Jesus tells Peter that whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth is loosed in heaven. That’s a responsibility we all share in—this binding and loosing. Sure, the pandemic seems to have bound us in some particular ways but if we are letting our fear around the pandemic or our desire to cling to some status quo we perceived prior to the pandemic to be our truth, we are being bound by fear and control that stems from false expectations and malicious attitudes—even and especially if that malice is self-directed.
Pharaoh was bound by this malice. He didn’t know Joseph. He didn’t know the story of blessing and deliverance that surrounded the Israelite people. Instead of learning about them or establishing a relationship, he perceived them as threat and thus sought to bind them through fear tactics and oppression. He was ruthless in the tasks he imposed upon the Israelites and yet they multiplied and spread. He ordered genocide against any boy born to a Hebrew woman. And yet the Israelites multiplied and grew strong.
Pharaoh ruled as sovereign over the land and yet he was bound by a fear that proved his undoing in the end—but that is a story for a different week. It is the loosing that is the true story of Moses’ birth. A baby born into a world that not only does not want him but actively seeks to kill him. Midwives who resist the power and authority of this world in response to a fear and reverence for the power and authority of the next world. A mother who will not only conceive and bear a son but will hide him from this world and have enough faith to set him loose, adrift in the waters of the unknown. A daughter of Pharaoh, moved by pity, who will resist the conventions of the status quo and the injustices of a world bound in fear. That is the real story we read this week—the story of how to do the next right thing when the tribulations and sufferings of the present world seem to much and darkness pervades any possibility of hope.
How often in just the past six months have we been paralyzed by the overwhelming and ever-pervasive existence of life in this time of pandemic? How many obstacles have we overcome? How many times have we been told one thing to turn around and be told the exact opposite? We have had to learn new behaviors and adjust to ever-changing information that have made us become more fluid and flexible than we thought we could be. At a time when we are inundated with information and the outlook is always presented as bleak and pandemic and social unrest press upon us from all sides, it is easy to lose our way. It is easy to be bound by fear. It is easy to become complacent and think to ourselves that we can simply wait this out and once there is a vaccine then we can get on with the business of living. But that is not who we are as beloved children of God, created and redeemed through is actions in this world. That is not what the women of Pharaoh’s time allowed themselves to be drawn into.
When the world looked bleak and they felt powerless they simply did the next right thing. None of them could have known that Moses would one day deliver them from the hand of their oppressor—they simply acted through faith or pity and did the next right thing. Pharaoh told the midwives to kill the boys, and in that moment of choice with a baby on a birthing stool—they did what was right. A Levite woman fell in love, married a man, and conceived and bore a son. She did the next right thing in hiding him and then, in letting him go. Pharaoh’s daughter was moved with pity—she knew the orders her father had commanded against the Hebrew people and she knew the baby in the basket was one of those people—she did the next right thing. This tiny light of hope found in a papyrus basket down by the riverside will grow to deliver his people. But in the moment of his beginnings, all it would have taken for that light to go out was for one person to not do the next right thing.
Most of us are not called to change the world through some grand gesture, but all of us are called to change the world simply by focusing on the present, paying attention to our current circumstances and doing the next right thing. It won’t always be easy but it will always be a choice. Sure, we can believe we are powerless and allow ourselves to be complacent and we will more than likely make it to the other side of pandemics and social change. We can try to trust in the powers of this world and pretend our disappointments are enough to make things different. We can even continue to trudge the path of our daily lives and pretend that things are just fine—that suffering does not exist or at least it doesn’t affect us and that someone else will take responsibility in stepping up to do the right thing.
Or we can be honest with ourselves and in embracing our desire to see cure and change, we must also embrace compassion and care. We must participate in the pain. Stand with the suffering. Share the experience of brokenness. For it is only in those moments that we will seek to do the next right thing. We must remember that Jesus did not fed the 5000 without first receiving from a stranger amongst them. He did not raise Lazarus from the grave without tears and distress. Jesus has compassion for us and then he acts. If we are called to do anything as the body of Christ in this world, it is to gaze with the eyes of our heart and do the next right thing.
What we bind and loose on this earth has implications for the heavenly realm as well. To be bound by our fear will lead us to death and destruction. But to be loosed by our faith is to be open to the creative and redemptive life God offers us. Amen.
12 Pentecost 16A: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, August 23, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer