Fifth Sunday of Easter: Called to Live
PRELUDE: Centering in Life. Rev. Alejandra Zareth
OPENING SENTENCES (Psalm 124)
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side then the flood would have swept us away. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
HYMN: Listen to Nuestra ayuda viene del Señor / Our Help is in the Name of the Lord (SSS385.Words and Music © 2019, GIA Publications, Inc. Contributors: Carlos Colón, Martin Tel)
CONFESSION (Viisha P. Souza)
Lord, you gave us voices to use and we don't use them. We rarely talk about race relations or the shortcomings of our communities. We actively try to be justice-oriented, but we also know when we fail our brothers and sisters by our silence. Give us opportunities to be bold and stand for all in the face of adversity. Bring us peace and rest when we try to find answers that aren't readily available. Forgive us as we continue to find our paths in justice and for justice. Give us the wisdom to not judge quickly and to be understanding in our differences. Amen.
PARDON AND PEACE (2 Cor. 5:17)
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The past is left behind; everything has become fresh and new. Friends, believe the good news of the gospel: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
PASSING THE PEACE
Take time to think about one thing during the week that has given you peace. It can be the sound of birds chirping, flowers coming out, or hearing from someone dear.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION (BCW. Bilingual Service)
Holy God, by the power of your Spirit,
reveal your will to us today
through your word, read and proclaimed.
Help us to understand
your creative, redemptive, and consoling work,
and lead us into the world, filled with your Spirit,
to proclaim, baptize, and teach
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 1:15-22 (NRSV)
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, God gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews[a] you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
REFLECTION: (Viisha P. Souza)
Protest is the voice of the oppressed they say….it brings the soul to life and cries are heard. Black Lives Matter! Ku Kia’i Mauna! I Can’t Breathe! These cries empower the movements to gain momentum in times of silence by the dominant majority. African women who were kidnapped, protested the middle passage by throwing themselves overboard…resisting enslavement in a different world, a world that proved to be brutal…their voices reign loud over 400 years. On January 17, 1893, the beloved Queen of Hawai’i protested the occupation of Hawai’i after Americans drew swords at her, in an attempt to overthrow her. They succeeded in their schemes even after they were told to restore Hawai’i back to Hawaiians. Her voice reigns loud and clear 127 years later. On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin a 15- year-old Black adolescent protested by refusing to give her seat up on the bus to a white woman. This was the basis of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Although many are not familiar with her story, her voice echoes decades later through the retelling of her story. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr., was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking rage and anger in the community. In the midst of Ferguson looking like a war zone, Alica Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi provided safe spaces for activists… coining Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of the Ferguson Uprising. In late 2016, First Nations Women from all over the country and allies stood against a pipeline development at the Standing Rock Nation. They were called “Water Protectors.” Protecting their sacred space where fresh water provided water to tribes along the Dakota Access. Women led the movement against what was known as NODAPL, standing for No Dakota Access Pipeline. Several months after the tribe and allies went to war with assigned governmental entities, oil spilled into the freshwater resource the community used. Coinciding with this was the Water Protectors of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain to Indigenous Hawaiians. Where a thirty-meter telescope would drain a freshwater resource on the mountain and kill it from the inside out. Just as the other mentioned movements, today this mountain has gained the attention of people across the globe. The Ku Kia’i Mauna Movement led by cultural practitioner and activist Pua Case brought thousands of people to the Mauna in the summer of 2019. And yet the voice of protest STILL remains an active part in the lives of women. We might notice there isn’t the voice of white women in this space, to be fair, many of their movements haven’t been friendly towards Black Women, or Women of Color. Oppression exists for all women, but some women have learned to oppress other women in a vicious cycle that causes harm, even women of color have participated in this against each other. But there is a story so moved…even thousands of years later…the voices of these two women still remain!
