AUGUST 20, 2011 - YEAR A

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20
Homilist: Halcyon Wilson

Why do you believe God is real? Think about it. Why do you believe God is real? Has god appeared to you in person? Do you believe because you’ve seen the results of God’s work? Do you believe in some invisible power that creates life. Do you believe because the Bible tells you so?

When Pastor Chris asked this of the audience at the 9:30 service several weeks ago, there were many different answers. My favorite one came from Kerby (Chris’ husband). He said he believes there is a God when he sees the heartbeat of a baby chick. Because he is a scientist researcher, the answer especially intrigues me. Why does a baby chick’s heart beat?

Jesus asked Peter “Who do you believe I am?” The text read this morning in Matthew 16. Peter answered without hesitation that he believed Jesus to be the “Christ, the son of the Living God.” How did Peter know Christ was the Messiah – the promised God who would deliver them?

This short passage took place when Jesus, with his disciples, went into the district of Caesarea Philippi. He was leaving Galilee for a while for he was attracting too much attention there. The city was located several miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in the territory ruled by Philip. The influence of Greek and Roman culture was everywhere, and pagan temples and idols abounded. When Philip became ruler, he rebuilt and renamed the city after the emperor (Ceasar) and himself. The city was originally called Caesarea, the same name as the capital city of his brother Herod’s territory.

If we follow the chronology in Matthew, Peter was one of the first disciples to be called. He knew Jesus before that, for he had heard him preach and knew what kind of a man he was. (John 1:40-42). Jesus preached throughout Galilee and the disciples heard him and witnessed healing miracles. Peter had listened with awe to the Sermon on the Mount which included the beatitudes, and telling his followers that they were the salt and light of the earth. He heard Jesus talk about lust and divorce and vows. He heard about being generous to the needy, loving enemies. He learned how to pray, the basic principles about fasting, use of money, treating people with kindness. He witnessed Jesus calming the stormy waters. He himself was one of the twelve who were sent out to preach and heal. Jesus witnessed to his disciples how to keep the Sabbath and why. Peter heard first hand the parables you and I read now. He helped feed the five thousand. Peter had walked on water – for a short time. Then we come to chapter 16 and Jesus asks him who others said he was. But Jesus wanted to know who Peter thought he was.

All he and the disciples had witnessed and heard up to this point was certainly different than what Peter had learned from his teachers. In the verses just previous to 13, Jesus had warned them of false teachings from the Pharisees and Sadducees. This was a very different man with a different message that made sense to Peter. In spite of all this, Jesus wanted to hear from his own lips who Peter and the twelve believed him to be.

Simon Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

I think Jesus was pleased. He said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Then follow the words which are some of the most misunderstood and abused ones. We read them this morning. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this point, but when I read them from the Clear Word Bible it is easier to understand.

“But don’t become overconfident. You’re just a small stone; in fact that’s what your name means. But the rock on which my church will be built is the truth about me that comes from the Father, and the gates of wickedness will not be able to stand up against it.

“In the word of God you’ll find the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you do, in accordance to Scripture will receive the approval of heaven. But anything you do that is contrary to Scripture will not receive the approval of heaven.”

Nowhere in these verses or anywhere in the Bible is Peter given supreme authority, or infallible successors who should be the vicegerents of Christ, and the head of the church.

Then he charged them to tell no one that he was the Christ or Messiah. The reason for this seems to be that his time had not fully come. He was not willing to rouse the Jewish malice and to endanger his life by having it proclaimed that he was the Messiah.

*****

The other passage read this morning, continues the story we’ve been following of Joseph and the arrival of his family in Egypt. A new king arose who knew not Joseph and because the family had grown to a multitude of people, and the Egyptians feared them, they were afflicted with hard labor. After 430 years of silence, it is time for the deliverance of the Israelites. Time for the promise to be fulfilled.

The story within the story here, involves five very courageous women. The two midwives, Shiprah and Puah; the mother and sister of Moses; and the daughter of Pharaoh.

Alarmed over the rapid increase of the population of Israelites in Egypt, Pharaoh ordered two Egyptian midwives to destroy all male children as soon as they were born. These women had Egyptian names. It is unlikely that Pharaoh would have ordered Hebrew women to kill their own children. It is believed these women were probably over a number of midwives. How interesting that the Bible says they “feared God.”  (Other translations use the word “revere” or “respected”) How did they know about the God of Israel. Apparently they had embraced the Hebrew faith, or at least were sympathetic to it .

“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”

When the king realized what was going on, they were called before him and they said “The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous, they give birth before the midwife can get to them.”

I like these women! They feared God, and even though this could have been disastrous for them, they were blessed by God. I like to think they were part of the Egyptian people who left with them after the plagues.

God knew about these women and he commended Puah and Shiprah for their courage of faith. They had risked their lives for many Jewish infants. Such an act was noted in the eyes of the Lord, and they are mentioned as honored people in the story of Moses.

How did they know God enough to risk their lives?

There are more courageous women in this story! The mother of Moses, Jochebed, and his sister, Miriam.

Jochebed, and her husband, Amram, had three very renowned children: Aaron, Miriam and Moses. They surely must have been godly parents. We know she was very clever – to make a little ark for the baby and hide him. It was her courage and trust in such an act that had far-reaching consequences for the nation. Three times we read that she “saw that he was a goodly child” (other translations say fine, or exceptionally well formed, unusually beautiful). (Exodus 2:2; Acts 7:20; Hebrews 11:23)

How Jochebed managed to hide her baby in some secret place where he could not be seen or heard, is a mystery! He surely must have cried as all other babies do. When she could so that no longer, she trusted Miriam to watch over the little floating cradle.

Miriam must have known where Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe! She came there every day at the same time! Moses himself tells the story and he must have heard it from not only Pharaoh’s daughter, who was his adopted mother, but from his own blood mother who nurtured him for the first years of his life. Miriam must have told him the story also.

The daughter of Pharaoh knew perfectly well this was a Hebrew baby. She must have defied her father to keep such a child! Where did she get the courage to do so? Did she also know about the God of the Hebrew people?

If Jochabed was guided by God to make that small cradle and place her three month old baby in it, hide him among the rushes, trust her 10 year old daughter to watch over him (which put her at risk also!), surely the steps of this Egyptian royal woman were guided by the same God, even though she may have been an idolater. It was to her that Jochebed owed the saving of her son, as well as the royal protection and all the advantages of Pharaoh’s palace as his home for the first forty years of his life.

A remarkable epic story with a hidden story of five courageous women in it. The same God who guided and protected Moses throughout his life, did so for these women.

God’s sovereignty is displayed by intervention in creation which produces miracles, such as the taming of the waters, or the raising of the dead. However, his sovereignty is also displayed by his choice of people to fulfill his purpose on earth.

Peter spoke up for the disciples by boldly declaring Jesus to be the Son of God. Puah and Shiphrah risked their lives to be used by God. Jochabed raised the first priest, Aaron, and the great poet prophetess Miriam, to honor, worship and risk their lives for God. Pharaoh’s daughter somehow heard God’s voice and defied the laws of the time to adopt Moses and give him the advantages which eventually helped him become a great leader for God.

God chooses people, you and me, to fulfill his purpose on earth. We are also part of the great story of redemption.

How does God include us in his plans? Are we willing participants?

Paul pleads with us in Romans 12:1-2: (Living Bible)

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give yourselves to God. Be a living sacrifice, holy, the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.

Why do you believe God is real?

Why does the heart of a baby chick beat?