March 1, 2020
Exodus 2: 1-10
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’
“You know that this is the least religious school in the nation, right?” I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College, founded by Presbyterians, with its beautiful circular chapel, designed to look like a Native American North West Tribe hat, with totem poles representing the four Gospels. My advisor and I were preparing the paperwork to declare my major as Religious Studies, and his comment caught me off guard. Growing up in rural Oregon, I had been surrounded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Non-Denominational Evangelicals, and a smattering of Catholics, Methodists, and Quaker’s. I had agnostic and atheist friends, but I was shocked to learn that my college was solidly non-religious. I didn’t feel oppressed or ostracized as a person of a religious tradition. Sure, there were philosophical arguments about the existence of God, but I had figured that was just part of college. I was surprised to learn how non-religious our student body was, because I saw God at work through the lives of so many of my classmates. Lewis & Clark is known for three particularly ministry-esque majors; international affairs, environmental studies, and political science. Here were people whose lives were dedicated to being Peacemakers, faithful stewards of creation, and seeking a society who cared for the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the impoverished. For the least religious school in the nation, I saw the values of the Reign of God, of the Sermon on the Mount, of the Hebrew Prophets and the Torah all around me. How could this be the least religious school in the country, If the best of the traditions of the Living God were on display? Looking back, I realized that in my mind, compassion and seeking justice were firmly attributes of people of faith. That was how I had heard people my entire life speak about their motivations. And yet, here I was, discovering that there were other sources of wisdom that led folks to love their neighbors. It seems silly to me now, but when I was 18, this was something of a revelation.
This Lent, a season in the life of the church that started last Wednesday on Ash Wednesday, that ends on Easter Sunday, as a congregation we are focusing on our ministry of building interfaith relationships. You are invited to visit local worshipping communities of different faiths than ours, and to join our Wednesday Lenten Book Study of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. In worship, we will be hearing stories from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that speak of those people our Jewish friends refer to as Righteous Gentiles. These are people who are not part of the community of the people of God, but who find themselves in the stream of the Holy One’s living Water. These are folks who come from another tradition, and bless our tradition, and then return home. This morning, we have the daughter of Pharaoh, in Hebrew Bat-Paroh. This woman does something remarkable, affirming of human life, and in defiance of her Father. She recognizes that this child among the reeds is a Hebrew child, a baby who her father has ordered murdered. He was crying, and she took pity on him. She finds herself in a drama that she doesn’t fully understand, and yet God is at work through her compassion. This child will lead a revolution, the liberation of his people, and none of that would be possible without her compassion. She is someone of incredible power and privilege in her society, who uses that position for the love of neighbors.
Bat-Paroh’s heart is open to the call to compassion, and she is moved by pity. The Holy one has a way of working through the lives of people of other religious traditions that reminds us that God is bigger than our faith. Sometimes our neighbors of no religious tradition or another religious tradition are more willing to do what the Law of Love, the Grace of God invites us into, and we can catch glimpses of who God is through their lives.
This week, I’ve seen that compassion in the life of my friend Ryan. We met in therapy school in Philadelphia, and I was able to spend yesterday hanging out with him, sharing about our lives, and our work. He’s working for the Mazzoni Center, providing therapy to folks in the LGBTQ+ community. Ryan identifies as agnostic or atheist, and has always thought our friendship was comical, the Pastor and the Atheist Metal Head. We couldn’t be more different in our religious worldviews, and yet, we’re deep friends. His compassion is moving to me. Last year, as my Uncle Mark was dying of cancer, Ryan was the friend I was able to most easily talk to through my grief. He’s a good therapist, but it was deeper than that. I felt a deep need yesterday to thank him for being a good friend, and being there for me. Compassion comes quickly for Ryan, and walking through the streets of Philadelphia laughing, I thought of how much richer my life is because we are friends. He didn’t brush my thanks off, but let it sink in.
I wonder, for you, who are the Holy Others you see God’s love at work through? Maybe they are followers of religious traditions different from ours, or maybe like me you’ve seen the compassion of those of no known spiritual tradition. This Lent, I’d invite you to consider asking what of God you can learn from those of other faiths, and no faith. Because in Scripture, everyone finds themselves in the story of the Holy One’s love, without a need for them to become a part of the Jewish or Christian tradition.
Sometimes saying thank you to the people who love us well, who we see working for justice and wholeness in our world, can slip by. Maybe there’s someone this week you want to honor, send a text to, call up, write a note to just to say thanks.
We will be hearing of people of other faiths blessing our own tradition, but it feels important to me to also pause and remember that for many of us, we’ve seen compassion from those of no religious tradition, who can bless us with holy envy of their connection to a transcendent God. I didn’t say to Ryan “I see God in your love for me as a friend,” even though I do. Instead I honored what his care meant to me. As we start this Lenten Journey, May we remember those who have loved us well, of all traditions and none, knowing the love, justice, compassion and wisdom we encounter and experience transcends all traditions and differences.