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Aug 11, 2019

Faith . . . Longing For What is Better - Part 5 Courage for What is Extraordinary and Fine

Passage: Exodus 2:1-10

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Faith's Longing For Better

Category: Faith's Longing for Better

Keywords: moses, courage, good, pharaoh, fine, miriam, nile, amram and jochebed

Summary:

Exodus 2 tells the story of Moses’ birth and rescue when Pharaoh’s daughter finds him in a basket in the Nile River. The word for basket is the same word used for Noah’s ark. Moses is delivered just as Noah and his family were delivered. Moses’ name means to be drawn out of water. In our baptisms we too are drawn out of water into the providential and redeeming promises of God. The story is meant not only to comfort us, but to awaken within us an abiding praise and trust, confident that the Lord is rescuing you and me from even the deepest of threats to our salvation.

Detail:

On July 5, 1942 Margot Frank received a summons

to report to a Nazi work camp.

The Frank family immediately

went into hiding in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

And Anne Frank began writing her diary.

For two years the Frank family,

along with another family,

never stepped out of doors,

never moved from their hiding place.

On August 4, 1944,

a German secret police officer

accompanied by four Dutch Nazis

stormed into the Secret Annex,

arresting everyone that was hiding there

including Anne and her family.

They had been betrayed by an anonymous tip.

In March of 1945,

after captivity in Westerbork, Auschwitz,

and then finally a third concentration camp

Bergen-Belsen,

and only weeks before liberation,

Anne Frank died at the age of 15.

 

Her diary survived.

In it she wrote some surprising insights,

hopes, and responses to this evil

she and many more were suffering:

 “I've found that there is always some beauty left –

in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself;

these can all help you.”

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news.

The good news is that you don't know

how great you can be!

How much you can love!

What you can accomplish!

And what your potential is!”

“How lovely to think that

no one need wait a moment,

we can start now,

start slowly changing the world!

How lovely that everyone, great and small,

can make their contribution

toward introducing justice straightaway...

And you can always, always give something,

even if it is only kindness!”

“Those who have courage and faith

shall never perish in misery”

 

Moses could have written words like this.

He was alive because of responses to evil like this.

He owed a debt of gratitude

to women who lived out these godly, holy hopes,

and his story is given us in Exodus 2.

 

The context is slavery, oppression, fear, and evil.

Pharaoh has turned against these undocumented

Hebrews living in his land.

Tho they do all the heavy lifting for his economy

he has enslaved them.

More, to keep them afraid and submissive,

Pharaoh orders a pro-choice law:

he has ordered,

“Every Hebrew boy that is born

you must throw into the Nile” to die.

 

Our first reaction is to cry out

with the enslaved peoples: where is God?

We turn expectantly to the next chapter,

Exodus 2, which we read from this morning,

but instead of finding God,

we meet a nameless couple.

They marry, and she conceives, and

they are blest with a baby boy.

 

Now what?

What are they to do?

Where is God to help them?

 

So this story asks the questions we ask today

in the face of all that is evil:

what are we to do?

where is God to help us?

 

Exodus begins with stories

that encourage our response to the reality of God even in a world that does its best to hide that reality.

We meet one powerless person after another:

we are not given the names of any of them,

and except for Moses’ father

(who is not named at this time either,

but only referred to

in his serving, grateful relationship to God,

a levite, of the priestly family) –

except for him and the baby boy,

the ones who show God to us,

all of them are women.

They live anonymously

in the world of Pharaoh and his power.

But they change the world.

Because they live by faith:

that is, they discern that this is not Pharaoh’s world

after all, but our world belongs to God.

They seem powerless,

so overlooked they are merely described,

not named:

a levite woman,

a sister,

Pharaoh’s daughter,

her attendants.

But their actions change the world.

The takeaway for each one of us:

The way to respond to evil is

with courage to risk ourselves

for what is extraordinary and fine.

 

This is what the Lord God has made us for.

This is what the Bible reveals.

Scripture is not a random bunch of ideas

but tells the meaning and purpose

of life situations in response to God

who at times is overwhelming in divine presence,

and at other times is hidden behind the scenes,

hard to find,

yet displayed in the sacrifice, suffering, and service

of people of faith.

This is both an assurance and a challenge for us.

We’re assured that even in the worst

there are godly purposes and meaningful actions

for us to pursue.

The Lord will honor such risky sacrifice.

But anyone who has dared to share in suffering

or serve without regard for reward

knows the challenge it is,

beyond us and our self-centered bias

and the weakness of our flesh.

A challenge then, to exercise faith

when our spirits are tempted otherwise.

 

Like Anne Frank experienced:

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news”

“And you can always, always give something”

“Those who have courage and faith

shall never perish in misery”

 

What does that look like?

Could I dare have such faith, such an active trust?

Let’s listen to what this Word of God

reveals to us.

 

The first thing we notice

is that this Hebrew couple

is described as living in relationship to the Lord God.

“a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman.”

 

Later we will find out their names are

Amram and Jochebed.

But what matters is that even tho

they live as slaves in Egypt,

what defines them is not their suffering,

nor Pharaoh’s strength,

but their worship and devotion to the living Lord.

