At the Water's Edge: Look for the Helpers
June 18, 2017
One of my favorite shows growing up was Mister Roger’s neighborhood. You remember the tune, don’t you?
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
What’s even more amazing than the song is the fact that he could sing the song perfectly while taking of his jacket and hanging it in the closet and sitting on the bench to take off his outdoor shoes and putting on his house slippers. It was a magical show in many ways, especially for those of us kids in the 80’s who had to put up with punk haircuts and MC Hammer Pants. Mr Rogers had a nostalgic way about him. He was a reminder of what the moral life looked like. You VBS Kids might know Daniel the Tiger’s neighborhood, but that’s nothing compared to Mr. Rogers.
What you may not know is that Mister Rogers was also a theologian. He was a graduate of Pittsburg Theological and was ordained in our cousin denomination the Presbyterian Church. His witness was not explicit in his television but his words often spoke to the deepest truths of the gospel.
He is remembered for many quotes, many interviews that conveyed these truths to broader public. One of those quotes is not something he said but a reference to a line his mother gave him. In an interview about how he conveys complex situations to simple minded children the interviewer asked him about how he explains crisis or natural disasters to children. Mr. Rogers said, “My mother always taught me, amidst the crisis, the disasters, to look for the helpers, there you will find hope. The news cameras like to focus on the crisis, the victim the cause of the crisis. I wish they would also pan to the helpers, because every time a crisis hits there are helpers who are making the situation better. They are the ones who bring hope.” I want us to take our cue from Mr. Rogers this morning. Amidst the crisis of our story let’s look to the helpers for Hope.
We just heard a fascinating story from the book of Exodus. It’s a story of intrigue, deliverance, irony, and even humor. But it’s also a story of Hope, of hope in the face of crisis and this morning I would like to explore with you some of the “helpers” in the story.
The story takes place in Egypt, in a foreign land to our main characters the Hebrew people. You remember how they got there – Jacob had 12 sons, one whom he favored more than all the others named Joseph who ended up – after being sold into slavery - becoming friends with the Pharoah. His relationship with the Pharaoh made it possible for his father and brothers many years later, amidst a drought in their own land, to relocate to Egypt where their grain bins were full- thanks to Joseph’s prophecy.
Those days are long past though. We are a couple generations after that story and the people of God, the Hebrews, don’t have a relationship with the new Pharaoh in town. Meanwhile, the Hebrew people have fulfilled their creation mandate and are multiplying at a more rapid rate than the native Egyptians. The new pharaoh has a problem, a demographics problem. Their power may soon be threatened by the rise of the Hebrew people. Pharaoh was in tough spot. How would he protect the safety of his people? Faced with threat he has a choice- share power or use power to oppress. He chooses the latter.
In Chapter 1 of Exodus we know that Pharaoh dealt with this demographics problem by enslaving the Hebrew men and trying to control the expanding population by instructing Egyptian midwives to kill all the boys they deliver. When that plan doesn’t work Pharaoh sets forth a decree that all baby Hebrew boys must be thrown into the Nile River.
This is the context of our story - A world where the Hebrew people are enslaved, and all boys are to be put to death, a world of oppression and darkness, pain and subjugation.
In such a situation where do we find hope? Who do we look towards? Let’s take our cue from Mr. Rogers and turn our graze from the main characters of the story and look towards the helpers – those who’s unnoticed work bring hope to the brokenness of a situation.
The main character in our story is a baby boy. A boy who’s deliverance is a foreshadowing of the deliverance he will bring to his people. A boy whose life is at risk and whose life is preserved by the faithful helpers.
TIME OUT - I know that this is Father’s day but this story, while fathers not named because they are likely subject to slave like working environments is about 3 women. SORRY DADS, but we know we are who we are because of the women in our lives. This story is really about 3 women, well 1 woman and likely 2 young girls.
Amidst the threat of death of her son the first helper must be the boy’s mother. Moms deeply love their children, moms will do everything they can to save their children. In her moment of desperation though mom doesn’t just throw her hands up and ask God to save her son, she takes action. She builds an ark, the same word for her contraption is in Genesis 6 – when Noah builds an ark. It is a vessel without a rudder – what it lacks in direction it makes up for in preservation.
Mother places the ark in the reeds of the Nile River. I don’t this isn’t the kind of biblical beachside Pastor Lindsay was talking about last week. I thought we were supposed to be kicking back and relaxing in the biblical narrative – drinking from the well spring of life. This doesn’t seem like relaxing to me. While we know this ARK can float, we have no idea what is going to happen to this baby and neither does she! She places her rudderless vessel in the reeds with no idea what will happen.
TIME OUT – Wait a minute. Last week Pastor Lindsay said we were taking a jaunt through the “Biblical beach-sides.” We were going to soak in the relaxation of the summer and drink from the living water. This situation, this “beach-side” does not feel all that relaxing to me. A mother letting go of her 3 month old son on the banks of the Nile River!? What?
