Moses, the truth, and following God.
St Anne’s Porirua 24 August 2014
The story of Moses in the bulrushes is a favourite from Sunday school isn’t it? The little baby, vulnerable in his cradle of reeds, set afloat on the river. It’s got all the features of a good story – there is tension and resolution. We worry about the child, but we know he will be ok.
But let’s back up the story a bit, to look at why this wee fellow was set afloat.
The Hebrew people were growing strong in the land. This is the same group of people that we heard about in readings from the last two weeks – Joseph’s family. Remember how they came out of famine into Egypt, to survive because of Joseph’s prudence. But we come forward a few generations, till the ruler in charge of Egypt no longer remembers Joseph and what he did for Egypt. Now there is just an annoying racial minority group in the land, who seem to pose a threat to the Egyptians. The rulers impose harsh work on them, and use them as slave labour for large building projects. When that is not enough to stem the Pharaoh’s paranoia, his mind goes to infanticide! This tells us something about what sort of person he is, and how human life is not valued in his culture. It’s interesting how we never know the name of the Pharaoh, but we do know the names of the midwives – Shiprah and Puah. They listen to the Pharaoh’s plan of killing all the baby boys, but they make an excuse not to follow out his orders. It goes against their faith to kill anyone, so they need an excuse. Here we see how lying to authority, or even bending the truth a bit, can be for the greater good. The midwives were no way going to carry out an evil order that would force them to kill tiny babies. So they make an excuse which promotes how strong and healthy the Hebrew women are, and how weak the Egyptian women are, in comparison.
Unfortunately, Pharaoh doesn’t leave his genocidal ideas there- he orders his people to throw baby boys into the river Nile! Now, I’m not an expert at the biology and ecosystem of the Nile 2500 years ago, but there are crocodiles mentioned in the Bible at times, and there are crocodiles there now. So throwing a baby into the river would mean a certain death, even if they manage to avoid drowning somehow.
Moses’ mother does indeed put her baby boy into the Nile, but while following the letter of the law, she has an idea that may save him. He will float safely in his little ark, until it lodges in the reeds, and maybe a kind person will take pity on this baby and raise him.
That’s where the sister Miriam comes in. She is put as a spy, to see where the boat goes, to see of anyone finds her brother.
That’s why she is on hand to suggest to the princess who takes him up that she can find a Hebrew nurse for the child. The irony of this is that the princess not only allows Moses’ own mother to nurse him, but she is paid for her services!
What does this story have for us? Maybe it tells us that there are times when it is the right thing to do to lie to authority. That some laws and edicts are not God’s will, and that we need to follow our conscience about whether we follow them. In fact, it is our duty as Christians to stand up against injustice wherever we find it, and if it is part of the system, if the injustice is ingrained in laws and rules which affect peoples’ lives, we need to fight against them, for the sake of those who cannot fight. New Zealand is a reasonable country in many ways, but there are always things that can be better. In these days of global communications, we can also fight for people in other countries – it is no harder to send an email to the US than it is to send it next door. Of course the best way of helping people in need has always been global – praying can make huge differences. Pray for those in need, wherever and whoever they are.
Will it cost us to make a stand? Yes, but our Romans reading urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. What does that mean? It means that what we have, our very being, our life and our health, are not just for us to squander. Our bodies are part of the resources of God’s kingdom on earth. We can use our strength, our voices, our typing fingers, our hugging arms, in short everything we are and have, to serve God’s kingdom on earth.
We will not all be the same in what we are called to do. Paul goes on to tell us abut some of the many ministries that make up the body of Christ. Some are called to be prophets – that means telling it like it us. Pointing out the injustice, the inconsistency, the gaps that people fall through. Some are called to ministry -compassionate caring, whether professionally or pastorally. You may be a nurse, a neighbour, a friend. You can minister. Some are called to teach, to share the knowledge that you have with others. That can be any sort of knowledge, and these gifts all need to be exercised with humility. That’s why Paul tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. But how can we know how to think of ourselves? How can we know what our calling is?
I believe that if we seek to serve others, and not to enlarge our own reputation, we are on the right track. Calling is one of those tricky things that’s really hard to define. When I first felt a sense of call to the ordained ministry, I had to write several essays about what my call was. It’s really hard to put into words, but there is a way to test your calling. If you are operating within your giftings, what you are doing will give you life and energy. If it drains you, then it is not your calling, no matter how noble the work you may have been doing. Stick with the things that give you life, and let others take up the other roles.
It may be that we feel we can do something better than another person would do it, but is that really God talking? Or is it pride? I have been guilty of this – several years ago I was teaching singing in a music school, and we put on a little concert. I had volunteered to introduce the items, knowing that I was quite good at that sort of thing. At the time however, I was losing my voice, probably due to the same sort of bugs I’ve been fighting off this week. Other people offered to introduce the items for me, but I declined, knowing that what I would say would be so much better than what they would say. Was this sensible? no, no one could hear me. Was it pride? Yes. Guilty.
There are times when we need to step aside from ministries to allow others to take them up. They may well not do them as well as we would, but growing the kingdom means starting with baby steps.
We don’t have to be perfect – Peter wasn’t perfect, and yet he knew exactly who Jesus was and is. If we know that Jesus is the living son of God, we will know that we can always rely on him, that everything we do can be offered up to him in prayer, and that he will guide us by the Holy Spirit.
I love the line that Jesus says to Peter – you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. He renames Simon as Peter – which is the Greek word for Rock. Jesus doesn’t mean Rocky, as in unstable and dodgy, but Rock, like bedrock. Firm and unshakeable.
This is the first time that the church is mentioned. It’s all too easy nowadays to hear that Jesus wanted to build the church on Peter, and hear it through 2000 years of history. The church is a large edifice, and a huge institution. But if it is built on a passionate and flawed individual like Peter, there is room in the church for everyone. That’s because the Church is built on Peter’s acknowledgement of who Jesus is –
‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
For us to be church, to be the body of Christ on earth, we must base everything we do on Peter’s view of Jesus. The Messiah – the anointed, chosen one. The son of the living God. Not just any son, but THE son. The offspring, the only one. The living God. not a dead God, not an idea our ancestors worshipped, not even the God our parents worshipped. The Living God means that God is ever-present with us, ever-changing, ever real. There is life flowing from the living God. That is why the church is based on the rock that is Peter.