Levites were priests.

In the reality of Christ’s resurrection

we are each and all made priests in his name.

Priests major in sacrifice.

Anointed in Christ’s name

we present ourselves as living sacrifices

of thanksgiving in our responses and actions.

 

There’s that assurance and challenge again.

When I don’t know what to do

the Holy Spirit reminds me who I am:

a priest in Christ’s name.

so sharing in suffering,

willing to join in sacrifice,

tho it’s not easy,

tho it’s the last thing I would choose,

tho I wonder if anyone notices,

tho I fear it won’t accomplish anything,

tho I may be left nameless

I trust that my feeble attempts to insist

this is my Father’s world

and all things are made for God’s glory

mean God will be present to save.

 

Will we take to heart our anointing as priests?

What thankful responses sharing in suffering and sacrifice could each of us bring into this week?

 

The blessing from such faith

is that living in a faith-relationship with the Lord

opens our souls and spirits

to see what’s good and fine and extraordinary.

A baby is born.

It is a boy.

We can hardly imagine both the joy

but also the fear,

knowing Pharaoh’s command.

Did anyone hear the pains of childbirth?

The cries of the newborn boy?

Would officials soon be at the door to

take the baby boy to drown him in the Nile?

 

We suppose these fears.

Exodus 2 only says,

“When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.”

Notice the word ‘fine.’

It’s the creational word used to describe

the Creator’s reaction to creation:

it was very good.

Fine.

 

Even in fear God’s people see what is

good and fine.

We don’t know what Amram and Jochebed

named this baby boy.

He gets the name Moses from Pharaoh’s daughter.

But I think they might have named him Tobi.

The Hebrew word for the goodness of creation

and life and all things beautiful is Tobe.

 

The baby boy was seen as fine, beautiful, a wonder.

Hebrews 11 adds to the description:

23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months

after he was born, because they saw he was no

ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Extraordinary.

 

Whenever you see beauty you are receiving an invitation to God’s presence.

For even the ability to notice something beautiful

or wonderful or fine

is a gift given to you by the Lord.

When you are given the gift to admire

what is fine and good

the Lord has come near you

to invite you into divine presence.

 

And what is proclaimed as fine and good for us

is human life.

There is no such thing as an ordinary child.

Pharaoh wants to use human life for his own gain.

Pharaoh doesn’t see the beauty of human life.

Pharaoh chooses to do away with human life.

But this is our Father’s world,

and life is beautiful, wonderful, fine, good.

The way to respond to evil is

with courage to risk ourselves

for what is extraordinary and fine.

 

This is the gospel good news God’s people

must witness to in all the tragedy and evil

in our country today.

The issues surrounding immigration,

refugees, human rights, gun violence,

abortion, and racism,

may seem complicated.

So the default response today for so many

is to defend political stances above all.

The result is fear,

and fear brings out our selfishness.

 

But you are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.

And the first way to do that is to

insist that locally and nationally we risk ourselves

for what is good and fine.

The Lord insists human life is good and fine.

Any defense,

any social media response,

any action

that doesn’t first seek the welfare of the person

just adds to the noise,

but we are called to bring a good word.

Practice protecting what is good and fine.

And we’ll find that what seems complicated

isn’t as much as we thought.

 

Look at the women in this account.

See the kingdom value of taking care of children

and all the vulnerable and oppressed.

They recognize what is good and fine of God,

so now they will act accordingly.

Did you notice how different, how holy,

the behavior of those in this story

compared to our natural reactions

to threat and suffering?

 

The family lives under Pharaoh’s cruelty.

They spend their days as slaves.

And now there is a personal threat to life.

They are nameless; they have no power to exercise.

But I don’t read here any of our usual responses:

nobody cries out:

doesn’t God just want me to be happy?

No one concludes the Lord is absent.

None say because we suffer so much evil

this proves there is no God.

We don’t read of despair.

Or anger.

Neither do we see them helpless.

Instead they act based on living in God’s kingdom, trusting the God who rescues and delivers,

and that all things, the earth as it is,

and our lives as they are,

are made for his glory.

So they find courage to protect this life.

 

They can hide him for three months.

But now he’s getting too big, too noisy now.

And they fear being found out.

What can they do?

This is what they do:

3 But when she could hide him no longer,

she got a papyrus basket for him

and coated it with tar and pitch.

Then she placed the child in it

and put it among the reeds

along the bank of the Nile.

4 His sister stood at a distance

to see what would happen to him.

 

We can’t imagine the fear,

the desperation,

the pressure that forces such a decision.

But do that a moment,

and try to imagine a little of today’s

fear, desperation, and pressure

on migrating families,

on persecuted Christians

we are currently deporting back

to where they face their persecutors.

What desperation causes people –

fathers, mothers, with children -

to throw yourself on the mercy of others?

Can you feel that, imagine that,

share in their suffering for a moment?

 

At this bleak moment

we are given a little humor

to teach us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Jochebed doesn’t know what to do,

so she does what Pharaoh would do!

She acts like the powerful one.

He wants all baby boys in the Nile River.

