First Lesson: Psalm 105:23-38
Children’ Story – Exodus 32:1-14 Sunday, August 30, 2015
We have been more or less camping in the book of Exodus for several weeks, and we’ve been following the story of that band of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. They were God’s people who didn’t know God. They had been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years and in that time they had forgotten who they were and who their God was. So God came to them in a great display of powerful miracles so that they see the mighty power of their God whom they didn’t know. And so that they could begin to understand that that their God loved them lavishly and cared for them exquisitely.
So picture this – it’s the picture we have from the book of Exodus. There are about two million Hebrews living in Egypt. Six hundred thousand men plus women and children. About the population of Houston, Texas. They are slaves there, brutally oppressed and desperately unhappy. One night their slave masters woke up at midnight to discover that the first born children in every family and even the first born of all their animals had died. Suddenly. In the night. With no warning at all. It was the last in a whole string of mighty acts of God on behalf of the Hebrew people, and the Egyptians realized that and they were afraid for their own lives. They wailed. The entire country wailed. They swarmed into the homes of their slaves in the middle of the night and demanded that they leave. They loaded the Hebrews down with gold and silver and precious jewelry of every kind and shoved them out of the country. Those slaves grabbed their children and their walking sticks and their bundles and their bread which hadn’t had time to rise and they ran out of the country, into the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. With Moses as their leader.
Can you begin to imagine the chaos of that night?
That was Their First Great Escape.
But once they were out in the desert, how in the world did those former slaves knew where to go? And I don’t suppose that Moses knew where to go, either. Simple shepherd that he was. But God had a plan for that. God went ahead of them in a cloud - a cloud that was bright and shiny by day and fiery by night. That cloud moving ahead in the vast Egyptian dessert – and a huge band of two million former slaves with all their children and all their animals following it. For about seventy miles they traveled that way. Day and night. A bright cloud by day and a cloud of fire at night.
When they reached a place called Baal-Zephon they stopped. Right where the Suez Canal is these days. With the deep dessert behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. They set up camp, wondering all the while to themselves how in the world they would cross that sea. And about the time they were sending the kids off to find firewood and beginning to settle down for the night, king Pharaoh back in Egypt was in a panic. It started to sink in that he had just allowed all of his work force to leave the country. The entire economic base of his entire country had high-tailed it off into the desert. He said to his officials, “What in the world have we done to allow this to happen?” So the king got on his horse, and ordered up 600 of his finest chariots and the rest of his fleet of chariots and all his horses and all of his most skillful horsemen – the entire Egyptian army – and took out after them. Seventy miles into the dessert. They came swooping down on the band of former slaves camped there by the sea. Ready to take them all back into slavery.
That band of former slaves took one look at their king and all his finest horses and finest chariots and finest charioteers and the entire Egyptian army coming after them and they were sure they would all die or be captured. Sitting ducks there with the dessert and the king and his chariots and his entire army coming at them from behind and the sea in front of them and no way to cross the water. They were frightened and furious at God and at Moses. They told them both loudly that they wished they had never left Egypt and that being slaves in Egypt was better than dying in a dessert. The first of many times they would say those words to God and Moses.
But God had other plans that night. That fiery cloud moved. It moved from in front of the camp to behind the camp, between the Hebrews and the king and his army. And that fiery cloud protected God’s people all night long. AND all night long a strong wind blew, and it blew the waters of that sea until they stood up with a wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side of the see. With a dry path between. And the next morning God’s people walked straight through the sea on that path with a wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side. Straight through to the other side.
But when the king and all his chariots and all his horses and all his soldiers tried it, the water started to seep back to its natural place. The wheels of their chariots got clogged in the mud, and there was a great panic as they tried to escape. And the last those former slaves saw of their king and all his army were their dead bodies on the sea shore.
It was their Second Great Escape. And they celebrated it and danced and sang on the opposite shore of the sea.
But not for very long, as you know. Before you know it, they were complaining again to God and Moses. They didn’t trust Moses. They didn’t trust the God they were just beginning to know. They muttered and complained and shouted at Moses and at God until Moses was weary of it all – and furious - and so was God.
And now this: I have heard this story from the time I was a small child, and so have many of you. And for all the years of my life until a couple of days ago, I have been critical of those slaves. I have wondered how in the world they could be so angry at God and so angry at Moses. I have said to myself, “they saw the great displays of God’s power for them. And still they d and complained and were angry and fearful and still they didn’t trust God’s goodness in their lives. How could that do that?” I have said that to myself, and most of the adults around me have said that, too. We’ve been pretty hard on those slaves there by the Red Sea.
