United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Lying, Babies & Law-Breaking”
by Rev. Mike Capron
August 27, 2017

Exodus 1 & Romans 12:17-13:10

<children’s sermon about P & S>

  1. We are talking today about two women who are liars and criminals.
  2. They rebelled against the lawful authorities to aid immigrants and concealed their crime.
  3. I speak of course of the most famous women in Exodus 1, Shiprah and Puah.
  4. But we also read Romans 13. And if you look at Shiprah and Puah through the lens of Romans 13, it may be that they did the wrong thing.
  5. Paul wrote, “authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment”
  6. Shiprah and Puah were judged. But here’s the surprise… because they feared God, God blessed them and gave them families. They saved other people’s children and were given children of their own.
  7. Are these two passages, Exodus 1 and Romans 13  really from the same book?
  8. Well, kind of.
  9. You do have to remember that the Bible is an anthology of 66 different books written over a couple of thousand years.
  10. It gives us the unique and authoritative witness of faithful people’s experience of God in their place and time.
  11. Not all these places and times are the same, and the testimonies given differ a little.
  12. So let’s break down these two.
  13. Romans 13 is from the early years of the Christian Church, which was viewed as a slightly odd Jewish sect at that point. Tolerated by the government; not yet persecuted—that would come a few decades later.
  14. Paul is writing to the church in Rome. Broadly he makes the point that every society needs order, that God favors order and that people need to restrain their selfish impulses for the good of all.
  15. Specifically, he wants the church to thrive and grow under Roman government, so he wants to make sure not to get on the Romans’ bad side.
  16. Exodus 1 is a very different situation.
  17. Ancient Egypt had made the Hebrew people into slaves, was mistreating them and now had plans to murder their children.
  18. And so we have this story of how two women, not only disobey, not only lie, but mock the unjust & oppressive government.
  19. <pause>
  20. Do you all know what proof-texting is?
  21. <ask>  <picking a single text that makes a point you want, while ignoring its context and all the other passages in the Bible>
  22. So if I thought we had to always obey the government, no matter what… I might make my point by proof texting with Romans 13.
  23. But the message of Romans 13 is not that one obeys every single government in every matter all the time… any more than the message of Exodus 1 is that we lie about everything all the time.  <p>
  24. Perhaps it would be nice if everything was that simple.
  25. But mostly I think it would be horrifying. A lot of evil has been—and is being done in the world by people who try to universalize a narrow rule no matter what the situation is. <p>
  26. Instead, maybe we could just agree that there are normal modes of behavior, which usually includes obeying the law and usually telling the truth?
  27. <ask>
  28. So where is the dividing line? When do you obey the law and tell the truth—and when do you not?
  29. I’m going to suggest that the line is grounded in love.
  30. The Greek word usually used for love in the New Testament is the famous agape. It implies a self-giving love, a sacrificial love.
  31. So here’s a clue. If there is some law you don’t want to obey and your reasons are selfish, there is a good chance you should go ahead and obey the law.
  32. Let’s look at Shiprah and Puah. They were not acting selfishly. On the contrary, they placed themselves at great risk in order to act out of love.
  33. If the king had caught them, they might have lost their lives.
  34. <pause>
  36. A test based on love would not have upset Paul.
  37. Immediately after he finished writing about governments, Paul stated that: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
  38. Friends, the law is for our benefit.
  39. Egypt did not understand that. Or more accurately, they were concerned for the benefit of Egyptians alone, not caring about other people.
  40. We spoke last week about how God’s vision for who gets blessed keeps expanding throughout history.
  41. What was going on in Exodus 1 is traceable to God’s decision to bless one man, Abraham.., then Abraham’s wife Sarah buys in, then their son Isaac, then Jacob and his thirteen sons, including Joseph who sent to Egypt and was himself a blessing to the Egyptians.
  42. By the time of the Exodus, there are a lot of Hebrews in Egypt, so many that the Egyptians get nervous.
  43. And by Paul’s time, many centuries later, the good news about God is spreading throughout the Roman Empire.
  44. After all, you can’t keep it to yourself.
  45. God does not approve of selfishness or elitism.
  46. We are invited to become different people, people motivated by agape, self-giving love.
  47. And so we want the same for others, that they too might know God’s Spirit and be overflowing with God’s love.
  48. But there is a force which acts against love: fear.
  49. The evil of the Egyptians was motivated by fear.
  50. The demographers and the pundits had noticed the high birthrate among the Hebrews.
  51. The people who wanted “Egypt for the Egyptians”, but who also wanted cheap Hebrew labor were in a tizzy.
  52. Their strategists and military planners were envisioning scenarios where war broke out and the Hebrews sided with the enemy.
  53. So something had to be done for the good of the nation—and to preserve the status quo—and to keep the people who were in power, still in power.
  54. So they came up with this idea to murder all the newborn Hebrew boys.
  55. And they invite Shiprah and Puah to act as their agents in this simple plan.
  56. And, thank God, like so many of the cruel plans of history, this one was thwarted by some good people who decided to subvert the evil in the system.
  57. Shiprah and Puah utilize the very prejudices of the Egyptians, claiming that Hebrew women are somehow different, and give birth sooner.
  58. These women are among the great heroes of the faith—and God saw—and God blessed them.
  59. And God saw what Pharaoh, King of Egypt, did too. And God formulated a different plan to free God’s people. <p>
  60. You see, the Egyptians feared the wrong thing.
  61. They feared what their statisticians and political planners and generals said.
  62. They should have feared God, the judge of all the world.
  63. It is truly said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.
  64. This doesn’t so much mean a terror of God, as an understanding of God, and taking God into account.
  65. If you are making plans about matters that God cares about, and you fail to take God into account, that is the height of foolishness.
  66. And your plans will fail just as surely as the Egyptian plan did.
  67. <pause>
  68. So here’s a good tip whenever you find yourself making plans about some situation.
  69. In our personal lives… in our professional lives… in our political lives… we need to constantly ask ourselves, am I fearing the right thing?
  70. If you haven’t considered what God thinks of your scheme, it is time to stop, drop and pray.
  71. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
  72. <pause>
  74. And here is the corollary in the other direction.
  75. When your plan involves other people, ask yourself, “Do I love those people?... Heck, am I even thinking of them as people?”
  76. That was the problem with the Egyptian plan; they didn’t know the Hebrew people as people. They were just numbers in a labor force.
  77. The Egyptian authorities were reacting entirely to their own fears. There is no evidence in the whole Book of Exodus that the Hebrews were planning any form of rebellion against Egypt.
  78. God did the whole thing, the plagues, the Red Sea, the freedom!
  79. In fact, one of Moses’ biggest challenges was getting the Hebrews to get on board with God’s plan.
  80. There was fear of all the wrong things, and a distinct lack of love.
  81. So when you are planning something, ask yourself, Am I motivated by frustration, anger or hatred?
  82. And, “Where is the love?”
  83. As Paul said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law,”
  84. And neighbor doesn’t just mean the person next door who is easy to like.
  85. Neighbor can even mean enemies.
  86. I close by quoting Paul again: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  87. Amen.