I ask those questions today after reading the news paper, after speaking with two younger members of our church in one week, and after a lengthy conversation with a local business owner who did not want to admit that we have the problem our two parishioners are concerned about.
God’s creative power – we have said for the last two weeks that God is world builder – first God created the basic elements. But they did not make our world what it is. God’s second act of creation was to order those elements so that we can breathe and eat and procreate, build culture and flourish.
It’s as if God needs to once again separate the darkness from the light – the dry land from the water and say to the water “you may go this far and no further you may go.”
Often, when we speak of these things it feels like a brain teaser/ a bible class for bible geeks who love that kind of brain candy. In the case of our scripture passage for today – nothing could be further from the truth.
Shiphrah and Puah were midwives in Israel at the time of Moses’ birth – that was roughly 2500 years ago so it can seem to us like remote history. But, we are talking about midwives here, and there is nothing more intimate and personal that bringing a child into the world.
For Shiphrah and Puah, the problem was that their national leader wanted to commit genocide because he was afraid of the power of the immigrant community in Egypt.
Israel immigrated to Egypt when they faced famine. And, if you remember the Bible story, Jacob received the word of the Lord and kept enough grain aside to feed Egypt and Israel. But, to get the food, Israel had to move to Egypt and settle there as legal immigrants.
Over 400 years later, the immigrants became strong economically and numerically, and the new leader of Egypt didn’t remember the laws of the former leader. So, Pharoah started passing new laws to have Hebrew male babies killed off. Midwives, according to the new law of the land, were to kill all male Hebrew babies.
I don’t know how many Hebrew midwives took their lives in their own hands and disobeyed their national leader. I don’t imagine Shiphrah and Puah were the only two who feared God more than they feared Pharoah. For one thing, if you were a Hebrew midwife, odds were very good that you grew up with the woman you were helping give birth. It was a close knit community of people who were deeply connected.
What they did was remarkable, courageous and praise worthy. But I don’t think that’s why we know their name. And, I don’t think they could possibly have known, as they delivered this little tiny baby, that their decision to fear God over their national leader would change the world – even to this day.
We don’t speak openly of immigration issues around here because of the politics involved. Shiphrah and Puah put me to shame.
I don’t know enough about economics, politics or law to know how we should solve our immigration problem. But, neither have I tried, not too hard. You and I may vote very differently on how we deal with the question. But no matter which side of the line we land on – our faith needs to shape our actions. Because, like Shiphrah and Puah, we don’t know what the results of our actions will be. Only God knows that. It may be that our vote or our letter or our phone call or the article we read from the other side of the aisle is like the drop in the ocean – or, it may be that it becomes the straw that tips the scales and shifts things towards a better future. If we have faith in the same God that Shiprah and Puah served, we know that anything is possible.
Shiphrah and Puah probably felt a little bit like a friend of mine felt as we spoke together this week. She wasn’t talking to me about immigration, she was talking about the recent changes in weather patterns and how that is impacting young adults and youth. If you are closer to my age, you probably don’t feel in your body the terror that they feel. And yes, there are some who enjoy a reason to skip classes on Friday. But, some are just doing what they can because they don’t know how to solve this problem any more than I do.
I ate a cheese burger and salad with one of our other young adults at our church picnic. I was intrigued to see that she was using bamboo flatware. She is getting college level education on environmental concerns. She knows that avoiding single serve plastic ware isn’t going to save the world – she really does. But she was raised to serve the same God that Shiphrah and Puah did, so she cleans up parks and re uses coffee cups and hopes and prays that the God who gave us stewardship of this amazing planet will raise up a Moses of our day or tip the scales towards redemption.
I sat in a local eating establishment and spoke with the owner. She was one who felt resentful against people who push her to make changes in her restaurant that improve her environmental foot print. She has worked hard her entire life to survive – has just updated her lighting fixtures and doesn’t appreciate being told by someone who is new to the adult world of adult responsibilities that she should rip them out and replace them because they burn too much fossil fuel.
We have similar problem. We are struggling to keep our heating pipes from leaking and pay basic bills. Finding a way to improve our greenhouse footprint is just so far from our current focus. It doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it. You just never know where God will provide the ability to act and make a difference.
Shiphrah and Puah took fearless action in a time when their only other option was equally horrible – literally to kill baby boys as soon as they were born. So, they had a motivation that is more visceral than ours.
I think that is what or young adults and youth are trying to do – make the issue more visceral until a modern day Moses figures something out. Or until we collectively figure something out.
I’m going to start trying to pastor into this environmental problem as best I can. I don’t think using my own flatware and cloth napkin is going to save the world. And I don’t plan to shame anyone who wants to use plastic ware at coffee hour or the fish fry. But, why not do what I can? You never know.
I’m going to try to find ways to bring people together who have environmental concerns and expertise. Most of the time, they will be too busy to meet with the other people who share similar concerns. Time is one of our other core issues and it keeps so very many good things from happening. But, one day, a team of people are going to talk and pool their efforts and come up with a solution. Maybe one of them will be from Verona. Maybe one of them will be from this church.
If you hear about these things and roll your eyes and say “what good is it going to do?” you are probably right. But today, Shiphrah and Puah have reminded me how it is that we access God’s creative power especially when we feel that our little actions will not make a big difference.
They didn’t know that Moses would become the leader of Israel as she marched out of bondage and into God’s promised land. They just knew he was their next little baby boy do deliver. They did what they could and Moses lived.
If Moses had never have been born, he would not have led Israel to receive God’s law and enter into the promised land. If Israel had not received the law of God and entered the promised land, she would not have produced a baby boy thousands of years later named Jesus. And without Jesus, there never would have been the church of Jesus Christ. And without the church – ….
We access the creative power of God the best we can with the agency we have in front of us. So, I’ll look silly with my little efforts. It’s a small price to pay. We have to start somewhere. It’s not my little efforts I put my trust in. It’s the same creative power that originally tamed the elements into our beautiful planet, and then gave us stewardship over it. I’m going to put my faith in that same creator that something will come from all of our faithfulness and lead to the healing and redemption of the climate system.
Rev. Lynn Rubier-Capron was named pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Verona in August 2016. This post was her sermon on September 22, 2019.