Who Am I? A Sermon

Text for this sermon: Exodus 1:8-2:10, 3:1-15.

Who are they!?
asked Egypt’s new king.
They worshipped a different God. 
They acted a different way. 
They looked different. 
They were growing in number. 
They must be a threat. 

And so he was afraid of the other, of the outsider, of the Jewish immigrants living within Egypt.

He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them.

Otherwise, they will only grow in number.

And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.” Exodus 1:9-10 CEB

First Pharoah tried making their lives miserable through hard labor. Then when that didn’t work, his hatred and fear growing, the Egyptian king enslaved them.

Who are they!?
asked Egypt’s new king. 

When slavery did not prevent them from the ancient world’s greatest success — fertility and many descendants —  he ordered the midwives to kill all boy babies.

But that didn’t work. Hebrew women are too quick, giving birth without midwives, he was told. Though it was a lie he didn’t know it.

Who are they!?
asked Egypt’s new king. 

Still fearful despite a history of peaceful coexistence with the Hebrew people since the time of Joseph, the Pharaoh ordered all baby boys killed, thrown into the river.

He perceived a threat. It was if he’d said, I don’t understand the Hebrew’s faith or their god and so they must be eliminated. (You see, the Egyptians and other ancient people, including the Hebrew people, still thought there was more than one God.

They did not yet realize that there is only one God of all faiths and all people.)

Who are they!?
asked Egypt’s new king.
They worshipped a different God. 
They acted a different way. 
They looked different. 
They were growing in number. 
They must be a threat. 

And so he was afraid of the other, of the outsider, of the Jewish immigrants living within Egypt.

The new king of Egypt’s downfall was that he asked the wrong question. He asked, Who are they!?

The result will be the plagues upon Egypt as Moses leads his people out into the wilderness.

[PAUSE]

###

Who are they!?
ask the anti-Muslim protesters across our nation this weekend.

Who are they!?
ask the anti-immigrant radicals  among us.

Who are they!?
fearful whites ask about the black and brown men gathering in DC for the million man march.

Who are they!?
ask heterosexual folk about our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer kindred.

Though it is good and wise to learn about others, … “who are they!?” is not a question about learning.

“Who are they!?” is too often a question infused with hostility and fear and feelings of being  threatened.

It is more like, “Who do they think they are!?”

Who are they!? leads us to the wrong answers. It leads us the wrong way just as it did the new king of Egypt.

Notice that the Pharaoh in our biblical story doesn’t even get a name.

He is that unimportant in the arc of history that bends toward justice and the loving realm of God that unfolds across the biblical narrative and beyond.

###

But look at whose names are revealed in our story today? The midwives!

Shiphrah and Puah

The two women asked the right question. Shiphrah and Puah asked the question that leads to life.

Who am I!? wondered the midwives when told to kill baby boys at birth. 

Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order. Instead, they let the baby boys live. Exodus 1:17 CEB

Who am I!? wondered the midwives

And they knew in their hearts they were God’s beloved and they knew what they must do.

As God’s beloved, they responded in the most loving way that they knew how.

Who am I!? wondered the midwives asking the right question. 

###

Because of the love of women like Shiphrah and Puah, Moses is born and lives.

When his mother could hide him no longer she placed him in a basket and put it in the water. We know that this baby will grow to be someone important for two reasons.

First, because of the many ancient stories of important men being found in baskets or near rivers as infants.

Some of these stories pre-date the Bible and at least one is of Egyptian origin.

This literary archetype reveals to us what will happen in much the same way that we can tell the boy will get the girl at the end of a romantic comedy.

Second, we know that this baby will be important because of the description of the basket. In Hebrew it is described in a similar way as Noah’s ark.

This, my friends, is a basket of covenant between the Jewish people and God. It is a vessel of promise.

God keeps God’s promises. Always and in every generation.

[pause]

Once left in the water, the infant Moses cries. The Pharoah’s daughter finds him crying. The baby’s sister points the royal daughter in the direction of the baby’s mother.

And, so, Pharoah’s daughter entrusts the baby into the care of a Hebrew woman who, though Pharoah’s daughter doesn’t know it, just happens to be his mother.

That is, the woman who ends up being Moses’ wet nurse for the adoptive mother is none other than his biological mother.

Who am I!? multiple women ask themselves in our scripture lesson from today.

Notice the importance of women in these stories. Moses would not have survived were it not for multiple women.

The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, Mose’s mother and sister, and finally the Pharoah’s daughter all answer the question, “Who am I?”

As God’s beloved, as compassionate people, they each respond with as much love as they are able in the circumstance in which they find themselves.

Who am I!? wondered the midwives Shiphrah and Puah.
Who am I!? Mose’s mother and sister asked themselves.
Who am I!? the Pharoah’s daughter questioned.

###

In the final segment of our lesson for today, the adult Moses encounters the burning bush.

As he approaches he learns the divinity in the bush that burns but is not consumed is the God of Eve and Adam.

The divinity is the God of Abraham & Sarai, of Rebekah & Isaac, and of Jacob and Joseph. God is the God of all generations.

Says the LORD to Moses:

Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.

So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:9-10 CEB

Moses responds asking,

“Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11 CEB

Who am I!? asks Moses when commanded to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses doesn’t ask, who are they that I should risk my life for them? 

Instead he asks the question that will lead him to respond affirmatively — albeit with some coaxing — to God’s call.

God replies to Moses, I will be with you. God will even acquiesce and send Moses’ brother Aaron with him to help.

But by asking the right question, “Who am I!?” Moses learns that he is a beloved of God who — despite his many imperfections — God chooses to use to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

You see, God uses imperfect people for God’s purposes because there aren’t any other kind of people.

###

Suicide is too present in our community.

Shootings are too frequent in our country.

Blaming those who are different in faith or wealth or culture or appearance than we are, is all too common.

Even simple courtesy and kindness is less common than it should be.

So the question we must ask ourselves is “Who are we!?”

Though we cannot fix it all, the small things we each do matters. A smile. Listening. Hugging.

Speaking out when our neighbor blames Muslims or black and brown people for the ills in our world.

We may never know what good we do in the tapestry of life.

We cannot see the whole tapestry of the unfolding realm of God and our importance within it. What we can do is ask the right question:

Who am I? Who are we?

We are God’s beloved. Our neighbor is God’s beloved. And because we are God’s beloved, we are called to spread the Good News of God’s infinite love.

Who are we? We are God’s people. As God’s people, as followers of Jesus. we are called to

love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] being, with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength [and, second, we are called to]… love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]… [Jesus tells us that] “No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 CEB

###

Who are we?

We are God’s beloved and so we are called to be God’s love to everyone.

Amen.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

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Posted in 3:1-15, Exodus, Exodus 1, Exodus 1:8-2:10, Exodus 2, Exodus 2:1-10, Exodus 3:1-15, Old Testament, Sermon

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Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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