But I’ve had a few years to live and I’ve had a few years to know myself and be honest with myself and now I’m a little more forgiving of that motley band of former slaves. Because I have heard the stories of the faithfulness of God all of my life, and I sometimes I still don’t trust. I lived all of my life in the love and care of God and I still don’t always trust God for the future. And maybe you are like that too, a little bit.
I gave you an assignment a couple of weeks ago now to track the goodness of God in your life. To notice the love and leading and power and promises of God in your lives just when things were the most difficult for you. Maybe you have done that little assignment.
Sometimes it is hard for us to leave the past no matter how painful it has been, and it is hard to venture into an unknown future. Sometime we can’t see the bright cloud ahead of us, leading us, and we’d rather stay in the dark places we know. Sometimes we don’t see the love and leading and power and promises of God for us and we are afraid to move ahead. Sometimes we are so immobilized by our fear that we cannot trust God’s leading in our lives. We cannot trust ourselves and those we love into God’s care. Sometimes we cannot feel the love of God even when we’re all wrapped up in it. Maybe you noticed that about yourself.
And as I was pondering and praying all of that this week I got an email from one of you.
I had sent a message to one of you who is facing some uncertain times. And there response came back – quickly – and I’m quoting it here: “God is my guide. He has brought me this far and will not abandon me now. This I believe.”
Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ: That is the word of God to us this morning.
First Lesson: Exodus 3:1-15
Second Lesson Exodus 8:1-15
Children’s story: Exodus 2:1-10
Sunday, August 23, 2015
So Moses is standing beside a fiery bush in the desert and he’s having a conversation with God.
God comes to Moses, out of the blue, as he is tending sheep in the middle of the desert deep in the Sinai Peninsula. And God says: “I am your God. I am the God of your ancestors Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and I am your God also. And I have a job for you, Moses. I see that the people I love are slaves in Egypt, far away from the land I gave them. They are beaten and oppressed and harshly treated and I want you to do something about that. I want you to be their liberator and help them escape from Egypt.” Said God to Moses.
And Moses said to God. “I don’t know you. I don’t know your name. I’ve never heard of you. And I don’t know these people you are talking about and they have never heard of you either. I am very happy here with a nice wife and a couple of kids and a good father-in-law who employs me very well, and I like my life here just as it is. No thank you very much to your little plan.”
But God persisted. And God laid out a plan about how Moses would go to the king Pharaoh of Egypt and ask him to release the slaves.
Now let me insert this: The very smart people who usually know these things don’t seem to know exactly who this king Pharaoh is. I wonder if he was Moses’ adopted grandfather. The father of the princess who raised him in the palace. Or maybe his adopted uncle – the brother of the princess who raised him in the palace.
And Moses replied: “I have never heard of you, and my grandfather the king of Egypt has never heard of you. These slaves you are talking about never heard about you. And you want me to go to that king and convince him to let all his slaves go free? I can tell you right now that he’s not going to like that idea. What kind of a crazy plan is that? AND you might remember that I left Egypt in a very big hurry under unhappy circumstances. There is a price on my head there. I was lucky to get away from there with my life. I am glad to be gone from that palace and that grandfather and I am glad to be gone from those people and that country and I have no interest in going back and saying anything to any of them.”
And besides,” said Moses, “I am not a public speaker. I do not make eloquent speeches at the palace or anywhere else. I am a simple shepherd. No thank you very much to your crazy plan.”
But God persisted. God said, “Here’s the plan. I know that you don’t know my name or who I am. I know that those slave people I love don’t know me. I know that the king of Egypt doesn’t know me. But I am going to show them all who I am. Starting with you. I am going to tell you all and show you all who I am, and eventually, the king will let the people go. Eventually.”
So that was the beginning of some major show and tell displays on the part of God. You might remember this. Sticks turned into snakes, water turned into blood, ordinary dust became tiny little biting gnats, swarming flies came from nowhere, animals dying of a deadly disease. One magnificent display of power after another. All so that Moses could see who God was, and the king could see who God was, and the slave people would begin to know who their God was.
And in our story for today, there are frogs everywhere. Frogs in all the rivers, and frogs hopping around in peoples’ beds, and frogs in the kitchen and frogs in the bowls and cups and frogs jumping out of the ovens and frogs under your feet wherever anybody tried to walk. It got peoples’ attention for sure, and it was yet another display of the power of God.
