Sermon from October 13: Imagine
Pentecost XVIII (O. T. 28); October 13, 2019
How much did Moses’ mother and sister know? We learn later that the sister’s name is Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and his mother’s name is Jochebed (Exodus 6:20); later rabbis said that Pharaoh’s daughter was named Bithiah (cf. I Chron. 4:17). I say all this so I can start calling them by name. Anyway, to my question. I find myself wondering about Jochebed’s decision to put the baby in a basket at that particular spot in the Nile. Did she know that was where Bithiah liked to go to bathe? And did she know that Bithiah was tender-hearted?
So much about this could have gone wrong. Remember that the Pharaoh’s order was to throw male Hebrew babies into the Nile to be drowned (1:22), and here Jochebed entrusts her baby to the very river that is supposed to be the instrument of his death! And when Bithiah found the baby, what could happen? Who gave the order to drown the babies? Pharaoh! Who is Bithiah’s Daddy? Pharaoh! Is it reasonable to expect her to defy her Father’s order, especially when accompanied by attendants who could snitch on her?
Nothing of this story is reasonable. I can’t help but wonder if Jochebed knew what she was doing, but even if she did, she was taking a terrible risk. You and I are inclined to avoid risk, to worry about what might happen, what could go wrong, but Jochebed and Miriam instead imagined what God might do. It would not surprise me if they knew that this was the spot where Bithiah liked to bathe and if they knew the sort of person Bithiah was, because Miriam shows herself to be quite clever. A three month-old needs a wet nurse, and she pops up and volunteers to find one for the Princess. Bithiah agrees, and Miriam finds her… Jochebed. So Jochebed got to nurse her own baby, raise him at least to toddlerhood, and get paid by the Egyptian government to do so! Now that’s clever.
Could you or I have imagined this turn of events? Instead of the Nile being the instrument of Moses’ death, it became the source of his new life; instead of a slave, he becomes a Prince of Egypt; and ultimately he becomes the instrument of his people’s salvation. I don’t think Jochebed and Miriam saw all that, but they did have enough imagination to take a big risk and see the possibility of it turning out well. They imagined possibilities and they followed through.
There are two things that frustrate you and me in the life of the Church, especially, but also in the life of our society: failure to imagine possibilities, and failure to follow through. You may have an issue right now in your family, where some of you are imagining possibilities and others are stubbornly resisting. And you may have that family member that is constantly imagining possibilities and never acting on any of them. Jochebed imagined that the river could save her son, and so she took him to the river. Miriam imagined that her mother could care for her own child and be seen as helping the Egyptians, and so she spoke up. Bithiah imagined a Hebrew slave could be an Egyptian prince, and so she adopted him. Imagine.
People of God, there are two takeaways from this story for us as a Church. One: imagine possibilities and follow through. Now I don’t know if Jochebed imagined what turned out, as I said, but she certainly imagined that the Lord could do something good with this risk she took. Jochebed and Miriam and Bithiah all showed themselves to be women of imagination, of Godly imagination, when they took risks. Jochebed risked her son’s life; Miriam risked her family’s situation; and Bithiah took perhaps the greatest risk of all in defying the law of her own father, the Pharaoh of Egypt. She is remembered by the rabbis as great among devout persons who were not of the people of Abraham.
And the other takeaway is a spiritual lesson. Remember that you are baptized. Moses was supposed to be drowned in the River Nile, but instead the River Nile became the source of his rescue and thus the salvation of his people. Jesus was taken to a Cross for his execution and the Cross became the beginning of his new life and thus the salvation of his people. When you were baptized, you were drowned in the Cross and raised to new life by the Cross; just as the River Nile became the water of rescue for Moses, the font of baptism is the water of rescue for you and me.
To see that takes imagination; imagine what God can do with you and with us now that we have been rescued in baptism, if we will only dare to imagine and to follow through.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master