June 21, 2015: Born Into a Violent World – Moses and Us

Posted on : Jun 18th, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

It’s happened again. Another mass killing of innocent people, this time, people at church in prayer and Bible Study. It’s happened again. Another racially motivated hate crime. While we may think “these things will never happen to me,” they do touch much closer to heart and home than we might think. One of the 9 people killed in that shooting was the cousin of our National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership in the UCC. These are her words to us:

18 June 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

My heart experienced the unimaginable late last night as the sun began to set in some places, and before the moon could peak through weary cloud-cast skies in others.

The very thing I fight and organize against-a deeply masked and far reaching culture of violence in our society has descended upon the steps of my family and matriculated its way into the sanctuary of the church. Last night during bible study and prayer service, a gunman entered the historical Mother Emmanuel AME church of Charleston, SC and opened fire on the 11 persons gathered there. There were only two survivors.

With deep sorrow, I write to share that my beloved first cousin was among the 9 fatalities. Her death was confirmed this morning and the unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off kilter.

C.S. Lewis wrote that “it is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box…” But suppose your life depended on that invisible rope that is your faith? Today, the weight of that invisible rope tugs at my trembling heart and such invisible faith is tested as we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death all around us. We are reassured to fear not evil, but to trust in the rod and the staff for comfort, protection, guidance and perhaps understanding when the morning comes.

Please keep my family, Mother Emmanuel congregation, and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayers.

Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing-no matter our faith or practice, and be on one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence.

Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism-as they intersect this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies?

Alas, it is morning and tear filled dew drops fall fresh upon my face, with eyes watching God and a soulful lament. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.

Yours in faith & justice,

Waltrina

Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ
National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership
youth@ucc.org

This Sunday we focus on the story of Moses’ birth as told in the second chapter of Exodus. Moses, like all Israelite boys under the age of three was racially profiled. Pharaoh, as you may remember from last Sunday’s service, was growing increasingly afraid of the Israelites because there were too many of them. He was afraid the Israelites might overtake the Egyptians, under whom they served as slaves. So Pharaoh instructs the midwives, Shiphrah [Shiff-ruh] and Puah [Pooh-uh], to kill all Hebrew boys upon their birth. Shiphrah and Puah refuse and concoct a story to cover their actions. When Pharaoh confronts them, they tell Pharaoh: “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before we come to them.” Pharaoh is not amused and goes beyond the mid-wives, commanding all the Egyptian people to engage in infanticide (the killing of infants). Pharaoh said: “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Moses was born during this time of infanticide. He should have been killed. But Moses’ mother was not willing to participate in her child’s death, and recognized that in spite of what Pharaoh said, her child was “good” or “of God/Godly.” (See my footnote in the Scripture below.)

Moses’ mother saves his life and, to make a long story short, God calls Moses to lead the people of God from slavery, genocide and infanticide into freedom, a new land, a new way of life. But Moses isn’t perfect. One day Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses is so outraged by what he sees happening to his people, that he kills the Egyptian. Moses’ action only intensifies the hatred between the Egyptians and the Israelites. And so the cycle of violence continues until God intervenes.

This story seems pretty relevant to our lives today. How do we stop the violence that is fueled by racism and “the fear of those who are different?” Do we need a new Moses to lead the people of God, or have we already been given that “new Moses?”

As we think on these things, let us pray for the families, the “African-American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Mother Church in Charleston,” the people of Charleston and the people of our own community.

Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 2

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 ( or “good”1) baby, she hid him for 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 she took him as her son. She named him Moses, ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?’ He answered, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known.’ When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’ They said, ‘An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’ He said to his daughters, ‘Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to eat with us.’ Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.’

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

(1 “good” is a play on words. In the creation story of Genesis 1 God sees that everything God created – including humanity – is “good.” And God blesses it. This “good” baby metaphor contrasts with Pharaoh’s decree that all baby boys be thrown into the Nile and killed.)

 

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