Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Exodus 1: 8-14; 2: 1-10)
The time had come. She understood that now. The danger was too real, too great; and so she would do the one thing that goes against the grain of any loving, caring mother: give up her son. Give him up to the Nile.
What kind of hope must a mother cling to to take an ordinary papyrus basket and lather it with bitumen so it would be airtight, a vessel of deliverance for her young son? What kind of hope, to empower her to place her own flesh and blood inside, wrap him in blankets, and set him loose on the water, letting the tide take the basket where it would go?
We know how this story unfolds, of course. We know how the basket would float downstream and into the presence of Pharaoh’s daughter, who would send her attendants to get it. We know how the baby’s sister, following the basket from the shadows, would present herself to the princess and offer her care – and how the baby would return to his mother who’d then become a court-appointed “nurse,” thereby ensuring he would escape the mass slaughter that was happening to other children like him. And how the child, once grown, would go to live in the palace and be given his name – Moses.
That name “Moses” means something significant to the story, to us, because scripture makes a point of telling us. The name means “drawn out,” a reference to the way Moses came into the princess’ life, floating through the reeds of the Nile. It is not a fully Hebrew name, nor is it fully Egyptian; it is something in between. It represents the duality that Moses would wrestle with for the rest of his life. Moses, son of Hebrews, son of Pharaoh. Egyptian royalty, leader of the Israelites. The One to Deliver God’s people. The one Drawn Out.
Our story today is both an endearing and powerful one, tailor-made for the sweetest children’s movie – which it was, back in 1998 – as well as one out of which legends come from. We all are drawn to the underdog narrative, and our interest is particularly piqued when it involves a months-old baby carried to his salvation by nothing more than the whims of the water. The same water could have killed him had the basket sprung a leak; had the current been too strong. Instead it was his salvation.
And so there is this truth: Water can kill, and water can save. And it was not just Moses who found this to be true. It would soon be the Hebrews themselves, the entire nation of people subjugated under Egyptian rule until Pharaoh granted them their freedom. They, too, experienced water’s looming danger and saving grace, standing before the Red Sea with the Egyptian army fast approaching. They had no choice, they had to go through the water. It would have been their certain doom had the mighty winds not come and parted down the middle, so God’s people could cross over that which moments before and moments later would be uncrossable.
Water can kill. Water can save. And not only is it Moses who is drawn out of that water, but his people as well. They too were drawn out of their slavery and oppression, drawn out of certain death, and drawn into the narrative of who they were and whose they were. The story was just beginning to be written in its fullest: God’s children, chosen and beloved. A nation becoming, as many as the stars in the sky, Abraham had once been told. Drawn out of death and drawn into deliverance.
And so what it is that we are drawn out of, I wonder?
It’s a worthy question, but one that needs to be asked with some level of self-awareness. One commentator rightfully notes that we walk on perilous ground when those in positions of power and influence – like us – aim to see ourselves in the stories of the oppressed; when we ponder systemic suffering and things like deliverance and freedom. We run the risk of appropriating our power and privilege into the narrative of those seeking to be freed from the burdens of those very things.
That said, we are nevertheless inclined to read Moses’ story and cautiously ask ourselves – what is it that are we drawn out of? What is it that we are delivered from, as God’s people living in this time and place?
I mean, I think about Moses’ mother and that hope she had, that crazy hope that led her to send her infant son floating down the Nile in a basket. Searching for a landing spot, some place where the ground stood firm and provided a solid foundation amidst the swirling chaos. We all long for that in our own lives, do we not? Life happening around us, swirling chaos; and what we long for in the end is a soft landing spot.
That swirling chaos didn’t just happen. In Moses’ story it started swirling long before he came along; hundreds of years before, in fact. The scripture I read earlier alludes to it in twelve simple words:
Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
And we remember the story that came before, the one of Joseph, second-in-command to Pharaoh, single-handedly saving Egypt from famine and saving his entire people by bringing them to Egypt where there would be plenty in times of great want. We remember that story, as God’s people certainly remembered it.
Except the new Pharaoh, we are told, did not.
And to be clear, “did not know” does not mean a simple lack of knowledge – like when a new neighbor moves in next door and I haven’t met them yet, and so until I meet them I don’t know Eddie. What the writer is getting at here is something different – it’s that the new Pharaoh willfully chooses to ignore all that came before and feels no obligation to Joseph and his foreign nation in their midst.
And it’s not hard to imagine why. This new Pharaoh begins to look around at the mass of Hebrews settled there, who over the years had grown in number, to the point where there were more of them than the Egyptians themselves. And as history tells us time and time again, as right now tells us, when a majority face the reality of soon becoming a minority, or when a perceived majority are unwilling to accept the fact that they are a minority…. well, that’s when those people “forget.” That’s when people become consumed with fear. That’s when people literally start writing their own narrative.
