In the dead of night soldiers rush an abbey in the 1930’s looking for a family. The lieutenant commands his troops, saying you two men in there. Six of you cover the yard. You two, cover the corridor. The men search high and low. They overturn every table and examine every closet.
The family hides behind tombstones to escape the soldiers meticulous search. Just when they think the coast is clear, one lingering soldier spots the family trying to sneak away and the chase is on. They dip through hallways, flee through the corridor, and get away in the grounds keeper car. The soldiers hot on their heels jump in their cars, push in the clutch crank the engine, crank the engine, crank the engine, but they’re not going anywhere.
The nuns stand across the street, look at each other, and say “Reverend Mother, I have sinned.” The other follows “I too, have sinned.” Reverend Mother replied “What is this sin my children?” Again they turn to each other with mischievous eyes and pull engine parts habits.
Scripture: Exodus 1:8-22
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, 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.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then 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.’
Question: How do you see God working in this scripture?
“Women are getting things done.”
“Don’t always trust the government”
“The midwives trust in God”
It seems as though Shiphrah and Puah were caught up in what some may call a Ponzi scheme, or rather a pyramid scheme, with the unnamed Pharaoh as the head honcho. He was so high, with power, the Egyptians even thought he was a God. This so called wise and powerful Pharaoh created his own order by suppressing the fruitfulness of the Israelites. In reality he was at the helm of a machine that was hell bent on unraveling creation back into chaos.
So, the Midwives were told, in order to live in this Egyptian industrial complex they must take orders from the top. With no questions asked. Shiphrah and Puah are placed under the crushing weight of this oppressive and unmovable system made of brick and mortar.
They were just cogs in the machine that puts the bottom line above all else, and only promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for a few. All the while ignoring the byproducts this nefarious system makes. Poverty, famine, violence, greed, and even death. The cards are stacked against the midwives, what could they do? They had their families and their own lives to think of. They were caught between a rock and a hard place, and between Pharaoh and the sea.
But, oddly enough this account from Exodus does not seem foreign to us. The only difference is instead of having a Pharaoh, we serve the almighty Dollar and ironically we have bought in to the system that is pushing us back toward chaos. We call it the American Dream. It inspires us to keep up with the Jones, move to the best neighborhood, get that house with the white picket fence, and work ourselves until our spirits are impoverished, we hunger for love, violence is the norm, we can never have enough, and we hold on to dear life to do it all over again. Because its better than going hungry or wandering in the wilderness.
So just as it was for Pharaoh, our pursuit of this egocentric dream will be our downfall. But, our hearts are too hard to realize it. And even when we do become aware the consequences of this American Nightmare we are living in, we are still placed under the crushing weight of this oppressive and unmovable system made of paper and nickel.
After all we are just cogs in the machine that puts the bottom line above all else, and only promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for a few. What can we possibly do? We have our families and our lives to worry about. We are stuck in between a rock and an hard place, in-between riches and chaos.
I could imagine that this was running through Shiphrah and Puah’s head as Pharaoh commanded them to kill the male infants on the birthing stool. I’m sure they dreamed of extraordinary miracles, or that their salvation would come from above with a magnificent fanfare accompanied by an unstoppable army. When these things did not come they took matters into their own hands. They did what they do best. They assisted in bringing life. They did what midwives do.
Shiphrah and Puah were able to latch a hold this ever present grace, this prevenient grace, that brings out of the chaos and orders our lives. So when Pharaoh commanded them to be harbingers of death, this abiding grace showed them how to instead be angels of life. They didn’t need miraculous signs, a magic staff, or a dedicated spokesperson. God’s grace showed the Midwives how to illuminate the weakness and ignorance of Pharaoh and the system he created.
So when Pharaoh asked, “What did you do?!?!” Shiphrah and Puah were able to mischievously look at each and shrug their shoulders saying “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, they are vigorous and give birth before we get to them.” Thus killing two birds with one stone, highlighting the ignorance of Pharaoh about something as simple as birth, and poking fun at the Egyptians inability to give birth by themselves.
This the same rebellious and creative grace we have before us today. Its calling us out of the chaos of our lives into right order with our communities, the rest of creation, and our creator. In face of injustice in the world we don’t need to throw up our hands and wait for a miraculous sign. We have all that we need before us.
The extraordinary liberation of the Israelites, of us, begins in a very ordinary way. There is no fanfare or taking up of arms. It starts with just unlikely people latching a hold of this creative disobedience, this grace, that challenges the systems before us. All they did was trust God and do what they do everyday.
So as we leave this place may we trust in God and be ourselves. Because to lead in the liberation of creation is extraordinarily ordinary. Amen.