From Passover to Freedom

RabbiElanawithSederPlateReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 12:1-14 on September 6, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Pharaoh had nine chances to free the enslaved Israelites, but he was not persuaded by any of them. It did not have to come to the killing of the first-born males. Moses and Aaron spoke with him before turning the river into blood, sending frogs, lice, flies, a pestilence in the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Sometimes we are only persuaded by our own shadow—when our own evil comes back and hurts us. Pharaoh tried to kill the male babies of the Israelites, first through the midwives, but he was foiled by Shiprah and Puah, and then by drowning them in the Nile. It is not until this curse, the death of the firstborn males, was visited upon Pharaoh himself, that his heart of oppression began to turn.

Was this God’s judgement or is it that we can only ultimately come before God when we are broken by our own sin? Maybe they are one in the same. Perhaps that why passages in the New Testament tell us that we “reap what we sow,” and the “measure you give is the measure you get back.” This is true whether we sow good or evil, so Pharaoh is a sharp reminder to be mindful of what we sow. Even more, we must take note of how many people suffered because of his sin. How many Egyptian mother’s wept because Pharaoh could not bend until visited with his own worst sin?

  • What do you think?
  • How have you suffered from your own worst sin?
  • How have you asked to enter that struggle, forgive you and help you think and behave differently?

But God would now allow either nation—the Egyptians or the Israelites—to continue under this kind of oppressive rule. Liberation from tyranny was the order of the day, even if there was terrible price to pay. God had made a promise to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and that promise not only included many descendants—a promise already fulfilled—it also included land and to be a blessing to many nations.

  • Have you ever thought of God’s liberation of the Hebrews as also liberation for the Egyptians because Pharaoh’s evil reign had to end?
  • In what other instances in history or in your lifetime, do you see many people suffer because of the sins of one person or a few people?
  • What does God call us to do in these situations?

It was time to make good on these promises and bless more than Egypt with exploited labor. So, as Pharaoh’s heart finally broke and his will bent toward God’s will, the instructions came to the Israelites on how to make ready to leave on foot—a mass exodus—an underground railroad—with an entire nation of people stealing off in the night.

But they were to eat a ritual meal first. They were to sacrifice a lamb—a recognition that freedom comes with a price—lives are sacrificed, and blood is spilled, so mark the door frame that your God is willing to make a sacrifice for your freedom.

When we lived in St. Louis, we had Orthodox Jewish neighbors, Rabbi Zal and Ellen. When we talked about the kosher food laws they followed, especially about eating dairy and meat 6 hours apart, Ellen said, “we don’t put anything in our mouth without thinking about God. Jews are not called to be vegetarians, but a life was sacrificed for us to eat and we always think about that by paying attention to what and when we eat.”

In the Exodus, the instructions ask for this recognition—that life is not only sacrificed for this meal, but they survive by others’ blood. So, eat with care and attention—even though you must eat in haste and readiness to leave. Eat with your belt tied, your shoes on, your walking stick in hand—leave no leftovers for you will not be back. For this night you march for liberation, you march to freedom.

  • Have you considered that every time we eat fish or meat, a life is sacrificed for our well-being? Does this add new meaning to taking time for saying grace or a blessing before meals.
  • Have you ever connected this sacrifice for daily meals, with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and Holy Communion? Can you see how these are connected?
  • What does it mean that God is willing to sacrifice life for your daily life and for your eternal salvation?

Notice that this identifying event for the Jewish people begins in the home, not in a Temple—with a home liturgy and a family worship ritual—not a priest leading a communal event. I honestly never paid much attention to this detail before, but now, it is so obvious since we are worshiping in our homes with our own Communion elements. God’s liberation begins at our own dinner table.

From there, as soon as the meal is complete, the Israelites leave on foot to participate in God’s freedom and new life for them. They must get up and go, they must join the work, they must trust that while death still happens, it will “pass over” them as they march forward into a new and different life. They go from recognizing and sharing in a sacrificial meal to participating in God’s freedom by sacrificing the only life they know and trusting God to bring them to somewhere new.

The Israelites go from following God’s word at the table to marching into God’s liberation in the street. So too, God calls us from being nourished at our tables, to being a participant in God’s justice and freedom from oppression in the world.

The exodus makes a direct connection for us from dinner to deliverance, from liturgy to liberation, from worship to witness, from ritual to readiness to participate in God’s kingdom. The one makes a ready for the other, the one compels us to do the other, the one is not complete without its fulfillment in freedom work in the world.