And eventually, after a whole lot of mighty displays of God’s power, eventually the king of Egypt realized he was no match for God, and eventually that whole slave nation escaped from Egypt. They put on their sandals and picked up their bundles of all their possessions and their bread that hadn’t had time to rise. They took up their walking sticks and they escaped into the middle of the dessert in the middle of the night. With Moses as their somewhat reluctant leader.
So the question for us is this: how do we know God? How does God speak to us? What sort of show and tell does God offer us? And what does God ask of us?
I don’t suppose that any of us have seen sticks turned into snakes or our water turned to blood, or frogs in our beds quite the way God did that in Egypt. But we have other ways of knowing and showing who God is. And often, I have noticed, God comes to us in utter silence. No loud noises, no displays of frogs or blood or great displays.
God comes to us when we are silent, and receptive and waiting. And we can almost hear the voice of God to us in our ears. If only we can manage to sit still long enough and be quiet long enough to listen.
It is my habit to sit with God at 5 o’clock in the morning at my dining room table in my lovely condo. Depending on the time of year, I watch the day arrive and I sit in front of God with my Bible. I pray the scripture. I pray the day of ahead of me. I pray for my family by name, each of them. I lay out in front of God what I’m thinking and what I’m concerned about and the questions I have no answers for. On Friday last week I sat like that with God. And a very clear word came to me – an entire sentence, in English – a very clear direction for me. I knew it then and I know it now to be the voice of God to me. In my own dining room at 5 o’clock in the morning. Maybe you have had the same experience.
And may I tell you about our Session? As you know, they have met several times recently to pray and ponder the Expectations for your next pastor. You got them in the mail this week. This past Monday we met to come to consensus on that for the final time. Eight pretty ordinary elders and one pretty ordinary pastor, sitting around the table, pondering the person who will be your next pastor. We prayed for God’s presence with us. Then everybody spoke. Everybody was heard in an atmosphere of mutual respect around that table. Suggestions were made and ideas were proposed and re-worked and some of them were discarded and others of them were accepted. Sometimes several people spoke, sometimes there was silence. And after two and a half hours of that, those eight ordinary elders came to consensus and went home. And I said to myself as I often say during and after session meetings, “The Spirit of God was there with us, powerfully.”
So maybe in these next weeks and months you will spend time with God also. Maybe you will hear God speaking to you. Maybe you’ll deepen your prayer life and listen for what God may be saying to you. Or maybe you’ll fall into the habit of talking the day over with God and letting God guide your days. Maybe your life is very hard right now and maybe you’ll cry in front of God and wail at God over all of that. Maybe your life is very good now, and maybe you’ll be so full of gratitude that you can’t contain it all, and you’ll offer that to God. Maybe you’ll commit to some regular Bible study. Maybe you’ll sit with others and learn from others and share your life with others. And pray with others.
Now that may be a little scary for some of you. It IS a little scary to stand in front of a fiery bush in the presence of God. But maybe you’ll commit to do that. As a way of knowing God. As way of experiencing God. As a way of beginning to know who God is and how God is.
And you’ll be surprised with blessings.
This is one of the best known stories in the Old Testament. And the main character of the story, Abraham is one of our great Heroes of Faith. The Bible is full of wonderful, juicy, sometimes very sad sometimes very inspiring stories about Abraham and his wife Sarah and his sons Isaac and Ishmael, and lots of stories of their descendants. We talked about Abraham and Sarah last week.
So let me tell you how these stories came to us. Once upon a time, about 600 years before Jesus was born, young Jewish men sat in a camp very near where Baghdad is today. Now you could call it a concentration camp or prison camp or resettlement camp or whatever kind of camp you want to call it, but the point is that they were very far from home and they were controlled by their captors. And a good many of them stayed there that camp for about fifty years.
And here’s how they got to be prisoners in that camp. Enemy soldiers had swarmed into the area around Jerusalem. They had stolen anything of any value in the cities and towns and villages of the country. What they couldn’t carry with them they had burned and they had left whole villages in total ruins. Many of the villages were so badly demolished they were never rebuilt again. They swept into the farms and demolished them and burned them to the ground. Worst of all, these soldiers had utterly destroyed the beautiful shimmering shining golden temple in Jerusalem, and they had carried off all the beautiful, precious gold and bronze furnishings in the temple.
