Before Moses was the guy standing in the middle of nowhere staring into a burning bush, before he was the man who would perform miracles and defy Pharaoh and his court, before he was the one who stormed his people across the Red Sea, received the Ten Commandments, and led his people thisclose to the Promised Land, Moses was just a baby in a basket floating down the river.
A baby who was condemned to die…
A baby who was given up by his mother because his chances were better floating on the river than staying at home…
A baby who was marked for elimination because of where he was from, what his name was, and what he looked like.
Wow, cheery Children’s Sabbath sermon, you say, thanks, Pastor, for popping all of the balloons.
We have it straight from Scripture that stories like that of little baby Moses matter to God. Get this: James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Wait… the Bible says that religion, the practice of our faith, is to look after the underrepresented, those without parents, without husbands, without families? Look it up: it says it right there.
That’s what makes this story of God-fearing, God-representing, God-terrified Moses, the guy who didn’t want to be God’s mouthpiece but becomes the representation of God in the world, even more amazing. Because God uses people that everyone else has dismissed, forgotten about, and marginalized.
Several decades have passed since last week’s sermon (I know, some of you slept through that one!) The Egyptian pharaoh didn’t remember what Joseph had done (remember, last week, well several thousands years ago, he saved Egypt from the Great Famine-Recession-Depression of 1600 BC or some such) and this new pharaoh said all of the boy babies born to Moses’ people should be put to death. (Sorry, guys, you would’ve been in trouble; the girls were safe.) This new pharaoh worried that if there were enough Hebrew men, that they could overthrow their slaveholding oppressors and stage a coup. So he figured he would preemptively have them all killed off.
That’s when this story takes a sharp turn from the evil of one man to the goodness and courage of several women.
Even in the midst of persecution- what must’ve felt like worldwide persecution- God was raising up leaders. It’s like that commercial that starts with the man giving the speech (we get the impression that he’s going to be president) and then it rewinds to show how his mom and dad met through all of the crazy twists and turns that brought them together- all in thirty seconds. Even though the Israelite people were being starved and beaten and mistreated, even though they couldn’t see how their world would ever get better, God was raising up the answer to the problem.
But first the community responded. The first people to defy Pharaoh’s decree that all of these boys were to be killed were the midwives, the women responsible for helping the mothers give birth. They refused to execute the boys like they were told to, so even while Hebrew men were being beaten as slaves, there was a new generation of Israelites coming, a next stage of God’s people. Sometimes, the answer to oppression and violence and evil is that people have to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s the opposite of that Batman Begins quote: all it takes for goodness to win sometimes is for people to decide to do something.
So here’s the answer to “what can we do?” lying in a basket in his parents tiny mud hut. The answer was Moses, but he was just a baby. A normal baby, with normal baby problems like diapers, and crankiness, and constant hunger, and little sleep. Oh wait, maybe I’m talking about his parents! Like many of us, they figured out how to make the baby but they didn’t know what to do with him once he was born. Born into a world of not enough, and violence, and fear, and a sense of hopelessness. A world that many of us can relate to today.
Moses was a baby, but he was an enemy combatant baby, if you can believe that. And his very existence put his family at risk, so his mother decided that the best option for him …. was floating down a basket on the river.
Not with her. Not with his family. In a basket on the river.
It’s hard to judge Moses’ mother because we’ve probably never been in that situation but it has to have been hard on her. We have to believe that she spent sleepless nights worrying about what to do for him, and nights on her knees in prayer. She has to have believed that if God was really good, if God had a plan for her young son, then she was going to have to give up control of the situation and let God do God’s thing.
So his mother puts him in the basket… and his older sister, Miriam, watches over him. She’s the third woman in the situation, after the midwife and Moses’ mother, to really go big or go home (we’ll get to that in a minute) but it’s significant that a young woman, a teenager, was used in the process that went from left behind baby to national /spiritual leader.
