(Exodus 1:8-14; 2:1-10)
When she could hide him no longer…. The time had come, she finally understood. She had hoped it never would, but it was inevitable, she knew it now. The danger was too great, too real; and so she would do the thing that goes against the grain of any loving, caring mother: give her son up. Give it up to the Nile.
What kind of hope must a mother cling to to take an ordinary papyrus basket, 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 child in there, wrap him in blankets, and set him loose on the water, letting the tide take the basket where it would go?
In the Disney animated film The Prince of Egypt, there’s a poignant scene that recounts this very moment; and as the basket begins drifting down the river the mother sings these words:
My son, I have nothing I can give
But this chance that you may live.
River, O river, Flow gently for me –
such precious cargo you bear.
Do you know somewhere he can live free?
River, deliver him there …
We know how this story goes, 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, seemingly 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 as a court-appointed “nurse,” thereby assuring he would escape the mass slaughter happening around him. And how the child, once grown, would go to live in the palace, and given his name – Moses.
That name “Moses” means something significant to the story, to us, because scripture makes a point of telling us what it is. 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 scene of a children’s movie, as well as one out of which legends are made. 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.
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 Moses is drawn out of that water, but not just him. 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. God’s children, chosen and beloved. A nation becoming, as many as the stars in the sky, Abraham had been told. Drawn out of death and drawn into their deliverance.
One commentator rightfully notes that we walk on perilous ground when those in positions of power and influence work to see themselves 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.
Even so, we are 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?
I think about Moses’ mother and that hope, 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, don’t we? Life happening around us, swirling chaos, and what we long for in the end, is it not, is a soft landing spot?
That swirling chaos doesn’t just happen, we know. In Moses’ story it started swirling long before him, hundreds of years before, in fact. The scripture Grace read earlier alluded to it in twelve simple words:
Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
And we remember that story that came before, the one of Joseph single-handedly saving Egypt and his own people from certain doom, second-in-command to Pharaoh himself. We remember that story, as God’s people did.
But the new Pharaoh, apparently, did not.
And it’s unlikely that he literally forgot Joseph. What is more likely is that he begin looking around at the mass of Hebrews who over the years had settled there, had grown year after year after year, to the point where their numbers were greater than the Egyptians themselves. And as history tells us, as right now tells us, when a majority faces the reality of soon becoming a minority…. well, that’s when people forget. That’s when they become fearful. That’s when they start writing their own narrative.
A narrative where the Hebrews are no longer a neighbor but a threat, and need to be subjugated, controlled. 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 mudpits, making bricks with straw and bare feet.
A new narrative that begins with twelve 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 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. A new budding relationship begins to bloom.
Truth is, it is not all that new. We learn that Joel and Clementine had a past together – they were in a relationship, in fact – 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 learns that she did this, he goes through the same procedure too.
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, from the painful breakup back to the very beginning, each memory removed one by one. But as Joel moves back, as he remembers what it is that he loves about Clementine, he realizes that he doesn’t want to forget. He wants to hold on to the memories; 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.
We have to work hard to forget who and whose we are, because we are hardwired as human beings to remember. The narrative is too strong to be disregarded so easily – as that new Pharaoh found out, as Moses would later understand, 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 truer for us than it is today, with competing narratives and “fake news,” with divisiveness and discord swirling around us like the watery chaos. We long for something that transcends all of that, something that draws us out of all that threatens to engulf us. We long to be drawn into a new narrative – or, better yet, an ancient narrative that we remember all over again. We long to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We long to be drawn into our shared story.
This past Tuesday at our weekly staff meeting, for our opening devotion, I invited everyone to share their solar eclipse story from the day before. We had closed the church office at noon so staff could go home with their families to be part of this historical event. And so there the four Lindsleys were in our backyard, sitting in lawn chairs with 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 didn’t get nearly as dark as we thought or hoped – who would’ve imagined that little sliver of sun could still put out so much light – but even so, it was an amazing experience we got to enjoy together.
And so around that staff table we shared our eclipse stories, we shared what the experience was 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 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 much bigger than ourselves.
That, my friends, is where we find our deliverance as the 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 with each other.
Drawn out whenever we gathering in this place for worship,
Drawn out whenever we welcome the children in our midst, and when 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 all over again with the story that binds us together, the narrative that informs us, through all the swirling chaos, who we are and whose we are.
Drawn out of ourselves and into our deliverance.
In the name of God 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.