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The Moses Footprint

Exodus 1:8–2:10   |   8/24/2008

New parents love to save mementos from baby’s first year. What did Moses’ baby book have in it?

If you have any new parents in your congregation, you’re probably noticing that the amount of stuff that is now “needed” to care for those little bundles of joy has increased exponentially — and the means by which to record all of this has become a hi-tech business.

Baby “stuff” is a big business. Back in the day, baby books were a favorite means of logging all the “firsts” that a child goes through — first day home, first favorite toy, first book, first time the child says something that can be misconstrued as “dad,” etc.

Today, you take pictures or DVDs of little Acacia or Makenna on a digital camera, upload them to an Internet server, or Facebook, or Myspace, or YouTube. No books, no more. Now you have a virtual digital diary of everything baby did — the good, the bad and the ugly — from day one.

But photos are not the only way to fawn over baby. Some parents keep a lock of hair or the baby’s hospital wristband as a memento. But, like everything else in baby-dom, things have become even bigger and better. Now, along with pictures of baby’s first squinty-eyed days of life, you can also have a cast made of baby’s footprint. You mix a pre-made, nontoxic and nonstick dough, stick baby’s foot in it, then let it dry for 24-26 hours after which you can frame it and hang it on the wall for visitors to marvel at (making sure, to remove baby’s foot from the dough first, of course).

While it’s certainly great to gather up all those memories in a book or in a footprint sculpture, we also know that it’s the stories that moms and dads tell that really leave a lasting impression on kids when they’re old enough to hear about their births. Maybe it’s that story about the harrowing trip to the hospital or the way the child looked, all naked and small and helpless.

If the child is adopted, it might be a story about the day he or she became a long-awaited member of the family. It could be a funny story or even an anxious one as parents recall their joy and fear over this new life that has suddenly come. Kids want to hear those stories when they get older because in some ways it’s those stories that shape their future while their parents recall the past. A child who hears such stories knows that he or she is valued and loved. Knowing where we came from in many ways helps us know where we are going.

In any case these stories become verbal footprints of the subject. If that’s the case, let’s imagine the kind of stories that Moses’ mom told him when he was old enough to hear them and find out the details surrounding his birth. The circumstances of his birth were, in a very real sense, a foreshadowing of what was to come. It’s in this story that we learn that this child, who would grow up to defy a world power and lead a ragtag group of slaves to freedom, comes by his rebellious streak honestly. Let’s go further and imagine that the mother of Moses kept digital footprints of Moses in an online blog.

Moses’ Digital Footprints:

First “Footprint” — We might imagine that the first post in Moses’ online baby book might have been a news article from the Cairo Chronicle about Pharaoh’s order to the midwives to kill off all the male children born to the Hebrew slaves. This Pharaoh seems incessantly paranoid, so much so that he’s willing to guarantee the end of his cheap labor force in order to preserve his hold on power. Two of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, realize that Pharaoh is a few bricks shy of a pyramid and defy the order, blaming their failure to do the nasty work on the “vigorous” constitution of the Hebrew women, who give birth before the midwives can get there. Moses’ birth is thus made possible because some women who don’t even know him decide to honor God instead of human power and paranoia (1:15-21). Moses would learn to do the same. Thought: God used unlikely people to do God’s will.

Second “Footprint” — Next in the log might be a few hieroglyphics of mom Jochebed, dad Amram and sister Miriam with the baby — etchings that look like they’d been hammered out at night or when no one else was around (see Exodus 6:20 for the names of Moses’ parents). For three months, they kept the baby under wraps — maybe snapping a couple of early-morning pics at the Sphynx or those obligatory naked baby pictures of the little guy bathing in the Nile in the fading evening light. Jochebed recognized that the boy was “a fine baby” which, on the surface, appears to be the kind of thing any mother would say. Look at the Hebrew, though, and you see that the word ki tov is used to describe the baby — the same word that God uses to describe creation as “good” in Genesis 1. Josephus, writing centuries later, tells of a midrashic story where Amram was told by God in a dream that the baby was going to be Israel’s liberator (Antiquities II, 212, 215-216). His parents saw that something special was happening with this boy. At some point, though, they could no longer keep the growing boy a secret, leaving Jochebed to hatch a desperate and dangerous plan to preserve the boy’s life. Thought: God gave Moses a family who believed in him.

