A Reading from the Book of Exodus (1:8-2:10)
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (12:1-8)
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. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (16:13-20)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last week, just a few days before school began, Judy, Mark, Micaela and I found ourselves standing in a checkout line at Meijer, having assembled a collection of school supplies. As we waited for our turn at the scanner, I glanced at the racks of magazines that seem to head checkout lines in many stores; and I noticed the fact that most of them had the same people on their covers. Since I don’t pay much attention at all to the entertainment world, I wasn’t sure who most of these so-called “celebrities” were; but I did notice that they weren’t the same people who appeared on all the covers just a month or so ago. It seems that there always have to be some people who are the latest “big thing,” but that the vast majority of them don’t seem to last very long.
As a society, we seem perpetually to be searching for something new and supposedly exciting, and for some charismatic celebrity to bring it to us. The great majority of them seem to contribute little or nothing of value to our world, yet people tend to idolize them, or at least tend to pay a lot of undue attention to them. But, by doing so, they can miss out on the fact that nearly all of the really important things that happen in the world are accomplished because of the seemingly ordinary work of seemingly ordinary people, hardly any of it glamorous or newsworthy, but critically important.
That basic principle is nothing new. It seems to hold even in the stories of the bible. Take, for example, this morning’s first reading, taken from the beginning of the book of Exodus. Moses is obviously going to be the key human figure in the delivery of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But Moses would never have lived long enough to do anything without the seemingly ordinary efforts of five women who appear in the story’s early verses. There are, of course, Moses’ mother, Moses’ sister, and the daughter of Pharaoh, each of whom defies the order that the great ruler of Egypt has given. But even more critical, not just for Moses but also for all the other newborn baby boys among the Israelites, are two slave women named Shiphrah and Puah. They are the two midwives who deceive and defy the ruler’s order in order to save the children’s lives.
Today, over three thousand years after these events were said to have taken place, here is a question for you: what was the Pharaoh’s name? There has been speculation, but the story in Exodus never gives his name. He remains anonymous. This man, who was thought to be so great and powerful and memorable in his time, a super-celebrity, has long been forgotten. Other than Moses, the only people in the story whose names have been preserved and honored are these two, lowly slave women, Shiphrah and Puah; for they are the ones who, in their simple yet courageous ways, saved people’s lives and changed the course of history.
Over and over again, we human beings have to relearn that ancient lesson. Over and over again, we tend to focus on the celebrities of our time, on grand programs, on trying to pursue dramatic accomplishments. And over and over again, we forget that it is usually the seemingly small acts of compassion and kindness and love that really change people’s lives.
There are many of these critically important, small acts that the people of this parish do every week; but let me mention just a few of the ones that took place here last weekend at our 39th annual Parish Yard Sale.
A young girl came up to one of tables with her parents, and they began looking at a quilt. The mother mentioned that they could use it to wrap themselves during the cold winter months when their apartment had very little heat. The asking price had been $10, but when they hesitated spending that much, the seller offered it to them for $5. The little girl pleaded with her father, asking whether they could afford that much. Five dollars: most of us would hardly give that a second thought; but these parents had to. The seller then gave them, for that $5, not only the quilt they were looking at, but also another one – at no additional charge, of course.
Over in the adult clothing area, a man, who apparently had very few clothes of his own, went home with an armload of shirts — and a big smile on his face — after the people working there recognized his limited resources and helped him to find more and more things he could wear, taking from him only what he could afford.
In the children’s area, a young mother, who obviously needed a booster seat for her young child but couldn’t afford it, was thrilled when a worker gave it to her for half the suggested price, recognizing that caring for others is why we are here.
And over in furniture, a single mother looked for a long time at a large dining room table, recognizing that she couldn’t afford the asking price, but also reflecting on the fact that it would finally allow her and her five children to eat together at the same table. Those working with her not only dropped the price to what she could afford, but also provided her with additional chairs; and, knowing that she had no way to take it with her, they even delivered it to her home and to her waiting family.
These and other members of St. Mark’s, who took the time to look with understanding and compassion on some of our neighbors in need, made a very real and lasting contribution to these people’s lives. You’re not going to see any of their photos or their stories in the celebrity magazines in the grocery or on the nightly entertainment report. But these are people who make an actual difference in the lives of our sisters and brothers in this community. Like Shiphrah and Puah, they are the ones who, with the help of God, are slowly and quietly and self-effacingly changing the world.
We do, of course, have to keep the big picture in mind: the long-term and even ultimate goal for all that we do. But, at the same time, we also have to recognize that our seemingly small contributions are critically important in reaching that goal. Maybe that is why, each time we gather here, we pray for both. We pray together first of all for that ultimate goal: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth.” Then, looking to our own particular part in helping to achieve that goal, we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” “Give us whatever it is we need so that we can do our part in contributing to the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world.” For it is in doing small things well and generously and wisely and lovingly, that we, too, are doing great things. We, too, are helping to touch and change people’s lives. We, too, are doing our part to build up the kingdom of God.