AND those enemy soldiers had taken captive the strongest and healthiest and wealthiest young men of the country. They had forced them to march at sword point, five hundred miles across the dessert to that prison camp. Right there near what’s now Baghdad, where the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers come together in what’s now Iraq. The last those young men had seen as they were forced from their villages were their homes and their farms in flames and ashes. They worried about the families they had left behind when they had been dragged away, and they worried what was happening in their homeland.
And there they sat. Those strong, healthy, wealthy, well-educated young men. For years and years they sat. In that camp, with nothing to do. They tried to sing the songs they had sung in the temple in Jerusalem. But that only made them more homesick. And so they sang another song, the very one we have read ourselves this morning. They sang how homesick they were, and how heartsick they were. They sang about how they couldn’t sing and how their captors tormented them.
So instead of singing the songs they loved, they told each other stories that they had heard from their parents and grandparents – stories that had been passed down, word for word for word for generations in their communities. Stories about God, and about who God is and about how God is with people. Stories they had heard about Adam and Eve and Noah and his family and about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and all their other great heroes of faith. We’ve had some of these stories recently and we’ll be having more of them in coming weeks.
Now some of the young men were from the northern part of the country and some of them were from the southern part of the country, so the stories were a little different – depending on where they had lived, but they all had heard basically the same stories. And they told them to each other as they sat there beside the rivers in that prison camp.
And then one person, or maybe a small group of people, compiled all the stories and combined them and wrote them down for the very first time. Over the years, other parts were added. (Now you realize, I’m simplifying a bit.) But the result of it all is that now we have these very precious documents, these wonderful stories for ourselves. In our Old Testament. They are the stories of the faithfulness of God with people. They are the very word of God to us.
So here’s what those young men discovered when they sat there in that camp and told their stories to each other. They discovered their God, whom they hadn’t known. They discovered that their God had a long history with their ancestors, and they discovered the pattern of God with the people. They realized that God had come to their ancestors again and again, through hundreds of years, and had said to them: “I am your God. I will love you lavishly and care for you tenderly. I’ll give you land, and I’ll make you a great nation and I’ll protect you from your enemies, and I’ll always be your God.” And they discovered that again and again, their ancestors had turned their backs on God, and done things that God had specifically told them not to do, and had forgotten God altogether.
And then these strong, healthy, wealthy, smart young men sat there in that camp and said, “And then all those prophets came to us, for a few hundred years. Prophet after prophet came to us, and spoke to us. They warned us to return to God, and obey God – for hundreds of years they warned us, and we didn’t. But after all of God’s promises to us, and after all of those warnings, we continued to go our own ways, and turn our backs on God. So it’s no wonder,” they said, “that here we are sitting in this camp so far away from home. It’s no wonder at all.”
And they said to themselves, “Now we know who our God is – the one who came and made promises to our ancestor Abraham so many years ago. The one we abandoned over and over again. The one we couldn’t manage to be faithful to over hundreds of years. Now we understand that our God is a God of infinite patience and infinite love, no matter what we have done. Our God keeps promises even though we don’t. Our God remembers us when we forget. Our God does not give us what we deserve.” They said to each other in that camp year after year.
So why have I told you this story this morning? What is the point of it all?
I tell you this story because I want so much to tell you - in the time I have with you – I want so much to tell you who our God is. You may have been wandering through your life thinking that God is an angry God who is out to get you at every turn. Or that God sneaks around after us, hoping bad things will happen to us because of what we have done. Or giving us cancer or tragedies in our lives to punish us for what we have done. When people you love have died, or when hard things have happened to you, maybe you thought that it was God punishing you. Or maybe you wondered where God was in the worst times of your life when you felt utterly alone.
But will you look at hundreds of years of evidence. Will you look at the hundreds of years’ worth of stories told to us in the Bible, and will you will you see that God is Good, and loving and patient and everlastingly faithful?
But maybe you are thinking about all this now and you’re saying to me, “Paula, those are pretty little stories you keep telling us, and they are in the Bible. But how do I know these people ever actually lived and how do I know their stories are even remotely true after all these years? And what in the world difference can their stories possibly make to me?” Maybe you are asking that this morning.
Or maybe you are saying to me, “Don’t try to convince me of something you think about God, Paula. That’s not the way I know things – when somebody else tries to persuade me what is true. I know things are true when I experience them for myself.”
