Lifted from the Water

Exodus 1:22 – 2:10

Jeremy Richards

This is a special Sunday. We get to welcome Small Wonders Preschool and celebrate our wonderful, ongoing relationship with Lee Owen Stone Preschool.

One of my favorite things to tell people about our church is the fact that we have two preschools in our building. I get to tell people about how awesome it is to see little kiddos running around the building, parents walking through the doors, sometimes hearing some rambunctious music and dancing from upstairs while I sit in my office.

This building is like a community within a community. We all interact and get to know each other. That’s why we do Coffee and Conversation, to try to provide an opportunity for people from these different families – Lee Owen Stone, Small Wonders, Grant Park Church, our neighborhood – to get to know one another. But we don’t just invite them to Coffee and Conversation, or to a special Sunday service, they also invite me to stuff! As the pastor, I’m the one who gets to reap the benefits of their hospitality. Last spring I went berry picking at Sauvie Island with LOS. Teacher Maggie picked me up from my apartment and gave me a ride and everything. And just this past Thursday I went up to Small Wonders and got to hang with them for reptile day. This super nice guy brought in snakes and lizards and a tarantula, and we got to pet them and even hold the tarantula. We may be the owners of this building, but it’s not always clear who’s the guest and who’s the host.  

In light of this special Sunday, I decided to depart from our lectionary readings, which are a set of assigned Scriptures that churches all around the world follow, but I didn’t go too far from the lectionary today. The lectionary has been taking us through Exodus lately, and we’ve stayed in Exodus this morning. The last few weeks we’ve been hearing all about the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness. And at the center of these stories is, of course, Moses. Moses is the one God chose to lead Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.

Moses is a big deal. Next week, when we return to the lectionary, we will hear these words about Moses: “…no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12).

There’s so much Moses did (or should we say, so much that God did through Moses), so many stories to recount – the burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the golden calf, manna in the wilderness – that it’s easy to forget the first time we meet Moses in Scripture. We first meet Moses when he’s a helpless, 3 month old baby in danger of being killed by Pharaoh.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Durham, NC and I stayed with our friends Chris and Liz and their 3 month old son, Gabe. Gabe was so small, and so helpless. He couldn’t do anything by himself. He couldn’t eat by himself. He couldn’t walk or crawl or even roll over. He had to be swaddled because he couldn’t even control his arms, which were always jerking around. Gabe’s biggest accomplishment was being able to look side to side.

Before Moses was challenging Pharaoh, or standing in the breach between God and Israel, he was a little, helpless baby like Gabe, in danger of being killed by the empire.

Moses’ mom takes a risk in this story: she puts him in a basket, and sets him in the Nile River. She doesn’t just leave him to fate, though. She has Moses’ sister watch him and see what happens to him.

After a little while, Pharaoh’s daughter comes along to bathe in the river, and she finds Moses there. She knows he’s a Hebrew child, but instead of turning him over to be killed by her father, she has compassion on him. “She felt sorry for him,” Exodus tells us.

Moses’ sister quickly jumps into action and asks if Pharaoh’s daughter would like her to get a Hebrew woman to nurse Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter says yes, and what do you know, Moses’ mother gets to nurse him and she gets paid to do so. Once he’s old enough, Pharaoh’s daughter takes Moses into her home and makes him her son.

Every weekday morning, I look out my window, and I see parents bringing their children to the doors of Grant Park Church in “baskets” of one kind or another. They aren’t made of papyrus, and they aren’t coated with tar and pitch, they’re usually a combination of metal and plastic and cloth – car seats, strollers, trailers pulled behind bikes – but they’re baskets all the same. Like Moses, they carry children away from the home they know to another place. Like Moses, these baskets carry them out of the arms of their parents and into the arms of another.

Fortunately, the parents that bring their children to Small Wonders and Lee Owen Stone aren’t evading the murderous intentions of Pharaoh. Their situation is a little different. These parents have responsibilities and work that demand their time, and they want their children to learn from the wonderful teachers at these preschools, and they want their children to learn how to socialize and play with other children.

Once again, the situation is not nearly so dire in our context as it was in Moses’, but there are similarities. There’s a letting go on the part of the parents, and they want to be sure they’re entrusting their children to the right people. Unlike Moses mother, they aren’t taking any risks with the Nile River. They’ve done their research, they’ve seen the space, they’ve met with the teachers. But I’m sure it’s still a little scary for them, at least at the beginning. I’m sure that first day of preschool is hard for parents, as their children are transferred out of their arms and into the arms of another.

But, Earnie and I can tell you, there’s no reason for parents to be nervous with Lee Owen Stone and Small Wonders. Our church is maybe, at times, like Moses’ sister. Peering out not between the slits in the reeds on the edge of the Nile, but between the slits in the blinds of the windows in our conference room. We see Katie and other teachers from Small Wonders leading the kids outside to play. We see the children from Lee Owen Stone when teacher Maggie and the parent helpers bring them through the conference room after Coffee and Conversation to give us high fives.

In short, we see that these children have been lifted from the water by the hands of those who are committed to caring for them and loving them, just as Pharaoh’s daughter drew that little baby Moses out of the waters of the Nile.

From our vantage point, we see the teachers from these two wonderful preschools working with parents the way Pharaoh’s daughter worked with Moses’ mother to bring him up. The teachers and the parents work together. 

Just as Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter sought the best for Moses, so parents and teachers alike seek the best for these children who come through our doors.

Like I said, our church is maybe kind of like Moses’ sister. We aren’t always super involved, and yet we feel like part of the family. We don’t work directly with the kids the way teacher and parents do, the way Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter did, but we get to watch from afar.

In short, we get to witness the way God works in all these relationships. Another similarity between this story and our story is that God isn’t ever explicitly mentioned, and yet we see God everywhere.

Nowhere in this story does it say that God brought Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter, but we can see that God probably had a hand in that.

And nowhere in this story does it say that God softened Pharaoh’s daughter’s heart, so that she felt sorry for Moses, but there’s a sense that yeah, maybe God was in that too.

We don’t know who gave Moses’ sister the idea to recommend her mother as a nurse for the baby, but it doesn’t seem like a far stretch to think God could have planted that idea in her head.

These preschools might not speak as explicitly about God as we do here at Grant Park Church on Sunday mornings, but we see God in the way they care for these precious little ones.

Earnie’s been reading a book I gave him on the Trinity (of course) and he read a line that said, “God is relationship itself” (he’s been quoting it all week).

We see God in the relationships that take place within the sacred spaces that are Lee Owen Stone and Small Wonders – relationships between parents and children, children and teachers, teachers and parents. We see God in the relationships forming between children as they laugh and play and create together. We see God in our church’s relationship with these wonderful preschools.

We are blessed to share a building made holy by the care of these teachers and the laughter of those children.

May the God who is relationship itself bless Lee Owen Stone and Small Wonders and the work you all do. May God bless our own little trinity – 3 communities within one building – here at Grant Park. May God bless the little ones we draw out of the water.

In the name of the Parent who drew us out of the waters of baptism, and the Son who was himself a little preschooler at one time, and the Holy Spirit who continues to be our teacher, no matter our age, amen.