Sent to Foreigners: A Slave/Prince 12th Pentecost
Exodus 1:8-2:10 Romans 12:1-8
When the kids were little, we used to watch a Disney movie called “The Sword in the Stone.” Based on a novel by T. H. White called The Once and Future King, the story follows the life of a 12-year-old orphan known as Wart. Wart stumbles into a relationship with the magician, Merlin, who becomes his tutor. Now, England had fallen into a dark time because the king had died without leaving an heir. When he died, a sword had appeared in London, embedded in an anvil on a stone. There was an inscription that read, “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is rightwise born King of England.” But no one could pull the sword from the stone—not until Wart came along! Then it was revealed that he was Arthur, son of Uthar Pendragon, and he was hailed as KING. I still love that movie !
I think it addresses a fantasy that we all hold deep inside:
That, even though we are living as “ordinary” people, in point of fact we are special, extraordinary, perhaps even royal.
Now, the last two weeks we have been examining the life of Joseph, who had lived very much like a prince—the favorite son of a wealthy patriarch. But he got sold into slavery—going from riches to rags—and then God amazingly raised him up to a high position (second only to Pharaoh himself!)
From prince to pauper and back to high status once again. And his BIG family moved down to Egypt and prospered. Our text for today comes many years after the time of Joseph—in fact, he had been gone so long that a new Pharaoh had come to power in Egypt, one who had no knowledge of Joseph. Instead, he looked out over his lands and saw another nation living within his borders—and he felt threatened by them. So he made them into slaves in order to subdue them.
The Hebrews had gone from Welcome Guests to slaves, forced into building cities for Pharaoh! But they thrived, and were so numerous that Pharaoh tried to get their midwives to KILL all the baby boys as they were born. When that didn’t work, he decreed that all baby boys born to the Hebrews had to be thrown into the Nile! UNTHINKABLE!!
But one mother had a plan. (I admit, it doesn’t sound like much of a plan, but she was DESPERATE!) She put her boy in a basket and floated him in the reeds at the edge of the Nile, then set her daughter to watch over him. And here comes the most crucial part of the whole story:
Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe (swim), found the basket, and discovered a baby! He was crying (duh) and she took pity on him. She knew right away that he was a Hebrew boy, hidden away from her own father’s edict that all Hebrew boys were to be killed. She had a choice to make: 1. Dump him into the river, or 2. Adopt him. She took pity on him, and when his big sister, Miriam, offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him, the princess agreed.
Now, the Hebrew mother had her baby back, AND she got paid for taking care of him!! And when he was old enough, he was taken to the palace where the Princess adopted him and named him Moses. A little boy, born as a slave and headed for an early death, now a prince of Egypt! The fate of the boy (and indeed the fate of an entire nation) had hinged on one moment of pity.
One act of compassion by a woman whose name is not even mentioned in our text! Jewish tradition holds that she joined the Hebrews in their exodus from Egypt, and that she was given the name “Bithia,” translated “Daughter of God.” But, no matter what her name was, she is one whose act of compassion changed history!
You see, by being raised in the palace, Moses most likely received a dual education. He would have been taught the highest levels of science and mathematics and history and culture known to the Egyptians of that day—a considerable body of knowledge! And, at the same time, his mother would have told him about his Hebrew ancestry, explaining his roots right back to Abraham himself. So, he grew up in two worlds, you might say: an adoptive mother in the royal family of Egypt, and a family association with the Hebrew slaves of Egypt. Because of this dual education, this dual life, Moses was uniquely prepared to be the one God called to lead God’s people out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He was uniquely prepared.
In this simple story, we can see the work of God’s Holy Spirit—1. Strengthening the midwives to resist Pharaoh’s command to kill any boys born to the Hebrews; 2. Moving a desperate mother to save her baby boy with just the flimsiest plan (floating him in a basket in the reeds); 3. Moving the heart of a princess to not only spare the boy’s life, but to also adopt him and raise him in the palace; 4. Taking people who were in the midst of hopelessness and filling them with rejoicing! In this simple story, we see the fragrance of mercy: one simple act of compassion impacting not only thousands of people in that time but also generation after generation in our Family of Faith, right to our present day!
So, let’s talk about what’s going on today, and what any single individual might do in response. We have seen things that make us angry, things that cause a desire for revenge to well up within us. We cry out to God, “What would you have us do?!” And down through the ages, God’s voice answers: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
God’s answer is grace—grace that is expressed in compassion, pity, generosity, mercy. In one moment, you and I can change the course of history if we choose God’s way.
I finish today with a reference to J. R. R. Tolkien’s , The Lord of the Rings. Frodo Baggins is talking with Gandalf, who acknowledges that the creature Gollum (a villain) has been following them. Frodo says, “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance!” Gandalf replies, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” And, indeed, it turns out that, had it not been for Gollum, the evil ring would not have been destroyed in the fires of Mt. Doom!
Just as the pity of Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moses, the compassionate act of just one person may very well have far-reaching impact for many yet to come! Friends, you and I are just a few of the fibers that are being woven into a magnificent tapestry. God takes who we are and what we do and weaves things around to accomplish God’s purposes. And just one act of courage, one act of compassion might be a pivoting point in history—a point in the tapestry that changes the rest of the weaving!
Who you are and what you choose to do are of ultimate importance. Don’t believe the LIE that you are insignificant. In God’s hands, each of us has the capacity to be used in an amazing way.
God, help us to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with you.