Our congregation follows the practice of “following the lectionary.” This means that on Sunday mornings, we read portions of our sacred story as prescribed by a multiyear sequencing of major stories/themes.
It means that many congregations will be hearing the same stories in the same week. It means that I don’t go search out a scripture that happens to support what I am thinking about or what is going on in the world. I don’t go and select the scripture that I want yet most weeks you might think I had as what we are given to read speaks so much to what is going on.
This happened in late September. The week when 16-year-old, uncredentialed Greta Thunberg was capturing our attention with her call to address climate change in speeches at the United Nations and beyond.
It came in the week when ICE announced raids targeting 75 Cambodians living in our area. That week, we read parts of our sacred story from the Book of Exodus. A story 3,500 years ago.
A story that begins, “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
Joseph was an Israelite, someone from another country who had come to Egypt and become very valued by Pharaoh. Now, time has passed and the new king has fear and contempt for the Israelites.
He is worried that they are growing too large in number. He is worried that they will disrupt life in Egypt, so he orders the Israelite midwives to kill all of the baby boys that are born. He cries out for death and uses violence to address his fear of those that are different from him.
The story goes on to speak about Shiphrah and Puah, who are two of the midwives. Shiphrah and Puah realize the king’s orders are wrong. They are not going to kill the boy babies. They don’t do it. At great risk. You don’t not do what the king says.
Shiphrah and Puah had an allegiance to God, though. God’s ways are about love, life and welcome. Fear and murder have no place in God’s way of living. They refuse. The king says kill, God says life, they choose life.
The king calls them in to find out why their are still Israelite boys when he has ordered them killed. Shiphrah and Puah tell him that the Israelite moms are so strong that the babies are born before they get there.
Shiphrah and Puah won’t take part in the fear-based actions of the king. Shiphrah and Puah won’t support hurting those the king fears because they are of different ethnicity or religion.
Shiphrah and Puah are women in a patriarchal culture. They are religious and ethnic minorities. They have no power. They have no voice. At least not according to the powers and principalities. Their actions prove that they have power. They have voice. They risk, love and act for life over against that hate and fear of the king.
That just happened to be the part of our sacred story assigned to be read that week. That week when ICE raids against the Cambodian community were announced. That week when Greta spoke to world leaders at the United Nations. That week, we heard the part of our sacred story where people respond to God’s way of love and life and don’t follow the king’s cruel and violent directions.
For any, like me, who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus, we are asked to do just that every day. Respond to God’s way of love and life and not follow the king’s cruel and violent directions.
The Rev. Joan MacPherson is pastor of Main Street Congregational Church in Amesbury.