St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for August 27, 2017 

Twelveth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
August 27, 2017
Exodus 1:8 - 2:10
Proper 16 A
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Last Sunday, we heard in the Old Testament reading, the story of Joseph welcoming his brothers and his father and all their families into Egypt, where Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers and had risen to be the Pharaoh's right hand man. There was a seven year famine in all the land, but Joseph had prepared for it by storing up grain and produce for the previous seven years so the people would not starve. Now he has invited his extended family to join him in Egypt, where they will be given land, and food to eat.
     As our Old Testament reading starts this morning, we find that Joseph has died and there is a new king over Egypt. This king, who is not named, does not know Joseph and what Joseph did to save the Egyptians from starvation. So he has no feeling for the important part that the Israelites played in helping the Egyptians survive.
     The descendants of Joseph's extended family were numerous and they continued to  multiply, even though they were oppressed more and more by this new king. This really bothered the new king as he had visions of the Israelites becoming powerful and overthrowing the Egyptians. So he tells two of the midwives to kill the sons of the Israelites that they deliver but let the girls live. But here we have one of the first instances of civil disobedience. The two midwifes refuse to do what the king requests and they make up some story as to how the Israelite women are so strong and deliver their babies before the midwives get there. And God blesses them with an abundance of children for disobeying the king. So the king then demands that every male Hebrew child be thrown into the Nile River while the girls would be spared.
     Up until this point, God has dealt with individuals, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. Now the Israelites are seen as God's chosen people and, although individuals stand out, God deals with a whole community of faith, a nation, particularly when God leads them out of their bondage in Egypt and into the promised land.
     We then move on to the story of a Levite couple who gives birth to a male child, and because of the king's decree to kill all newborn males, they hide the baby for three months. Then, when the child can no longer be hidden, the mother puts the child in a basket and hides him in the reeds along the shoreline. When the Pharaoh's daughter comes down to bathe, she finds the child and saves him. Her Hebrew slave offers to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby and the baby's mother is chosen for that job. This Hebrew boy, who grows up in the Egyptian Pharaoh's house, is Moses - Moses who will one day lead his people, the Israelites, out of their bondage in Egypt.
     Now you could say that the details of this story are "coincidence" - that the Pharaoh's daughter just happened to find the child, that the child's mother happened to be chosen to raise him, that it just happened that Moses wasn't killed with other Hebrew boys. Or we can see God's hand in the details. God's plan to rescue the Israelites does not happen in spite of the Pharaoh's best efforts but in direct contradiction to them. The harder the Pharaoh works to destroy them, the more they defy his intentions, with God's help. There is a power at work here that is much more powerful than that of the Pharaoh.
     The question that comes to my mind is why the Pharaoh was so threatened by the Israelites. Why did he fear being overthrown by them? They seem to have gotten along well in the days of Joseph. The Egyptian Pharaoh at that time welcomed Joseph's Israelite family into Egypt. So what changed? Was it because they were strong people and he feared they would become too powerful? Or was it because they were different?
     They were immigrants, refugees from starvation we might say. Perhaps their culture was different. Maybe they cooked strange foods, spoke a different language, had different customs and rituals. Perhaps that is why the Pharaoh thought they could not be trusted.
     Don't we have the same situation today? We began as a country of immigrants, people coming to the United States from all over the world, looking for a better life, looking for freedom. And for the most part, I think they were welcomed.
     But now, it seems, that our society looks on immigrants from certain countries with suspicion. We hear that all Muslims must be terrorists and are here to destroy this country. We hear that all Mexicans are drug dealers or gang members, and that all Russians are spies. We want to put people into boxes and label them all as one thing. If something happens, we want to blame this group or that group, to make a scapegoat of them. Our world is becoming an "us" and "them".
     But that is not how God wants us to treat each other. Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to respect the dignity of every human being. It is true that we need to protect ourselves from those who wish us harm, but that is not a whole ethnic group. There are individuals who group together with like-minded individuals who have evil intentions and want to kill and destroy rather than support and build up. But we do ourselves a disservice when we group people of the same ethnic background together and give them one label.
     We could learn so much from each other if we would set our fears aside - fear of something different, fear of the other who is different from me. If we could learn to share our cultures, share our friendships, share our hopes and dreams and fears and failures and successes with one another, what a better, stronger community we would be.
     The king in today's Old Testament lesson feared the Israelites because they were getting too numerous to control. What if, instead of fear, he had gotten to know the Israelites and supported them, rather than trying to put them in bondage and kill them? What a stronger culture they would have been together.
     Let's try to learn from the other cultures that surround us, rather than trying to scapegoat or destroy them. Let us see each individual as a child of God and not just a member of an ethnic group. Let us respect the dignity of every person we meet, no matter their race, ethnicity or culture or sexual orientation, until we can all work together for the glory of God. Amen.
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