Miriam

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Our reading today is from the book of Exodus. And the story that it tells—the story of the exodus—is famous and foundational. You have heard it; you know it.

The children of Israel—the descendants of Leah and Rachel, of Bilhah and Zilpah—are living in slavery in Egypt. And they are groaning under their slavery; they are crying out. And God raises up a hero named Moses, and sends plagues upon the Egyptians, and leads the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt… out of the house of bondage… and into a land of milk and honey.

God gives them a law and a land. And God makes them into a nation. And that doesn’t mean that their troubles are over. There are still trials and tribulations down the road. But it is enough… 

And sometimes enough is enough; sometimes enough is all you need.

And that is a good story. I know that there are people in this congregation who could use that story right now. I am certain that there are people in this community who could use that story right know. I am positive that there are people in this world who could use that story right now.

Because right now, we are faced with so… much… … … stuff.

And if stories have taught us anything… it’s that moments like this call for a hero… who can stand up for what is good and what is right… and bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly… and change everything… all at once.

But the truth is… that story is a long way off. The truth is… that story is years from now.

And in this moment…

The children of Israel—the descendants of Leah and Rachel, of Bilhah and Zilpah—are living in slavery in Egypt. And there are people in Egypt who know that they are outnumbered. And they are afraid. So the Egyptians have set taskmasters over the Israelites; they have enslaved them, and oppressed them, and made their lives bitter.

And in this moment, an Israelite woman has a baby boy. And she loves this baby boy and she is afraid for this baby boy, because she knows that the king of the Egyptians has told his people, “If you see a daughter of the Israelites—a baby or a young girl—she can live. But if you see a son of the Israelites—a baby or a young boy—you are to seize that child and throw him in the Nile. The daughters may live; the sons must die.”

So she hides her son for as long as she can. And when she can’t hide him anymore, she waterproofs a basket, and lays him in it, and puts it in the Nile, close to the shore, among the reeds. And she walks away; she puts one foot in front of the other… and she hopes.

But the boy has an older sister named Miriam. And she is clever… and she might even be a little bit dangerous… and she stays close… so she can see what happens.

So Miriam is there when the king’s own daughter comes down to the Nile… and sees the child in the basket… and takes pity on him.

And Miriam is there to ask the king’s own daughter, “Shall I go get an Israelite woman to nurse the child and raise the child and do all of the work for you?”

And Miriam is there to go and get her own mother—who is also the mother of this child—to raise this child… and teach him about who he is… so that when the king’s own daughter takes him as her son… he is an Israelite among the Egyptians…

And later… years from now… when the moment is right… he will have the courage to ask the king himself, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”

And later still… years after that… when the moment is right… he will hear the voice of God calling him to be a hero and a prophet.

Because that is how change happens: a little bit at a time, and, only then, all at once.

Later this month—after worship on July twenty-fourth—we are going to have a courageous conversation about gun violence.

The idea for that came from a member of the congregation… who brought it to the Board of Mission… who said, more or less, “Yeah. This is on a lot of minds and in a lot of hearts. So let’s do this. Let’s do something like we’ve done with mental health; and let’s start with an actual conversation… and some brunch.”

And there’s not really an agenda. We’re not trying to develop a policy. We’re not trying to take a position. We’re just going to talk. And listen. And try to understand each other better.

And someone asked me why we were bothering with that; someone asked me what the point was. Because we are a small church in a small town. We are not terribly powerful… we are not particularly influential… and no one wonders what First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeWitt, Iowa, has to say about contentious and controversial issues like gun violence…

…or, and let’s be honest, any of the other things that are on a lot of minds and in a lot of hearts.

We are just… us. And one conversation is not going to change… … …anything.

Just like one little girl standing near the shore of a river, watching the king’s own daughter come closer to her baby brother, is not going to change… anything.

At the most… at the absolute most… at the very edge of what is even possible… she might manage to keep her baby brother—this anonymous Israelite born among the slaves of Egypt—alive.

No. One conversation is not going to change anything. And one little girl standing near the shore of a river, watching the king’s own daughter come closer to her baby brother, is not going to change anything. She’s certainly not going to change everything.

Except that this is how change works: a little bit at a time, and, only then, all at once. And every change has to start somewhere.

It didn’t actually start with Miriam. And it wasn’t just her.

A while ago, the king of the Egyptians told some Israelite midwives to… make arrangements… for the Israelite women to just… not have… any baby boys. But those midwives refused; those midwives resisted. And, when the king asked them why there were still all of these baby boys around, those midwives lied to his face.

And that is why the king of the Egyptians has told his own people, “If you see a son of the Israelites—a baby or a young boy—you are to seize that child and throw him in the Nile. The daughters may live; the sons must die.”

But…

Later… years from now… when the moment is right… and the hero and the prophet arrives on the scene… there are plenty of men. So those people must be refusing. Those people must be resisting. 

And even in this moment…

The king’s own daughter comes down to the Nile… and sees the child in the basket… and knows that he is a child of the Israelites… and takes pity on him.

And this young girl just happens to be nearby… and just happens to suggest that she can go and get an Israelite woman who can nurse the child and raise the child and do all of the work… and just happens to know just the woman to do that.

And this young girl just happens to come back with a woman who looks a little like her… and who smiles when she sees the child… and who takes to him so easily…

And I don’t know. But it seems like there might be a bit of a wink and a nod. It seems like there might be a bit of understanding. It seems like there might be a bit of an unspoken bond between these two women who know how the world does work… and who know how the world should work… and that some friends are… unexpected

…and that change comes a little bit at a time… as people start to see a problem together… and talk about what they might do… even if they aren’t terribly powerful… even if they aren’t particularly influential… and they coalesce…

…they talk to each other and they listen to each other… and start to see common ground and common solutions… and they gain a little more power and a little more influence…

…until change happens all at once.

In that moment, Miriam could not have known the story that she was a part of. She could not have know the seedling of God’s reign that she was nurturing. She could not have known that she was arranging for her people to be led out of the land of Egypt… out of the house of bondage… and into a land of milk and honey.

And even later… even years after that moment… she could not have known that she was part of an even bigger story… about God leading all of creation out of slavery to sin… out of the house of bondage… and into a kingdom of steadfast love and abundant grace.

And even now… we cannot know how we are part of that same story… nurturing the seedlings of God’s reign all around us… until, one day, in the fullness of time, we see God’s reign cover the whole of creation.

Because that is how change happens: a little bit at a time, and, only then, all at once.

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