Miriam is watching, hiding behind some bushes, and… the Pharaoh’s daughter shows up. Now, if you’ve heard this story before, put aside what you know and consider this: Pharaoh is the one having Israelite baby boys killed, and his daughter just walked up on one. What would happen if this worked normally? It would be one short story, right? It would be a story where the daughter obeys her ruler, her father, and culturally ends what is perceived to be a threat to her people’s existence.
But Pharaoh’s daughter defies Pharaoh. We realize that she saw an innocent baby who hadn’t done anything to anyone, not an enemy combatant; she recognized that people were afraid but that she wouldn’t make fear a factor for her; that even in the Egyptians, who will be painted as evil and awful by the end of the Israelites’ exodus, that at least one Egyptian was moved by God.
We don’t know what she was like otherwise, if her heart grew ten sizes that day like the Grinch, or if she was a normal person who recognized that there was something bigger in the world, or if she was just a woman who wanted to raise a baby. Whatever it was, she looked down at this baby boy who really didn’t have a chance, who was just one of a million kids like him who’d be subject to the Pharaoh’s wrath, and this woman, pulled him out of the water, and saved him.
And Miriam inserts herself into the action- and offers up her mother as the nursemaid to this baby that the pharaoh’s daughter has saved. The pharaoh’s daughter agrees and years later, Moses is returned to the pharaoh’s palace to be raised as the pharaoh’s grandchild. He’s learned what it means to be Hebrew- and Egyptian. And the pharaoh’s daughter calls him Moses, because “I drew him out of the water,” a remarkable story that could be a Lifetime film right there: “Abandoned Kid Rescued By Royalty.”
Instead, there are two things that are significant. The first is that Moses’ story doesn’t end there, that this might not even be the most remarkable part of Moses’ story! Moses is the single-most important person in the history of Judaism, which might (to some) make him the most important person to Christianity outside of Jesus. Consider this: if Moses isn’t used by God, then how does God fulfill all of the promises to deliver his people into the land they’re supposed to go to? If Moses isn’t used by God, then who does God give the Ten Commandments to?
[As an aside: did God appear to multiple people through burning bushes? That Moses was the most willing? Take a look at the story of Moses in Exodus 2 and ask yourself if he seemed willing…]
Moses is incredibly important- and he started out as a cast off baby.
That makes me wonder, on Children’s Sabbath, what we’re supposed to be doing for the Moses babies in our families, our neighborhood, our community, our church. Are we, the church, caring for widows and orphans as we’re instructed to? Are we lifting up, with our time and our money and the way we vote, the kids who eat free lunch at school and require extra tutoring? Are we caring for the children of working parents or alcoholics or those simply too young to know what to do with their own kids?
I wonder if we’re not called to be midwives. Or big sisters. Or, if in a world that has changed, if we’re not called to witness to the love of God by being those so culturally different that we’re called to be like Pharaoh’s daughter?
Last week, I was flipping through my Sports Illustrated. I’m a magazine junkie and average four a week, but SI is still (and always will be) the best. Depending on where you live, you either got the 1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi cover or you got the cover featuring Isaiah Lamb, one of the hundreds of thousands of student athletes who competed for school and went to class without a house to call home. See, Lamb and his parents washed in the bathroom sinks of a 24-hour laundromat, used the unoccupied chairs as a living room, and parked their car out back to catch some sleep. Lamb represents the Department of Education statistics that the SI article highlighted.
-In 2013, the U.S. D of E reported that of all the kids going to elementary, middle, and high school, 1.2 million of them didn’t have a regular place to sleep. No, that sounds too benign: there are over a million homeless kids under the age of 18 in the United States.
-Kids who have been homeless are 87% more likely to stop going to school than kids who have never been homeless.
-Percentages stink: Over 80% of kids who have been homeless have experienced serious violence and abuse; homeless kids go hungry twice as often; half of them can’t keep up to proficiency in reading or math.
Is your heart breaking?
These kids are homeless, and sometimes hopeless.
