john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Drawn out of the water

    Bratton Clovelly,
    21/8/2011


    Exodus 1.8-2.10, Romans 12.1-8, Matthew 16.13-20
    She named him Moses, 'because,' she said, 'I drew him out of the water.'
    It is good to be revisiting the story of Exodus today. The Exodus story is vibrant with meanings and metaphors for our times. It is written as a history, but no ordinary history, not a history writen by and for the 'victors'

    The beginning of the book of Exodus is written like a hidden history, a people's history, a secret story told out of a situation of oppression; to encourage the oppressed people that beneath the apparent power of the king who is enslaving them, a greater power is at work - greater, though subtler and gentler - the power of a God who will one day set them free. God demonstrates this power not through acts of military might or imperial show, not through popular uprising or revolution, but through the furtive activities of sympathetic midwives and through a young woman's adoption of a child found concealed in the reeds of a riverbank:
    Pharaohs daughter named the child Moses, 'because,' she said, 'I drew him out of the water.'
    The people's history smiles at the temporary triumphs of temporal power. It tells us joyful tales of beauty bubbling up from beneath. The Exodus story shows the Egyptian king, trying forced labour, trying genocide, to stem the growing numbers and influence of the alien Israelites in his land, unknowingly letting in to his household the one who God chose to liberate Israel. We see Moses enter the palace of Pharaoh by a back door, by the nursery of Pharaohs daughter. The scene is set for God's long, slow, undermining of Pharaoh's power and the ultimately triumphant release of the Israelites through a body of waters called the Sea of Reeds, in which the role played by the hidden river child Moses is key.

    The name Moses, in Hebrew, means 'One who draws out'. He was born to be drawn out and to draw out: to be drawn out of reeds beside the River Nile by Pharaohs daughter so as to become established in the land of Egypt; to draw the Israelites out of their captivity, through the parting waters of the Reed Sea. The child Moses lifted out of the waters of oppression became the adult Moses leading his people through the waters of freedom. Like Noah, who was drawn out by God from among all the people of earth, and who, with the remnant people and creatures of his Ark, would be lifted above the waters of terrifying judgement in God's act of gracious liberation.

    God draws Moses, another Noah, out of the water to walk with him, to share with him the joy of creating the hidden history of his liberating kingdom. God does this again and again in scripture - as with Peter, drawn from the waters of the Galilean Sea which he fished all his life, to become one of the key figures in Jesus' work of rewriting history from the bottom-up: the man who wobbled on the waves as he walked towards his Lord, becoming the rock on which the church was built.

    Often the believers who God chooses as his birthing partners in the making of remarkable things are women, people whose histories are otherwise overlooked outside of the remarkable record of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures; like the midwives who disobey Pharaohs command to kill all newborn Hebrew women, neglecting their king's command for the sake of the children's lives, and whose disobedience scripture neatly neglects to comment on. They draw from the water of the womb babies condemned to die; and tell a lie to Pharaoh - 'Hebrew women give birth before we can get to them' - to ensure the innocents live.

    And also Pharaoh's daughter, behaving notably unlike every other storybook princess - whose role is to passively accept rescue or marriage - by radically acting to save a child by drawing him out of the water and taking him into her home.

    All of we believers are drawn from the waters - the waters of baptism where God sets a seal on us which defines our lives, where the Holy Spirit meets us and makes us his own. In baptism, to borrow a phrase of St Paul, we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. Drawn from the waters of baptism into a life of faith we find that God gifts each one of us for his service, gives each of us the means to contribute our own chapter to the hidden history of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    'We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,' writes Paul: gifts of prophecy, ministry, teaching, the gift of exhortation (or encouragement), gifts of generosity, leadership, compassion. They grow on us as Moses' gifts grew on him as the child became the man and his mission in God's service became clear; they grow on us as Peter' gifts grew on him, as through trials and many errors and much perseverance he steadied himself with God's help, and became the rock. We may not think that we have the same sort of faith or the same level of gifts as a Moses or a Noah or a Peter, but we are just like them in this respect - we were drawn out of the water into a life blessed with God, and (whether or not we see it) God will use us to draw others to himself.

    It may surprise us to learn that our personal story has a place in a very particular and very special history; as baptised people of God the story of our lives is part of that hidden history, that people's history, that secret story told not from the perspective of powerful kings, nor of radical revolutionaries, but from the perspective of faith; a story which illustrates that a greater - though subtler and gentler - power is at work in the world - the power of a God who draws people to himself and sets them free.

    Let us learn to embrace the joyful truth of the Kingdom of Heaven - that we are part of the story which scripture tells; that we need not prove ourselves as characters in other stories do, through acts of might or show, but rather learn to celebrate our place, secured, alongside all those others who God has drawn out of the water and drawn to himself: the subversive midwives, the sympathetic princess, the stumbling, bumbling fisherman, the man who built a boat on a mountaintop and waited in faith for the rain to come...

    When we read history - when we try to interpret what we know about the world and its story - let us read it through scripture, trying to understand the world through the eyes of faith; read the newspapers by all means, watch the news, listen to the radio discussions, read the history books, but run all this through the test of scripture: what does the Bible say about these things?

    Reading history through scripture will subvert the worldview of the victors - the kings and princes and self-promoting experts from whose perspectives most of the stories of this world are told; reading history through scrpture will open our ears to other voices, the voices of those drawn from the waters, from abandonment or drowning, from the brink of disaster, from the edges. And most of all the voice and worldview of God, who so often speaks through and for such people.

    And when we read ourselves - when we stop to consider our own lives and what they mean in the great scheme of things - let us acknowledge how God has written us into his story; let us celebrate that, by accepting the gifts he has given us, however modest, and using them in his service; let us give thanks that he saves us just like Moses, loves us just like Moses, wants us just like Moses, the baby in the reeds, the one born to be drawn out and to draw others out into faith and freedom.