So then - let me give you this assignment. And this may take you a while. Will you sit like those strong, healthy, wealthy young men in that camp and will you think back on your life, with all its twists and turns and good times and hard times. Will you sit with Psalm 40 in your lap, that Psalm that we read earlier this morning, and will you gather up the stories of your life? Times when you lost your job, or there was trouble in your family, or you moved and started your life all over again in a new place? Times when you were worried sick about a son or daughter, or someone you loved died or your best friend betrayed you. Or times when you were afraid for your finances. And will you rediscover the hand of God in your life? Will you find the ways that God has been faithful to you through it all? Ways that God has stood beside you even though you may not have realized it at the time? Or maybe something truly amazing happened to you and you laughed and called it a “God thing.” Maybe you will remember ways that other people have been the loving hands and feet and voice of God to you though you had no idea. Maybe you have sat very quietly early in the morning watching the day arrive and have said to yourself in awe, “There must be a God.”
And when you have done all that, when you have discovered the loving pattern of God in your life, then will you fall down on your knees in front that God in thanks. In life-long thanks.
First Lesson: Hebrews 11:8-12
Children’s story: Genesis 18:16-33
August 9, 2015
I do love the story of Abraham. It’s strong and juicy and unpredictable and sometimes funny and often very tragic. Abraham is one of the Fathers of our faith, and you know his story well. He was a friend of God, and he followed God into some pretty amazing places. He was also a scoundrel as you know very well. He’s a complicated character, that Abraham.
So here’s the story: or part of it, at least: Once upon a time there was a man named Abram. He lived with his wife Sarai in a placed called Haran. He was seventy-five years old, and he was fabulously wealthy. He had huge herds of sheep and goats and oxen and he had a multitude of servants to care for all his herds and his animals and his home. One day this Abram was sitting very happily indeed in his own country among his own family, on his own land, and God comes to him out of the blue, and God says to Abram “get up from where you are and go to the place I will show you.” Now this is a pretty strange thing to say to somebody right out of the blue, when he was sitting perfectly happily in his own country, among his own family, on his own land, so God adds in a promise: “I will make your name great and I will bless you and you will be a blessing.” And apparently, according to the story, Abram got right up and packed up all his possessions and all of his people and all of his animals, and his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and set out to follow God. And we honor his obedience. And we say, “This must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
Before it was all over, he had traveled a thousand miles with all those thousands of goats and sheep and oxen and camels and all his servants and all of their children. And all the while along the way, Abram is building altars to God, and making sacrifices to God, and having intimate conversations with God. And all along the way God is saying to Abraham, “I will bless you. And you will be a blessing. I will give you an uncountable number of descendants. I will make you a great nation. And I will give you land.”
And all along the way, here’s what happened to Abraham. When he got to where he was going, there was a terrible drought in that country, so he continued on south to Egypt where there was food for all his animals and all his people and his wife and his nephew Lot and himself. But he was a little nervous about how the king of Egypt would receive him, coming barging into his country with all those extra people and animals to feed, and he was afraid for his life. But his wife Sarai was very beautiful. So he passed her off as his sister, and gave her to king Pharaoh of Egypt to add to his harem. (I do wonder how Sarai felt about that.) And in return for a beautiful addition to his harem, the king of Egypt gave Abram even more sheep and goats and oxen and camels and even more servants. Until the king found out that Sarai was actually his wife. The king was furious, of course, and he sent Abram and all his animals and all of his people out of the country as fast as they could go. Running for their lives. And we say to ourselves, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless?”
And the next thing you know, Abram and his nephew Lot have decided that there’s not enough grass in one place for all their herds and to feed all their people, so they stand on top of a hill and survey the area. And Abram allows Lot to choose the richest, most fertile valley of Sodom and Gomorrah for himself. While he makes do with what’s left. We honor his generosity. And we say to ourselves, “This must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
And all the while, God is promising, “I will bless you. And you will be a blessing. I will give you an uncountable number of descendants. I will make you a great nation. And I will give you land.” And all along, wherever he goes, Abram is having conversations with God and building altars and making sacrifices to God. He is also having conversations the all the kings of the region, and negotiating contracts with them and fighting wars with them. A powerful man, that Abraham.
