Text: Exodus 1:8-21
So, if someone asked you what the Exodus story is about, what would you say? The Exodus story is about Moses….you probably have images from movies in your head: the Ten Commandments’ with Charlton Heston, or the animated Disney movie, Prince of Egypt, or more recently, maybe you saw the box office flop “Exodus: God’s and Kings” where Moses sounds just like Batman that Dark Knight (Can you hear Christian Bale saying, “Let my people go”?) If you jog your memory enough, you can probably tell the story and get the basic details like the children’s bible version I read to the kids this morning.
But today, we hear a different story…..
There was this country song my dad used to sing. The chorus went something like, “Oh the good ‘ol days, just the good ‘ol days.” That’s the theme of about 70% of all country songs, by the way. The other 30% are songs about how your dog died, your house burnt down, your wife left you, and all you have is your pickup truck and a can of beer. I’m full of tangets today…..but you know the song: the singer remembering “the good ‘ol days” where gas was 50 cents a gallon, people waved when you drove by, and everyone knows your name. The singer laments, if he or she could just get back to the good ‘ol days, everything would be better.
“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Pharaoh’s suffering from a bit of memory loss today: he’s forgotten about how Joseph, the Hebrew slave who interpreted his predecessor’s dreams and saved the whole Egyptian people from famine. This Pharaoh’s forgotten all that, and in the present, all he sees is a threat – the Israelites have gotten too numerous – and so he enslaves all the Israelites into a life of hard labor and suffering..…and hopelessness sets in among the Hebrew people.
I want to talk to you about memory loss today – the memory loss that’s going on in congregations across the country. Congregations have been enslaved by the hopelessness of the present – membership is declining; there aren’t a lot of youth or young families; things aren’t getting done around the church; worship attendance is down; and it’s getting harder and harder to balance the budget each year. Congregations are enslaved by the present, and perhaps they wonder if the reason why isn’t because of a case of memory loss…..and so people look back into the past and recall “the good ‘ol days” when the pews were full, the money was flowing, there was all sorts of activity around. People long for those days, and perhaps they think, “if we can only get back to that place, if we could just recreate that, then everything would be good again.”
But I wonder if that memory loss isn’t a result of being enslaved by the present, but rather congregations have been held captive by their longing for the golden era of the past.
You see, remembering Joseph isn’t about returning to the good ‘ol days when the Egyptians and Israelites got along and everyone was prospering and comfortable while living in Egypt. It is Joseph’s story that’s worth remembering: Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, ended up in an Egyptian governor’s house only to be thrown into prison because of a lie, and was left there, forgotten. Yet God remembered Joseph. He heard his cries in prison. And God delivered Joseph, and through Joseph, God delivered not only his family, but the whole nation of Egypt from that famine as well.
And maybe churches need to have their memories jogged this morning. They need to remember…not the good ‘ol days of Sunday School, potlucks, church bazaars…a church busting at the seams with people. They need to remember WHY those things ever mattered in the first place – because the church – THIS CHURCH – was a place where people experienced this God who remembers, hears, and delivers lost and broken sinners in need of God’s grace…..sinners like me. And sinner like you, perhaps.
Recovering the memory of this God who remembers, hears, and delivers from the past is important so that we might know that this same God is with us and active in the present.
And this brings me to this story about Shiphrah and Puah – two Hebrew midwives who decided to ignore Pharaoh’s mandate to kill every Israelite baby boy and to then lie about it when questioned. They risked a lot, and I don’t think they did so because they had some divine revelation or prophetic vision that the would be saving a baby who would become Moses, who would lead all of Israel out of Egypt. I think they simply remembered….they remembered the God of Joseph, the God who remembered, heard, and delivered their ancestors. They remembered…and they feared…and in faith they believed that God would remember, hear, and deliver them in the present. In faith, they acted, and in the process they became God’s midwives, assisting in God birthing a new thing for the people of Israel – hope.
Believe it or not, I have been serving you all for two years now; it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, doesn’t it? In this year to come, I’m thinking it might be time to jog those memories…..not to remember and recover the good ‘ol days, but remembering what God has done for the lost and broken through the life and ministry of this church over the last 50-plus years. I wonder, in the midst of what we face in this year ahead, what might it mean to recover that part of our past? Maybe we act…and in the process become God’s midwives in the present.
What that looks like, I leave that up to you to discern – but do so knowing that the God we place our faith in is the God who today and always remembers us, hears us, and through us and through this church, is always doing a new thing. Amen.