So when Jesus takes the bread and wine of the Passover meal—the liturgy that leads to liberation, the dinner that prepares for deliverance, the worship that remembers God’s work of justice, the ritual that readies people to march for freedom and he says, “This is my body and my blood—poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he is saying that he is the new Passover lamb, with his blood over the doorframe of our life and in the cross in our forehead. At the last, death will “pass over” us and instead of our sin, God will see the perfection of Christ.

In Holy Communion, we remember that God is willing to make a sacrifice for our freedom. At the Lord’s Supper, we are set free by Christ, so that we can walk in this freedom here and now. With the Israelites, we go from liturgy to liberation, from dinner table to deliverance. We are set free from our own sin through Christ to participate in his work of justice and freedom for all people here and now. We go from worship to witness, from ritual to readiness to participate in God’s kingdom.

  • Have you ever connected the ritual of Communion with the work of freedom from oppression? Who needs to be freed from injustice today?
  • What cause of injustice break your heart? Is it hunger? Homeless veterans? Farmers suffering from climate change? Black Lives Matter? Children living in poverty? Who are you willing to march for, advocate for, enter the street for?
  • If you are not physically able to advocate for situations of injustice, are you willing to become educated about solutions and write to your representatives?
  • What does marching to liberation and freedom in Christ look like for you?

We do not wait with Pharaoh for our own worst sins to return to us and break us. For freedom Christ has set us free. We have received grace upon grace. When we carry the grace which we have received from Christ into the world, it returns to us, “a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, will fall into your lap, for the measure you give, is the measure you get back.” We receive our full measure of grace abundant in Christ Jesus.

So, our belts are tied, our shoes are on, our walking sticks are in hand—we leave no leftovers for this day, we march for liberation, we march to freedom.

Image: My good friend, Rabbi Elana Zelony of Beth Torah Congregation, Richardson, doing a Children's Message on the Passover Seder.

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Unexpected Grace

House of LaughterThis and one other essay are published in the recently released "House of Laughter," the seventh in the "House of..." series of books published by The Retreat House Spirituality Center where I am a Covenant Partner and affiliate spiritual director. 

My grandmother was not always a kind person—not like the rosy-cheeked, round, open-armed grandmas of Norman Rockwell paintings. “Gram” was a survivor with the sharp edges of a woman who endured hardships with a Norwegian stiff upper lip. She never saw a reason to cry about anything. I suspect that became a decision when her baby brother, Dale, died in her arms when she was only 16, the eldest of ten. I doubt she cried when she was shoved out of the house at age 17. There were eight younger mouths to feed and it was time to make it on her own. Or when her husband died at the age of 52. Have a brandy, light up a cigarette, and carry on. That is what she did, that is what she expected you to do. After leaving the farm in North Dakota, one of her early jobs was working for Dr. Mayo’s family in Rochester, Minnesota, while he was founding the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Mayo was convinced that the kidnappers who took Charles Lindbergh’s baby were going to be after his children next, so Gram, still a teen, slept with a gun under her pillow.

We were not able to see her much when I was growing up because she lived in Duluth, Minnesota, and we grew up mostly in California. We would take summer trips by car to see her and other relatives, but visits were few and far between. I saw her more when I was in college, and even lived with her for a summer in Duluth. But she was a hard woman to be close to. She always worried I would do something wrong and she might be blamed. What worried her about a straight-A, goody two-shoes like me? I never did find out. Maybe she was just so accustomed to bracing herself against disaster that it was hard to relax and enjoy life as it was. Maybe it felt like something bad was always around the corner.

Perhaps that was why Gram had a bit of a mean streak. She picked favorites—the favorite granddaughter who lived closest to her who she talked about endlessly, the grandsons over the granddaughters, pictures with the boys and not the girls. People chalked it up to her age, but I never felt old age was an excuse for being mean.

Gram did not travel much as she got older but, one Christmas, my Mom convinced her to spend it at their house outside of Fort Worth, Texas. I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, at the time; my husband and I just had our third baby—a girl after having two boys. Mom wanted us to come down for Christmas, too, so we could take a four-generation picture with Gram and Leah, who was three months old. Dan was serving as a parish pastor and had Christmas Eve services, so we loaded up Daniel (age 4), Jacob (age 2), and baby Leah on Christmas Day to make the eight-hour drive to Texas. After being there for just a day or two, I was walking out of the kitchen and Gram said to me, “I didn’t think I could wear stretch pants because my butt was too big, but you’re wearing them, and your butt is bigger than mine.”