And for ten years, Abraham trusts that promise of an uncountable number of descendants. But after about ten years of hearing all that and of waiting for even one little child, Abram got tired of that and had a child by Sarai’s Egyptian slave, Hagar. Which caused all sorts of jealousy and bitterness in the household as you can well imagine. When the slave woman conceived a long awaited child and the wife did not. Hagar hated her mistress Sarai and treated her disrespectfully. Sarai was furious with Abram for doing what he had done, and she treated Hagar harshly and finally, as you remember, Hagar ran away into the dessert, where she would have died. And we say to ourselves, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless?” This man who talks so intimately with God and who is so generous and so wealthy and who is accustomed to having conversations with kings wherever he goes. Can’t he even keep peace in his own household? Does he have to behave so foolishly?
And then you remember that Abraham had to intervene for his nephew Lot, living there in Sodom. That was the story that I told the children just a few moments ago. And you heard how Abraham had the audacity to bargain with God for the life of his nephew Lot. And we are amazed and we are secretly impressed at Abraham – that he would dare to strike such a hard bargain with God. And we say to ourselves, “Certainly this must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
And then it happened again. Once again there is Abraham traveling toward Egypt to a place called Gerar. And once again he is apparently a little nervous about how he’ll be received by the king there. And for the second time he introduces his beautiful wife Sarai as his sister and for the second time, he gave his wife to the king of Gerar for his harem. And when the king of Gerar found out that Sarai was really Abram’s wife, he was furious, of course, and sent them all packing again – running for their lives again. And we want to say again, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless? The man who makes a bad mistake the second time?”
But that is the man God blessed. That’s the man whom God gave land. That’s the man whose descendants are uncountable. The story of Abram has been told now for 4,000 years. In all its juicy, beautiful, ugly details. Abram is one of our Fathers in the Faith. He is referred to in the New Testament as one of the Heroes of Faith along with Sarah. We read that just a minute ago in the scripture and in our Presbyterian Statement of Faith.
And now this: You and I are all pretty much like Abraham. We are obedient and we are dis-obedient. We are generous and we are stingy. We are brave and we are fearful. We believe and we doubt. We talk intimately with God and then we forget about God for long periods of time. We pray fervently for a very long time and we bargain with God and when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, we take matters into our own hands. We live in painful, troubled families and we have to acknowledge that we are part of the trouble, at least some of the time. We make big mistakes and we don’t learn from them. We say things that aren’t true and we say hurtful things that we can never take back. We make solemn promises to God and others and we break them. That’s who we are. That’s the sorry little mess that we are.
And we deposit ourselves in front of God in the sorry little messes that we are, and we acknowledge all that.
And then we hear God say to us, “I will be your God. I will bless you and you will be blessing.” And it begins to soak into our sorry little selves that we are the much loved children of God and we have been richly blessed.
Because that’s who our God is. We may have a lot of questions about God and there may be a great many things we don’t know or understand about God. But beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, hear this: Our God is the God who sees us make our messes all over our lives and loves us anyway. Our God is the God who sees when we break our promises and stays faithful to us anyway. Our God is the God who stands by us and rescues us when we’re in trouble of our own making. Our God is the God who loves us wherever we are and however we are, and whatever we are doing no matter how foolish it is, and keeps faithful to us. If you don’t know anything else about God, know that. If your life is a messy and painful and you wonder where God is, know that. If you experience the deep pleasure of intimacy with God and long conversations with God, know that. If you feel that God is calling you to do something way out of your comfort zone and you’re not sure you can follow God quite that far, know that.
And let yourself be held in the loving hands of the God who will never abandon you.
Children’s story: Genesis 37:1-28
First Lesson: Genesis 41:53-42:5
Sunday, August 2, 2015 I love this story about these two Hebrew slave women. This might be one of my very favorite stories in the entire Bible. So here’s it is.
God’s people the Hebrews had been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years. They hadn’t started out as slaves, as you may recall. They had started out as honored guests – the brothers of Joseph – who was the second in command in the entire country of Egypt. And the reason Joseph was so honored and famous in Egypt, as you may recall, was that he had saved the entire country of Egypt and a great deal of the rest of the world from starving to death in a terrible famine that lasted seven years. Joseph had foreseen a world-wide famine and he had stored up huge quantities of food for the Egyptians. In fact people came from all over the world to buy the food that Joseph had stored up in Egypt. Eventually he brought his father and his brothers and all of their families to live in Egypt. They settled in the most fertile and lush part of the entire country, and they enjoyed their fame as the family of Joseph.
But four hundred years had passed, and the current king of Egypt had forgotten all about Joseph and his great service to the country of Egypt, and so had everybody else – in four hundred years.