Third “Footprint” — Click on the next link of the memory log and you might see a piece of papyrus as a reminder of the basket that Moses was put in and set adrift down the Nile. Interestingly, the same Hebrew word for this “basket” is used for “ark” in the story of Noah in Genesis (2:3; Genesis 6:14). Once again, the writer seems to be telling us, God is saving his people from the watery chaos of human corruption and taking them forward to a new life. You have to imagine Jochebed tearing up in the telling of this part of the story — all the fear and desperation coming to a head there at the river-bank. Thought: Moses was saved because God had people who were creative and were risk-takers.

Fourth “Footprint” — Miriam would make an entry as a proud big sister, the one who followed the basket/ark down the river and saw Pharaoh’s daughter coming down to the water for her bath, finding the basket and the baby. Remember that her paranoid father had ordered all the Egyptians to throw the Hebrew baby boys into the river when they found them (1:22). Apparently, however, even Pharaoh’s daughter thought her old man to be a bit daft. She recognized the baby as a Hebrew and decided to raise him as her own — once again setting the pattern of defying authority that would mark the baby’s life. Miriam sees this and thinks quickly herself, offering to go get a wet nurse for the baby who is the boy’s own mother. Jochebed gets her boy back for a time, but only until he was old enough to live with his adoptive mother in Pharaoh’s court (2:10).

Cecil B. DeMille and The Ten Commandments notwithstanding, we don’t know if Moses ever talked to his birth mother again after he was taken to live in Pharaoh’s palace. Tradition holds, though, that even as a child, Moses carried some of her pluck. Another Midrash says that the child Moses was once sitting on Pharaoh’s lap and took the crown off the despot’s head and put it on his own. Paranoid Pharaoh decided to test the boy’s loyalty by putting the crown and a bowl of hot coals in front of the boy. If he chose the crown again, he would be killed. The story goes that an angel guided Moses’ hand to the coals and, taking one, he touched his lips with it, which resulted in his famous speech impediment. Thought: The staunch defiance of five women in the face of unyielding tyranny marked Moses’ birth and childhood. All of us have needed help; all of us need to help.

The bottom line for the writer of Exodus was that here was a child who, from the get-go, was destined and prepared to leave his footprints all over the place: in the palace, in the gardens of Goshen, in the wilderness and among the people of God. His baby footprint would grow ever larger, eventually leading a whole nation through the trials and tribulations of desert wandering on its way to promised freedom. He would usurp the authority of a world power, lead his people for 40 years and hold them together by the force of his God-connected character. He would replace the ruthless and arbitrary rantings of despots with a code of law that we still use today. All this because his family refused to accept the fate that the world had laid out for him and, instead, placed him in the hands of God.

God’s hand of providence preserved Moses for the mission that God had prepared him for.

God will do no less for us.

Possible Preaching Themes:
• Importance of risk-taking, committed parenting.
• Finding God’s will and way in the midst of difficult circumstances.
• The importance of stories in shaping the lives of children.
An Alternative Sermonic Approach:
There are a lot of ways you can go with this text, but since this is a Sunday that is close to the start of the school year (and many schools may have opened classrooms this past week), this might be a great time to talk about seeing the potential in our children and to remind parents and guardians that they have an important role in shaping the future of these little ones. Biblically speaking, the towering figures of history — particularly Moses and Jesus — were born under dangerous and uncertain circumstances, but to parents who were willing to take all kinds of personal risks in order to help them realize their God-given potential. (You might want to draw some of those parallels in the sermon, too.) Notice, however, that in the Moses birth narrative, God is only peripherally present. It’s really up to the midwives and the family to do what’s right for the child. The lesson we can take from this is that what parents (and church families) do, what stories they tell, what lengths they’re willing to go to in loving their children, will have a lot to do with children’s view of themselves and their future.
Moses would leave a large footprint on history, but it all started with that first tiny casting of life and courage made by his family. How can we help the parents in our congregation move the footsteps of their children in the right direction?
Participation Pointers:
• From Linda Bird Wright: “I would show a freeze frame of a shot from Prince of Egypt that pertained to each of these ‘footprints’ in Moses’ life. I would leave them up while I talked about each ‘footprint.’ As the next point began, I would put up the next frame, again freeze it. And continue on down the line. At the end I would then have a slide show of 21st century events: a newborn baby picture, baptism picture, perhaps a scouting award such as God and Country, maybe a confirmation picture, then move on to a sporting event in high school, and end with a graduation picture: either college or high school. I would show them rapidly, singly at first, then at the end as a collage of pictures on the screen. At that point I would ask the questions: ‘Where are your footprints taking you? Where is God calling you to serve, to learn, to help build the kingdom of God? Listen, listen for the still small voice of God and make those footprints count. Amen.’”
• From Alan Kimber: “Begin with a brief ‘Brag Moment.’ Mothers (and more especially grandparents can be asked to share ‘What’s in your wallet?’ This, of course, is an invitation to share photographs of kids and tell stories about them. (This may get out of control.)
• Kimber also points us to the Methodist supplement to the hymnal, The Faith We Sing, which includes a wonderful hymn (2051) “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry” by John Ylviskaer which would fit with this theme of God as the constant peripheral presence.
The Text: Exodus 1:8-2:10.
The Movie: Prince of Egypt.
The Scene: When Moses’ mother lets him go on the river, having faith that God will care for him.

