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November 6th, 2013 in News
Rev. Andrew Lovins United Church of Christ

Pastor Lovins

The passage begins with a note of sadness-"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8).

On the surface it does not sound terribly depressing, but when one considers the stature of Joseph-hero of his people, savior of Egypt-the story of Exodus begins with a dark tone. The new king did not have an appreciation for Joseph's people and so he oppressed and humiliated them. They were forced into back-breaking labor because that's what the strong and powerful do best-they subjugate the weak.

Having been raised with privilege as a white male in the United States, I cannot begin to wrap my mind around what it might be like to be enslaved. I have always had privilege because of my sex and my ethnicity. Few of us know the pangs of real oppression, which is why it might help us to sit down and talk with someone of another race, sex, or religion. I assure you, those in the minority have experienced

oppression far greater than any of us who have "white" privilege.

Yet, the oppression and persecution of the early Hebrews went beyond hard labor. The new king had murderous intent. He told the Hebrew midwives, "When a baby is born, if it's female, let her live, but if it's male, dispose of the child." When that didn't work, Pharaoh gave an order to all the people-"Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile"

(Exodus 1:22).

Put yourself in the shoes of a Hebrew couple like Amram and Jochebed.

God seemed absent. It was like God was a million miles away. After all, I cannot think of anything worse than the systematic slaughter of innocent human life, can you?

God seemed absent. He does not make an appearance in the first chapter of Exodus. God had done great things through Joseph; He had given Him dreams. God had orchestrated a series of seemingly unrelated events to save His people, but now, Joseph is gone and a new king rules the land and does not know anything about Israel's former hero.

Have you ever been there? Ever felt the absence of God? I know what some will say-"God never leaves us or forsakes us" (Heb.13:5), and they would be right. However, we do not always feel God's presence or see evidence of God working to help us. Job once said, "Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He works on the left hand, I cannot behold him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him" (Job 23:8).

Surely, you have had similar feelings. I know you have, for, in order to test us, God sometimes removes the visible manifestations of His presence. He allows us to encounter darkness so we can know the true condition of our heart.

Some people who claim to love God with their whole being, do not love God-they love what God can do for them. They live as consumers and parasites, not true disciples. They "use" God to get their "needs" met.

This is what Paul was talking about when he described individuals who see "godliness as a mean to financial gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). Jesus talked about a group of people who, at first, hear the Word of God with joy, but because they are shallow-in the time of testing, they fall away. Do you know any shallow Christians? Friend, sometimes "it seems"as if God is absent. When the Pharaoh is hurling babies into the Nile, it becomes very easy to be uprooted from your faith.

Maybe you are there. God seems absent, so you wonder: "What do I do when God seems so far away? What do I do when He seems a million miles away?"

Said another way, "What do I do when God is silent . . . when there is no word from God; no direction from Him?"

Do not Panic!

Do not always expect to know what God is up to in your life. Sometimes God's ways are hidden to us. That's normal.

I've always been amazed by the audacity of the Hebrew midwives in this story. They would not do as the Pharaoh had ordered them because Scripture says they feared God (Exodus 1:21). Furthermore, they didn't have any inkling of God's long-range plan or provision. All they knew is that fearing God came with certain behavioral expectations. They were

compelled to remain faithful in their calling to serve life and not death.

After concocting this clever plan to save the lives of these Hebrew newborns, they did not know how the Pharaoh would react. Would he see through their duplicity? Would he execute them? They didn't know.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, said that real faith says "yes" to God; "yes" to His will if we understand and especially when we do not understand. Will you say "yes" to God?

You see, the life of faith is not always clear. The path is not

carefully marked out for us, but that is nothing to panic about.

Scripture says, "His ways are higher than our ways; His thoughts are higher than our thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, do not panic just because you're in the dark-for even when you cannot see His hand, you can trust His heart.

Let Go!

