A crazy king, a series of wise and resourceful women, and a God who bends the universe towards justice

This is the story of a crazy king, a series of wise and resourceful women, and a God who bends the universe towards justice. It is an ancient morality play that helped the people of Israel answer several important questions. More important: it is a story that guides us as we try to answer these same questions today and help God bend the universe towards justice.

We all know the story of how Moses was born, went for a trip down the Nile River, and came to be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. But I want to suppose how this strange tale came to be. I want to suppose how this Egyptian Pharaoh decided on what turned out to be a disastrous course of action.

Although the Bible does not give this Monarch a name, I suppose his first name was Donald. And I can just see t Pharaoh Donald sitting there with his advisers one fine day as they’re trying to figure out how to boost the monarch slumping popularity.

I suppose there was one advisor there who interrupted the discussion to express a very simple concern: the birthplace of Egyptian woman was falling while the birth rate among the people of Israel was rising. I suppose he warned Pharaoh Donald that soon Egypt would be overrun by those people, the immigrants, these foreigners. Can’t you just hear him warning Pharaoh Donald that soon Egyptians would be a minority in their own country – that soon their religion would be a – gasp – minority religion?

And can’t you here Pharaoh Donald say “Egypt for the Egyptians!” I can imagine the mild applause that greets this nonsensical slogan.

And then another advisor warns that soon the people of Israel could be a fifth column for a nation attacking Egypt. After all, that’s the argument that led to the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War And by internment, I mean the placing of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps on American soil. Like the people of Israel, they were foreigners, strangers in a strange land.

In response, I can almost hear Pharaoh Donald say “Jews will not replace us!” And I can almost hear the applause of his advisers grow even louder. Emboldened by this surge in approval, Pharaoh Donald came up with his first idea, one his advisors thought was amazing. The Pharaoh decided to tell midwives to kill all the boy babies of Jewish mothers. Without any men to marry, he reasoned, the Jewish population would collapse, and Egypt would once again be safe for Egyptians.

But the Jewish midwives declined to be part of this bloody scheme. At first, they simply ignored the Pharaoh’s inhuman order. When called to task, the midwives explained to Pharaoh Donald that Jewish women were so hardy they simply gave birth before they needed a midwife. This played into Pharaoh Donald’s racist ideas, so he did not punish the Jewish midwives.

Pharaoh Donald next great idea was to order Jewish Mothers to kill their own newborn sons by throwing them in the Nile River. But Pharaoh Donald’s decree wasn’t specific enough to work well. He didn’t say the child had be thrown in the river immediately after birth. He didn’t say you couldn’t put you baby boy in a waterproof basket and hope he would be found and saved by someone downriver. So that is just what one Jewish woman did.

The mother of Moses held onto her son for as long as she could, but after 3 months, she had to follow the Pharaohs’ order. So she took a reed basket, waterproofed it, placed her son inside, wrapped him up, and sent him on his way. Technically she followed the Pharaoh’s orders.

Perhaps she didn’t know that her daughter, the baby’s big sister, had some plans of her own. I can just see Sister Miriam making sure the baby brothers basket ended up right where Pharaoh’s daughter tended to bathe in the Nile. Then Miriam hid in the reeds to see what would happen.

She saw a Pharaoh’s daughter notice the basket, order it be brought to her, and heard her delight at finding a beautiful baby boy inside. I can almost see Miriam nonchalantly walk over to ask Pharaoh’s daughter if she needs someone to nurse the boy child. Which is how Miriam came to return her baby brother to their mother a few minutes later it must have been an interesting discussion. Can’t you imagine it?

“Mom, the good news is my baby brother has been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and you are now employed by her to nurse the baby. The bad news is he now has an Egyptian name. Not a bad trade, eh?”

All of this is just the first part of the Moses story, the part we heard today. We’ll hear more of it in coming weeks. It’s a great story, and one which was made into a major motion picture back in 1956. It was a stupendous spectacle of a movie- a cast of thousands! It was produced by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in VistaVision and had color by Technicolor! Huge sets and scenic vistas! State-of-the-art special effects! And some of the biggest stars of the day – stars like you’ll Yul Brynner as Rameses, playing the evil and somewhat Oriental looking pharaoh. Charlton Heston played the great patriarch Moses.

It was, for its time, a great movie. But back then people understood that to make the transition from being a written book into being emotion picture, required that the production team employ some artistic license. No one expected this movie to be a verbatim transcript of the Bible.  They expected a movie moved them – that wowed them – they did not expect a history lesson. And that is good because the source they used was not really a history book.

In fact, the authors and editors of the Book of Genesis also employed a great deal of artistic silence. For they wrote and revised the Book of Genesis and the story of the exodus to answer some four very simple questions:

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Where are we today?
  3. Where we going?
  4. And perhaps most important of all: what makes us special?