Animating Illustrations

In the Disney animated film The Prince of Egypt (1998) Jochebed, Moses’ mother, sings to her infant son as she wraps him in a blanket and places him in a basket in the river
“ Yal-di ha-tov veh ha-rach [My good and tender son]
Al ti-ra veh al tif-chad [Don’t be frightened and don’t be scared].
My son, I have nothing I can give
But this chance that you may live.
I pray we’ll meet again
If he will deliver us.
Hush now, my baby.
Be still, love, don’t cry.
Sleep as you’re rocked by the stream.
Sleep and remember my last lullaby
So I’ll be with you when you dream.
River, O river,
Flow gently for me.
Such precious cargo you bear.
Do you know somewhere
he can live free?
River, deliver him there ...”

In Disney’s animated film based on the story of Moses, The Prince of Egypt (1998), young Miriam, Moses’ older sister, sings this song as she watches the princess take her baby brother from the basket in the river to adopt him as her own:
“Brother, you’re safe now
And safe may you stay
For I have a prayer just for you:
Grow, baby brother,
Come back someday,
Come and deliver us, too ...”

The following letter was addressed to “A Safe Haven for Newborns,” an organization operated throughout the state of Florida by the Gloria M. Silverio Foundation in an effort to eliminate infant abandonment through education, prevention and community involvement. They work to publicize Florida’s “Safe Haven Law” passed in 2000. One can imagine the queen of Egypt, Moses’ adoptive mother, expressing similar sentiments:
“As if in a dream, this beautiful baby wrapped in a hospital blanket is carefully carried to our door! Since I was a little girl I always wanted to have children of my own — especially a little girl! My dream was to name her Gloria, after my mother. You see, she named me Lori after hers! The perfect circle, in my eyes. Thank you, Safe Haven, for making dreams come true, and may God’s grace shine upon you. A very special blessing for ‘tummy mommy’ for loving her so much you gave her to Safe Haven. Forever our family will be grateful to the entire staff at Safe Haven for Newborns. We will also continue to spread the news through the media of this life-saving program.
Yours truly, L. L.”
                                        — Retrieved February 19, 2008.

A Baptist church in Johannesburg, South Africa, has taken on the unique mission of rescuing “throwaway” babies. After discovering an alarming rate of incidents of desperately poor migrant-worker mothers abandoning their newborns in dumpsters, the church established what it calls the Door of Hope. Cutting a hole through its high security wall (a regrettable necessity in the violent neighborhood in which it’s located), the church urged desperate mothers to anonymously place their newborn children inside this Door of Hope, knowing that the church will care for them.
So far, more then 500 infants have been saved, who otherwise would have died in the dumpsters.
—Presbyterian News Service press release 07387, “A Spy for Hope,” June 28, 2007. February 20, 2008. Reprinted with permission of the Presbyterian News Service.

