At the Synod meeting on Tuesday while members were working through the profiles of people standing for various elections there was a brief and unusual assurance given to the Synod
Rads Sukhamar who had been leading much of the Synod’s worship for several days
and who had noticed that the her profile had listed her as “male” came to a microphone and said “Moderator, I would like to assure the members of Synod that I am female”
I said to her afterwards that I assumed that was not a sentence she imagined saying when she woke. As I am speaking this morning on the Exodus 1 passage I feel a little fraudulent as a male.
It may well be a passage about the beginning of Moses, but it is a passage about females.
Or at least the key agents of God’s work are females.
The story of the Exodus – which we are following over the next 7 weeks – is the core identifying story for the people of Israel, even to this day
It is the oldest part of scripture. It was written well before the book of Genesis, which effectively gives us the back story much like Star Wars movies 1-3 came later, but were written as the back story to the main movies.
It is the identifying story for the people of Israel and it is one of the 3 key stories – alongside the kingdom/ temple and the story of exile used by the Christian faith in which to place the tradition of the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
We find this very clearly in Matthew whose gospel presents Jesus to us as the new and better Moses. But this story, this great escape, this foundation of faith is only possible because of acts of quite and courageous civil disobedience by women who have faded from the pages of our faith story.
If it were not for the compassion and courage of Shiphrah and Puah and Jochebed and Miriam and the unnamed daughter of Pharoah then the name of Moses would not ever have appeared on the pages of scripture or history.
If it were not for these women, then an early act of ethnic cleansing would have been felt in pain and grief, and then been long forgotten.
Shiphrah and Puah are the midwives who refuse to act on the orders of the ruler to kill the boys and make up a story about the Hebrew women giving birth too quickly for them.
– For moral purists, who believe there is no ethical instance to lie, this story plays with their framework
Jochebed is the mother who has come up with a plan of desperation to save him.
How phenomenally hard must it have been for Jochebed to cast her baby on to a boat
in the knowledge that the boat may overturn, or be caught by crocodiles in the reeds.
Putting your own child on a boat not knowing if he will live but knowing that there was no future of life for him with her.
The daughter of Pharoah – whose name we never ever discover – is the one whose compassion stands right in the face of her own father.
If the Quakers wanted to trace the idea of speaking truth to power back in scriptural history then this isn’t a bad place to start
And Miriam – we guess it is Miriam, though it could have been another unnamed sister –
is the sister who follows through on the mother’s plan of securing safety for the child and steps in to get Moses raised by his people, within his culture and his faith.
It’s a great story of great courage – the foundation for a inspiring work of faith which we will be looking at over the coming weeks
But at the same time, while I read this story, and its parallel in Matthew 2 I cant also help but go to the other babies for whom there was no such miraculous action of courage and compassion.
What of the other Hebrew babies who were cast into the Nile with no boat
What of the Jewish males who did not escape the clutches of Herod
What of the unnumbered infants throughout history for whom there is no great escape
The story of Exodus calls us to celebrate with Moses
It calls us to give thanks for Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and Pharoah’s daughter
It calls us to weep with the families who lost their infants
And to grieve for those who were killed.
Later on this morning in this service, we will join in a time of lament for the ongoing suffering of mothers throughout history.
But at this stage we are reminded of the impact of 5 largely forgotten women of the faith
People whose willingness to stay with conscience and justice rather than follow the directions of power were truly world changing. I bet they didn’t think they were changing the course of history I bet they thought they were simply doing what was right.
And this morning we are also reminded that when fear and compassion clash
God is going to be found on the side of compassion
When we act in ways that alienate and separate,
in ways which are driven by fear of the newcomer and the “other”
we will find ourselves at odds with God
Simple actions of compassion – doing what deep down we know is “right” –
can not only have impacts on the individuals we are with, but we may even find ourselves changing the course of history