A Surprising Legacy

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
August 24, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Molly F. James —

May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My husband, Reade, and I welcomed our second child, Halsted, in April. As you might imagine we are having a wonderful time with him. Halsted is a very happy boy who brings much joy into our lives. Of course, Halsted is not always happy. He can get quite upset, particularly when he is hungry. Fortunately, all we have to do is feed him and in a matter of minutes he is back to being his happy self. We get to do the right thing, and receive immediate gratification. We feed Halsted, and he is happy. Would that parenting were always this easy!

It is easy to do the right thing when we get immediate positive results. Of course life is not always easy. We are often faced with difficult decisions where we do not get the immediate gratification of knowing we did the right thing. I cannot help but be aware of how comparatively easy I have it when I read this morning’s lesson from Exodus. There is no edict in America mandating that infant boys be killed. No despotic ruler seeking to limit the growth of our family. Unlike Moses’ parents, we do not have to fear that as soon as word gets out that we have a son, those in authority will try to kill him.

So often in Scripture, we read stories in which male figures are privileged, but this is one story where it is definitely better to be female! Remarkably, this is a story full of strong women. It is a story of women from different backgrounds who unite together to save lives. From the midwives who refuse to kill the male children of the Hebrews, to the Levite woman and her daughter who conspire to give the baby Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter. And finally to Pharaoh’s daughter herself who adopts the baby Moses and raises him as a prince of Egypt.

Each of these women were faced with difficult and risky decisions. The midwives knew that saving the male children of the Hebrews was the right thing to do, but they risked their own lives to do it, and there was no guarantee that even if they saved the babies, the authorities wouldn’t still seek to kill the infants another way. Moses’ mother and sister take the risk of putting the infant Moses in a basket at the river and letting him go. They hoped they were sending him to safety, but any number of terrible things could have happened to him in the river. And, of course, they had no guarantee that Pharaoh’s daughter would adopt the baby. Thankfully, Moses is adopted, but that is not the end of the risk. Pharaoh’s daughter must have known of the edict to kill the male Hebrew children, and yet she defies it. Yes, she is taking him in to be raised as an Egyptian, but still there was a risk that someone would try to fulfill the law and kill Moses.

Despite the risk to themselves or to Moses, these women did the right thing. At every turn they chose to invest in the future, even at the risk of their own lives. At the time they knew they were choosing what was right for this little boy. They were choosing to save Moses. How could they have known that in saving Moses they were saving a whole nation of people?

Those women did one small act of saving a little boy, but those small actions had huge implications. When Moses grew up he would be called by God to be a prophet and a leader who led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Simply put, without Moses, our Bible might have ended at the first chapter of Exodus. No Moses, no nation of Israel. No Israel, no Jesus.

Think about it. Each of our lives have been transformed by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But without Moses, there might never have been a Jesus who lived and died, a Jesus whose ministry changed the world and our own lives. So really, the decisions made by each of those women in Moses’ birth story have ultimately had a positive impact on our own lives, on this community of Episcopalians in Connecticut, gathered for worship thousands of years later. Talk about a legacy!

Well, we might think that is nice, but none of us are likely to have the opportunity to save an infant who will be the savior of a nation. But those women did not know they were saving a nation. They just knew they were doing the right thing and taking care of one child and that was the right thing to do.

It is my prayer that we can see these remarkable women as inspiration. They are inspiration to do the right thing, to choose that which enables the flourishing of others, even when it might come at some risk to ourselves, because we never know how large an impact one small act can have.

Even if our choices are on a smaller scale – putting out the extra effort to smile and be friendly even when we have had a bad day, sacrificing our own money or time to help meet the basic needs of someone in our community, mentoring a child or being the listening ear when someone we know is struggling. All of these acts, all the little things we do to help someone else know that they are a beloved child of God, matter. Even a small gesture or a quick smile can make an impact.

We often think of a legacy as limited to those who have a role on the world stage or enough money to have buildings named after them, but each of us has the power to leave a significant and lasting legacy in this world because of the lives we touch. So keep doing the right thing. Keep choosing that which promotes flourishing. Remind each other that we are all beloved children of God, for you never know how one small act just might change the world.