To answer these questions, the authors and editors of the Book of Genesis focused on a series of patriarchal Heroes. We’ve met some of them: Abraham, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Now the authors and editors of Genesis build Moses into the greatest prophet of the People of Israel, a foundational figure who does so many things it seems unlikely any one person could have done everything attributed to Moses. But historical accuracy is not the point: their goal was the answer those four very basic questions for the people of Israel. They worked to create a mythology to bring people together into what became Kind David’s unified Jewish nation.

Why consider Genesis to be a book of stories and formative mythology? Perhaps because it is so hard to find any historical text or archeological evidence that supports this story. Just look at what happens when Moses Tangles with Pharaoh Donald.

Moses unleashes a series of plagues which includes turning the River Nile red and killing the first born male child of every Egyptian. He then leads the Jews who are slaves out of Egypt, and finds a path that leads to the death of the Egyptian Army. Yet none of this is mentioned or supported by any historical source nor any historical archaeologic findings. You would think if someone managed to do all these things, someone would note it somewhere.

Instead of the first mention, we have of the people of Israel is in the year 1206 Before the Common Era. That source describes a tribe that would later become the people of Israel. Back then they weren’t even a nation – they were just a tribe. And the way the tribe of the Israelites became the people of Israel grows out of sharing the stories in the Book of Genesis. Remember those four questions?

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Where are we today?
  3. Where we going?
  4. What makes us special?

The Book of Genesis and especially the story of the Exodus explained to the people of Israel where they came from. The Exodus story offers the people of Israel a sense of who they were at the time these stories were told. It also provides the ritual of Passover to help keep this story alive. And it gives a destination for the people of Israel: the Promised Land! Perhaps most important, the Exodus and related stories of Genesis confer upon the people of Israel the status of God’s chosen people – it explains why they are important. And the story of Moses can help us answer these same four questions today.

  1. Where did we come from?

Well, that’s easy, here at Saint Cyprian’s, we are followers of Jesus, and are children of God. In terms of national identity, our country is known as a Melting Pot of many different cultures, races, and beliefs. This is our national mythology.

  1. Where are we today?

This is a hard question to answer. We are at a place where none of us ever expected to be. Some of our most basic assumptions and beliefs about America are being shaken to the core. But we’re also developing a place of resistance and resilience. We’re becoming more organized, more focused, and more honest about our disagreements. Challenged by current events, we are at a place of hope, community, and love.

  1. Where we going?

That’s another question that is difficult to answer. Every week I tell you I didn’t think it was going to get any worse and every week things get worse.

This was the week president decided to expand the war in Afghanistan. We don’t have money to fight homelessness, provide Health Care to all our people, to feed the hungry, or to provide a solid education to our children – but we have money to expand the longest war in American history.

This was the week of a bizarre presidential campaign rally in Phoenix which left even die-hard supporters of this president bored but not yet disillusioned.

This was the week when the man in the White House decided to punish his enemies by excluding transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces. This petty, childish ban stands as a low point in this Administration.

  1. Perhaps most important of all: what makes us special?

We used to believe that America was a bright shining light of democracy, decency, and the rule of law. But the current president’s pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio shakes our belief in the rule of law. Perhaps it’s just a dry run when this President pardons everyone who might be charged with a crime based on Russian interference in the election. Or perhaps it is how he gets back at his critics. But what makes us special – what makes you and I special – isn’t the fact that we are Americans. What makes us special is that we believe we are children of God. We believe we are called to love and serve God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We continue to face difficult times. What is the story of Moses tells us is to have hope: people have faced difficult times before and they have overcome. They have turned the tables on the powers of darkness by following the wisdom of women, by being resourceful, and by resisting evil. Through these efforts, the people of God have been able to bend the arc of our universe a little more towards Justice. The story of Moses also reminds us that politicians who use immigrants as scapegoats are not innovations of the 21st Century. Political leaders have long used the alien and the friendless as punching bags. But just as God derailed the Pharaoh’s plans, so we can work with God to derail the plans of those who would destroy our nation, upend our economy, and leave this planet a barren sphere that may be unable to support human life. We can overcome: we shall overcome. For that is the path Moses shows us. And it is the path we are called to follow here at the corner of Turk and Lyon in the NoPA neighborhood of San Francisco’s Western Addition.

Let us pray:

God, you are the power of liberation,

calling your servant Moses

to lead your people into freedom,

and giving him the wisdom to proclaim your holy law.

Be our Passover from the land of injustice,

be the light that leads us to the perfect rule of love,

that we may be citizens of your unfettered reign;

we ask this through Jesus Christ,

the pioneer of our salvation.

May the people say: Amen.

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