Failing and Flourishing (Exodus)

. 5 min read

June 2017, Christ Mountain Top, Father’s Day
      Recognizing graduates; VBS kick-off
to Worship, Psalm 124
Exodus 1.8-22 and 2.1-10
Exodus 2.11-25
we’re aliens
& the midwives
lets Moses go on the river
in this passage …
picture social questions: Oppression and VIOLENCE
      This passage was chosen well before this
past week’s attack on US Congressmen preparing for the annual baseball game.
Lest you wonder if Moses the deliverer’s first attempt to bring freedom –
through murder – is comparable to that attack, it is not. We do not live in a
totalitarian state. They exist – see North Korea’s release of a comatose
American college student for example. Because we live in a democracy, we have
other solutions available to us as we stand up to injustice and inequality. So,
when your heart is stirred for the “underdog”, and I hope it is, whether that
is an immigrant working in your factory, or a special needs child in your
classroom, or an HIV positive patient in your clinic, please stand up. Stand up
for them. Stand up for Jesus.

and injustice are, by nature, acts of power and inherently violent. An
oppressed people, subjected to violence, learn to practice violence
      Witness the fact that when two Hebrew
slaves disagree, they do so violently.
comes through violence.
      Difference between violent murder of slave
driver and confrontation of the Pharaoh, who has the chance to change his mind
and to whom the plagues are announced in advance
      Even greater difference between the
violence in this deliverance, the great deliverance story of the Hebrew
Scripture, and the deliverance story of Jesus, who himself suffers and dies at
the hands of the Powers of his time, and the Powers of evil that think they
      “Kingdom suffers violence; violent men lay
hold of it”
– violence in both stories
the big picture social questions raised by this story, and our participation in
systems of power and violence, there are some intensely personal questions
often do we try to accomplish something good and only find ourselves in a
deeper hole, with a bigger problem? We tried to speak up, but someone
mishandled what we said or misquoted us. We attempted to work something out,
but indirectly, and it still got back to us. We thought that we could avoid a
direct conversation, but we ended up putting someone else in the middle of
something. Moses is attempting a secret resistance, but it doesn’t work out; he
is outed and he is outta there.
      Secrecy can be a fun aspect to party
planning, but it isn’t a good path to problem solving, particularly
often does disappointment and even failure result in unforeseen blessing? We
spend a lot of energy trying to avoid failure and disappointment, in our own
lives and on behalf of our children. Perhaps we need to be a little less
obsessed with that work. After all, we’ll never eliminate failure and
disappointment. And, blessings happen. A friend of mine had a great opportunity
to go to England, but her employer would not let her out of the contract. She
was disappointed and frustrated. But she met her future husband a couple months
later. Moses leaves Egypt, tail between his legs. He’s still standing up for
the underdog, and meets his future wife standing up for her and her sisters at
the local watering hole. He never would have met her, and he never would have
gained his father-in-law as a wise advisor, had he not failed.
      His failure was necessary to his
flourishing. How often is that true for us? Young people … don’t be afraid of
spend a lot of energy insulating our children from failure. Everyone gets a
trophy, until we actually have to earn a living. We get them personal trainers
and math tutors, not simply for the sake of their success but also for how
their success brings us glory. Perhaps we actually worship our children and do
everything we can to get them to answer our prayers, to say “yes” or “I love
you”. Pretty soon, we’ve given up all our authority and don’t know how it
      Fortunately for me, I’ve got perfect
children and have never had a conflict with them. My own hopes for them have
never gotten in the way of their unique calling. My life has never presented
them with obstacles. I’ve never had second thoughts about my decisions as a
parent. And they have never questioned my authority.
      My doctoral research is around our
experience of the itinerancy as United Methodist pastors – how we talk about
this unique calling to go where we are sent, when we are sent, by the bishop.
Several of our moves have had a significant impact on Jesse’s mental health.
So, because I said “yes” to the bishop, because I submitted to the itinerant
life, did I put my “career” (or calling) before the well-being of my son? It
is, of course, impossible to know what things would have been like for him if
we had not moved. We did not travel that path. But, I also have to ask myself:
If I had shielded him from the stresses of those moves, would he have found the
strength to succeed in the rough and tumble world of business? That is, was
that stress, was that pain, was that failure
more than just the thing itself? Was it also necessary for his development and for his flourishing?
      I don’t know. Neither do I know how much
Moses’ initial failures were necessary for his future success. We do know,
however, that without his failure he would never have become a fugitive, he
would never have met his wife, and he would never have had a son in a foreign
land, a son whom he named “alien”, Gershom.
parents, we need to take a cue from Moses’s parents, Amram and Jochebed. They
were willing to let their son go, as an infant on the Nile River, as a weaned
child in the house of Pharaoh, and eventually as a fugitive in a strange land.
Leaving home is necessary for our children to live and flourish, as hard as it
is to let them go.
2189, A mother lined a basket, Mary Nelson Keithahn, 1997
mother lined a basket
to keep her baby dry,
then rocked him on a river,
lest he awake and cry.
She let a princess name him
her son that he might live.
God’s people had a leader.
She had such hope to give.
Jochebed and Hannah,
and Mary too, we know
the hardest part of loving
is learning to let go,
so when we send our children
out in the world to live,
grant us such hope and faith, God.
and love enough to give.
for you young people, and you no longer young people, we need to take another
cue from this story: Failure is not the end of the story and it is not the full
story. It is pretty scary to flee your country like Moses and watch those wanted
posters go up at every post office. But his failure did not prevent his
flourishing. And, it did not terminate his calling to bring God’s deliverance
to his brothers and sisters.

New Interpreter’s Bible, Exodus, Brueggemann