And so here, it is a narrative where the Hebrews are no longer a neighbor but a threat. A narrative where the Hebrews need to be subjugated, controlled, because they are “dangerous people.” A narrative where the Hebrews become slaves to the Egyptians, forced labor to build Pharaoh’s great expanding empire; young and old alike spending days and nights in the mud pits, making bricks with straw and bare feet.
A narrative captured in twelve ominous words: Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
There is something powerful and paralyzing about forgetting who we are, forgetting where it is we come from, forgetting what we are called to be. There is something precarious about losing touch with the collective story we share; the narratives that have always bound us together as a family, a church, a nation, a human race. And there is something existentially dangerous about forgetting, as the old hymn goes, the “ties that bind” – our relationships, the people who have been part of our lives at various stages along the way, like sentries at pivotal moments. We lose more than our memory when we forget these things. We lose our very soul.
And that soul of ours longs to remember. That soul longs to be drawn out into deliverance.
Back in 2004 a movie hit the theaters called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It follows the jumbled journey of Joel and Clementine, played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, who meet at a train station and find themselves drawn to each other, despite their contrasting personalities – she an outgoing, spur-of-the-moment type; he more secluded and risk-averse. Despite those differences, a new budding relationship is in bloom.
Although the truth, as we find out later, is that it’s actually not all that new. As the movie progresses we learn that Joel and Clementine had a past together, they were in a relationship. But after a painful breakup, Clementine decides to go through a medical procedure that removes all memories of Joel from her mind. It is like he never existed. And when Joel finds out that she did this, he goes through the same procedure as well.
Most of the movie takes place in Joel’s mind as he goes through the memory removal procedure, and we are taken through each of his memories of Clementine, beginning with the painful breakup and moving backwards to the very beginning, each memory removed one by one. But the more that Joel moves back, the more he remembers what it was that he loved about Clementine, he begins to realize that he doesn’t want to forget. Even though the memories are painful, he wants to hold on to them; he wants to hold on to her. And as the very last memory fades into nothingness, as he tells the Clementine in his mind that he doesn’t want to lose her, she says to him, “meet me at the train station.” And years later, they do exactly that.
Turns out that not all memories – not even the bad ones – are worth forgetting. That’s because we are hardwired as human beings to remember. The narrative is too strong to be disregarded, rewritten so easily – as that new Pharaoh finds out, as Moses would later realize, drawn out, a man living simultaneously in two worlds, two stories woven together.
We want to remember who and whose we are, because that is where we find our deliverance. That is what we are drawn out for.
And this is no more true for us than today – with competing narratives swirling around us, with divisiveness and discord consuming us, with great effort taken on the part of some to rewrite the past and latch onto narratives that are guided more by our own biases and benefit than what is true. We long for something that transcends all of that, something that draws us out of the watery chaos that threatens to engulf us. We long to be drawn into a new narrative – or, better yet, an old narrative that we remember all over again. We long to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We long to be drawn into a shared story.
Years ago at one of our church staff meetings, for our opening devotion, I asked everyone to share their stories of the solar eclipse that had taken place the day before. Like a lot of placed, we closed the church office at noon that day so staff could go home and be with their families to be part of this historical event. I shared our story of the experience – four Lindsleys, sitting in lawn chairs in our backyard wearing our ISO and CE certified eclipse glasses, watching the phases go in and out, feeling the drop in temperature and hearing the cicadas chirp confusedly. It was an amazing experience that we got to enjoy together.
And so around that staff table we shared our eclipse stories, we shared what the experience had been like for each of us. And one of us put it best, I thought; something I later heard echoed in social media posts and conversations with friends – that it was so nice to not have to think about politics or the divisiveness in our culture, even if just for a few hours; to think that everyone all over was looking up at the sky at that very moment, taking part in the same narrative, sharing the same story together. All looking to the heavens (hopefully with certified eclipse glasses), being part of this wonder of nature, and being part of it together.
For a moment, for a few hours, we remembered. We remembered who we are and whose we are. We were drawn out of the chaos and placed on solid ground, written into the narrative of something bigger than ourselves. I love moments like that. I think we all do. And wouldn’t it be nice to not have to wait for a solar eclipse to have them?
That, my friends, is how we experience our deliverance as people of God – remembering and sharing the story of our faith. Drawn out of the chaos and drawn together as the community we were created to be all along. Drawn out whenever we gather in this place for worship. Drawn out whenever we connect with our community. Drawn out as we celebrate the beginning of another school year. Drawn out whenever we seek to serve the least of these. Drawn out whenever we lift one another up in our hour of greatest need.
Drawn out anytime we strive to connect with the story that binds us together – the narrative that never fails to inform us, through all the swirling chaos, of who we are and whose we are. Drawn out of ourselves and into our deliverance.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.