So that’s just what she does!

Altho she makes up a basket first,

making it as stable and waterproofed as she can.

 

The humor is God is stronger than Pharaoh.

Pharaoh made the law, but God saves by grace.

The law is no match for grace.

Trust obeys God rather than men.

 

We learn assurance and comfort here.

The word used for the basket that carries the boy

Tobi, I said, remember, tho that’s just me.

The word used to carry

what is fine and good and extraordinary,

the basket,

is actually the same word

used in Noah’s story for the ark.

What is fine (Tobi – Moses) was placed in an ark.

Jochebed is powerless,

but she knows the power of God’s story,

so she trusts her place

in the grand story of God.

Choose to act knowing the Lord is with you,

and nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.

There’s a reason we teach the old Bible stories

to our children in Sunday School.

 

Already this summer we heard

the warning to Cain that sin is a force to be mastered,

not excused or justified,

but he gave into it choosing violence against Abel.

Then the wonder of the rainbow’s promise

after Noah’s Ark,

reminding us that there is always a rainbow

hanging over our head.

After that

the all or nothing faith of Abraham with Isaac,

telling us the reality of God isn’t an idea in our head

or a spin on life,

but faith demands daily investment of our soul.

And last week God’s messenger wrestling Jacob

to a new identity and re-directed desires . . .

the shock of it all may make us wonder

whether these are the sorts of lessons

for our children, or even us!

 

It dawns on us that these accounts

build a foundation for living.

That’s why we teach them to our children,

that’s why they stay with us,

each is designed to form and shape us

in the reality of God’s covenant of grace.

 

You know the TV show, This Is Us?

That’s what you can say about the message

of these accounts in the Old Testament.

This is Us,

these stories are our history.

They teach us foundational ways to live.

Foundations are important,

because we rest our outlook, our actions,

our hope and our motivations,

our goals for living,

why we do what we do,

value what we value,

and live how we live,

on the basis of these foundations.

Marriages are healthier

when husbands and wives

share the same foundations:

being on the same page helps

with financial decisions,

with time commitments and stances toward work, loving our neighbors,

getting thru hard times,

living to pray and worship,

how to love one another,

how to raise children.

Knowing what’s essential helps each one of us

when tough decisions are before us.

What is negotiable,

what’s non-negotiable,

the trouble we get into

often can be traced

to compromising on non-negotiables,

and not compromising on negotiables.

 

Build your house on the rock,

taught the wise eternal carpenter Jesus,

he was talking about more than a house,

he was talking about your life,

your peace, your safety, your well-being.

Because storms will come to threaten us.

Scriptural texts like this one teach us

that it’s foundational that God made us in his image,

we are made to worship him,

the world is ordered by higher laws than whoever is in power,

life is about struggling against sin,

and struggling with God

for the deliverance of those who are oppressed.

 

The result is joy.

Joy even in sacrifice.

It’s not what Amram and Jochebed wanted that Moses becomes the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

There is further trust they must exercise.

But did you see a little more humor?

Did you smile a little when Miriam

has the courage to approach Pharaoh’s daughter

and suggest she might find a nanny?

I know just the mom for him.

And Pharaoh’s daughter says great,

I’ll pay her well.

Miriam gains courage from godly foundations,

and has the smarts and daring

to help both her brother and her parents.

Who is in charge after all?

This is my Father’s world.

 

An authentic faith will be risky -

in the way loving is risky,

the way carrying a cross is sacrifice,

the way forgiving is patience, forbearance,

and trusting that God is the best judge.

Israel is only beginning her exodus,

her journey to the promised land.

And there will be much desert wilderness

to travel first.

So packing for the journey appropriately

means clarifying your values,

taking in your soul and on your back

only what’s vital,

because there’s only so much you can take along

and only so much that is helpful for the journey.

 

Tobi’s known name to us is Moses.

One drawn out of water.

His story becomes your story at baptism.

There we too are drawn out of water.

We too live by the promises of the Heavenly Father.

It’s an invitation to find your place

in the story of the one God who

took on our suffering.

Who isn’t responsible for evil or tragedy

but takes responsibility for it,

conquering it with the cross and empty tomb.

 

Throughout history Christians have boldly taken

such a place in the exodus story.

Christians have a  tradition of hiding the persecuted: Moses,

believers in Rome,

slaves running for freedom,

Jews during WW2,

even persecuted Christians today.

Most of their names don’t survive,

but their love in Christ does.

Maybe it didn’t look like much,

just like the beginning of Israel’s exodus

doesn’t look like much

as it begins with gentiles, women, mothers, sisters, and a baby.

Our exodus continues in the risen Lord.

Who calls us in thanksgiving to risk ourselves for what is good and fine.

 

“I've found that there is always some beauty left –

in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself;

these can all help you.”

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news.

And you can always, always give something,

even if it is only kindness!”

“Those who have courage and faith

shall never perish in misery”

 

The story of Moses is kept alive

in the lives of those who exercise faith,

notice what is fine and good,

and trust the one who carried the cross

that

The way to respond to evil is

with courage to risk ourselves

for what is extraordinary and fine.