Readings – Exodus 1:8 – 2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
This morning we will begin with Miriam’s Song. Scholars think it is actually the oldest verse of the Hebrew scripture, verbally passed down for centuries until being written down in Exodus 15: 20-21. It was accompanied by tambourines and dancing.
Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
It was much later incorporated into the Song of Moses, Miriam’s brother. Miriam was at his side when the Hebrew slaves escaped the Egyptian chariots and horsemen pursuing them into the Red Sea. Miriam chose to serve the people as they fled.
I think the author of Psalm 124 got it upside down. The psalmist wrote, “If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel now say; if the Lord had not been on our side, when the enemies rose up against us; they would have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us; … No! No! God was not on their side; the fleeing Hebrew slaves pass through the waters of the sea because they were on God’s side! Moses and Miriam had chosen God’s side.
We meet Miriam and Moses in our first reading. Placed in a papyrus basket with bitumen and pitch, the child floated down the Nile. He was watched over by his sister, Miriam. She followed along the river bank, and inquired of the pharaoh’s daughter, when the baby was retrieved, if a Hebrew nurse was needed. Miriam then went home and reunited the child with his mother as his wet nurse. Miriam as a young girl served her brother, her mother, the pharaoh’s daughter and, most importantly, her God.
And let’s not overlook the others who served God, perhaps unknowingly in this story. Shiphrah and Puah, Egyptian midwives (their names are Egyptian, not Hebrew) feared God more than the pharaoh, and birthed Hebrew boys rather than drowning them in the river as the pharaoh commanded. They served God. The daughter of pharaoh also defied him and served God. She rescued the boy and named him Moses, an Egyptian name, even while recognizing his Hebrew heritage. She rescued him and called him her own, bringing him into the royal household. She obeyed God rather than her father.
Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, and the daughter of pharaoh defied the law of the day and took care of the child of Levites. They defiantly served God. They were empowered by God to serve.
St. Paul in his letter to the congregation in Rome wrote, …” brothers and sisters… present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… discern what is the will of God…” That’s what Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, and the daughter of pharaoh did. They discerned, and they acted on their discernment.
St. Paul continued, “for as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function… we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” We all have a role to play, a service to live into according to our abilities. The older sister of Moses, the midwives, the pharaoh’s daughter, each had a distinct role to play, a distinct servant role. There is a servant part for all, wrote St. Paul.
All this leads us to our Gospel reading, St. Peter’s well-known proclamation, Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus responded, call this confession, this proclamation, the Rock of the Church, the sure foundation. And with that proclamation comes tremendous responsibility, “the keys of the kingdom”, “binding and loosening”.
Remember the childhood verse, the Hokey Pokey?
Put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about. Then you do the hockey pokey and you turn yourself about. That’s what it’s all about.
And the end of the verse and dance
Put your whole self in. Then you do the hockey pokey and you turn yourself about. That’s what it’s all about.
To put your whole self in is never easy. Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, pharaoh’s daughter, even Moses, like St. Paul, never got to that last stage, putting their whole self into that proclamation of “You the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”, and accepting the responsibility of binding and loosing, of serving God with all heart, soul, mind and strength, yet they all were part of God’s working his purpose out. Our discernment of God’s way is never perfect; our acting in response to God’s guidance is never without flaw. Yet we, in faith, persist. We stretch time, and time, and time again, to join God’s working out his purpose. We stretch to hear God’s voice; we stretch to act out God’s plan; we stretch to serve as God’s people.
For today I will conclude with the words of Jesus from Luke 22:24 – 27. The setting was the Last Supper.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest along you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
“I am among you as one who serves.”
Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, the pharaoh’s daughter, they discerned the will of God and they served in their time. May we, too, in our time discern God’s will, and live as “one who serves” according to the purpose of God.