Now a man from Levi’s household married a Levite woman. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. Exodus 2:1-2 CEB
Mothers and fathers — and grandparents — don’t normally keep babies hidden away. Speaking as the grandfather of a 2-month old, I’m talking about him and sharing pictures at every opportunity. I’ve noticed that many of you are the same.
The Pharaoh of Egypt felt threatened by the number of immigrants in his midst. He was afraid that should there be a war that the Hebrew people would rise up against him. He ordered all the baby boys killed at birth to prevent the immigrant population from increasing.
Of course, the baby’s mother hid him.
When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar. She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank. Exodus 2:3 CEB
Can you imagine the desperation the baby’s mother must have felt?
In some ways three-months may be the perfect age for babies.
As we know by the time a child is 3-months old they are very social.
They are in a period that child developmentalist Haim Ginott called equilibrium. (Those other less charming stages he called disequilibrium.)
In short, 3-month olds are typically charming.
They are not quiet, however.
And so a mother took what seemed a heartless and cruel step to protect her baby from certain death at the hands of Pharoah’s men.
The action she took was intrinsically beyond neglect. To place a baby in a basket and send him floating down a river — even in the swampy area of the river where the bulrushes and reeds grew, was by any standard abusive.
And so Baby Moses rides the waves of the river.
Frankly, this is a terrifying story! A mother sends her infant to a likely drowning death out of desperation that the Egyptians will kill him at the Pharoah’s orders.
And we tell this story to children!
The only way we didn’t have nightmares about this story as children was because it was sanitized, taking on the character of a Disneyworld ride.
The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him. Exodus 2:4 CEB
I love how the cartoon I showed you portrays the older sister as calm and cool as her baby brother floats unaccompanied and unprotected on the water.
One movement by the baby — very likely with a three-month-old — and down will come baby cradle and all into the water.
I don’t care how much sibling resentment exists, few sisters would take this without extreme distress.
But Baby Moses miraculously rides the waves of the river to an earthly salvation.
Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2: 5-6 CEB
This moment — when “she felt sorry for him” — is the miracle.
This is the moment when God’s extravagant, luring spirit of love moved her to see the humanity of an outsider in the cries and eyes of a baby boy riding the gentle waves on the edge of the river.
The Pharoah’s daughter would certainly have known what her father had commanded. She could justifiably have called for Pharoah’s men to come and take the child away.
Instead, her humanity connected to his humanity. Instead the image of God — the divinity within her commingled with that divine in the unprotected, unaccompanied infant.
And Baby Moses rides the waves of God’s love as it flows between two human beings.
Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”
Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes, do that.”
So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.”
So the woman took the child and nursed it.
After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.” Exodus 2:7-10 CEB
Another miraculous part of this story of love which binds us together as one human family is that a little girl was moved to speak to one to whom she should not speak.
She was presumptuous and brazen and downright bold to speak to royalty. The Pharoah’s daughter had every right to send the child away with far more than a scolding.
But she didn’t.
The divinity within a young child — that extravagant love of God that refuses to give up on humanity — moved her to risk her own safety for that of her baby brother.
Yes. Baby Moses rides the waves into the arms of the very woman who gave birth to him.
This. This is a story of love. It is a story of miracles. It is a parable to explain how it is that Moses, a Hebrew child, would become a part of the royal household and eventually lead the Hebrew people to the promised land.
But that is not what happened this month in our community. One too young to die did not survive riding the waves. In a brutal, violent tragedy a 17-year-old child died from an auto collision.
The Snyder’s home burned. 33,000 acres were consumed over just a few days.
Where was the extravagant love that saved a three-month-old?
Did God love Moses more than God loves the people of Condon?
The short answer is, of course, no. God loves Condon with all the boundlessness as God loved the Hebrew people in Egypt.
First, it’s important to remember that this is ancient historiography. Unlike what we try to do with history, it was never expected to be an objective retelling of facts.
Rather, this is a story based on facts that is told to reveal important truths. In the case of the larger narrative that truth is that God loves the Hebrew people.
In the case of narrower story, the truth revealed is that Moses will grow to be an important leader.
Scholars see parallels between this story and an earlier Egyptian tale that emphasizes the humble beginnings of a great leader. But literary license or not, does God love Moses more than Condon?
