Sermon manuscript for Sabbath, May 6, 2017, for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Texts: Exodus 18:12-24, Matthew 21:1-5.
The descendants of Jacob moved from Palestine to Egypt to escape the ravages of a severe drought and famine. It was a good move. They settled in a rural area away from the urban centers and prospered. Then a different Pharaoh came to the throne. He saw these foreigners as a threat to the real Egyptians. He imposed restrictions on them, but that wasn’t enough. Finally, he stripped them of their citizenship and put them in labor camps.
Even this was not enough. Their birth rate was higher than the “real Egyptians” and Pharaoh fretted that eventually they would be so numerous they would threaten the Egyptians place as top dogs. So Pharaoh announced an eradication campaign. All male children were to be killed by throwing them in the river.
A Hebrew couple, Amram and Jocabed, had a son. Naturally, they did not want to lose him to the river. They hid him as long as they could, but eventually he was too big to hide, too active, too noisy. What to do?
Jocabed came up with a wild scheme. She would obey the law—that is she would put him in the river. But not to die.
She made a basket boat, put baby Moses in the little ark, and hid the boat in the rushes near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed.
She posted Moses’ older sister, Mariam, to stand guard and went home to pray.
Pharaoh’s daughter showed up at the river at her usual time. She spotted the basket floating among the rushes and sent one of her maids to fetch it. When the lid of the basket was opened, Moses began wailing.
“Ah, it must be one of the Hebrew babies,” the princess said. While the princess and her maids were cooing over this little kid, Miriam sidled up. “Would you like me to find you a wet nurse to feed the baby?”
The princess turned, surprised. “Why yes, that would be lovely.”
Miriam raced home and called her mom.
Jocabed ends up getting hired to care for her own baby at home. After he was weaned, the princess took Moses into the palace and raised him as her own son, giving him every advantage a prince could possibly have.
Fast forward eighty years. God finds Moses out in the desert herding sheep and sends him back to Egypt. “Go tell Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’”
Moses obeys and engaging in tense hyper test of wills with Pharaoh, Moses wins. Pharaoh tells him to get out. Take his people and leave! And they do. We call it the Exodus.
At first glance, this is a classic good guys/bad guys tale. Moses and his people are the good guys. Pharaoh and his people are the bad guys. For two thousand years Christian preachers have used this story as a pattern for understanding the place of Christians in the world. We preachers see ourselves as Moses and our people are the Israelites. This makes other people the Egyptians, the bad guys.
But if we look at the story closely, the simple distinction blurs. Are the Egyptians the bad guys? Well, not the princess. She saved Moses’ life. She set him up as a member of the royal household. She directed and funded his education, preparing him for his role in leading Israel.
Are the Egyptians the bad guys? Several times when Pharaoh was adamantly refusing Moses’ demands for freedom for his people, Pharaoh’s advisers urged him to yield to Moses demands and let the people go. Is it fair to see these advisers as “the enemy” when they were actively attempting to persuade Pharaoh to agree to Moses’ demands?
When the Israelites finally headed out of town, they took with them vast wealth from the Egyptians. It was this treasure that made possible the construction of the sanctuary—the wilderness temple. Shouldn’t the Egyptians get at least a little credit for this?
Here’s my point: God used some Egyptians as allies in accomplishing his objectives for Israel. God used an Egyptian princess to set Moses up for success as a national leader. God used the university of Egypt to provide Moses with the best education available at the time. God relied on the wealth of Egypt in the construction of the wilderness sanctuary.
If we take the story at face value, the Egyptians were indispensable to the accomplishment of the mission of God. Yes, the people of Israel are central in the story. But they are not alone. They are not sufficient. The Egyptians were indispensable allies.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is his ride into Jerusalem. Jesus decides to make a dramatic royal display. He is going to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. One problem. Jesus doesn’t have a donkey. His disciples don’t have a donkey. Jesus sends a couple of his disciples to “requisition” a donkey. They do so, and Jesus does the famous “Triumphal Entry.” He rides from Bethany into Jerusalem, riding right up to the entrance of the temple. Jesus could not have done this without the assistance of allies.
In the story of Jesus and the donkey, we don’t confuse the roles of leading actor and supporting actor. But neither do we forget the supporting actor.
The New Testament unabashedly affirms the centrality of the Christian church in the story of God’s mission in the earth. We are called the light of the world, the salt of the earth.
Early Adventists saw themselves in the prophecies of Revelation. We imagined that we were the true inheritors of the apostolic mission. Unfortunately, this sense of being special developed into full-blown ownership of the work of God. What is God up to in the world? Us. Where did we see the mission of God advancing in the world? Only in our own numerical success. But we can do better.
If we compare ourselves to Israel in the days of Moses, we should expect that some of our brightest leaders will have received their education outside our culture, outside our social circles. If we compare ourselves to Christ himself, we will recognize that we can accomplish our work only by relying on the faithful service of others.
What is our mission? What does God call us to do?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19
How do we know if someone is part of “God’s people?” The primary evidence is not their religious or political label but their participation in the mission of God. All who are working to advance the cause of justice and mercy are allies of God. They deserve our honor and cooperation.
Note: in the service Karen Baker will talk about her family’s experience as part of a Buy Nothing group. These groups are an example of people outside of church doing work that embodies some of our best values. The people so engaged are allies of God whatever their religious labels or lack there of.