This chapter begins with the lineage of tribes from Jacob that occupied Egypt. When a new king arrives of Egyptian descent, he is appalled by the thriving community of Israelites. His actions command’s the oppression of the Israelites and takes them from the abundance of God…to poverty, but still with God. However, oppressive actions and the use of hateful rhetoric to his followers from the Egyptian king did not stop the Israelites from multiplying. The king’s hateful rhetoric is much like the rhetoric we see today coming from the White House. The king wanted the enslaved to endure harsh labor routines. He made sure they were doing what they were supposed to do by his followers, as he added more work on them to finish each day. Sitting between a story of oppression and the story of Moses, lays the account of two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah…Scholars believe these two women lived in poverty, but had some privileges due to their roles as midwives. Scholars also debate about the ethnicity of these two midwives; were they Egyptian or were they midwives to the Egyptians? Either way many miss their act of protesting within the few lines of this passage.
In verse 15, the king summons Shiphrah and Puah but does not say their names. The bible says that he “said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,” this does not indicate that he called them by their name. It merely states that he addressed the women but failed to give them proper identities. Women who have names in the bible often have some sort of societal status. Again, this is mentioned as a possibility due to their roles as midwives. The king tells the midwives, while Hebrew women are giving birth on a birthstool, if they give birth to a boy, the Hebrew baby shall be killed. The birthstool was also known to be formed by stones….the Hebrew word for stones is abnaim… the way the stones were shaped was in such a way where the pregnant woman could sit on it. This contraption, also known as the potter’s wheel, was often found in Egyptian religious tradition. The contraption also allowed the midwives to deliver the baby by facing the mother as she was giving birth. Kind of like how physicians deliver babies today, facing the woman as the baby is being born. Based on how the woman sat on the birthstool, scholars believe this identified the gender of the baby. If this was the case, Shiphrah and Puah would know when to give special attention to the women giving birth to boys. It would be here where their protest began, to save lives and give the baby boys a chance at life.
The Bible says the midwives feared God and the baby boys lived. Shiphrah and Puah’s fear of the Lord led them to resist the demands of systemic dominance. Their resistance to do as the king said, is often overlooked and taken lightly. If we think about this today, perhaps we could fathom what breaks God’s heart, we might imagine that Black men being shot down while jogging and Natives being given body bags during a pandemic instead of masks as supplies for their reservation, might call for resistance against a system dedicated to troubling the lives of Black and Brown bodies. Although, many would say this is not a true statement, for many they would say it is. If we move forward to the next chapters, we see that the Egyptians did not understand the depth of who God was to the Israelites. It’s no surprise here that the king was not aware of how God worked on the side of the Israelites. The midwives act of letting the boys live was an act of non-violent resistance against a despicable ruler and an assimilated community, that was motivated to keep the hierarchy within the race and make sure the poor people stayed poor. And today we see protesting… by some… for families locked in cages at the border and we are supposed to preach hope to their families, but what can hope do for these people who are ripped from their children? They need allies to help them…not someone preaching at them…often preaching a false hope.
Shiphrah and Puah was summoned by the king. Once again the midwives were called to his presence. He was curious as to why the Hebrew women were having baby boys and they weren’t being killed? The king questioned the midwives and allowed them to speak. They said to him that there is a difference between the way Hebrew women give birth and the way Egyptian women give birth. Hebrew women had the baby before the midwives would get there to deliver the baby. Although, this was not the case…and perhaps a little white lie, it saved the lives of so many children. Their lie pointed out an assumed difference between the Hebrew and the Egyptian women, their mode of delivery. This difference highlights how Egyptian women didn’t have to hide their births while the Hebrew women had to be careful when they were giving birth to boys, because if someone found out, the baby could be put to death. It’s clear that Shiphrah and Puah were allies to the Hebrew women by first letting the boys live and then by hiding their births by saying, they were giving birth early. Keeping one safe from death echoes the history of the Jews being hidden by Germans during the holocaust. Seems extreme to say. However, what was going on was extreme circumstances. Due to their resistance and aiding the less fortunate, the Lord blessed them with families of their own. And even in that, the king wanted every male born to the Hebrews to be thrown in the Nile River.
