By The Rev. Sherry Deets

August 21, 2011

Exodus 1:8—2:10

What if I were to tell you that what you do this week could change the world? Would you believe me? Could you imagine it so? Smile politely but secretly scoff? What you do this week could change the world.

Two women once made a decision … they took a chance, and changed the world. It was, simultaneously, a small gesture and heroic act. They actually disobeyed. And because of their act of disobedience God was able to rescue Israel from oppression. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah and we met them in our reading from Exodus this morning.

The beginning of Exodus starts on a chilling note. A ruler, wishing to solidify his political base, identifies a common enemy, a scapegoat to blame for whatever current problems plague society. So the Israelites get fingered by a Pharaoh who has conveniently forgotten that for generations the Israelites he names as possible terrorists had been considered allies and honored guests. And so he first enslaves them and then turns to even darker means, telling the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys that are delivered. (Ironically, it is the girls who are apparently of no account to Pharaoh but it is these two women, and then three more – Moses’ Hebrew mother and sister and Pharaoh’s Egyptian daughter – who wind up being his undoing.) But the midwives 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.

It’s a courageous act of civil disobedience that 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 willing to say “no” to an act of injustice. I doubt very much they thought they were changing the world. But they were, just by being faithful, by following the dictates of their hearts, by heeding the call of conscience.

Andy Andrews wrote a little book called The Butterfly Effect 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.

Many of you may know that the butterfly effect is a term used in Chaos Theory to describe how tiny variations can affect giant systems, and complex systems, like weather patterns. The term butterfly effect was applied in Chaos Theory to suggest that the wing movements of a butterfly might have significant repercussions on wind strength and movements throughout the weather systems of the world.

The butterfly effect. 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, for the health or damage of the world. That question isn’t whether, but what…what will we do this week to make a difference in the world. Some of these actions may be big, bold, and courageous. Others may be small, hardly noticeable. And yet they all have the potential to ripple out, affecting countless lives. In today’s reading it’s Shiphrah and Puah, quietly standing up to a bully and tyrant. Who knows whom it will be today, this week, this year. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, says that we all are members of the body of Christ, each with different gifts, yet all one in faith, we are interconnected – and with the same potential for God to use us to change the world. Amen.

(based on idea by David Lose)

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