I thought, I am so glad I drove eight hours on Christmas Day with three small children so I could hear from my own grandmother that I have a big butt three months after giving birth! I almost asked Dan to load up the car so we could leave, but I didn’t. I did not want to disappoint my mom. And, I did not want someone else’s misery, or old age—or whatever it was—to determine my own behavior.

Gram lived to be 101; in fact, she outlived my mom by eight months. Gram had dementia and lived in a nursing facility in her later years. We saw her a few more times near the end of her life because we were in Duluth for my mom’s burial. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are harrowing diseases when you lose someone you love brick by brick. But with Gram, there was also so much grace. The hedging against disaster, the control, and the mean streak were all gone. There emerged this sweet old granny in a wheelchair with a crocheted blanket in her lap and her teeth lost—thrown away in some napkin many meals ago—smiling up at me through coke bottle glasses with rosy cheeks and open arms.

Gram still preferred men—she took one look at my sister’s tall, well-built husband like he was her new boyfriend and said, “I want him!” Gripped with sadness, battling the frigid February weather, we all burst out laughing as if our very lives depended on it. It was so healing amid our grief, that the one person who could bring us relief, laughter, and joy was none other than Gram. On another visit with my dad, he wheeled her up to the lunch table and the staff person asked her where she got this tall, good-looking man to wheel her around. She looked up at my dad, who was 6’5” and said, “Oh him? I got him in a catalog.” Another story that still makes us laugh today.

The last time I saw her, I knelt beside her wheelchair, looked up at her, and said, “I love you, Gram.” And she said, “I love you more.” I believe it has always been true. I still have the four-generation picture hanging on my wall with Gram, my Mom, me, and baby Leah, who is almost twenty-two.

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Spiritual Lessons & Reflection Questions with Moses and the Burning Bush

Moses BurningBushReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 3:1-15 on August 30, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

There are so many sermons I want to preach on Moses and the burning bush, it is impossible to choose just one. So, fasten your seatbelts, take the guardrails off your heart, and get ready for a highspeed ride down this mountain of revelation and spiritual transformation. There are reflection questions included, when you can ponder as you take take time for a scenic turn out—which I encourage you to do throughout this week.

Spiritual lesson #1: Has it ever crossed your mind that you are too bad, and your past too checkered, and your character too flawed for God to use you for a good purpose? Remember that Moses was a murderer—a murderer! He was raised in Pharaoh’s house in Egypt, but he became so angry at the treatment of his own people as slaves, he killed one of the taskmaster’s and then buried the body to the hide the evidence. When he was going to be found out, he did not stand up and take his punishment—he ran away and avoided the law instead. If God can use Moses, God can use you. Thinking you are beyond God’s reach, God’s forgiveness, God’s embrace, is an inverted form of pride. Let it go. It takes real humility to accept God meeting us as our worst selves.

• Are you ready with Moses to meet God with your worst self?
• What guilt are you hanging on to? What purpose does it serve?
• What identity do you have to release when you let go of this guilt?
• What new person can you become when this guilt is gone?

Spiritual lesson #2: Are you waiting for God to show up when you can go on a retreat, develop a new prayer routine, or climb to a mountaintop? Try looking in your daily life. Moses was doing what he did every single day. He got married, he worked for his father-in-law, and he was out keeping the sheep. It was an ordinary day, like every other ordinary day. Nothing new here. God shows up when we are going about our daily business, doing what we are supposed to do. Moses was living his every day, keeping the sheep, just like the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in Bethlehem, just like the fishermen, Peter and Andrew on the shore, and the woman drawing water at the well. Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin experienced God calling him while watching PBS television. God is already present in our everyday, so why not be open to the sacred and holy that is right there in front of us? It may not be a supernatural experience like a burning bush, but it may be holy just the same. A sticky kiss from a child, the gift of a homemade meal, an unexpected card or a phone call, a friend who understands, a belly laugh, a hummingbird outside our window. Sometimes our encounter with God may be a big moment of truth that frees us from pretending and allows us to breathe or clarifies our purpose. Moses invites us to be on the lookout for the times and places in our ordinary days where our extraordinary God shows up in “God sightings,” big and small. Remember that every day you live, you are standing on holy ground.

