Posturing to Move Mountains
Let me begin by asking you a question, “If you had a magic wand and could move a particular mountain in your life, which one would it be?” Jesus says in Mark 11:23, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” As we reorient our lives in this next phase of the COVID pandemic we have been blessed with an opportunity, an opportunity to create a future better than our past. The brakes have been on and before we take our feet off the brakes we can determine what direction we would like to go. Christian hope is founded on the belief that the future will be better than the past. Which mountain would you like to move and see in the rear view mirror?
Maybe, like me, during the pandemic you started to reflect on the way you were living pre-pandemic and you recognized a need to change. Or maybe during the pandemic you discovered something new worth holding onto. The most recent mountain I’ve been chipping away at is cutting down on caffeine. My caffeine intake was bad pre-pandemic, then during the pandemic it became extreme and I would like to get that mountain moved. Get more beautiful holy water into me. Maybe for you it’s too much screen time, or food or porn. Or maybe you discovered walking or gardening for the first time and you want to keep that going. Maybe it’s a relationship mountain that needs to be moved towards reconciliation or you realized how precious your family is and you want to commit to spending more time together post pandemic. Or it maybe it’s a spiritual mountain you want to ascend to go deeper with God. This is a time of re-orientation, after reevaluating what and who is important to us.
There are also incredibly big mountains, the, Everest’s such as climate change, racial injustice, inequality, Indigenous reconciliation, the list is so big, it’s a mountain range. As God’s church, we must never deny the importance of addressing these mountains. But today I’m going to focus on your particular mountain and that may include your personal call to address one of these big mountains. And I think to successfully tackle the Everests we have first have to work at our individual faith muscle. Faith, like anything takes practice, takes consistency, takes trial and doubt, curiosity and patience. By ascending some of our personal mountains, we will develop the skill-set needed to ascend the giants together, because if we attempt to tackle those big mountains on our own, we will become exhausted. But if a whole congregation is working individually to have their life transformed by Christ can you imagine how strong the power of the holy spirit would be amongst us to address the big mountains. Then we would be able to confidently ask, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord” and no mountain would dare stand in our way.
So how does this passage from Exodus inform us about moving mountains? The story of Moses protection involves five gutsy women who act in the middle of a crisis to conquer the mountain of Pharaoh. Perhaps Pharaoh should have worried as much about Hebrew girls as he did Hebrew boys because these five women respond individually to change the course of history. If it wasn’t for these women, there would have been no Exodus, no Moses, no liberation of the children of Israel. What approaches or attitudes, postures, did they take in order to collectively move the mountain of Pharoah?
Firstly, the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. The context; the Egyptian Empire has become increasingly under threat from invasion and so Pharaoh is growing increasingly fearful about the Hebrew immigrants in his midst. As God promised, the Hebrews living in Egypt seem to be multiplying like rabbits. Pharoah’s first attempt to control the number of Hebrews in Egypt is to turn them into slaves and treat them ruthlessly in the hope they will become bitter with hard service. I can only think what Pharaoh had in mind with this was the men would be so exhausted when they came home they’d say, “not tonight honey, I’m beat”. But even under oppression the Hebrews continue multiply. If God is determined to bless his people, nothing will hinder God’s promise.
Unsuccessful with this first attempt, Pharaoh then tries demanding the midwives end the lives of every Hebrew baby boy before he can even draw breath. But the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah tell Pharoah, “You know this Pregnancy Enhancement Program you’ve got in mind, we’re not going to do that. The Hebrew women birth so fast, it’s nigh impossible for us to keep up with them.” Shiphrah and Puah are bold and audacious. What makes them bold and audacious is they feared God, more than they feared Pharaoh. They were not willing to allow Pharaoh to have power over them because they were able to hold fast to their faith and resist Pharoah’s power.
Some of the mountains we would like to move are like Pharaoh, they have power over us. When we try to move a mountain that has power over us, a whole gammet of reasons why it won’t work are going to enter our mind. You can’t do it, you’ll just quit, you’ll look like a fool, you should have done that years ago. Our minds back fire on us to try to keep status quo. And we need to be as bold and audacious as Shiphrah and Puah to be able to tell our minds that we are not going to listen anymore to that abuse of power and we’re going to care more about our relationship to God.
The midwives are also strategic at using the language of the system to over turn the system. And when our self-doubt kicks in we need to use the language of the system and speak back to the mountain. That might sound like, “I refuse to comply with you and you will no longer have power over me.” Saying that out loud to yourself or writing it down somewhere you can see it, gives you clarity on where you stand. “I refuse to comply with you (name your particular mountain) and you will not have power over me.”
And you know, God blesses those rebel midwives with families for there resistance to power, which is synonymous with saying God gave them love and protection because that is what families give one another, love and protection. God is right behind those bold, audacious midwives and as we too try to move mountains God will become present to us and bless us with love and protection.
