Today’s first reading includes an amazing story about midwives.
We have a recent midwife story in our family, and others before this, including the birth of our first daughter. As some of you know, one of our daughters, a midwife herself, gave birth not quite two weeks ago, at home, with the care and support of midwives to accompany her and her spouse through the birth. It is one birth story, and not the only way, by choice or necessity.
We were not in the house for labour and birth. We have had that opportunity with one of our grandchildren. This time we did have our daughter-in-law who was home in their suite downstairs, keeping us up to date as we drove, sharing with us what she could hear of the sounds of encouragement and cheering our daughter on, and, when she heard the first cries!
We arrived about 30 minutes after. And we were able to see our newest grandchild soon after, her parents and baby in their bedroom together, as the midwives tended to and supported them as they had through hours of labour and delivery and first breaths and cries of new life and beginning now their life together. We were and are thankful and joyful beyond words that all are well. And with our daughter and spouse so grateful to the midwives, those strong women, those caring and gifted women, who love and prepare and guide and monitor and carefully watch and skillfully assist and support and encourage and strengthen and assure women through childbirth, to bring new life into this world. As they moved around us in those first hours, and we got food together for the new family and for them, I thanked them over and over, to a level of the ridiculous, I would guess. But they kindly just smiled behind their masks, no doubt thinking, “A grandfather who’s a little out of his mind. We’ve seen it seen before.” As they came to visit over the next 24 hours and each day after, I thanked them just ten or so times, each time, and they smiled behind their masks.
So, you will appreciate and understand when I hear again the story of the midwives, I am one of their biggest fans! And God is their biggest fan!
These named midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, called before the Pharaoh and horrifically commanded to kill newborn Hebrew baby boys because of the Pharaoh’s growing fear of the people of Israel, ruthlessly imposing increasingly hard and bitter service on them; these strong and courageous women instead, resist! They will not and do not do as the Pharaoh commanded them. They will follow God’s will. And the baby’s live! And as an explanation to the Pharaoh they make up a ridiculous story about the vigorous Hebrew women who give birth by themselves before a midwife can get there, a story that would have made them and all women laugh! And God is their biggest fan and blesses them.
And as we heard, in the related and well-known story, the Pharaoh’s daughter and a brave sister and her mother conspire to save one such Hebrew boy from the Pharaoh’s threat of death. It also tells of the women’s creative courage and strength. And it does so with rich irony! A Hebrew baby boy set afloat by his mother in the very river that was to be the place of his being drowned to death, found instead by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who takes pity on the child, and at the suggestion of his sister, is nursed by his own Hebrew mother, and received as the Pharaoh’s own child, into the Pharaoh’s household. And she names him Moses, for he was “drawn out of the water;” a foreshadowing of his being drawn out of water again as he leads his people across the sea parted by God so they could pass through and away from the threat of the Pharaoh’s armies from slavery into God’s freedom forever!
These midwives, these women, saving children at great risk to themselves, doing God’s will, following God’s ways of protecting the vulnerable from the powerful, showing love in response to hate, caring in the face of violence, choosing life over death; God is their biggest fan and blesses them.
In this time, of self proclaimed Pharaohs ignoring if not facilitating the deaths of so many, too many, from this pandemic, from inequity and racism and continuing colonial practices, ruthlessly willing to see and even impose harsh and bitter service on the most vulnerable, with little or no compassion, courage, strength, for the sake of those who are suffering; these midwives, these women, are an example, an inspiration for us; to resist! To work always and daily against powers that oppress and seek or accept the deaths of people who are feared, vulnerable, dismissed. To resist! and instead to be midwives of new life and hope and freedom in our communities, in the world, for the most vulnerable, for everyone.
Our congregation, together with other communities of faith, as part of the Greater Victoria Acting Together coalition of community, service, faith, union, and other advocacy groups and organizations, was asked to stand in solidarity with and bless and pray for fasting hotel and hospitality workers, most of them women, most of them people of colour and new Canadians, gathered at the legislature fasting in protest that their jobs, in some instances recently unionized, are at risk or are already being replaced during the pandemic by lower paid workers. The last two week’s Crossroads newsletters by email and on our the website provide more information, including links to send a message of support to our government, and a story this past week from lead organizer, Chet Phillips, kneeling with one of those fasting to hear her story and bless her. Resist! Support birthing new life!
In prayer and hope, by grace, with courage and strength we can, individually and together, each blessed with our own gifts as Paul reminds us, resist! stand together, raise our voices, write messages, talk to others, share stories, join, love, prepare, guide, carefully watch, assist, support, encourage, strengthen, assure, in being midwives of new life, birthing new hope, new freedoms, new joy for the sake of God’s suffering people. With Luther Court, the Kitchen, the TRC, Our Place, Threshold, the Intercultural Association and refugee sponsorship, CLWR, Black Lives Matter, our Synod and National Church, ecumenical and interfaith partners, we have and can continue to grow in being a force of resistance and birthing new life in the world. And God has to be the biggest fan of that!
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus asks his followers, “Who do people say that I am?” And the disciples answer by listing prophets from John the Baptizer, to Elijah to Jeremiah. Each of these lived out their prophetic calling in resistance to the dominant powers and for the sake of God’s oppressed and grieving people, to be midwives of new life and hope for God. Jesus further asks, “But who do you say that I am?” And we know the boldness and strength of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the anointed, the beloved of the living God. And Jesus praises Peter for this confession and revelation that cannot come from him, but from God’s Spirit, and in words that suggest a later context, on Peter’s confession Jesus will build the church and all its authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth. There is much more that could and has been said about these significant words, but today simply to connect who Jesus is, in fulfillment of all the prophets before, all the midwives before, God’s anointed and beloved, who through his own life, death and resurrection is! the birth of God’s new life, new hope, new justice, new peace, new joy everlasting for the world. And God is Jesus’ biggest fan! And our following Jesus, by the Spirit proclaiming who Jesus is, being midwives of resistance and God’s birthing new life for the world in Jesus, using all the gifts and strengths and skills and opportunities and privileges God has given us, like all the midwives before us, this is our highest and greatest calling. And God is the greatest fan of that! Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.