• Is it hard for you to see your daily life as a place of God’s presence and revelation? If so, why?
• Has worshiping at home with videos helped you see your home and daily life as a place where God is present?
• What people in your daily life show you unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness?
• Where do you see God’s presence in creation?
• Ask God to make himself known to you in your daily work or activities –be specific about those places that feel apart from God (homework? business deals? relationships? monotonous household tasks? dealing with pandemic limitations? cranky people?)

Spiritual lesson #3: Most people I talk with have a level of exhaustion from living in this pandemic they have never experienced before, myself included. Constant adaptation, new decisions to be made, re-inventing how to do everything, creating new habits, all the while grieving what we have lost while being under chronic stress without an end date in site. Did you notice that the bush that Moses saw was blazing, but not consumed by the fire? Fire takes a lot of fuel, a lot of energy to keep it going. If you have ever been charged with keeping a bonfire, a campfire or even your own fireplace burning for any length of time, you know it takes a lot of wood. But the bush is not burned up, because God’s provision is endless. Moses will not have to rely on himself for wisdom, energy or the resources to fulfill his calling to liberate his people from the Egyptians, because God’s energy, provision, and resources are endless. God is the source of all he needs, and God is the source of all the energy and provision we need.

• What does the promise of God’s endless provision mean to you in this time of pandemic?
• How is God the source of all you need now?
• How do you spiritually re-fuel when you are depleted? Are you getting adequate rest or do you overwork because you feel so much depends you? Can you try resting and ask God to fill the gaps?
• Have you asked God for the energy, wisdom and strength that you need for each day, for your work, or to care for your family?

Spiritual lesson #4: When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, he reminded Moses whose God he was: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Papyrus was expensive—why did they write it this way—why not save space and say, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob instead of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? Because God had an individual and specific relationship with each one of them, and now he was going to find out who the God of Moses was and what kind of relationship theirs would be. It turns out it’s worth spending the extra papyrus so that we know the same is true for us.
We hear this in the faith stories members have shared over the summer—all different experiences of God reflecting an individual relationship with the Creator of the universe. We have heard of the God of Rick, who offers peace and companionship in danger, the God of Frieda, who offers guidance and wisdom in spiritual practices, the God of Rita who answers specific prayers in a conversational relationship, the God of Carol who offers provision, comfort, and angels in grief and hardship. So who is the God of Tom? And the God of Barbara? And the God of Kate? And the God of Brent? God is available for an individual relationship with you that may similar to others, but has it’s own particular characteristics to you.

• What does the promise of God’s endless provision mean to you in this time of pandemic?
• How is God the source of all you need now?
• How do you spiritually re-fuel when you are depleted? Are you getting adequate rest or do you overwork because you feel so much depends you? Can you try resting and ask God to fill the gaps?
• Have you asked God for the energy, wisdom and strength that you need for each day, for your work, or to care for your family?

Spiritual lesson #5: Moses still wants to know the name of the God that is sending him back to Egypt to free the Israelites. In the Jewish tradition, this name is so sacred, they do not speak it in Hebrew. There is not a good or exact translation in English, but I AM WHO I AM or I AM THAT I AM are common translations: God is existence itself—God is our very life and breath—and that apart from God, nothing can exist. God is in all things. Another way to translate this gets us back to the bush that burns but is not consumed: “I AM the one who causes things to pass.” I AM the one who makes things happen. God delivered on his promises and in his relationships with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and he will make good on his promise to be with Moses in Egypt. This God hears the suffering of his people and responds to their cries because the God of existence suffers with them. The author of creation, the breath of life, and the One who causes things to pass with a provision that never ends, will be with Moses as well. That is who Moses has a relationship with now—the same God who caused all things to pass for his ancestors, will come to pass again. God does not have a name Moses can command, but a relationship Moses must trust will make things happen.

• What does it mean for you that every breath you take is God’s presence? Does this help shape your daily spiritual life? Does it make it easier to take a 5-minute deep breath break during the day to ask for God’s provision, strength and guidance?
• What if you truly believed that all you really needed would come to pass through God’s hand, even through pain?
• Can you ask God for this kind of deep trust that Moses needed to step forward—not the name of a God we can command, but a relationship we can trust to make happen what God has promised?

