“Expect the Unexpected!”
Exodus 1: 8-14, & 2: 5-10, August 23rd, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now this ancient writing from the book of Exodus, chapter one, verses eight thru fourteen and continuing on in chapter two, verses five thru ten.”
(Exodus 1: 8-14)
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
(Exodus 2: 5-10)
5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
“Having heard how the powers of Egypt suppressed the freedoms of the descendants of Joseph, turning all the Israelites into slaves, the narrative turns to the history of a ‘deliverer!’ Moses!”
“Expect the Unexpected!”
Just when things seemed to be going good for Joseph and the whole tribe of Israel, a new ruler brings forth changes that once again, brings out the worst in human nature! Last week we heard how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. Then we learned how all the Hebrews came to be in Egypt. Surely, after all that Joseph was able to accomplish, for so many in that region, it seems unexpected that the Egyptian leadership would turn against all the Hebrew’s whom we have come to know as the Israelites. Yet, all too often, throughout history we find new leaders, with new power, returning to the suppressed biases and prejudices humans seem to continually grapple with throughout the ages! Unfortunately, all too often, we act like this is totally unexpected! Yet, all historians urge us to study the annals of history, with an understanding that history tends to repeat itself. Yes, our societies change, our technologies advance, however, the human response to relationships, and power, often cause the ugly heads of greed, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth, to show their negative side with pride at the head of the pack!
In the fall of 1992, as a student pastor, I preached on a text out of the book of Jeremiah. The context of scripture spoke of the oppressive and corrupt leadership during their time-period in history. I spoke at length about the nature of the abuse of power and the suffering of the people subjected to such abuse. It was one of my early sermons as I started my third year of full-time studies, as I worked to receive my Master of Divinity degree. Beyond my hours of classes and such I worked as a student pastor and I also worked at the library on campus for a small stipend. Truthfully, I did not even know who was running for office that fall. Nor did I know the issues and such of the candidates running for office. However, I was taken to task for preaching a political sermon; seems the focus of my sermon was “spot on” with many of the issues of the day! At the time, only my supervisor honored my ignorance of the politics of the time. Looking back to that moment in time, so many years ago, I can only acknowledge that I hit on a sad note, a disturbing fact; my sermon pointed out that human nature has not shifted nor changed over this enormous expanse of time. Nothing, in this regard, had changed since Jeremiah wrote and spoke of the abuse of power and how the power of one can be so damaging to the lives of the many.
When we first met Joseph in scripture two weeks ago, we heard how his brothers ‘acted-out’ their jealousy for their younger sibling, Joseph, by selling him into slavery. Today, we read how a new leader, a new king reversed the good will between the Hebrew people and the Egyptians, despite all that is written about Joseph. The writings in Genesis, they give Joseph credit for his serving the people, the nation of Egypt, so well during the years of famine; proportioning out the stored abundance which Joseph orchestrated with great precision and expertise! Forgotten by a new ruler whom was filled with either fear or jealousy of the Hebrews, he systematically turned them into a nation of slaves, ruled under the tyranny of a ruthless leader who shows no empathy or concern for the welfare of the people, as they labored under his rule. When we step back from our lesson for a moment, here in the Twenty-First Century, we can easily see what a hopeless situation this nation, we have come to know as the Israelites, found themselves in. We know it was not the first such situation nor was it to be the last. Yet, what can we, what can you and I learn from today’s lesson? Perhaps, it would be wise of us to look to the pages of history to see what we might learn, which could hopefully, give us deeper insights into what is happening in our society at this time. Learn what we may, we might also want to consider the second half of our reading today, for it moves us into yet another historic event!