The issue here is called theodicy or why does God let bad things happen?
I’m sure you’ve heard the typical platitudes: God works in mysterious ways or God’s ways are not our ways or God has a plan or everything happens for a reason or the one which bothers me the most, God is testing us.
Though those ways of understanding God may at a superficial level answer why God would allow a 17-year-old to die in a crash, they also turn God into a cruel deity.
At least for me, that is not what love is about. That is not the God I perceive and experience. Love is not allowing evil to happen. It’s not about allowing a home or crops to burn.
I think the problem is how we define God.
When we define God as all-powerful, as Christians we place ourselves in a position of being apologists for all the evil and bad that happens in the world.
As United Methodist Pastor Cori Cypret says:
“At best, it makes God the author of suffering and the perpetrator of evil. At worst, it makes God out to be a sadist, enjoying the pain and suffering of others, taking pleasure in causing pain.” (http://coopersvilleumc.org/1/post/2014/02/biblical-mythbusters-myth-1-everything-happens-for-a-reason.html)
No. I think God does not stop the bad things because God cannot stop the bad things.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul says,
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 CEB
Those who begin from the standpoint that everything happens for a reason — not in the Bible by the way — misinterpret Paul and twist it to mean that God is all powerful and God has a plan, and that our free will means little if anything.
But what if, like you and I, God doesn’t know the future. God doesn’t know what we will use our free will to do and to say.
Consider, God knows all the possibilities, all the choices we might make, but until we make that choice…Until we use our God-given free will, God doesn’t know what we will do.
God encourages us to pick the most loving of those choices. But. If we are created in the image of God, we have to have free will.
As theologian Robert Mesle says,
God knows everything there is to know. But the future does not exist yet, except as a range of possibilities that have not yet been chosen. (Robert Mesle in Process Theology: An Introduction)
Allowing us our free will, having created it within us, God seeks to encourage us, to lure us, to point us toward the most loving response in every millisecond of our lives.
God wants us to be more loving. God wants us to care for our neighbor as ourselves. God desires the best for us, the good for us.
Our job is to respond to the divine beckoning and make that choice in every millisecond of our lives.
The nature of the world is such that bad things happen. The actions of all of creation intermingles and interacts.
Because God is a persuasive God rather than a coercive God, the most God can do is encourage us and each part of the world (to the extent parts of the world have sentience) to interact lovingly.
The fires of the last month happened through a sequence of natural phenomena and choices made.
In the accident, a sequence of choices — even as tiny as when the driver of the truck began his journey or when a 17-year-old chose to leave town — came together in a seemingly random way to bring the two vehicles together at the moment that the teen’s car swerved over the line.
This is not God testing anyone. This is not even necessarily bad choices on anyone’s part.
In other words, as the bumper sticker says, “stuff happens.”
The world in which we live is in need of healing. It was in need of healing in the time of Moses and remains in need of healing now. But God never gives up on God’s dream for the world and for us.
Our persuasive God keeps encouraging, luring, & moving us toward a better existence, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Look at the way this town has rallied around the Reser family and our young people in their time of horrible grief. God did not cause the death of a 17-year-old or a family home to burn.
Given the tragedy of the loss, a loss that God suffers with us, we are encouraged to love yet again and even more.
Writes UCC scholar and pastor Bruce Epperly,
Our love of God and others, prayerfully expressed, opens the door for God to bring forth new possibilities of healing and for us to claim our role as God’s partners in healing the earth. (Bruce Epperly in Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed)
Though Condon has dealt with challenging and tragic things this month, the extravagant love of the One, is working through all that happens.
Less than satisfying to our culturally-ingrained sensibilities, bad things do happen to good people. Bad things do happen to good towns and even to good friends.
But the people of this town have by and large risen to the opportunity to love and heal one another.
We have been riding the waves not in a basket like Moses but armed with love and caring and a sense of community.
When [Pharoah’s daughter] opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. Exodus 2:6a CEB
Miracles happen in the midst of hurting. The miracle is the persuasive God who moved Pharoah’s daughter to empathy and that binds our community together.
The miracle, the Good News is God’s love resurrects hope and love in the darkest of hours.