the world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You are the everlasting Rock from which we were hewn, and you restore your people to joy and gladness. In blessed memory and hope, we thank you for the lives of our beloved dead (especially). Bring us with them to our heavenly home. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.