The daughter of Pharaoh, the daughter of the harsh ruler who was persecuting the Hebrews severely, shows us a glimmer of hope. She shows compassion for a baby she finds floating in a basket, at the edge of the river, where she and her maid had come to bathe. The story of this child becomes the main thread of the narrative of a deliverer, a liberator born Hebrew, yet brought up, educated, and trained in the highest ranks of society within Egypt. Moses, the story of Moses is well known. Perhaps because Charlton Heston took on the starring role of the Movie “The Ten Commandments” back in 1956 with Moses being the leader who is credited with the emancipation of the Hebrew nation, under the guidance of God’s mighty hand! Knowing I am speaking to a great many of you who have studied the scriptures carefully, I am certain you shall correct me if I faulter here; yet, is it not true that when the scriptures take us into a dialogue of hopelessness, we find that eventually, a liberator, directed by the hand of God comes forth – to yet again rescue the people of God! Repeatedly, God comes to the rescue in our scriptures and frequently someone is caused to take an active role in the narration of such events!
As I have come to learn how best to read the Bible, I have come to expect the unexpected! Look for it even! There are many ways to read the scriptures. We do it piece by piece as we work forward through our lessons each week here on Sunday mornings. Most good pastors, preachers, follow the guides that the larger church has systematically put together for worship leaders and preachers to follow. I stick close as it pushes me to preach about topics I would rather skip over. You see, I like all Preachers and Pastors, including Rabbis and Priests, we are only human and sometimes we are tempted to take the pathway of least resistance! Sharing with you my misstep while naively preaching in the fall of 1992, could draw new criticism as we are again in that time-period of a national election. However, as a famous theologian once said: “Preachers, I challenge you to tell the people what the scripture is saying, no matter the potential fall out, tell them what you truly believe the scripture is saying!” I have shared this before: Rev Barbara Brown Taylor’s words echoed in that convention hall in Nashville as she proclaimed this challenge to six thousand Preaches, from many branches of Christianity. Her words still challenge me as I write and as I speak publicly.
What is truly important about our lesson today, is for us to recognize there shall always be times of hopelessness and times of despair. Though we could just clarify that life, can feel like this from time to time, we need to be careful of setting the wrong context… as this could instill harm and exasperate, thereby compounding the damage of an already difficult situation. It is important, however, for us to come to realize that there are ups and downs in our lives, accordingly, we need to set our expectations, of all manner of things, at realistic levels. In the context of our lesson today we need to also realize that these periods of bleakness – do come to an ending. Yet, the price which may be paid in human suffering and anguish can be immense and excruciating! It is uncaring and ungodly to not endeavor to make every effort to help and support those that are caught up in such situations! This is the very emotion and aspect of the Moses story. Let us explore this further.
Moses was born a Hebrew. His family was oppressed, and in servitude to an abusive, unkind, and punishing cruel Ruler! In verse twenty-two, which we skipped over in our reading says this: “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’” /Kings 1:22/ Moses’ mother was acting out of desperation by hiding Moses in a basket, in the reeds by the river. From that action the daughter of Egypt had compassion for the child she found that day. She had him raised by his own mother, though she did not know this, only her maid servant knew! From here there are so many unbelievable aspects of this accounting. Note, how each character in the story goes out of their way to struggle, fighting against this hopelessness and does something, hopeful, for those concerned. It is crucial that we raise up this point, taking a closer look! For here within is that mystical “God moment.” All throughout the story of Moses, his upbringing by Pharaoh’s own family, including the training and schooling by the very powers which were oppressing Moses true family – the Hebrews. Most worthy of noting, it is the goodness within the very heart of Pharaoh’s daughter, as she was the one who instilled love, kindness, and compassion in the heart of Moses! When the time came for him to search his soul as to how to confront the truth about who he truly was, this became paramount!
Learning to expect the unexpected is part of our human process of maturity. But as people of God, whom understand, without hesitation, that God loves all of Creation, all the people from all lands, all heritages and throughout the world; we know ‘we do not need to accept’ the unexpected and unacceptable, deplorable, and even offensive realities that come our way! When hope is lost, we need to strive to restore the balance, pushing back against wrong thinking, thinking which may go along with human nature, but is against the nature of God’s will for humankind! When we do this, we shall not be alone! God’s presence is apparent in our reading today, and that same God is available to us as we step forward, ready and willing to do the next right thing!