St. Philip Lutheran Church
7 March 2021 + Lent 3B
Exodus 20.1-17; 1 Cor 1.18-25; John 2.13-22
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
She wasn’t sure what she expected to happen, but it wasn’t that. She could never have imagined what happened next… You might even say it was unprecedented.
That seems to be the word of the last year, doesn’t it? We are living through unprecedented times. An unprecedented election season. An unprecedented pandemic. I’m a little tired of the word unprecedented, if I’m being totally honest.
But before we retire that word – I can’t help but think that’s exactly the kind of thing God is up to – always working in unprecedented ways through unexpected and surprising people and places.
She wasn’t sure what she expected to happen, but when she saw Pharaoh’s daughter and her attendants coming down to bathe in the river, just as the basket was floating by, she held her breath… expectantly… fearfully…
When the daughter of the man who ordered all those horrifying deaths opened the basket, she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d be the next victim. Had her and her mother’s covert act of brave defiance been for nothing, only protracting the inevitable?
It’s easy to overlook the beginning of the Ten Commandments, to hear this new set of instructions as an isolated passage and to forget the context that has brought the newly freed Hebrews to this moment… because that part doesn’t make it into Luther’s Small Catechism…
But it’s right there:
“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
These Ten Commandments, this new way of life God is offering, is embedded in the story that came before it, rooted in an unfolding story of deliverance and liberation, a reminder of God’s mighty power to save.
A reminder of God’s power to save in unexpected people and unprecedented circumstances.
It’s easy to overlook the beginning of this story – the very beginning – before the Red Sea, before the plagues, before the “let my people go,” before the burning bush…
Before all of that were three brave, defiant women. Moses’s mother and sister who risked everything to hide their son and brother for three months, and who reluctantly and tearfully let go of the basket, watching it drift further and further out of sight down the river. If Pharaoh’s officials didn’t kill him, surely the perils of the Egyptian wilderness would…
They could have hardly expected the unexpected… when Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket, took pity on the crying boy, and without missing a beat, accepted the invitation of the girl who came seemingly out of nowhere with the offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him. Little did she know this nurse and this mystery girl were actually the boy’s mother and sister. And did she ever consider the inherent risk for herself of harboring a foreigner in Pharaoh’s court and raising him as a part of her family?
It’s the deliverance story before the deliverance story. God moving and working through unexpected people and in unexpected places… three unnamed women… without whom none of the story to follow would have ever happened.
Pharaoh’s daughter who heard the cry of the infant Moses is like the God who hears the groaning of the enslaved Israelites, who remembers the covenant, who notices God’s people and their suffering, who is already hard at work to intervene, indeed who has never stopped intervening and working for the liberation and salvation of all God’s people.
It’s an unprecedented story of liberation… a charter narrative that would begin to define the Hebrew people, the Israelite nation, the people of God… the people from which Jesus the embodied Word would later emerge…
Flipping tables and cracking whips and driving out the money changers from his Father’s house. It’s not that the temple and its rituals were somehow unimportant or obsolete. It’s that those things had so consumed the conscience of the faithful and had become so corrupted that those things became God – and that God’s people had lost sight of the presence of God in all places, in unexpected places, not confined to one temple, but on the loose, without barrier or obstruction, pervading every corner of creation.
Embodied in the person of Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh.
Christ crucified. Foolishness? A stumbling block? Or: a bold declaration that God chooses to make God’s home among the foolish and despised and rejected people of this world. A reminder of the foolish and liberating bravery of the Exodus women. A reminder that God is with us in our suffering, in our grief, and in our isolation… even in unprecedented times.
A reminder of God’s unprecedented covenant promise: Expect the unexpected.