Finding Our Identity Exodus 1:8-2:10

I was reviewing some of the events and activities we’ve been involved with here at Adirondack this year, and happened on my notes and curriculum from the Adult class this spring on the first part of the book of Exodus. While this is one of my favorite parts of the Old Testament, I also think it is a very important piece for us to become familiar with as a faith community. So, for the next few weeks, we will be exploring –or re-exploring if you were in that class—some of these passages in worship. If you want to be prepared for this, I encourage you to read the first 12 chapters of Exodus. I think you’ll find it interesting or a good review if you’ve read them recently. I’d also like to suggest that you rent or borrow the film “The Prince of Egypt”. Released in 1998, this movie is an animated version of this part of Exodus. It is a good way to encounter and bring to life the stories from scripture.
The verses in our reading this morning from the first two chapters of Exodus would be really easy for me to just jump right over in order to get to the more exciting parts of the story. But within this text –from the very beginning—we can identify the prominent forces that will play out on through this important narrative.
For our Jewish sisters and brothers, the Exodus text is a foundational, integral part in their identity as the chosen people of God. We too should take heed and notice and learn even—especially here at the beginning about what it is and who it is that shapes our past and can direct our future.
Of course, the story in Exodus has its roots or “prequel” in Genesis….It takes up with the people of God as they continue to seek to live into the covenant they have with God. When we last left the Hebrews back in Egypt, what were their circumstances? Remember how Genesis ends? The Hebrews—Jacobs family with 12 sons—have moved to Egypt because of a famine…Joseph who was sold as a teenager and makes his way into the court of Pharaoh as a trusted and valued official, is reunited with his family. The Hebrews are given a place to live and the means to prosper in Egypt. Remember that covenant with God has three main promises to come to fruition in exchange for the people’s devotion to God; Land, progeny, and blessing.
Here, as Exodus opens, we learn that things are not so good now for the Hebrews.
Several generations have passed and the Egyptian king does not remember Joseph or the agreements Egypt had with his family. This king fears the Hebrews because they are so numerous, and so he enslaves them. The result of this oppression upon the Hebrews is that –amazingly—they continue to multiply and spread; even as the work they are forced to do becomes harder and harder. The power of God’s blessing upon these people is discernable in the growth of their numbers.
As the king becomes more and more desperate to control this people, he orders two midwives; Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the boys they deliver to Hebrew women. The deep fear that possesses this ruler has evoked a policy that murders the babies who have the potential to be the most productive workers in this system of slavery. Talk about ironic and irrational! When confronted for their non-observance of the king’s order, the midwives response is somewhat humorous and act of civil disobedience. They are unable to fulfill the king’s demands because Hebrew babies come fast and furious. In the contrast between actions resulting from a desire for controlling power and actions in response to the power of divine blessing, we can see and understand that God’s promise is manifested as humans respond with faith and hope to promote and protect life. God’s blessing can empower folks to confront and override death and oppression, even in those sanctioned or supported by laws and governments.
In the last episode of this scripture passage, again the order is given: ALL of the king’s people are to kill Hebrew boy babies. Again, through the power of God’s blessing, although death is decreed, birth happens. This time the boy born is the one who save his people. He is rescued, protected, and nurtured by the efforts of Pharaoh’s own daughter, who has pity and compassion for him. Knowing full well that this child is a Hebrew, Pharaoh’s daughter, along with the help of the baby’s sister and mother—two women who should be her enemies, lives and acts in response to the providence of God in bringing hope and life to God’s people. This scripture is the story of how the power of God’s blessing cannot be stopped by any human power. It is also the story of how God’s people in response to God’s blessing can counter oppression and death by living into the hope, possibility, and promise of the divine.
While walking through the forest one day, a man found a young eagle who had fallen out of his nest. He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens it was no longer an eagle.
“Still it has the heart of an eagle” replied the naturalist, “and can surely be taught to fly.” He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth.
Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know
who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.
The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, “You
are an eagle “Stretch forth your wings and fly.” But the eagle was afraid of his unknown
self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist
took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, *’ You are en eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry soared away into the heavens.
It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barn yard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.
Immersed in the comfort and convenience of life in the U.S. middle class, it’s easy to overlook or forget or ignore the oppression and injustice and evil in our world, which sometimes is promoted and protected by big business or a government or a prominent person. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk away than get involved.
But, I am a person of God. We are God’s people! As such we have the opportunity; the responsibility to live into the power of God’s blessing; bringing hope and life and compassion and concern to all, even if sometimes it’s risky or includes acts of civil disobedience. Sometimes the greatest risk is not taking any risk. Our effort to live into God’s promises can and should begin as we recognize in ourselves the possibility that we might live and act as Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter as advocates and conduits for divine providence and grace. This then, we find, is our true identity.
Earlier this morning, having just completed this message, I turned to the news feed from my internet provider…Friends; our world is FULL of opportunities to live into the reign of God as one of God’s people. What would it mean for US to advocate or act for the masses of child refugees attempt a dangerous border crossing to flee the violence in their homes?! What would it look like for US to confront our government’s leaders in their efforts to make this more about political or financial manipulations?
How will God’s people respond to the violence in the Ukraine or on the Gaza strip?
Our own identity as advocates for peace, and compassion, and justice, and the environment is being called forth from the barnyard out into the wild blue sky answering the call of divine power and love; identifying with and acting out God’s grace. How will we respond?

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