Let's go to Sunday School.
Or actually, not, because I am not sure I ever learned this part of the story in Sunday School, and I was a star student in Sunday School. I learned the story of Moses as a baby, his basket, and the princess who adopted him, but never learned the short story preceding it. Found in Exodus 1:13-20, allow me to paraphrase.
Remember when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous he was their dad's favorite, and really Joseph was pretty smug and annoying about it? Then he ended up in Egypt, and in jail, but God gave him the gift of interpreting dreams and he ended up doing that for the Pharaoh. Joseph became his right hand man, of sorts, because he helped Egypt by predicting a famine and oversaw preparations for that famine. And while he was a big boss guy in Egypt, his family was struggling and came to him, without knowing his true identity, for help, and after some weird fancy cup planting on his baby brother, he revealed who he was and his whole family moved to town, including his Dad, Israel. And the grew and grew in numbers making a whole bunch of Israelites, AKA, Hebrews.
So, this story picks up after this, with a new Pharaoh who didn't know Joseph and was worried about those outsiders, the Hebrews. Fearing an uprising, he decided to enslave the Israelites. And God's people lived a miserable, cruel existence.
The new Pharaoh felt like he needed to go further, so he called two Hebrew midwives before him. (Sidebar: On Sunday, my pastor mentioned that in the original Hebrew it is unclear if this means that the midwives were Hebrew themselves or Egyptian midwives for Hebrew women.) These women are actually named in the Bible, which is pretty rad, and their names are Shiphrah and Puah. He told them basically, when they deliver Hebrew babies, to kill the boys, but it would be okay to let the girls live. But Shiphrah and Puah wouldn't take those lives out of reverence for God. When Pharaoh found out, he was like, "What the heck, ladies? Why aren't you killing those baby boys like I said?" And the midwives told him that it was because Hebrew women were stronger than Egyptian women and were delivering babies before the midwives could get there. And this pleased God and he treated Shiphrah and Puah well, and the Hebrew nation grew and grew.
I can't believe I don't know that story better.
But really a lot of that story is familiar. People are different or seem like strangers, so another group feels threatened or afraid, so they treat them horribly, enslaving them, oppressing them, killing them. And there are helpers, if you look for them. (Thanks, Mr. Rogers.) People who risk a lot to do what is right. And even so, that isn't the end of troubles for that group of people.
August 28, 2017 was the 62nd anniversary (Is anniversary the right word? It sounds too celebratory. And we, for sure, are not celebrating this.) of the brutal murder and lynching of a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till, whose body was then disposed of in the Tallahatchie River. This 14-year-old's alleged "crime" was that he was a black boy who supposedly whistled at a white woman. Emmett's mom, Mamie, came to identify her son's bloated, beaten body after it was found, and the photograph of that event by David Jackson, below, and her brave and heart-breaking decision for an open casket funeral, forced a nation to confront what they had been ignoring. Thus, helping to birth the Civil Rights Movement.
Eight years later, on August 28, 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave his iconic and moving speech at the "March on Washington." "I Have a Dream" did not mark the beginning of a movement, but did draw national and international attention to it. His beautifully crafted words gave voice to a truth that so many Americans had been living and gave inspiration to the whole world. Click here to read the whole speech.
And yet, a lot of that story is familiar. People are different or seem like strangers, so another group feels threatened or afraid, so they treat them horribly, enslaving them, oppressing them, killing them. And there are helpers, if you look for them. (Thanks, Mr. Rogers.) People who risk a lot to do what is right. And even so, that isn't the end of troubles for that group of people.
Holy God, God of Joseph and Moses and Shiphrah and Puah and Emmett and Mamie and Martin, and Our God,
We thank you for unsung heroes who out of respect for the Divine and for their Holy calls, are encouraged and so filled with bravery that they make a stand against corruption and create a way for future heroes and encouragement.
And this week, we recall the brutal death of a young boy, Emmett Till, 62 years ago, and the bravery and strength of his mother to share her grief, her pain, her outrage in a way that hadn't been done before, to make a stand against corruption and hate, to create a way for future heroes and encouragement.
We also recall, this week, some years later, one of those heroes, a leader of a movement who had a dream that he shared with us all. A dream in which we look first at a person's character, in which we can sit at "the table of brotherhood," in which "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed." A REFUSAL "to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."
But we ask for forgiveness, God of Love, Creator of All Things, for our failure to deliver that dream. For telling a familiar story, yet again, and being unable to change the ending. We ask for a renewal of strength and spirit, to be brave and righteous like midwives, who rescued an entire nation; like a mother, who through her pain, gave kindling to a movement that would engulf the nation; like a Reverend, who moved hearts and shook worlds with peaceful and elevated discourse.
Remind us of our own Holy calls and help us to continue this tough Holy work and to love like Jesus.
And it is in His name we offer this prayer.
So be it. So be it.