August 27, 2023

Proper 16 A – George Yandell

As we read the Exodus lesson, it’s important to realize that a lot of time has passed from last Sunday’s reading. In that reading from the end of Genesis, Joseph embraced his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph was the last of the line of remarkable patriarchs chronicled in the Genesis pre-history of Israel. Joseph, Pharaoh’s right-hand man, is long gone. The situation of the Hebrews in Egypt has deteriorated. They are being oppressed by ruthless taskmasters. The Pharaoh is anxious because the Hebrew people are reproducing at a fast rate. Male infants are to be eliminated at birth because the Hebrew population is growing so large.   

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs pointed out in a Jerusalem Post article in 2010 that the story of the midwives Puah and Shifra in the Book of Exodus is “the first recorded instance of civil disobedience, [setting a precedent] that would eventually become the basis for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Shifra and Puah, by refusing to obey an immoral order, redefined the moral imagination of the world.” History’s proud line of social activists and conscientious objectors can trace their source back to these righteous midwives’ stand against the powers of their day. The Talmud states, “It was the reward of the righteous women of that generation that caused Israel to be redeemed from Egypt.” [This paragraph adapted from “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching”, August issue.]  

The intervention by the midwives was key. The birth and hiding of Moses by his mother for three months led to Moses being taken in hand by Pharaoh’s daughter. Her choosing of Moses’ mother to be his wet-nurse set the stage for Moses being adopted into the royal family.  

Pharaoh’s daughter named him Moses, meaning ‘to draw out.’ The rescue of little Moses from the waters anticipates a larger rescue to be wrought by the power of Moses- the delivery of the Hebrew people from slavery. [Adapted from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1, p. 700]  

Names of Bible figures are often tremendously important. They represent more than the wishes of parents at their birth. They etch the child’s mission and fate into their personhood. The politics of naming is important. What you are called and who gets to name you—these things set your place in the world and sometimes set you apart. A name will always say something about who we are, whether it be racially, sexually, denominationally, or otherwise. Christians with mixed denominational influences might call themselves ‘Bapticostal’ or ‘Episco-hindu’.  

The time comes when Jesus chooses to reveal his true identity, his name, to his companions. Jesus knows who he is, but he checks with his disciples to see what they and others are saying about him. “Who do people say that I am?” Many people get his identity wrong; they call him John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah. Not everyone knows who he really is or even his real name. (It was Jesus bar Joseph.) Some people think things about him that aren’t true. But Jesus holds his identity card close. You might say he kept his identity in the closet. [The above three paragraphs adapted and added to in from an article by Luke Powery in “The Christian Century”, August 2 issue.]  

He understands that coming out as the Messiah is a political and religious gesture. He’s no fool. He knows that he’ll lose followers and friends and family over what he calls himself, who he truly is. And it will lead to his execution. Thus he entrusts his precious identity, ‘Son of the living God’, only to a few dear friends.   

People want to be who they are as sons and daughters of the living God. Jesus and our friends are not so much interested in what others call us as who we are together and what we do as lovers of Jesus. [ibid]  

The Rev. Rachel Hosmer was a cofounder of the Order of St. Helena and was one of the earliest women to become an Episcopal priest. She heard my first private confession a week before I was ordained deacon in July 1979. I was on retreat at St. Mary’s Convent at Sewanee. She was most patient with me and offered such caring instruction that she became my first spiritual director. She died 35 years ago. I regret having lost touch with Rachel over the years.   

I learned recently that Rachel had a dream about ordering from the Sears catalogue. Only it was no ordinary catalogue. In it, she could order the Jesus of her choice. There was Jesus as a seminary professor, with pipe and tweed jacket. There was Jesus the farmer, with calluses on his hands and dirt under his fingernails. There was a suburban, churchgoing Jesus in a suit and tie. There was a Latino Jesus, and an African-American Jesus. There was a feminist Jesus, who enabled the bent-over woman to stand up.  

In her dream, Rachel chose one and ordered that Jesus. She received a Jesus, but it was different from the one she had ordered. She requested another Jesus, and again she got an alternate Jesus from the one she had chosen. This happened again and again. Every time she received a variant from the one she had ordered. And every time, it really was Jesus whom she was given.  

The message of her dream finally became clear to her. Jesus would come into her life; but he was always different from her expectations, always wonderfully surprising.  

Scripture describes Jesus as Son of God; Emmanuel; servant; lamb of God; high priest; firstborn of all creation; the bright morning star; the Word—the first, the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 21:6). In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the vine; the way, the truth, and the life. The list could go on and on, since Jesus embodies all of these—and more.  

Maybe when all is said and done, Paul gave us the best answer to all our questions about who Jesus is and what we are to do: “For in Jesus is found the “Yes” to all God’s promises and therefore it is through him that we answer Amen to give praise to God.” (2 Cor. 1:20, New Jerusalem Bible). [The above paragraphs about Rachel, Jesus and Paul are adapted from “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching, August issue.] Can I get an Amen? AMEN.