Spiritual lesson #6: Of course, Moses argues with God because he is inadequately skilled. He has a stutter; he doesn’t speak well, he cannot speak in front of crowds. Someone else is more talented, more faithful, has greater skills, better experience, fewer faults, and on and on. We have all thought it and said it and believed it at one time or another if not right now. The truth is that God does not call the qualified, God qualifies the called. God qualified Moses for the calling he gave him. God calls every one of you, and qualifies your for that calling, regardless of your skills, talents or even training, to fulfill your purpose in God’s plan, however small or large. In fact, serving in our inadequacy is often the best faith-builder because then we know for sure that our success comes from God’s faithfulness.

• Where do you feel inadequate serve God? Pray about this concern and ask God to help you let go of this fear. How is God using you anyway?
• How might you allow yourself to grow with such a ministry or service “experiment” where its “success” depends on reliance on God’s provision?
• Who are spiritual friends or companions you can share spiritual experiments with at home, work or church?
• How has God used you to help others in the past based on your experience (e.g. provision through hardship) rather than your skills?
• What is it that you like doing that brings you great joy? Often our place of service and calling is where our joy meets the world’s need—where do these two things intersect for you?

God also gave Moses Aaron as a partner and companion—God does not leave us to build the reign of love and liberation alone. This is part of the joy of experimenting with new forms, methods and ideas for ministry and outreach right now—we do it together, and we can only succeed through the power of God! We learn new ways of being the church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and we do it as the body of Christ together! It’s so freeing not to worry about failure, to know that everything is an opportunity for learning, that we are not alone, and success is up to God!

This concludes our ride down Moses’ mountain of spiritual transformation. You can unbuckle your seatbelts and stretch your legs during the hymn, Creed and prayers, but please remain nearby for the celebration of Holy Communion coming up soon! I hope you will re-visit our trip by downloading the reflection questions posted in Description below the YouTube link as you continue your own transformational spiritual journey begun with Moses and the burning bush.

 Image: Moses and the Burning Bush,13th century icon by George  Rossidis

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 5 Brave & Bold Women

5BraveandBoldWomenReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 1:8-2:10 on August 23, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

The Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt begins, not as you might remember from Sunday School, with Moses confronting Pharaoh and threatening him with 10 plagues—that was the dramatic climax of the story. Rather, the Exodus really begins here in this passage. It does not begin with Moses or Aaron—not with large- than-life men, who get whole books of the Bible written about or by them. No. The story of liberation from slavery and oppression begins right here, with 5 brave and bold women—3 of whom are not even named in this passage.

How did the actions of 5 brave women change the fate of a whole nation? First, we have to remember how they got where they are. Joseph’s whole family—his father, Israel, all 11 eleven brothers, their families, flocks and the whole lot of them, came to Egypt to survive the famine at Joseph’s hand. He was the Secretary of Agriculture and life was good. But then life goes on, a generation passes, Joseph dies and a new Pharaoh arises in Egypt who does not remember Joseph nor how he had saved the country from starvation. This new Pharaoh fears the Hebrew people (or the Israelites), who had become a numerous population, just as God had promised. Pharaoh became afraid that they would one day overpower the Egyptians and take over the country. The minority would become the majority.

This cowardly fear to preserve power made Pharaoh cruel—enslaving the Hebrews, ruthlessly oppressing them with forced labor. Yet as a people, they continued to flourish. Then Pharaoh called for killing all of the male babies so they could not grow up and fight in an army against him. There is no indication that the Israelites had any intention of rebellion, or a take-over; yet the Pharaoh’s paranoia is used to justify enslavement, and now even infanticide.

In contrast to Pharaoh’s self-centered, power-hungry fear sits the righteous, life-giving fear that the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, have of God. Pharaoh commands them to kill the baby boys that are born, but rather than obey the Pharaoh, they break the law, disobey the king, and follow the law of God, allowing the boys to live. Such defiance of the king’s orders would summarily lead to death. When they are called to account, they lie about it, saying the Hebrew women are more vigorous than the Egyptians and are giving birth before they even arrive. For them, justice demanded a higher authority, and that is how these women lived their daily life. God blessed and protected them because of it, even though they broke the law of the land. They use the influence they have in the spheres of life where God has placed them.

The same is true for Moses’s mother, sister and the Pharaoh’s daughter. Each one of them defied the law of the land, the rules, and Pharaoh’s fear, and instead, did what was just and right and life-giving. Because a mid-wife protected the life of her son at birth, Moses’s mother, whose name we learn later in Exodus is Jochebed, has a baby boy to protect. She weaves a basket to hide him in the Nile river where he was supposed to be drowned with all the other male babies.