And one day the great king of Egypt, who was the richest and strongest and most powerful king in all the world in those days – one day the great King of Egypt looked out the window of his palace. And he noticed that there were a lot of Hebrews in his country. And that they were in the most fertile region of the country. And that they were prospering there and multiplying there in the richest and most fertile part of his country. And he thought to himself that if things kept on as they were going, that soon those Hebrew descendants of Joseph would outnumber actual Egyptians in his country. And if there should be a war, maybe the Hebrews would side with his enemies, which would not be a good thing.
So the richest and strongest and most powerful king of the whole world devised a plan. He decided to make those Hebrews slaves. He forced the women and children to work in the Egyptian homes and in the fields. He forced the men to work building the great store cities like Pithom and Ramses - fabulous structures in their day. They worked all day in the hot Egyptian sun, making bricks and building buildings. They were worked to death and beaten to death and starved to death. But still the number of Hebrews in his country grew and grew.
So the richest and strongest and most powerful king of the whole world devised another plan. He called the Hebrew midwives –Shiphrah and Puah - into his palace and he gave them an order. He ordered them that when they were assisting the Hebrew women to give birth, they should kill all the newborn baby boys. The baby girls they could let live, but the baby boys they were ordered to kill.
And the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah walked straight out of that palace and from their audience with the richest and strongest and most powerful king, and they continued doing as they had been doing all along. And they let all the baby boys live.
So a couple of years later the king of Egypt was looking out the window of his palace again, and he noticed that there were a lot of little Hebrew baby boys toddling around his country. And he called in two of the Hebrew midwives – Shiphrah and Puah. And he said to them, “Why is it that I see so many little Hebrew baby boys toddling around my country when I gave you explicit instructions to kill them all?”
And Shiphrah and Puah stood there in that magnificent Egyptian palace. They stood there in their raggedy slave robes and their bare feet. And they bowed low and they said to the richest and strongest and most powerful king of all the world – they said, “Your Royal Highness, Your Majesty, Your Eminence, Your Excellence. Oh King. The Hebrew women are not like all the Egyptian women. The Hebrew women give birth very quickly – before we can get there. And we don’t have a chance to kill the baby boys.”
And the richest and strongest and most powerful king in all the world believed their crazy story.
And God blessed those two brave Hebrew midwives, and rewarded them. And the population of the people of God grew. The Hebrews in Egypt kept on having more and more babies and becoming stronger and stronger.
Now I love that story for what it is – that two brave slave women dared to stand up to the richest and most powerful king in all the world, and I do love it that he was stupid enough to believe their lies.
But there’s much more to the story. What’s at stake here, is the future of God’s people. What’s at stake here is the continuation of the line of God’s people through which we are blessed. What’s at stake here are God’s promises. God had come to Noah (as we saw last week) and to Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob and God had said, “I am your God. I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
Think about it: If the king had had his way, and if all the baby boys had been killed there would be no more People of God. There would be no stories of God’s love to come to us. There would be no Old Testament Bible. There would be no Jesus. Those two slave women in their raggedy slave robes and their bare feet dared to disobey the direct order of the king. And they kept the line open between us and God.
I am glad and grateful to know their names and I thank God for them and for their bravery.
And now this: Here’s how it is for us. We wake up in the morning, each of us, and while our heads are still on the pillow, we give the coming day to God. We ask God to be with us and bless us and those we come into contact with that day. And then the day begins to happen. We have conversations with people in person and on the telephone. We interact with our co-workers and with our supervisors. We make decisions at home and at work, and we buy things at Lowes and Meijer and wherever we buy them. We do the laundry and we mow the lawn. We spend time with our families and our friends, and we watch some TV maybe, and we attend church and some of us attend church meetings. And all day long we are alert to the ways we may be acting or speaking for God. Or saying or doing what would please God. Or behaving as followers of Jesus. And most of us have no way of knowing how one small word or one small action will bless someone else. Or how one decision made or one email or text message written will make a difference – a huge difference - in the life of someone else. And we have no way of knowing how far that ripple will spread.
But we live our lives, silently, faithfully, actively committed to God. We listen for the Spirit of God to direct us and to speak and act through us. And we leave it in God’s hands to bless.
And every once in a very great while, the door opens for us to do or say something truly brave and truly significant. And we walk through that open door as God leads us. And we may never know the consequences of what we have dared to do. And we leave that also in God’s hands to bless.