Read It Again: Moses in the bulrushes

Read It Again: Moses in the bulrushes

About the sermon series

Exodus 2:1-10

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.  When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Before he was Moses, he was a nameless baby in a basket, sent down the Nile River. I first learned of this baby in the bulrushes when I was in Sunday School. We were 7-year-olds, given a cute little basket and some black paint, which was ostensibly pitch that would make the basket waterproof. Then, we each put plastic baby Moses in the basket. Most of us didn’t think too much about it. Seemed like an ancient pool floaty to me. But everything changed when a child in our class asked the teacher, “Why would a mommy put her baby in a basket and send him down the river by himself?”

The teacher’s eyes darkened. Why indeed. She must have been thinking of words that
would be honest while also keeping our spirits buoyant as painful adult realities seeped in. How do you float over realities like an enslaved mother or a genocidal Pharoah? She simply said, “Sometimes mommies do what they have to do, not necessarily what they want to do.” But then her eyes brightened, “He wasn’t by himself, was he?” He was rescued by…” She picked up a golden figurine that looked like an Egyptian princess. She probably wanted us all to say the daughter of the Pharoah who scooped up the child. But apparently I declared, “His older sister!” This was a very older sister thing to declare. From my vantage point, and maybe that of siblings of every time and place, the sister had in fact slopped through the water and when the Pharoah’s daughter drew the baby out of the river, the sister had a suggestion ready for someone to nurse him. And of course, that someone was the baby’s mother. I might title this story, “Siblings: you’d be up the creek without us.” But, the Bible wants us to wade much deeper.

This story invites us to the water’s edge. We wade into the murky water and see at once
the two sides of this story. We see the reflection of a world of heartbroken mothers and
vulnerable children and siblings who have to grow up too fast. The reflection of horrible
oppression. We see rivers like open wounds in our world, the fraught borderlands dotted with unaccompanied minors. The Nile but also the Rio Grande and the Jordan. At the river’s edge, we see our own reflection in that water. Perhaps we see choices we made because we had to, not because we wanted to. Perhaps we recall the times when fear and sadness, bravery and creativity pooled together around our knees, and like the mother of Moses, we had to admit we did not know where all this was headed but holding on was no longer possible.

But at the water’s edge, we also see another side of the story. God’s side. The reflection
of those who have stood by us when we were most vulnerable. The reflection of goodness from people we are not supposed to trust. The reflection of something more powerful than people and their warring madness, and that is this river of life that flows toward a magnificent hope and not destruction. This story is the reflection of God’s prophetic imagination, a world where people do not turn a blind eye to other people’s babies. A world full of small acts of bravery happening far upstream that lead to world changing freedom downstream. What an important story for us today.

I imagine you have heard of the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect is an idea put
forward by meteorologist Edward Lorenze back in 1967. It suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could impact weather patterns that eventually result in a tornado touching down in Texas. The Butterfly Effect rests on the notion that our world is interconnected and unpredictable. The tiniest changes in the initial conditions of something can have dramatic impacts on outcomes. For Lorenze, this was an explanation of why it’s impossible to predict the weather more than 2 weeks out even if you tracked down all the monarchs and swallowtails in South America. But the Butterfly Effect also has been applied to economics, mathematics, and politics to mean do not discount the impact of small changes.

At the water’s edge, a story is brewing that will shape human history. This is the prologue
to the life of Moses, the prophet whom God will use to set the people of Israel free. His eyes will behold the burning bush. His feet will walk where the Red Sea has parted, and his hands will hold the 10 Commandments. But here at the prologue, no one knows all that. They are simply people near a river who make certain choices – in the face of doom, a choice to waterproof a basket of hope. In the face of fear, a choice to walk alongside a basket of hope as far as possible. And in the face of the unknown and completely unexpected, a choice to save a child out of pure compassion. Small acts of hope, companionship, and compassion were the wings that stirred up a storm of freedom downstream.

Whenever my Dad or any person really seemed to be stuck, avoiding a tricky reality, my
mom would often say, “He’s in Egypt, you know, De Nile.” We’d laugh about that play on
words. But the truth is, denial and powerlessness often feel like a specific place, not unlike the bulrushes. It’s a murky, muddy, stinky and sticky place defined by lack of choices. And in that sense, it can feel like punishing spiritual bondage. It’s a hard place to be.

Many people I have spoken with lately have described a deep sense of powerlessness as
they read about Ukraine, or Israel and Gaza, AI, the climate crisis, or the political quagmire of our country. It feels like we are all in the bulrushes. Problems in a relationship or at work or with a diagnosis can feel like emotional quicksand. We call it spinning our wheels, a morass. The NY Times today calls it Stucktopia. If that is you, here is good news. This story reminds us of the choices that are always there in the bulrushes; we can always choose hope, companionship, and compassion.

Christians are supposed to live as people by the water’s edge. Jesus started his ministry in
the waters of the Jordan, spent the rest of his ministry walking with people farther than was socially safe, and then when faced with death, that greatest of all enemies, was drawn up by the great compassion of God. And we know where the story leads – Jesus ushered us into the deepest freedom, this path of forgiveness where there had been only waves of shame and revenge. Then the winds of the spirit blew wild, category 5 love released upon the world. Only this time it is building up people, not blowing down buildings. This is how God operates in the world.

Anytime I feel spiritually bogged down, I have this thing I do. I look at a letter on my
desk. It is from a child in the orphan care program this church helped start in Kenya many years ago. I met her mother in Kenya in September, a brave woman drenched with poverty. I met her other children, silent and watchful. I think of this church at the water’s edge with her, full of compassion, all of us working together so that Mwikali could spread her wings.

My name is Elizabeth Mwikali Paul aged 15 years old. I was born in family of five
children 3 boys and 2 girls. You’re compassion and support has really saved sons and daughters of many. As I write now I am proud of you. When I compare my past life and today’s life I say you have raised my life from grass to grace. My past life was full of ups and downs. Storms were my daily friends. It is during those days when I regretted being brought into this world of endless troubles. As young as I was I dreamt of being a lawyer. However I wondered how this could be achieved due to poverty that occupied the better part of my life. In fact, to me I was engaging in a losing battle. This left me almost crying most of my times. However I consoled myself believing that God would provide way out. Alas! In the year 2016 when I was in Grade 4 that is when Burke Presbyterian Church of East Africa intervened my life. For the first time I was privileged to get a new school Uniform which I appreciated. Before I was wearing an old torn school uniform which I had inherited from one of my friends. Moreover we were supplied with food and clothes. Later on, 2018 I was taken to a better School. To me it was like a dream come true.

From, there having everything I needed, I worked hard believing that hard work pays and it never goes unrewarded. I completed my Grade 8 March, 2021 and joined St. Theresa Makueni Girls’ High School where I am studying now. I believe that it is the best place to be since many passed there and today they are successful people. I am still working hard to achieve my dreams of being a lawyer. To promote justice in the society, eradicate unfairness and finally ensure that both the poor and the rich get equal rights. If it is to be, it is up to me. For this reason, why cannot I give myself the best in life. Since no one is limited, I aspire to toil till I achieve my goals. May God’s grace be sufficient to you and His unconditional love sustain you and strengthen you. May God expand your boundaries. If it were not for you, only God knows. I am grateful for your
support and kindness.

I’ll end with this. Waterproof your basket of hope. Cover it thick with prayer and
generosity. Immerse yourself in the interwoven stories of spiritual butterflies who stirred the waters before you. That will keep it afloat.

Then, walk alongside it as long as you can. Be a sibling to the hope of others.

And if you are ever in a position to care for other people’s children, which is every day,
do all that you can and do not underestimate what God can do.