Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 1:18-22, 1:32-2:11
Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Romans 1:18-22, 32 and 2:1-11
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…
32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
Can you believe the story from Exodus!?
If you hadn’t heard this story before, there are so many things wrong that are so wrong with this picture.
In a classic political move, the new Pharaoh does not have a relationship or connection with Joseph and his family. So all he sees are TOO MANY of THEM. He worries. His rationale is this: “The more there are of them, the riskier it is for us.”
Does this sound familiar? Does this bring to mind today’s political strategizing, and political back-room talk? Does it bring to mind profiling and even voter-suppression? OTHERS are viewed with suspicion. Scarcity is one’s view of the world: more for you means less for me.
This is an age-old fear, age-old strategy….yet still so very much alive even today.
I find it alarming that this age-old fear still lives and breathes in us today. After all, didn’t Joseph show the people way back when that we are stronger together? Didn’t an Israelite boy, formerly enslaved, formerly imprisoned, save the entire nation of Egypt and beyond?!
And instead of being viewed as the asset that the Israelite people were to Egypt, they were viewed as other, as foreign, as untrustworthy, as a liability.
Does this sound familiar?
But this isn’t where it stops. Of course the new Pharaoh has a plan. And it’s not even veiled: kill every Israeli baby boy, as soon as he is born. Outright genocide, or infanticide more accurately.
It is out of this horrific time in Israel’s history that the baby boy Moses is born. He is hidden for as long as he can be, and when it becomes no longer possible, he is abandoned – with great care – in the reeds along the edge of the river Nile. His mother seals a basket with tar, places her baby boy in it, and sends his older sister to watch out for him, to see what would become of him.
Can you imagine this? The heartbreak of a mother – where child abandonment is the most loving possibility?
I never want to experience such a heart-wrenching choice as hers.
But Moses’ life is spared by the compassion of the Pharaoh’s daughter, the daughter of the very Pharaoh ordering infanticide. She is moved in compassion and decides to save this Israelite infant’s life, raising him as her own.
Israel truly has had a dramatic history: so much strength, so much color, so much pain. Can we take a moment here to acknowledge the depth of pain in their stories?
And in this one story, we have OTHERING, Xenophobia, Political Back-Rooming, and Infanticide. It’s a play for power; garnering fear in order to remove one’s perceived threats from the playing field. This is a move as old as time.
And it’s as fresh and relevant as tomatoes grown on our summer vines. This same strategy is still employed by all our current, major political players. Is it not? And though our methods for the removal of others is not always so overt, that goal still in play.
America has a long history of OTHERING. Those original residents of our beloved country were OTHERED and demonized – “savage, barbarians, uneducated, crazy…” Their demise was rationalized – “we must save them from themselves, we must Christianize them, we must civilize them, we must save their children from their savage and barbaric culture.” As humans we are so very good at convincing ourselves of the righteousness of whatever-it-is we want to do.
And so children were forcibly stolen from parents and communities. And the people were outright, systematically butchered. And then when the bloodshed ceased, America decided to isolate the rest of them, lumping them all in their infinite tribes, into a few tracks of land – without citizenship, without rights, without resource, without representation. …to this day.
To this day.
The earliest immigrants to America brought unpaid, enslaved workers. And these persons were the human-power behind the building of this nation. In our earliest hours of freedom from England and becoming a nation, these words were written and adopted: “We believe that all men are created equal.” And even as Thomas Jefferson penned those inspiring words, he worried that slavery – at the heart of the southern states’ success – would destroy the federal union, this new nation he had helped birth. He intimately knew the contradiction. His compelling words, those adopted as the heart of this nation, were not being fully lived. It would become a crisis of national identity and integrity.
Once enslaved Americans were finally set free, local laws were passed to limit the involvement of former enslaved persons in the work of government. They came to be known as “Jim Crow Laws.” And these laws stayed on the books for 95 years. During that time, persons of color were lynched en-mass and disenfranchised, with no accountability or justice.
Once Lynching and Jim Crow laws were finally outed, a new strategy emerged: literacy. No one could vote unless they passed a literacy test. And in the Black community, even professors were being dismissed and disenfranchised as illiterate. Just like the Pharaoh of Moses’ day, keeping people down was seen as critical to the holding-on of power. The same goals, taking on ever-new strategies.
And once this new literate-only voting strategy got outed, the criminalization and over-imprisonment of an entire demographic population gained traction in its place. And if one has been imprisoned, one’s voting rights are then revoked…
Do you see a pattern?
The holding-on of power has led leaders through-out time to grave evils.
Scripture has documented this Pharaoh’s great evil. It has documented grave evils of the Israelite people, of neighboring people,… and the list goes on and on. The Bible exposes truth.
In our passage from Romans, Paul goes on to list all those perceived as evil or bad in chapter one. Then immediately in chapter two, right when the whole crowd is saying, “Yes, THOSE people are bad,” he changes course and says, “YOU are no different.”
YOU are no different.
Paul holds everyone to account for their sins – for NONE are without sin.
Paul knows how to meet the people where they are. He knows all the ones folks despise and reject, he knows who the people judge and ostracize. And he meets them there. Paul speaks about all THESE PEOPLE, but he does so, only to then shine the light of accountability on the very people doing the judging.
After Rachel & Jacob’s son-switch – tricking Esau out of his birthright…
After Naaman’s wife-switch on Jacob – tricking him out of his promised marriage to Rachel.
This letter by Paul to the people of Romans is perhaps the next biggest switch in scripture!
Paul – ever the visionary pastor – walks the people into an honest look at their own indictment: in judging others – they themselves are rightfully judged, since “you yourselves do the very same things,” Paul says.
LET US NOT repeat the mistakes of the past.
LET US NO LONGER other those different than ourselves.
MAY WE see other people as the assets that they truly are.
MAY WE choose to believe in God’s abundance, over the lie of scarcity.
AND MAY WE head Paul’s warning – owning our own sins and those societal not-yet-righted sins, and recognizing that we are no different than those we so often and so readily judge.
God has given us good guides, good leaders, good teachers.
May we heed their warnings.
MAY WE finally learn from those who have come before,
and regard others as God regards us –
Thanks be to God!
Iona Abby Worship Book
God of history, you share our joys and crushing sorrows, you hear the cries of the afflicted, you fill the hungry, and you set free the oppressed. We pray for the end to all injustice. Inspire us with the all-embracing love of God, challenge us with the sacrificial love of Jesus, empower us with the transforming love of the Spirit, that we and all God’s children may live and be free!
Spirit of integrity, you drive us into the desert to search out our truth. Give us clarity to know what is right, that we may abandon the false innocence of failing to choose at all, but may follow the purposes of Jesus Christ.
Spirit of truth and judgement, who alone can cast out the powers that grip our world at the point of crisis, give us your discernment, that we may accurately name what is evil, and know that way that leads to peace.
Iona Abby Worship Book
Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives, as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice. As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water, flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other. As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us, renew us now in newness of life and unity of love. As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb, hold us in the power and peace of your abiding presence.
The Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland
O God, since there is no distinction of race and origin, in you we are all one. Empower us to break down the barriers that still divide us, so that we may work in harmony with each other and with you.
Iona Abby Worship Book – adapted & expanded
God, write your message on our hearts,
bless and direct us,
then send us out, living letters of the Word,
for we are yours. Amen.