If every person would have followed the orders of the king of Egypt, the story would have ended differently. However, there is a new day that has the sounds of birthing pains. These pains have been engrained in the very system we call a democracy. It’s been observed that the american democracy system has not been good for many people and there is mishandlings by the government. We would be foolish to turn a blind eye to all the injustice we see in this country. We have used ourselves as barricades to protect the sacred by using non-violent actions. Something I am afraid to say, is not reciprocated by those who are supposed to protect and serve our communities. Our Black brothers and sisters continue to be statistics and our white brothers and sisters sit silently, waiting for someone to provide information in how to help us. Many of them mean well but aren’t aware that meaning well doesn’t help when our voices are screaming to be heard in spaces where no one seems to be listening. When our bodies are lying on the ground because the officer was scared of us, we aren’t allowed to come near, and when we have video of the brutality, we get thrown in jail for an obscene amount of time, not the officer who the media has deemed a hero while the killed Black or Brown person has endured a smear campaign over their dead lives. We must engage in non-violent action to represent the love for the community.
Shiphrah and Puah’s actions displayed their love for the community. They deliberately disobeyed a system that was trying to kill male children. And we remember the death of Tamir Rice, who was killed by an officer, a protector of peace…or a racist…we can only be responsible for how we want to categorize him, but also knowing he took someone’s baby from them. We must be careful when following the rhetoric of the Chief in Command. We have watched as his followers supported families being locked in cages or acted as if this was not something actually happening. This does not show love for the people, nor does it show love for certain communities. Loving the community means taking care of the humanity of all people. While injustice is no respecter of person, it screams out from elite white government officials who do not have the interest of the people at hand, especially those who come from poor communities. The king of Egypt also did not have all the people in mind. He was not a lover of community, yet he was a lover of his community only. Matter of fact, he was tearing down the existence of human life by his rhetoric to create division. This division that is upheld today ranging from racism to sexism and any other -isms one can think of. We must be cognizant of these harmful tools used to keep us from being part of the beloved community. We must be an ally and provide allyship to others who are not like us. How can we be the church that loves God but does not love our neighbor? It is easy to feel as if we are doing what is right in God’s eyes, everyone feels that way at some point of time. But we are not doing God’s work when we support in the oppression of others. In this passage, Shiphrah and Puah’s actions do not support the oppression of the Hebrew women, nor are they supporting the system that is enslaving and causing physical harm to their neighbor. Protecting the beloved community becomes part of their non-violent action. Revisiting the debates of scholars about the ethnicity of the women, they continued to aid in the protection of a community that they may or may not have been part of. Protecting each other is part of the beloved community. We must be careful in our understanding of how we protect someone. As we are speaking about the protection of people who have been oppressed by a system put in place that started with the blood quantum to create race. Protection comes in standing against a system that continues to hurl curveballs at every minority who tries to get ahead. Protection is not being silent and finding moral ways to be uncomfortable. One may ask, how do we become morally uncomfortable, and the answer is not simple. The heart will push us to attempt to place our feet in the shoes of our brothers and sisters. To feel the lack of privilege by the color of our skin or our tribal Nations. The church must put its efforts into social and racial justice.
We must provide a space of harmony and peace if we want to be together and share in the beloved community. All great empires fall they say, and if we’re not careful, we too will be products of destruction. We must avoid this by bringing life to each other’s community and serving the wholeness of God. By loving ourselves and our communities we can raise our children to care and help each other, instead of raising them in privilege. We must work together in calling out a system that does not aid the Black, Brown, or poor white communities. We are not the same, but we live in the same democracy, and live under different rules. There shall be equality in the beloved community. An equality of all people regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or class that promotes resistance against those who try to use their laws to force us to conform or assimilate to their ways.
We must protest and protect our rights as citizens who are born under the red, white and blue…whether a child of an immigrant or a child under an occupied territory that we are all treated equally. To deny equality to all, is to believe that justice isn’t for all…and in the beloved community, justice starts form the very moment we reach the birthstool, until we meet the Creator…for in every instance something is bound to try to kill us. We must be like Shiphrah and Puah…resisting, protecting and loving with and for the beloved community.
HYMN: Listen to the song Cuando el pobre / When the Poor Ones GtG 762
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION: Take some time to present your joys and concerns and those of others to God.
SENDING SONG: Listen to "Hallelu, Hallelujah" and do the movements that you remember from your childhood.
May the blessing of the God of Shiphrah and Puah, that God who sees us, who protects us, who saves us and who moves us to resistance and protest, be with you and with all God's people now and always. Amen.