Sermon: The Very Beginning

24 August 2008


The Very Beginning
Exodus 1:8-2:10
August 24, 2008
Rev. Jennifer Whipple

            I have had baby on the brain for the past three months.  So how fitting is it that my first Sunday back preaching after maternity leave the first lectionary reading is the story about the baby Moses?

             Once upon a time there was a baby boy born to a loving family as so many baby boys luckily have been since the beginning of time.  His parents were perhaps more protective than some – never letting the boy out of their sight.  They would spend their days going about the usual business of their family and playing, clothing, feeding, learning from and with, and loving the baby boy.  And nights were spent with him sleeping very near by. 

             At this point this story may sound much like any of yours or even mine now.  But one day everything changed.  He was much like other 3-month-old boys at the time – becoming more active, starting to explore his world a bit, moving about in his own little space, and making baby noises – coos, gurgles and giggles.  But keeping him safe was no longer possible for the family. 

             A decree had been sent down by the ruler in the land that baby boys born to the Hebrews were not allowed to live.  Now Egypt by this time was full of Hebrew people.  Over 400 years earlier Joseph had invited his brothers and their families to come and live with him in Egypt , a place where they were accepted and taken care of because of Joseph’s good reputation with those who were ruling at the time.  However, since those years of favor for the Hebrews, their families had grown exponentially, and there had also been a time of war and invasion in Egypt .  Foreign invaders had occupied the eastern part of the empire for a good while, forcing a more aggressive stance from the Egyptians and making it imperative in the latest Pharaoh’s eyes to keep every outsider, including the Hebrews, captive in forced labor projects.  Pharaoh also thought that, in order to prevent them from growing any larger as a group, killing the baby boys would solve his problems. 

             And with all of this particular baby boy’s activity, with all of the coos and gurgles, the family would surely be found out.  He could not be kept secret anymore.  So with tears in her eyes and her heart in her throat his mother prepared a basket, laid the baby inside, and sent him down to the river in hopes that he would be found by someone who would overlook his heritage and give him a good life – the life she was not allowed to give him by law.

             There was something about this baby – something the midwives who attended his birth realized, something his mother realized – a twinkle in his eye perhaps, a sense of promise, a hope for what he could become. If only they knew then what we know -- that he would become a prophet, a mediator of the law from God, the man on whose shoulders rested the promise of the very beginning of a nation – a promise from God – a promise of salvation, of a special land, of fruitful and plentiful generations to come.

             We can only imagine what the future might hold for the next generation. Since Brayden’s arrival Ryan, our families, and I do a lot of imagining about the future and what he will become.  (To see the size of his hands and feet we are thinking maybe an Olympic basketball player!) And looking back at my own baby book I get to read some of the imaginings and dreams my own parents had for me.  (Although I don’t remember seeing ordained ministry written anywhere!)  Looking at the next generation we just hold out hope that the future will be good and that the right people will be in the right place making the right decisions to make that hope a reality.  We hope that way because of stories like that of Moses.  Because even after being reunited with her son as his wetnurse and primary caregiver Moses’ mother still had to turn him over to another woman, another household, and hope that he would become all she could imagine and hope he was spared for – that he would become someone special.  All she could do was hold out hope that God would use him the best way possible.

             At the very beginning people may have thought that the cards were stacked against Moses.  First, he was born a male under a regime that was threatened by the sheer number of the Hebrews.  Fearing that they would ban together with the Egyptians’ enemies and overthrow the kingdom, anything and everything was ordered to prevent the Hebrew population from growing any larger.  Second, Moses’ mother was forced to give him away without an idea of what might happen to him.  And third, when he was discovered it was by Pharaoh’s daughter – to be brought to the very house of the man who most wanted Moses and others like him dead.  And yet God had a plan for Moses, and God put the right people in the right place at the right time to make that plan a reality.  There were many people doing God’s work without even knowing that was the case. 

            As Kristin Swenson writes in her blog from the “Christian Century” online, “…Shiphrah and Puah…are midwives first.  They help bring babies into the world, and apparently they aren’t about to let anyone, even a king, tell them that they should do otherwise…Among the babies they simply refuse to kill is the one who will save the Hebrew people.  Through him an unprecedented relationship between people and God will be mediated.  How could the baby’s sister and the pharaoh’s daughter, even the mother who sent her infant down the river and saw him returned to her breast, know these things?  They couldn’t.  But each of them did what was right for and in that moment.  Each acted according to her ability and her heart, no matter the pressure to conform or the danger of contradicting the mighty and powerful.  Because of them, Moses survived.”  Each of these women ran the risk of being found out and possibly put to death by the Pharaoh, and yet they worked to save a baby boy.  They did not wait for any specific instructions from God, in fact God is only mentioned in these verses in the context of the one whom the midwives feared.  These women did what they knew in their hearts, minds, and souls to be right and just.  They saw a child, a child of God, with so much possibility and promise and knew they could not allow him to be harmed.  They participated in their own early act of civil disobedience.   

             Pastor Barry Robinson in his reflection on this scripture called, “Saving Moses” writes, “Christians, it seems, have a fondness for stories in which God does things.  You know.  Stories where God gets into the act…gives people clear and precise directions about the kind of thing [God] wants done…A hands-on kind of God…Now, you may say very well indeed that God was on the side of [the five women in the story of Moses’ very beginning] whether things appeared that way or not…but we are reminded in this [tale] from Exodus that…it was a group of ordinary women working behind the scenes that really made things possible.  They didn’t wait for God to show them – [to give them explicit directions in that moment].”  Instead they relied on what they knew from their own knowledge of God – the way God would have them act.  

             Brayden is now three months old…the same age Moses was when his mother had to make the decision to save his life by sending him away.  And when I look at him as I lay him down in his cradle to sleep each night the words that pop into my head are from my favorite Psalm – Psalm 139.  The words that ring through my mind are “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  What an amazing thing God has done in giving us all life, in creating each of us in our own uniqueness, in setting us on a journey that involves different people and different situations – some wonderful and some challenging, and in giving each of us a call to do that which is right and good, no matter how hard –a call to do something – anything -- with our lives.  A call to live out the word of God as true believers, not just to leave it behind as we leave this gathering on Sundays.  And to live it out in our everyday world – a world where we are challenged by a difficult economy and environmental issues, as we head back to work and school, as we prepare to decide the political future of our own nation.

             Unlike Moses or even the women, many of us will not go down in history books.  But perhaps, like Moses, many of us will (however reluctantly at first) follow God’s call for us to make a difference in this world in whatever way possible – however large or small.  Perhaps like the five women in the story of Moses’ very beginning, we will be faced with difficult decisions that beg for the right course of action to be followed despite the power with which we are faced.  Using the gifts God has granted us in our own unique creation to benefit not only ourselves but others and our community – radically open to God’s intention in making our decisions.  Perhaps like Moses, we will strive to grow in our own faith and be able to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing the story of how God has worked in our lives and how we see God working in the world.          

             Will you pray with me?  “God, like the Psalmist, we praise you for knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs.  We thank you for the unique gifts and stories you have given us to offer the world.  We thank you for the ways you have taught us right from wrong and reminded us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in your image.  And now God, we pray that when the risk and vulnerability of our brothers and sisters in our own community and the world around us are very real, and where life could be denied, that you give us faith, not to wait upon the clearest instructions, but to act upon deep imperatives that your will not ours be done and your rule begin.  Amen.[1]


[1] Adapted from “Keeping the Faith in Babylon: Saving Moses” by Barry Robinson.  Http://


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