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Pentecost 12 Proper 16A August 23, 2020

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

In our opening reading today, we hear one of the most important stories in the Bible. We recall that in last Sunday’s reading, the Pharaoh had recognized Joseph’s gifts of administration, and  God’s people were invited to come to Egypt, where there was plenty of food stored up to help everyone survive the time of famine.

Our reading begins with an important sentence. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. This king rules on the basis of fear. He sees that the Israelites are more numerous than the Egyptians, and he thinks the Israelites will join his enemies and overthrow him and escape from Egypt. So he forces the Israelites into slavery, and imposes increasingly ruthless burdens upon them.

The king then tells the midwives to be sure that all the Israelite baby boys will die. But the midwives believe in God, and they do not follow the king’s instructions. The king then orders that all the Hebrew baby boys must be killed. Things become worse and worse.

In the midst of this turmoil and suffering, a Levite man marries a woman from the house of Levi. She gives birth to a son. She hides him for three months. Then she knows she has to do something. She gets a papyrus basket and puts tar and pitch on it to make it into a little boat. She puts the beautiful little baby into the little boat and hides it in the reeds beside the great Nile river. The baby’s older sister, Miriam, keeps watch from a distance.

The daughter of Pharaoh comes to the river to bathe. She finds the baby, has pity on him, and concludes that he must be one of the Hebrews’ children. Just as this moment, Miriam comes up and offers to find a nurse for the baby. The king’s daughter accepts the offer.  She knows that her father has ordered the Hebrew baby boys to be killed, yet she saves this little one. The baby Moses will grow up in his own home and will have his very own mother as his nurse. When he grows older, his mother will take him to the king’s daughter, and she will adopt him. God rescues this baby from slavery and death and arranges for him to grow up in the royal palace. This is Moses, who will free his people from slavery. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes of this passage, “The oppressive hand of Pharaoh may be strong, but the redemptive hand of God is stronger still.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 454.)

In our epistle for today, St. Paul calls us to offer everything that we have and everything that we are to God. He calls us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of God into the people God calls us to be. Paul encourages us to be humble, and he calls us to think clearly and carefully about things, and to use the faith that God has given us. And then he reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ. We have different gifts, and we are called to use those gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ, because we are all one in Him.

In our gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” And they give a report on what people are saying. Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others Jeremiah, others say one of the prophets. And Jesus asks, “”But who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus praises Peter’s faith, and he says that Peter is the rock on which he will build his church. Like us, Peter is not perfect. He jumps into the water, walks a few feet on the water and then begins to sink. He blurts out thoughts of building three booths and preserving the moment of transfiguration when he is with Jesus, James, and John on the mountain. He denies our Lord three times. But in this moment, when our Lord is asking him this crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 

In these days of Covid 19 and so much turmoil, our readings call us to that depth of faith. Moses’ courageous, resourceful, and faithful mother put her beautiful baby in a little boat that she made herself, and, with unceasing prayer, hoped that God would protect this little one. Miriam stood by the river on constant watch to be sure her little brother was all right. And then, miracle of miracles, the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe, and this little baby came under her protection. The liberator of God’s people grew up in his own home with his mother, father, and sister, and then, when he was older, was adopted and lived at the palace.

This is how God works through people who have deep, abiding faith.

Moses’ mother and sister, Peter, and so many others who have followed in their footsteps have been holy examples to us because of their deep, powerful faith.

This week, at this time in our journey with and through Covid 19, let us meditate on Moses’ mother and father and sister and on their faith. Let us meditate on the midwives, who courageously followed God instead of the corrupt king. Let us meditate upon the Pharaoh’s daughter, who knew she was going against her father’s wishes in protecting this little baby. And let us meditate on Peter, who is such a wonderful example because we can identify with him. He is so human. He has faults, just as we do. And he has faith. He knows who Jesus is. He stumbles a few times, but in the end his faith is as solid as a rock. Let us pray that we may have that strong faith.

These are not easy times. This is a time for faith, and thanks be to God, the Creator,  who has given us the gift of faith, and the gift of hope, and the gift of love. Thanks be to Jesus, the Redeemer, who has made us members of his Body, the Church, here to share his love with all people. And thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is always at work in us and in the world, bringing in God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness. Amen.

May we say the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

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