Isaiah Lamb was homeless.
Moses was homeless.
Jesus was homeless.
Ever wondered what would’ve happened if there would’ve been room in the inn?
Ever wonder what would’ve happened if… fill in the blank.
You don’t need to be a parent to be a mentor or a friend or a listening ear, or a change agent. Parents are responsible for raising children, but the community is responsible for shaping leaders, from school teachers to nursery workers to every adult who interacts with a child on Sunday morning. It’s our job to make a difference.
In fact, the change agent cited is often sports… or church.
Church makes a difference. In theory, we knew that already, because we’re here. But what if we look at the second insight in this story of Moses. A little lesson about water- and baptism.
The second insight I see in the Moses story involves that ongoing, cyclical story of how the human story is continually pulled out of the water. We are pulled from the waters when God forms the land in Creation; we are rescued first by Ark and later with the parting of the Red Sea. When we celebrate our baptism, we recognize a movement from death to life, from sin to salvation, from pain and self to joy and relationship that Jesus consecrated by being baptized himself.
In baptism, we recognize that God loved us first, that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of every single person who ever lived whether they will ultimately accept him or not. It’s not that Jesus died for the saved- he died for everyone, but no one has to accept that. Trip Lee asks, “When did you hear about the hero dying for the villain?” And that’s baptism, recognizing that we don’t deserve it, because we know us, we know what we’re really like and the things we can’t get out of our own heads, the addictions we can’t drop on our own, the self-destructive habits we can’t leave behind and Jesus died for you ANYWAY!
In Romans 10:9-10 it says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Baptism is what we do to publicly profess we believe for adults- and in infants, it’s the way the family and community of a child make the covenant to teach that child about God’s love and the freedom in Jesus Christ. There was pressure for the midwives, for Moses’ mother, for Miriam, for the pharaoh’s daughter– how much more the covenant we make when we baptize our children and promise before the church to raise them in the experience of a relationship with God??
Today, we celebrate baptism- our own as we remember and those that will happen in our church today. The unity in the mighty acts of God like those in Moses’ life, the unity in the church as one body intended to care for each other especially the little ones, and the unity in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is big time stuff. This is the adoption of each one of us into God’s family. We’re not just the children of [say your parents’ names out loud!] but also the children of God, made in God’s image and adopted out of our own sins. We are picked up, dusted off, lifted out of our cradle of papyrus reeds and tar, and given a new name.
We are redeemed to a life meant to make a difference. But what difference are we supposed to make?
To the church: there are Moseses floating down the river, waiting to be rescued, waiting to be taught that they’re loved and how to love. Are you willing to put your hands to holding, your dollars to supporting, your heart to loving, and your voice to praying? Are you willing to befriend children and teens in church who you don’t know, who might not like your music or dress like you, who have big questions about how God works and where they fit, and think you probably know the answers? If not you, then whom? There are homeless kids and there are churchless kids. Either way, they have needs and we’re supposed to step up.
You don’t have to have kids to be a midwife, or an older sister, or a Pharaoh’s daughter- you just have to be ready when the time comes.
And to you kids, teens, young people of our community (shout-out to the students of Mrs. Hardesty’s chemistry class!): I hope that you see here in the story of Moses, that it doesn’t matter who says what to or about you, or what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter whether you can feel loved or actually know love right now, God loves you and he’s got a plan. It doesn’t matter whether your parents live in the penthouse or it looks more like the outhouse, you are special- and loved. You don’t need to know what you’ll be when you grow up, you just need to know God loves you.
And I hope that you know, even on the days when you screw up, and fail to be who you know you can be, that God loves you- and so do the people of this church.
Breathe that one in: God loves you. Jesus died for you. You matter.
Whenever you need to be reminded, let me know, and I’ll tell you again.
I’ve been told – and some of you have been, too- “you can’t save them all.” Maybe, maybe not, but I believe we’re supposed to try.
Rise up, Church. There are children who need us.