The Hebrew word for “basket” is the same word for “ark” used in the story of the flood, and in this tiny ark, God protected Moses, just as God protected Noah and his family. Moses’s sister Miriam watches at a distance to protect her brother, so when the Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby in the basket among the reeds, she offers to find a nursemaid for her, restoring her brother back to their mother, at least for a time. They both use the influence they have in the sphere of life where God has placed them.

Pharaoh’s daughter, whose name we never learn, is perhaps the most brave of all—adopting this Hebrew male after he is weaned, and raising a boy that was supposed to be killed, right under Pharaoh’s nose in open defiance of her father’s decree. Did she also lie to the Pharaoh or manipulate him in some way to save this one life? We do not know how she does it, but we do know she uses the influence she has in the sphere of life where God has placed her.

Shiprah, Puah, Moses’s mother, Jochebed, his sister, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter all took brave and bold action in their daily life, in the area where they had impact. They each made a conscious decision to disobey the Pharaoh and defy the rule of law because it conflicted with the law of God and their understanding of what was right and just. This idea can be uncomfortable because of course, laws, and obedience to them are important values we share. Breaking the law is a big deal.

And yet, think of the times in our nation’s history when people like these 5 brave and bold women consciously broke the law, and as a result, justice prevailed. The Boston Tea Party and the insurrection of the American colonists were illegal actions. To be a runaway slave to gain your freedom, was an illegal act. Just this week President Trump officially pardoned Susan B. Anthony who illegally voted in 1872. When she sat in the front of a Montgomery bus, Rosa Parks broke the law. We now look at those events and many more like them and rejoice that these people chose to answer to a higher, more righteous, live-giving law. What laws are people breaking today, that sometime in the future, others might celebrate as a breakthrough for justice?

We may not consider Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed and Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter the big heroes of the Bible like Moses, but there would be no Moses, there would be no Exodus out of Egypt, there would be no liberation from oppression without the brave and bold actions of these everyday “sheroes.” They remind us that the cause of justice not only advances on the shoulders of public heroes like Moses, Elijah, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King, Jr., but justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream when everyday heroes and sheroes, like these 5 brave and bold women, use the influence they have in the sphere where God has placed them. We are not to wait for a big hero to make life better, we are the everyday heroes and sheroes that God has appointed to build God’s kingdom on earth.

Each of us has a sphere of influence where God calls us to live with right action and just living. It may not be in the halls of power, or in legislative bodies or corporate board rooms, but we all have influence in our families, our communities, and our circle of friends.

• If you are teacher, you have influence with your students, their families, and your colleagues.
• If you work in retail, you have influence with your customers and your co-workers.
• If you work in business, you have influence in how fairly deals are made or how resources are invested.
• If you work in healthcare, you have influence with your patients, co-workers and how care is managed.

The list goes on. You may not feel that your spheres of influence is the place where great change is going to take place, but remember these 5 brave and bold women working in a patriarchal world doing women’s work where they had no “apparent” power at all. Yet, they had great influence, and by taking just action in what appeared to be small ways, they changed the fate of their whole nation.

Where has God placed you so that you can use your gifts to express compassion and give birth to justice and liberation for even one person? Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show us that the kingdom of God is not waiting for outsized heroes to appear, it is ushered in by midwives, protective mothers, sisters, and daughters, by shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, by fishermen, prodigal sons, forgiving fathers, and by people like you and me.

• That is why I consider our Council, who spends 30 minutes in Scripture and prayer before thoughtfully considering the difficult issues of safety and worship: heroes.
• That is why I consider Dale and Hank, the choral scholars and everyone who records every week to make music to lift our spirits: heroes.
• That is why I consider everyone helping with our worship recordings, taking pictures, video engineering and social media posting: heroes.
• That is why I consider everyone keeping the church going—paying bills, signing checks, counting money, the yardbirds and those working in the Preschool: heroes.
• That is why I consider those starting a community breakfast and planning new events like Cinco de Mayo and Ice Cream Socials: heroes.

You have accepted that God has given you influence in this time and place, and because of that, the kingdom of God is being built here and now. There is no Exodus, no Moses and no liberation from oppression without 5 brave and bold women, without everyday heroes doing the work that God has appointed in their daily life, using the influence they have. That is how God’s kingdom is built today—with everyday heroes and sheroes, like you!

Image: Shiphrah, Puah, Jocheved, Miriam, Pharoah's Daughter, and the infant Moses, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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