Sermon Proper 16

August 27, 2003


“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob,

each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 

The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy.

(Joseph was already in Egypt.) 

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 

But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”


The book of Exodus begins with this family recap,

before we then hear these ominous words:

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

Joseph summoned his father Jacob and the entire family to Egypt

saving them from a terrbile famine,

and the family of Jacob, the Israelites, thrived there.

Just a generation or two later,

there came a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.


In this simple sentence, we hear a disquieting change.

Joseph’s brightly colored coat has faded,

his standing as Pharaoh’s right-hand man is over.

In these simple words,

We feel the loss about to happen.  

The new king wants to have nothing to do

with the history of how Joseph saved Egypt

and brought the whole country enormous wealth.

In these words,

We feel the tension…

The king is about to solidify his power.



And that is what happened.

The new king saw in the Israelites an opportunity.

It is a tactic as old as human society itself—

instilling a fear of outsiders to boost your own power,

even if the outsiders are just doing their best to live their lives,

working hard and finding a safe place to raise their children.

You blame them for the ills of society.

You dehumanize them.


We see this tactic played out in our 21st century world.

It was not hard for the king to do back then either.

The Hebrews were outsiders.

They looked different than the Egyptians,

they had unusual customs of eating and their own language.

they did not worship the Egyptians gods.


The king knew it would be rather easy to single them out as the enemy.

So, he enslaves them.

When the slaves persevere in their struggle,

and continue to increase in number,

the king plots murder.

First, he employs two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah,

to kill all the baby boys born to the Hebrew women.


This story of the midwives: Shiphrah and Puah, is a delight.

These two women are brave and clever heroes,

defying the Pharoah using his own words and prejudice.

“the Hebrew women are not refined, like the Egyptian women, they tell him”; Which he would have agreed to.

“these women are hard, lively in childbirth,” they say, “they deliver before we can get there.

Shiphrah and Puah save themselves and the babies, by lying.

Their civil disobedience is the first nonviolent act of resistance

recorded in the Bible.


After this, the Pharoah just goes rogue…

ordering the all-out murder of Hebrew baby boys.

“Throw all the newborn Hebrew boys into the Nile River.”


Into this tense situation, is born a Hebrew baby who would become Moses.

Moses, the man who would grow up to lead the Israelites out of bondage.

It’s hard to imagine a better lead-in to the birth of a hero.

Murder, deceit, outraged King, manipulation….

At his birth, Moses mother and sister hatch a plot

to do just what the Pharoah said, they put him into the river Nile.

Carefully watching to see that he would be found.

Moses is drawn out by the Pharoah’s daughter.

Seeing a Hebrew girl nearby, she orders her to find this baby a nurse maid.

Of course, the girl is Moses’ sister and the nurse maid she finds

and brings to the Pharoah’s daughter, is Moses own mother.


Moses, and many Hebrew boys were saved

from the brutal acts of a King doing anything to gain power,

They are saved by courageous persons who lied, who tricked,

who risked so much in defying the powers that be.


I wonder, where they get this courage?

I wonder, would I have their courage?

How do people acquire courage anyway?


This summer I read a book written by the bishop of Washington D.C.,

Marian Budde. It is titled, How we Learn to be Brave.


In such a remarkably vulnerable way, Bishop Budde pours over her life experiences to explore this question. How do we learn to be brave?


In short, we learn to be brave

by living with an open heart and “doing the work that is ours to do,”

whatever life puts before us.


I suppose she could have written a book

about the most courageous people she’s known, or history has ever seen.

But she chose differently—

she wrote a book for us ordinary folks, who make day to day decisions,

and who have to face ourselves in the mirror when we fall short.


Because we make courageous decisions all throughout our lives,

most of which no one ever sees.

Budde lists courageous decisions such as….

  • Choosing to Accept What we didn’t choose
  • Choosing to Stay put when it would be much easier are to run
  • Stepping up to the plate doing what needs to be done,

even when the task is hard or

knowing we might face repercussions.


As I read her stories surrounding each of these ideas,

I kept thinking yes, she’s right, it’s true…

responding admirably to unwanted circumstances,

a sickness, a break up, being ostracized or just left out,

does take courage but the hard part is,

these are hardly one and done decisions—these times happen over and over.

The real bravery is in sustaining our good choices, again and again.


Then, as if she read my thoughts,

I came upon the sentence I’d been waiting for.

She wrote,

“Perseverance is the hidden virtue of every courageous life.”

People don’t see all the times we have to make little courageous decisions,

            To accept what we cannot control,

            To fight our instinct        to run away from             or hide our failures

            To do what is right, even when we know we will be criticized.


“Perseverance is the hidden virtue of every courageous life.”

It is hard work, sustaining our courage, but it comes with great reward.


Scripture has so many examples….

Perseverance is what the Israelites showed in their time of slavery,

And what Moses demonstrated in leading the people 40 years in the wilderness.

Perseverance is found in the choices of Elijah, Jeremiah, Ruth and Naomi, Isaiah, Esther, Rahab, Daniel….I could go on.


“God calls upon us in all of our humanity,” Budde writes,  

“asking us to do brave things

and when we say yes,

we become part of something bigger than we are.”


We gain courage in joining God’s work.

We find the will to sustain our courage, that is, to persevere,

in our spirituality—coming together to worship,

taking time for rest (for Sabbath),

being mindful of others,

praying and studying.

As your priest, my friends, I commend to you all these things,

And for study, there is no better encouragement for Christians than

What we read today,

the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul is encouraging the Romans to persevere in their faith.

En-courage which means to wrap in courage.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.”