Two women in Exodus took a chance and changed the rest of the world. Why the actions you take affect countless lives.
If you’ve been reasonably faithful in your summer church attendance, you know that we read the stories of the patriarchs from Genesis. Great stories of faith and God’s providence, from Abraham through Joseph. Time after time God took life’s lead and turned it into God’s gold. Now we’re reading about Moses. We’ll read of the burning bush, the flight from Egypt through the Red Sea, wilderness wanderings, and God’s giving of the Law. Big stuff, worthy of the greatest Old Testament hero, Moses.
But hold on a minute. I skipped one story. Do you know how Exodus begins? Those of you who remember Sunday School lessons may raise your hands and tell me the story of Moses’ sister Miriam keeping watch over her baby brother Moses, who rested in a basket among the reeds in the river, hidden from the Egyptians who would kill him; and of how, when the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses and decided to adopt him, Miriam spoke up and got Moses’ own mother to be the child’s nurse even as he grew up at court. Another great example of God’s work.
That’s not, however, how Exodus begins. Exodus begins when two women made a decision, took a chance, and changed the world. Through their simultaneously small gesture and heroic act, God was able to rescue Israel from oppression. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah, and I’m betting almost no one knows of them. That’s a shame, because they have something to teach us all.
You see, the Pharaoh has decided to make the Israelites scapegoats for Egypt’s problems and goes so far as to order the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys that are delivered. But they refuse. They do not kill the boys. They lie to Pharaoh, telling him that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly, delivering the babies before the midwives arrive on the scene.
Their small act changes history, for one of the boys that is spared will be called Moses and he will lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. He will deliver God’s law to the Israelites and bring them to the promised land. And it all starts here, with two women doing the right and brave thing. I doubt very much they thought they were changing the world. But they were, just by being faithful, by following what they knew to be right.
You’ve probably heard of the “butterfly effect.” Andy Andrews wrote a little book by that title in which he catalogues the extraordinary impact of simple and courageous efforts. Except when you go back, you can never really tell which efforts made the biggest difference. So, for instance, should Norman Borlaug, who developed high yield, disease-resistant corn and wheat be credited with saving two billion lives from famine, or should Henry Wallace, the one-term U.S. Vice-President, who created an office in New Mexico to develop hybrid seed for arid climates and hired Borlaug to run it? Or should we credit George Washington Carver, who took a young Henry Wallace for long walks and instilled in him his love of plants? Or should it be Moses and Susan Carver, who adopted the orphaned George as their son? Or should it be… Well, you get the idea. Andrews points out how inter-connected our actions are, creating an unforeseen butterfly effect that can ripple across time and space to affect the lives of millions.
What about us? The things we do this week—our actions, decision, choices—will, in fact, ripple out with consequences foreseen and unforeseen, for good or for ill. What we do this week will make a difference in this church, this community, and the world. Some of these actions may be big, bold, and courageous, like those of Moses. Others may be small, hardly noticeable, like those of Shiphrah and Puah. And yet they all have the potential to ripple out, affecting countless lives.
Maybe one of you is a school teacher, or a Sunday School teacher, who will encourage a student to see something in herself that she hadn’t before and in turn befriend another student who was on the verge of giving up on life…. Or maybe a young person being confirmed on Sept. 7 will stand up to the school bully this week and not only help the kids being bullied but also the bully, who never had anyone care enough to stand up to him before, and in turn he’ll go on to be a police officer who protects the vulnerable…. Or maybe one of you will be moved to volunteer to read with kids at East Elementary and one of those kids will fall in love with language and grow up to be the poet laureate…. Or maybe the music you make with your voice or your instrument will move someone to … you get the picture.
September 7 will be a big day. Confirmation, Baptism, and Bishops are all big deals. They make for big stories worthy of Moses. But leading up to that day there were innumerable Shiphrahs and Puahs whose faithfulness rippled from generation to generation. And that faithfulness in the seemingly small things will be just as important on September 8, 9, and 10. What you do here at Trinity is important. Your presence here, your ministry here, and in the world, are important. You matter.
So what if I told you that what you do this week could change the world? My hope is that you will live that way this week, knowing that because of some small and valiant gesture of yours, the world will change for the better. —the Rev. Brad Mullis
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 edition of Trinity Topics. Read the edition here.