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Exodus 2:1-10

Meg Peery McLaughlin
Exodus 2:1-10
August 23, 2020

Scripture:

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 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. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

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. 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. 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?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 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, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

 

Sermon:

We don’t even have her name. Miriam and Moses’ mother.
We know she lived in a time when a certain set of people were enslaved,
forced into labor in a ruthless way.
Even the healthcare system was corrupted by the powerful,
directives given to midwives to only let the girl babies live.
Law and order demanded that any baby boys were to be drowned in the Nile River.

We don’t even know her name.
We know she tried to keep him quiet, nursing him every few hours,
watching him sleep, soothing every cry. At three months, his mother would have started to see changes: baby Moses would have started laughing, rolling over, becoming more aware of the world around him, getting too loud for hiding.

We don’t even know her name.
We know what she did.
She made the impossible decision. Relinquishing every ounce of control, risking everything,
desperately hoping it would mean life for her child.  She let her heart, now beating on the outside of her body, float down the river unattended.

We don’t even know her name.
And maybe we don’t need to, because we know this woman.
This is the mother of every black child, who has “the talk” – not the one about the birds and the bees, but about who speak and where to keep your hands. 

This is the refugee mother of who straps a backpack on her baby sets off on foot, leaving the stuffed animals behind the house.
Risk. Relinquishment. Wretched Grief.
And in smaller ways, it’s the woman lying awake in the house next door,
who just sent their child off to college in the midst of a pandemic,
who in the morning, won’t leave her child among the reeds,
but among the weedy worries of what it means for her kids to stare at a screen for hours for school,
and what it means for her to work all the while.

We also don’t know her name.
Pharoah’s daughter. The Pharoah who doesn’t know Joseph, and clearly doesn’t know human decency either. She goes down to the river to bathe, because such is the life of a princess, or maybe by the water is the only place she has to go to get out of ear shot of her father’s cruel chorus:
da da da dat da, dat da da.

We don’t even know her name.
The one who hears a whimper and sees a basket and knows immediately what she is going to find. She knows the law. She’s been raised on her father’s fear and prejudice. I imagine her saying to herself: I’m supposed to kill him; I can’t do that. What if I just leave him here? But he would die anyway, I mean, how long can a baby go without milk?[1]  She kneels next to the basket and everyone is waiting for this girl to make a decision: her maids, the sister Miriam lurking in the reeds, God, no doubt, God. Everyone is waiting—everyone, that is, but the baby, who just wanted to be held, and fed, and given a safe place to sleep[2].

We don’t even know her name.
This girl who broke from the family way. The girl who disobeys the law. This girl who is savvy enough to pay the baby’s mother to do the one thing that mother ever wanted to do. This girl who does not forget that boy in the basket’s face and later adopts him as her own son. This girl who draws Moses out of the water.

We don’t know her name.
And maybe we don’t need to, because we know her.
This girl is every conductor on the underground railroad, every freedom rider.
She’s the teen with the black lives matter poster in her bedroom window colored in with sharpies.
She’s the woman who doesn’t just know the law, but knows that in looking in another person’s face,
in really seeing that face, a new decision, a new action, a new vocation may be called for.

Yes, this is a story about Moses,
but if I understand it,
it is mostly about these two unnamed women,
these reflections and facsimiles of us and them, of you and me.
This is a story of connection at the river’s edge, and how that connection changes the world.

Moses will grow up to voice the words of every protestor’s chant
every refugee’s dream
every oppressed parent’s prayer
every covid-weary one’s plea: Let My People Go!

Moses, who was drawn out of the water, will part the waters and lead the people to freedom,
where his sister will dance on the shore. He will stand at the top of Mt. Nebo and look out to the promised land, you can hear him say, I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord[3].

But all of that would not have been possible without these women by the river,
none of it, without their connection.

And I tell you, maybe it’s just this town and University that I now call home,
But when I read this story, I see these two unnamed women, but you know what else I see?
I see the Tar.

Moses mother takes a papyrus basket and she plasters it, the text says, with bitumen and pitch.
It’s a little detail tucked lovingly in the story.
That mom, not wanting water to soak the grass, makes sure the basket will float.
That mom, hell bent on her son’s survival, rubs resin painstakingly, thoroughly
and lays that boy down, no doubt his little feet escaping his covers, becoming a tarheel.

And then Pharoah’s daughter,
unable to distance herself from a stranger’s cries, scoops that child up,
undoubtedly smudging her freshly cleaned skin with that same tar.

And there it is. The kingdom of God is like. . . two persons sticky with tar.
Connected to one another across an impossible distance.
It’s the only way through, the only way forward.

It’s not all that often we Tarheels find ourselves in the national spotlight,
outside of Final Fours, and the like, but this week, here we are.

And it seems to me that what has been said is this: we are connected.
What effects one, effects all.
Our survival—and our children’s survival, our risks,
our policies and our decisions—they are all interwoven.

Down here by the Eno River, on the banks of Bolin and Morgan Creek,
we are all marked by tar. Connected by it. And that, friends, is going to be our only way forward.

In the late 18th century, North Carolinians, then just a colony, were known for how hard they worked to produce tar for the English Navy. Of course, later in the Civil War, it got codified to mean standing firm.[4]

Today, I wonder, if we can take a page from this sacred story,
and give Tarheels yet a new meaning—
I wonder if we can say that we stick
we stick together,
no matter the laws that would still try to drive us apart,
no matter the prejudice that would still try to keep us from seeing the humanity in the other,
no matter the challenges of this insidious virus
no matter your name,
whether I know it or not.

Moses’ mother
Pharoah’s daughter
You
Me
all down by the river’s edge.

So it is.
May it ever be.
Amen.

 

[1] Anna Carter Florence, At the River’s Edge A Chorus of Witnesses pg. 175

[2] Again Anna Carter Florence

[3] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” April 3, 1968

[4] https://alumni.unc.edu/whats-in-a-name-why-were-all-called-tar-heels/

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.