Can you imagine the anxiety she must have felt, the fear, the grief, the sadness? Can you imagine her desperation?
Have you been there before? Have you clung to something, clung to SOMEONE as tightly as you can knowing you will soon have to let it go? Knowing that you too will have to say good bye…
Her presence in the story is short, but the mother’s actions are what distinguish her.
When we look to the mother as helper we see a woman who in her desperation does everything she can to preserve the life of her son. She risks her own life by hiding the son for 3 months, she builds the son an ark, and then finally she orders her daughter to keep an eye on the baby.
Our next helpers in the story are 2 young women, maybe even girls, outside the purview of their parents, on their own at the bank of the Nile River.
We have the daughter of a slave family, whose task it is to do the one thing her mother couldn’t stand to do- keep an eye on her brother. She does what most big sisters do, she’s a babysitter...
We also have a princess so to speak, the daughter of pharaoh, a girl from a family with power, privilege and resources who is simply heading down to the river to bathe.
Two young women, two young girls from opposite family backgrounds who share nothing in common and find themselves here, at the Water’s Edge, on the banks of the Nile River.
Then, IT happens.
The young princess hears the cries of the baby boy and sees the ark floating in the reeds. She calls for her attendants to fetch the basket.
The sister of the child freaks. This isn’t what his supposed to happen, this boy was supposed to survive for just a few more days it wasn’t supposed to be found by the hands of the enemy! I can’t imagine what the sister would be thinking – my one job was to keep an eye on this baby boy and now the enemy found her. What am I going to tell mom? I can’t possibly make this stuff up.
The princess approaches the ark and opens the basket to find a baby, a HEBREW baby crying, and she is moved with Pity. Another word for it is she is moved with compassion. She see’s this vulnerable child, this completely helpless baby, and she is moved with compassion for this foreigner, this stranger, this child her father wants her to throw directly into the Nile. And she hears a voice – a voice of a young girl sheepishly saying… “Shall I find a Hebrew woman, a slave, to nurse this child for you?”
What a RISK this young girl is making. Could she see the compassion on the princess face? Did she know when the princess didn’t throw him directly back into the water that she had a chance? She risked her very life and asked offered a solution to the princess.
The princess took a significant risk, a HUGE risk of her own. How is she going to explain this one to her dad? How will she tell him that she found a baby boy, a HEBREW boy, and decided to adopt him into their home rather than throw him into the Nile? Not only that- how will she justify using her dad’s monetary resources to pay this slave woman to nurse the child!
It is a story that only be credited to the one character in the story who is not once mentioned, God. God’s name is never mentioned, his presence though is not far away. This is divine irony: A slave boy, a boy under the curse of death is sparred from the very river he is supposed to drown in and his poor and oppressed mother gets paid to nurse this child to life. All of this happens because two young women, two helpers in the grand story of Exodus are moved with compassion and risk their lives for the sake of this vulnerable baby boy.
These helpers give the people of God, the Hebrew people Hope. One vulnerable young sister, and another a well-off foreign princess are the ones God chooses to bring hope to a desperate situation.
We live in desperate times. We live in a world where Hope can seem distant where oppression rules, and power is corrupt. Who are the helpers in our world? To whom do the news reels miss in favor of the main characters and the heart of the pain?
I heard of 2 security personnel in Alexandria, VA who when gun shots were fired drew their weapons and stood in between vulnerable congressmen and a crazed gunman.
I saw around 15 volunteers in red shirts showing love to about 25 children of migrant farm workers this week in the intense heat and sunshine for an hour each day.
I witness an army- nearly 100 to be truthful – of other red shirts showing love to the children of our community at VBS this week. Filling small cups with snacks, setting up crafts, playing games, and walking alongside of children.
We remembered the hundreds of volunteers and community leaders in Nicaragua who, with about $50/day serve 160 children a meal 6 days a week.
Exodus 2 is a story of Hope. Yes the little boy whose life was preserved would one day become the man who delivers his people from the oppressive and ruthless rule of Pharaoh. But before he can do that his story is preserved by 3 helpers, three vulnerable women who with courage and faithfulness, with compassion and grit save his life. Their stories, their names are not even mentioned in this story but they are the helpers, they are the ones in whom we find hope. And this is the divine Irony of the story – God uses, God calls the weak, the low, the despised in the world to share with the strong. God continues to use ordinary people, people like you and me, to be his Helpers. To join with Him in redeeming the world.
For Exodus 2 is a great story, it’s a great story of the Helpers who preserved the life of Moses the deliverer of the Israelites. But his story is just the beginning it’s the foreshadowing of the true deliverer. The true deliverer will also be born into oppression. The true deliverer’s life will also be preserved by his mother. The true deliverer whose life is not only preserved but also offered so that all of humanity might be delivered from their pain and brokenness. It is the true deliverer who invites us to be His helpers.