Scripture – Exodus 1:8-2:10 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017
Eleven-year old Ciro Marmolo heard and felt the sudden loud bomb-like rumble, shoved his younger 7-year-old brother Mattias under the bed and crouched there beside him. His infant brother Pasquale was elsewhere in the house but, just as sudden as the noise, the house fell down around them and on top of them burying them all under several feet of rubble and wreckage.
The 4.0 magnitude earthquake hit their hometown on the Italian island of Ischia last week, near the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples. As panic took over, several homes collapsed, resulting in death and injury to dozens. The horrific noise was followed by silence and the silence lasted for ten hours until rescue workers heard the faint tapping from under the rubble at the Marmolo house. Ciro was using a broom handle to tap above him from beside the bed. The firemen clawed at the rubble, including the boys’ father who had survived the quake as well as their mother who stood by. But it was not Ciro who they first rescued, nor Mattias, but their crying 7-month old baby brother Pasquale who had been buried for more than 10 hours. Several hours later they pulled out Mattias from underneath the bed and after 16 hours in the darkness, they were able to get to Ciro. The photos published by the UK’s Daily Telegraph of a swarm of firemen and policemen and rescue workers and a doctor holding baby Pasquale as they lift him up out of the rubble are, indeed, an emotional sight to behold. News reports said they clapped and cheered and dubbed it a miracle.
Saving babies is the subject of our well-known Bible story this morning. Worse than what we have come to call a “natural disaster”, sanctioned genocide is what is claiming the lives of Hebrew boy babies under Pharaoh’s rule. The Egyptians, out of their own fear of being overthrown by the more numerous Hebrews, oppress them, enslave them, ruthlessly drive them to hard labor, and still can’t control their multiplication, so the king resorts to wiping them out altogether by ordering the killing of their male children as they are born.
Ah, but the resistance is clever. Two of the earliest resisters in the Bible, midwives Shiphrah and Puah, ignore the king’s orders, saving Hebrew boy babies from annihilation and excusing themselves from responsibility by simply saying they can’t get there in time. Unable to wipe out the Hebrews through the midwives, Pharaoh turns to all the Egyptians – scripture says “command[ing] all his people” to throw every boy that is born to the Hebrews into the Nile.
Amram and Jochebed of the house of Levi, whose names we learn later in the book of Exodus, conceive and give birth to a healthy baby boy, a “fine” baby as our passage reads, and, in fear of his being confiscated and drowned, they hide him for three months. When his mother can hide him no longer, she puts him in a basket and places the basket among the reeds on the bank of the river. AND she sends the baby’s older sister, whom we come to know later as Miriam, to watch what happens from a distance. As the story unfolds, we discover another pair of clever female resisters in the baby’s mother and sister as Miriam nonchalantly asks the sympathetic Pharaoh’s daughter if she would like her to go fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. Great idea… and we read how not only is the Hebrew nurse secretly the baby’s own mother, but she gets paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse him! (Yes, we do need better maternity benefits in this country!)
We route heartily for life to survive and love to win, but perhaps we route and pray most heartily for babies. Right here in our church over the years we have prayed for twins in utero to make it, for teeny early infants in neonatal intensive care to survive. Nothing breaks our hearts more than the requests for prayer for a seriously ill child. There is no louder lament than when we lose one. The whole world watched the drama of Baby Jessica rescued from the well in 1987, who, by the way, was interviewed this past spring, 30 years after her rescue, and called her life a miracle. The sight of baby Pasquale last week in Italy being lifted up out of earthquake rubble was labeled a miracle by his rescuers and brings tears to all of our eyes….
Because, my friends, it’s not that we’re saving babies; they’re saving us. Babies unfailingly cause us to lift our heads and our hearts and our souls up out of disaster and tragedy and focus our attention on the miracle of the future, on hope, on promise, on unlimited potential.
Many of us remember the young adult who grew up in our midst in our Sunday School who a few years ago tragically took his own life, and whose death was followed by the birth of his baby niece, born almost exactly one year to the day after his death, bringing joy and hope to her family in the wake of tragedy and sorrow. Today we witnessed the Baptism of Lori Piacenza’s grandson and celebrate his family’s joy at the arrival of their little miracle as we fondly remember Lori and the hole she left in this congregation upon her death from ovarian cancer. Babies save us from hopelessness. Babies save us from despair. Babies remind us that we go on in faith, a faith that teaches us that, ultimately, all will be well.
Baby Moses grew up to liberate his people from the Egyptians and to lead them to the brink of the promised land. Through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy we follow Moses by a burning bush, through the desert, up Mount Sinai and down again, patiently leading, teaching and listening to God. He was saved as a baby and with God’s help saved his people by bringing them up and out of the land of Egypt.
Egypt. The same place where Baby Jesus and his family were forced to flee when, again, those in power feared upheaval and overthrow at the birth in Bethlehem of the King of the Jews. Mary and Joseph hiding their baby from the forces of evil as Moses’ parents had done before them.
We look at Ryder today as we looked at baby Quinn two weeks ago as we have looked upon all the babies who have come into our midst, including the ones we know from a distance like Baby Jessica and Baby Pasquale: gleefully imagining each of their individual potentials and futures and putting our collective hope for all of humanity right into their little hands. Hope for their being able to continue the work of Christ in this world by changing course and changing minds, by ending war and making peace, by their cooling down our planet in time and fueling our passion for justice, by lifting up the lowly in every realm with equally available education and access to health care, with safe housing and an abundance of food, by their truly seeing the image of God and the person of Christ in every person they encounter and thanking our Creator every day, as we do now, for their precious saved and saving lives, given by God to be lived in love.
We look back at the saved life of Moses, and at the eternal saving life of our savior Jesus Christ and we all wonder today with great anticipation about the future of the saved life of Pasquale and the saving life of Ryder. May God bless them and all the babies, each one a miracle in our midst. Amen.