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Proper 16 A Genesis

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Theme: Women can change the world

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, oppression still exists in this beautiful world you created; may we help to find a way to help others find their voice, through your son who died at the hands of oppressors, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, went to Chinese police on August 5 to apply for a protest permit. They wanted to protest why officials evicted them from their homes in 2001. And with the Olympics coming up they heard that protests are legal with a permit. They didn’t hear anything about their application, so they went back again. There was still no word so they went back a third time.

“On the fourth visit, the women were told that they would receive a year's punishment, until July 29, 2009, for ‘disturbing the public order.’ According to a written order they received, they would not have to immediately go to a re-education labor camp, but their movements would be restricted. If they violated various provisions or regulations, however, they could be sent to a labor camp.” (The Washington Post)

Apparently that threat was ineffective, because they returned yet a fifth time to inquire about their protest permit application. They were told that their right to protest was taken away. “Wu said, ’When I first heard about the possibility of being allowed to protest, I was very happy. My issue could be resolved. But it turned out all to be cheating . . . I feel stuck in my heart’. (The Washington Post)

“Li Xuehui said his mother, Wu, and her friend are outraged” after they learned that they were sentenced to one year in a “reeducation labor camp.” “Usually labor re-education is reserved for ‘prostitutes and thieves,’ Li said. ‘What the two old ladies did is nowhere near that.’ He pointed out that Wang is blind in one eye and can barely see out of the other.” (The Washington Post)

When asked why no one is in the protest zones, the executive vice-president of the Beijing organizing committee said that all protester’s issues had been resolved. I guess they were resolved, at least to the government’s satisfaction. Just simply ship them off to a labor camp.

Human rights organizations are outraged. The International Olympic Committee has said that they are asking questions and want answers to those questions. Of course, by then (if there ever will be answers) the Olympics will be history and Wu and Wang will still be in a labor camp.

It will be interesting to see what the fallout will be of this arrest and sentence. Notice, there was no apparent trial. I hope that the issue won’t die. I hope they make a difference. Rosa Parks was a woman who made a lasting difference. Shiphrah and Puah were also two women who changed history in ancient Egypt.

When we last left our story, Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel was in charge of the government of Egypt. His brothers, who sold him into slavery, were welcomed back as well as his brother Benjamin and his father, Jacob. Joseph saved their lives and those of the people of Egypt through a severe famine. Through Joseph, Israel settled in Egypt. And they bred like rabbits.

When Pharaoh saw how many Israelites there were in his kingdom, he felt fear. Fear, real or perceived, causes people to behave irrationally. Pharaoh was afraid that in case of war, the Israelites would side with Egypt’s enemies. And then they might even escape from Egypt! World leaders use this perverted logic to this very day.

Since Pharaoh had power, he was going to exercise that power over the Israelites, even though one of the pretexts for his actions is that the Israelites were more powerful. The Israelites were enlisted into forced labor camps. History repeated itself during World War II with the Japanese internment camps. The Israelites built the supply cities of Pithom and Rameses. If Pharaoh names one of these cities after himself, then we speculate that Rameses was Pharaoh at this time.

This scheme backfired. The more the Israelites were oppressed, the more they reproduced. Maybe forced labor is invigorating. This caused even greater fear among the Egyptians. So they were even harder on the Israelites. They were forced to make bricks and mortar along with working the fields. In other words, both genders were forced into work. They were slaves.

Pharaoh next responded by bringing two Hebrew midwives in for a talking to. The two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are apparently heroes because their names are remembered. (Oral tradition is very powerful.) Pharaoh ordered the women to kill the male babies and let the girls live. I guess Pharaoh never heard of polygamy. If Pharaoh was serious about reducing the population it would be the girls who were killed instead of the boys. Though, boys can be made into soldiers and perhaps the women would eventually wed Egyptians.

The midwives knew God and disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders. They must have known that death would be the penalty for disobeying. Or maybe they feared God more than Pharaoh. Of course, word got back to Pharaoh that there are little baby boy Hebrews around. So, he sent for the midwives again. He asked them why he was disobeyed and let the baby boys live. The women already had their story straight. “The Hebrew women are really healthy and before we get there the babies are already born!” The midwives were favored by God and the Israelites continued to multiply.

I almost get the impression that people were tripping over babies. Even the midwives had children. Finally, all the people of Egypt were ordered to kill all the male Hebrew babies. Ironically, this will be the last plague that the Egyptians will suffer later in the story. Mistreatment of immigrants also continues to this day.

Some time after Pharaoh’s order, two Levites got married. And of course, she had a son. He was a beautiful boy. Aren’t they all? His mother hid him for three months. Once the little bugger started crawling, there had to be a Plan B. She got a basket, sealed it with tar, placed the baby in the basket, and placed the package in some reeds at the banks of the Nile. This was so the basket wouldn’t go downstream. His sister kept watch over him some distance away.

Not by coincidence, Pharaoh’s daughter came by about the same time for a bath. She saw the basket and ordered it fetched. Lo and behold, a baby was inside! Being a soft touch for crying babies, she felt pity for the boy. Pharaoh’s daughter deduced that it must be a Hebrew boy, probably set adrift to die. The boy’s sister immediately came over and volunteered to find a wet nurse. So, guess who that would be? The boy’s mother! And she gets paid for caring for her own son!

When the child was old enough, the boy’s mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him. He was named Moses, which means “to draw” in Hebrew or “is born” in Egyptian.

Wu, Wang, Parks, Miriam, and Moses’ mother stood up to oppression to change the world for the better. What is remarkable about all five women is that they had the courage to face oppression. The world is very different now, due in part, to these and other women.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for all the courageous women in history; let them be examples for us of courage and persistence in the face of oppression, like your son through whom we pray, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[The Washington Post contributed to this sermon.]

Text: Exodus 1:8-2:10 (NRSV)

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, 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.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. 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.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The 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.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrewsa you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

2 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,a “because,” she said, “I drew him outb of the water.”



a  Sam Gk Tg: Heb lacks to the Hebrews

a  Heb Mosheh

b  Heb mashah

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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