Talk about footprints left behind by a great leader ... Some of the biggest footprints ever left behind by an American President were left by our first President, George Washington. In his 2004 biography, His Excellency: George Washington (Knopf), Joseph J. Ellis tells the story of how the fractious Continental Congress quickly realized they needed an unquestioned commander to lead the newborn nation’s military forces. They gave Washington remarkably wide-ranging personal authority — more than any other American general has ever had. Today, we separate the roles of commander in chief and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Washington was, essentially, both. All Americans addressed him with the quasi-royal title, Your Excellency.
This tall, silent Virginian had more military experience than nearly anyone else in the 13 colonies, but even so, he was vastly inexperienced, compared to the seasoned generals King George dispatched across the ocean. The fact that Washington succeeded was as much a matter of good fortune as tactical skill. On several occasions, he nearly lost the war through poor judgment. Except for the victory of Yorktown — made possible by the French navy, who helped trap Cornwallis’ army on indefensible ground — Washington’s successes were small-scale, local engagements. Yet, because of the nation’s hunger for an unquestioned leader, there was never a serious attempt to replace him.
Because Washington had taken on the highly visible, symbolic role of His Excellency, when it came time to elect the first president, the position was universally recognized as his. Washington was twice elected without opposition, without a political campaign, and by 100 percent of electoral votes: a feat never since duplicated.
But, how to address the new president? His political stature seemed to demand a title even grander than “Your Excellency.” Vice President-elect John Adams favored “Your Most Benign Highness,” but Washington settled for the far more prosaic, “Mr. President.”
Washington could have become something very close to a king, but he chose to leave a different set of footprints behind. He became “Mr. President” — and “Mr. President” his successors in the executive office have been, ever since.

Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
—Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Children's Sermon

Hold up a magazine containing house designs, and show the children the different shapes, sizes and layouts of various homes. Ask them to pick their favorites. Then ask if there is any one type of house that is the perfect house. Let them know that houses come in all shapes and sizes, and so do families. Tell them the story of Moses, who was born in the land of Egypt, at a time when it was very dangerous to be a male child. Say that Moses had a loving mother and father, but they couldn’t keep him at home, so his mother put him in a basket and hid him by the bank of the river (Exodus 2:3). Find out if the children know what happened to him. Explain that the daughter of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, discovered Moses and fell in love with him — she took him home, and raised him in Pharaoh’s house (v. 10). Invite the children to describe the family of Moses — mother, father, Pharaoh’s daughter, Pharaoh. Point out that this is an unusual family, but God used this group of people to prepare Moses to be the leader of the Israelites. Close by saying that we all live in different kinds of houses, and we all have different kinds of families, but God can use everyone around us to prepare us to be the people God wants us to be.

Worship Resources

Invocations General
Gracious God, our help and our hope, be with us today. Bless our time together, as we seek your guidance and your love. May we grow in grace as we gather here as one people. May we know your love, and help us to build your kingdom of love upon all the earth. Amen.
Prayers General
Compassionate and loving God, you are our shepherd and lover. In your gentle care, we have all that we need. When we are weary, you bring restfulness to our bodies. When we are thirsty, you nourish us with abundance. When our spirits are weak and troubled, your Spirit refreshes our hearts. You guide us on our journey, great and wondrous God, so that we will walk with strength and purpose. If we walk through the deepest valleys of trouble, disease or sorrow, we are not afraid, for you are right there beside us. Even in the presence of hatred and violence, your peace-filled love takes away the hatred and births beloved community. O God, you are simply amazing.
Your strength and your awesome presence, your love and your grace always comfort us. Surely your goodness and your peace will be with us all of our days, and we will live in your eternal home forever and ever. For all this and so very much more, awesome God, we say thank you. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Prayers Offertory
Lord God, your call to us is so very clear. You have invited us to bring our gifts, our resources and our love to you to serve on Christ’s behalf. We give you thanks for all your gifts to us, and may our lives with you be a journey of hope and promise into the future. In the Master’s name. Amen.
Benedictions General
Go in peace, walk in courage, follow the Spirit’s leading. Live in God’s love, be the people who make peace, journey with the guiding Spirit. Be people of confidence and purpose, today and every day. Make a difference in the world, share the Good News, minister to the sick and the lonely. Be of good cheer, sing joyous songs and give God praise all the days. Go in peace. Amen.
Music Links
Hymns    Are Ye Able             The Gift of Love       Covenant Hymn      Praise     He Reigns               I Need More Love   Every Moment
Lectionary Texts     Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Cycle A            Exodus 1:8–2:10     Psalm 124   Romans 12:1-8*  Matthew 16:13-20*

Exodus 1:8–2:10

The Israelites Are Oppressed

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

Birth and Youth of Moses

2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. 3When 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. 4His 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. 6When 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. 7Then 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?’ 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ 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 will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,* ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out* of the water.’

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