But what does, ‘fear of God’ actually mean? It doesn’t mean feeling scared of God, rather, it is about being aware that the God who created you, that all powerful, extraordinary other, who made the hummingbirds wings strum so fast, and the pattern of seeds in the middle of a sunflower that extraordinary, and the earth the exact distance from the sun so we even exist, must have such power to be able to crush us at any moment, however, chooses instead to give us grace and love. That’s extraordinary and that’s what Jesus came to remind us of. Fear of God means to be caught up in a sense of awe and wonder at the inspiring mystery of God. To be bold and audacious requires us to be grounded in the truth that God has our backs and wants what’s best for us even when what God is asking of us may seem frightening. Shiphrah and Puah know God is the only winning side and that posture makes them bold and audacious because they know, whatever the outcome, they belong to God.
Moses mother now, her name is Jochebed. When Pharoah is unsuccessful with the midwives he makes his third attempt to destroy the Hebrew people. He demands all Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile. Jochebed’s posture is this; rather than remain a victim, she dares to hope in things unseen and acts in trust. She’s been hiding her baby boy for 3 months and realizes this is not going to work long term, rather than remain a victim, she builds a little raft or mini Noah’s for her baby and places him in the Nile. Jochabed is prepared to do the harder thing and take a risk. When we are moving mountains we often need to choose to do the harder thing and take a risk. It’s easier to maintain status quo and remain a victim. But Jochabed trusts her motherly intuition and she is very clear about what matters most. So she uses her agency and creativity to find a solution. The solution she comes up with is by no means risk free and the outcome is not guaranteed. When we’re working through change, often the first way we try will fail. We might need to fail many times. But rather than be a victim of failure if we use what agency we do have to find another way, eventually we will succeed. Jochebed perhaps needed to try multiple times to build that little raft, we don’t know but I do know when you become desperate enough to succeed at saving your child you will try as many times as it takes. This posture is relevant for Christian ministry also. Because often when we attempt new ministries and they fail, we can go to a state of collapse and victimize the person who is trying something new but I truly believe, God’s presence emerges within the process of change whether we fail or succeed. God’s presence is discovered on the way. Christians, are known to be followers of the way. Faith is a process.
An important detail in the text about Jochebed is that she is a Levite. Levites are particularly known for their Temple life. Which means Jochebed is formed by her faith practice. That is where she learned a sense of her indispensibility to God’s larger narrative, her particular responsibility. We each have a part to play in the larger story of God. What we do individually matters globally. Immersing ourselves in faith formation, worship, learning Biblical passages to strengthen us in times of doubt, learning what the promises of God are, communal prayer, these form us to see our role in the larger story of God. Christian practice informs our ‘why’ and if we can clearly work out why we need to take action, even if it is the harder thing, if we are grounded in what God is doing in the world, listening to the movement of spirit, any alternative becomes no longer even an option and we will conquer more than we possibly imagined.
Pharoah’s daughter now. She is the one who notices the basket among the reeds. When she opens it she sees the baby crying and she feels pity for him. The posture of Pharaoh’s daughter is a delightful balance between compassion and rebelliousness. She very well knows her father’s command that all Hebrew boy babies be thrown into the Nile but she is drawing a Hebrew boy out of the water. Note the strong reference to the life giving experience of baptism and being drawn up out of the water to newness of life Pharaoh’s daughter is brave. She acts according to her conscience and rebels against her own heritage. Sometimes, when we try to change the direction of our lives it can be childhood memories or old stories we tell about ourselves that hold us back. They are our heritage. Before we can resist those stories we do well to spend time working out who we really want to be apart from that heritage. That requires compassion for our inner child. The child in each of us who needs to have their needs met and dreams affirmed. To be drawn out of the water and given love and protection that is what every child desires. A posture of compassion towards ourselves, and others, is not weakness, it is always an incredibly brave act of vulnerability. We find God in our vulnerability to God.
And finally; Miriam, Jochabed’s daughter, Moses older sister. My favorite. She strategically places herself on the other side of the Nile and is poised and ready to respond when Pharaoh’s daughter draws the baby out of the water saying, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse that baby for you?” and of course, that turns out to be Moses real mother who ends up being paid to nurse her own child. If Jochebed is the quarterback, Miriam is the receiver. Baby placed in the water and Miriam goes long to intercept the catch from Pharaoh’s daughter. Miriam’s posture is that of a receiver, she is watchful and agile. She places herself in just the right position and patiently waits for the right time to execute and when the time comes she is quick to capitalize on it. To transform our life in Christ we must receive the Holy spirit. I wonder how we might position ourselves best to receive the Holy spirit and catch God’s power? For myself, I catch the Holy spirit, the love of Christ alive in the world best, when I surround myself with other individuals doing the work of transforming their life in Christ, my church family, my brothers and sisters of faith. These are the people I position myself around because they throw the best passes.
So the postures of five phenomenal women, audacious and bold, willing to take risks, compassionate and practical. Their story is just the beginning of the larger exodus story when Moses leads God’s people to freedom from oppression. We return to the exodus story again and again, because we sense that somehow this story holds significance for the entire human race. It is the story that gives every captive the hope of freedom to move beyond the mountains and into the land of milk and honey. It is the story of departure from what was to what is to become. At the end of the day, the real hero of the exodus story will not be these women, nor will it be Moses, the hero is God. The people the Hebrews become, the people we become when we go over the mountain is because the grace of God is with us, for the glory of God. The God who shows us his face in Christ Jesus, is the God who would lift his people out of water, out of what was and into fullness of life. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” What mountain would you like to move?