Jochebed had to let go of her son. She knew that Moses was a special child. So, with great care, she wove the basket in which she would put little Moses-she made sure the seal on the lid fit perfectly and that every crack was waterproofed. In her mind, it would be an "ark" that would lead her child to safety. At least that's what she prayed for.

No matter how much she tried to ensure her sons' safety, she still must have feared that the basket would become a casket instead of a life-saving "ark." Despite slyly researching the princess' bathing habits and coaching her daughter's reactions and suggestions, Moses' mother probably feared her son would face imminent death.

In the end, Jochebed could not rely on her weaving skills or on the pity of the Egyptian princess. She could not trust her own efforts, as many issues extended beyond her control. Ultimately, she had to "let go" of the basket and rely on God.

Will you "let go" of your efforts-your ability to figure things out, your ability to get things done? I used to tell people, "There are only three kinds of people in this world: those who watch things happened, those who make things happen, and those who wonder-what happened?" I used to say that because I envisioned myself as someone who "made"things happen. I wanted to be a mover and a shaker; a reformer. People told me I could do it, with enough knowledge and enough passion. Now, I know how silly that sounds. For the life of faith is not about "making things" happen. It is about "letting go." We must let go of pride and power-letting go of pain that exists because we "thought" we had so much power.

I once heard a missionary tell of how tribesmen capture monkeys in Africa. They cut a hole in a coconut small enough for a monkey's hand, then they stuff the coconut with peanuts and tie the coconut to a tree.

Smelling the peanuts, the monkey sticks his hand into the coconut; when he tries to pull his hand out of the coconut with some peanut, his fist is too large for the hole. He is stuck. He struggles for freedom, but refuses to let go of the peanuts. Tribesmen then come and capture the monkey.

We need to "let go" of our pride, our longing for power, our pain, and all the things that keep us in bondage. They only hold us back and make us vulnerable to spiritual attack. Furthermore, as Christians, we need to avoid narrow-mindedness and look around.

Look Around!

Earlier I noted that God does not make an appearance in Exodus 1. In one sense, that is true because no obvious mention of God is made until the middle of chapter 2 when God hears the groaning of His people. Make no mistake; God is present in chapter 1. He is hidden, but He is there. He is in the trickery of the Hebrew midwives. He is present in the fingers of a mother's weaving; He is with a baby in a floating basket and with an Egyptian Princess. That's why I say, "Look around." God often uses people outside the family of faith to extend help. Our closest allies are not always believers.

Here is an Egyptian Princess-pampered and privileged. She is hardly the person you would imagine showing interest in saving a dirty, crying, and abandoned slave-baby. She obviously knew about the death sentence her father had pronounced on the Hebrew boys but, perceiving something in the boy, she accepts the boy and welcomes him into the royal family.

It is not what we had expected. Often we are told to look within-look within our own heart, where Christ is. Look within the church, where God's people dwell. This is good, but we must also avoid spiritual myopia. Sometimes God uses people outside the church to help us and we need to expand our vision to see it. I've been helped by medical doctors who did not share my faith. I've been educated by theologians who held different views than my own. I've had my own Egyptian Princess to help me navigate the troubled waters of depression.

A neighbor asked Sam to drive her son to a hospital. Although he had other things planned, Sam didn't know how to say no. So, he put the child in the car and started on the 50 mile journey.

Suddenly, the boy turned to Sam and shyly asked, "Are you God?"

Startled, Sam said, "No. I do not even believe in God." The boy continued, "I heard Mom asking God for some way to get me to a doctor.

If you're not God, do you work for him?"

Sam replied, "I guess so, even though I didn't know it. And now that you ask, I'll be doing a lot more of it."

Does God seem absent to you-like He's a million miles away? Do not panic-that is a common feeling. We all go through times when we feel like God is absent, but when you feel this separation from God, let me offer you an encouraging word: let go of your pride, your power, and your pain. Then, look around. God will send somebody to help you-a pastor, a friend, a neighbor. He may even send an Egyptian Princess.