The Baby’s in the Bathwater
TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, AUGUST 23RD, 2020 EXODUS 1:8-2:10 From Eden to Egypt: 12
One of the great joys in life must surely be finding a bargain. That deep sense of satisfaction when you go to a yard sale and find something you really need for 50 cents. It’s the joy that Morace Park, a British antiques dealer, felt after going on Ebay and paying 3 pounds 20 for one of those old metal movie-reel containers, and then finding inside a never-released seven-minute film featuring Charlie Chaplin made in 1916. It’s now been valued by an auctioneer at one million pounds. It’s the joy of Kent Devey when he paid $25 for a used BlackBerry and later discovered the numbers and e-mail addresses of 50 A-list celebrities, including Natalie Portman and Kevin Spacey in the phone’s contacts list. And it’s the joy of Lutheran Pastor Mike Ernst of Hales Corners, Wisconsin when he stumbled across a rusty Chevy Corvette from the early 60s. When he took it to his barn and began the slow work of restoration it soon became clear that this was no ordinary Corvette. This old clunker turned out to be the world famous 1962 Gulf Oil Corvette – a car that won first place 12 times at Daytona and beyond. He had paid $3,000 for it. He later sold it at auction for $1.4 million.
Sometimes the baby is in the bathwater. You don’t expect it, you don’t go looking for it, you don’t even know what to make of it when you find it, but sometimes the baby is in the bathwater. And here she comes to take a bath, oblivious to the fact that she is about to stumble upon a find so precious and remarkable that it will change the world for all time. She is nameless. She is powerful, she’s courageous, she is compassionate, but we don’t know her name. She’s Pharaoh’s daughter and she plays a profound role in the salvation of the world.
We’re at Part 12 of our of our summer sermon series, From Egypt to Eden. And we’ve arrived at our destination. We got there two weeks ago, courtesy of Joseph, minus his dreamcoat, and his riches to rage back to riches journey from pit to prison to palace. He ended last week’s story as a hero – the second mightiest man in the Egyptian empire, and supervisor of the food program at a time of global famine. Well, it’s been a long week. In fact 400 years have passed in the last seven days. Joseph is dead, obviously, and so, tragically, is his memory. The Hebrew people – the descendants of Joseph and his 11 brothers, now form a large population in Egypt. So much so, that the new Pharaoh fears them. Because he doesn’t know history, he is ignorant of the bonds that his ancestors formed with the ancestors of the Hebrews. Together they had joined minds and hearts and faced down a common scourge – famine. Together they had built a prosperous region, and together they lived, worked, gave birth, matured, and died in peace.
When people lose their common story, bad things happen. If only this new pharaoh had known how once these two peoples – Egyptians and Hebrews, had lived peacefully and productively together. Perhaps his hand would have been kept from tyranny. People who don’t remember the past are doomed to make its mistakes. Pharaoh surveys the multitude of Hebrews and fears their power. And when the powerful fear losing their control, then look out. Tyranny may follow.
There’s no hint that the Hebrews threatened Pharaoh’s power. All they had done is obey God’s instruction to Adam and Eve in the Garden – remember that? Week One in the series, June 7th it was. Be fruitful and multiply. And Joseph and his family did. But now the King of Egypt worries. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’, and pharaoh is kept awake by anxious thoughts – what if they rise up they might be strong enough to take us. What if they side with an enemy – it might be the end of us. And the first of many holocausts is unleashed against the Hebrew people. We’re familiar with the last one 80 years ago, but this was the first, 3,500 years ago.
So Pharaoh makes them slaves. Indentured workers on the great public building programs that gave us some wondrous ancient monuments. But this doesn’t stop the Hebrews from growing even greater in number. So, by and by, as his fear grows, so does the king’s cruelty. Pharaoh orders the midwives to kill male Hebrew babies as soon as they are born. The midwives, however, “fear God” more than they fear Pharaoh, and they ignore his orders. They make excuses. ‘Forgive us your majesty, but these Hebrew women in labor are strong, and before we can get to them, they have already given birth and so we aren’t able to snatch the boys and kill them.’
And along with his frustration, grows Pharaoh’s fear. Now he commands the citizens of Egypt to seek out Hebrew boys. Paul says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and he’s surely right. But if there is another root of evil, then it must be fear. It is fear that drove this tyrant, fear that stokes suspicion, violence, prejudice, and all kinds of sins that drive us apart from each other. It’s fear that makes people steal, horde, and ignore others in need. It’s fear of destruction that leads to arms races, and fear of rejection that causes us to lie and manipulate.
The Egyptian people had been granted by God a wonderful gift. The River Nile. It transformed the desert into a place of fertility and prosperity, and without this gift Egypt could not exist. But now the gift is turned to a means of murder. The Hebrew boys are to be thrown into it, where Nile crocodiles would do the rest. And the scene is set for the next moment in God’s eternal plan of salvation.
By now, we’ve learned that the writers of these great stories in Genesis and Exodus have a keen nose for irony. And here’s one more in today’s events. Pharaoh targeted male children. But it was two Hebrew women, the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who courageously defied him and saved many children. It is a Hebrew woman, the mother of Moses, who foils his plans with a simple woven basket. It is an Egyptian princess who finds and rescues Moses, and a Hebrew girl, Moses’ sister, who persuades her to find him a wet nurse who is actually his real mother. A man in this story sems to have all the power, and yet it is the women that God uses to being about salvation.
Here’s a picture of faith, for you that we are understanding from these wonderful stories. Faith is the guy on a submarine who listens to the sonar. He has earphones on and is listening for the slightest sound to indicate the presence of another submarine. Often, the course of action the captain orders is because of what the sailor at that post picks up. Much of the time, the captain has to make a decision, based on the faintest of whispers the man with the earphones believes he has heard among all the other sounds of the sea.
Apparently, one of the official requirements to be a sonar technician in the navy, surprisingly, is “normal hearing.” I would have thought they’d look for submariners with super-sensitive hearing, but normal hearing is all that is asked for.
Faith, too, seeks out the quiet sounds of God in the world filled with deafening noise. But as on a submarine, it does not take extraordinary spiritual ears to detect God’s work. All we need is ears, and the will to listen carefully.
God often works in quiet mode – that is the feature of computers that updates your system of your software when you’re asleep or when you are busy doing something else. To go into quiet mode a computer will suspend certain activities, and use its memory in a way that will benefit you. Functions that need a lot of memory are halted so that in a few minutes, you will enjoy higher performance. But you can still carry out low-level activities while the program is in quite mode. (By the way, I know nothing about computers and I read that. Did it show?) If it feels like God is in quiet mode – unobtrusively at work, believe it. And wait. One day you may be shocked at the upgrade in your performance.
One of the finest preachers in the Episcopal Church is Barbara Brown Taylor. “These words are hers: “If there is a switch to flip, I have never found it. As with Jacob, most of my visions of the divine have happened while I was busy doing something else. I did nothing to make them happen. They happened to me the same way a thunderstorm happens, or a bad cold, or the sudden awareness that I am desperately in love. My only part is to decide how I will respond, since there is plenty I can do to make them go away, namely: 1) I can figure that I have had too much caffeine again; 2) I can remind myself that visions are not true in the same way that taxes and the evening news are true; or 3) I can return my attention to everything I need to get done today. These are only a few of the things I can do to talk myself out of living in the House of God. Or I can set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish — separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
And so, this week, may you spot the baby in the bathwater. May you hear with the focus of a sonar detector, and then may you live in the light of God’s revelation to you.