Making a Just Peace

Blessed are the Peacemakers – Making a Just Peacemidwives
Exodus 1:15-21
July 13-14, 2013

As we conclude our worship series “Blessed are the Peacemakers”
we have been introduced to some remarkable peacemakers…

We talked about ways to make peace in the midst of a fierce battle
and heard about the residents of Gettysburg who were peacemakers by serving the wounded here in town;

We talked about making peace in our hearts,
and heard about Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement who encouraged a ‘revolution of the heart’ to make peace.

We talked about making peace in our world,
and heard President Harry Truman’s remarks back in 1946 that perhaps some day the world will live into a slightly edited version of the motto on the Gettysburg Peace Light .. instead of “Peace eternal in a nation united,” something like, “Peace eternal in a world united.”

Well today our theme is Making a Just Peace…

The words “just peace” are important… because of course peace without justice is not real peace…
Peace and justice go hand in hand.

It was June 16, 1985.
It was a Sunday and at around 11 o’clock in the morning on that day,
in church after church throughout the nation, a statement was read.
It was called, “A Theological Rationale and a Call to Prayer…”
and it urged a return to the devotional life.

It doesn’t sound very controversial….”A Theological Rationale and a Call to Prayer…”
But controversial it was.
Church officials were divided about it;
some calling it ‘presumptuous’ and ‘contrary to Scripture.’
Government officials were up in arms,
saying that the church had gotten into areas it did not belong
calling it equivalent to an act of treason!
Newspapers covered it for weeks.

Why all this uproar over a call to prayer?
You see, the country was South Africa.
The date was the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976,
when government troops entered this black township of Johannesburg and opened fire on black children.
The full title of the statement was, “A Theological Rationale and a Call to Prayer for the End of Unjust Rule.”

It was not a mildly written statement.
In no uncertain terms it said that “the situation in South Africa was an offense to God and consequently an offense to God’s people;
that the present government was responsible for this offensive state of affairs,
and that its leaders must therefore be replaced by new leaders committed to ‘justice and mercy.’

It not only pleaded with God to bring these changes about,
it served notice to God and the state that those who offered the prayers were not going to leave it to God alone but were themselves pledged to ‘work for that day.””

This was a courageous prayer.
It was a subversive prayer.
It was a prayer for peace – but a prayer for peace that would not relinquish a simultaneous call for justice.
Peace and justice go hand in hand.

Some say that church should not enter into matters of state such as this.
They have said that at least since the time that Pharoah tried to convince Moses
that religion had nothing to do with the subjugation of the Hebrews….

So we turn to our reading from Exodus…
and to this beautiful story from Egypt.
It is the very first recorded act of civil disobedience in the name of justice and mercy…
And I hope that after today, the names of Shiphrah and Puah
hold a special place in your heart as they do mine.

A king of Egypt has arisen (one who does not know Joseph),
and he has a problem – he thinks.
The Hebrew people…
there are just too many of them.
And so he says to his advisors…

“You know what will happen….
they will just continue to have children, more and more,
and then if we go to war,
they will join the enemy,
and then they will defeat us,
and escape….

And then who will build these bricks for us,
because there aren’t enough Egyptians who will do this kind of work!”
So here’s the plan…

And the king ( who does not know Joseph)
calls two midwives, (and isn’t it marvelous that we hear their names?)
Shiphrah and Puah.

And he says to Shiphrah and Puah, (listen to the language)
“When you are called to a delivery of the Hebrew women,
if it is a boy – kill him but if it is a girl – she shall live!”

Then we hear the few short words which mark their courageous act of civil disobedience.
The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, do not do as they were told.
They let the boys live.

They let the boys live.
Why?
The text says because they “feared” God –
meaning probably a combination of things like,
“they loved God;”
“they were in awe of God;”
and probably “they were a little afraid of God too.”

So when the king realizes his plan isn’t working –
he sees that there are Hebrew boy babies still running around
the streets of his great cities,
he calls Shiphrah and Puah back.

They must have known it was going to happen.
They must have known that sooner or later the king would have noticed.

So they connive together to come up with an explanation.
“Well you see king, those Hebrew women,
you were right, they are not like us Egyptians!
When they deliver, the babies just shoot right out,
before we even get there!”

And the king says, “Oh…”
The king who most likely has never been anywhere near a birthing room,
and who believes that the foreigner Hebrews are somehow different,
he believes the story of the midwives,
and so he lets them go,
and moves on to his next plan for the genocide of the Hebrews.

Stories such as this always make me wonder,
“What would I do if I were Shiphrah or Puah?”
Do I fear (in all senses of the word) –do I fear, love, honor, trust God enough to do what Shiphrah and Puah did?
Do I fear God enough to do what those pastors in South Africa did in 1986?
Do I fear God enough to do what small numbers of people have done throughout history to seek peace nonviolently; to speak out against injustice; to put their lives in danger for the sake of justice?

Throughout the evening we’ve seen some photographs of people who have done just that.
As you see, it did not end well for many of them.
Many were assassinated or imprisoned.
We never hear about Shiphrah or Puah again in the Bible.

Much of the time it’s easier to make peace without justice.
It’s easier to keep quiet.
It’s easier to decline personal responsibility.
It’s easier to say we’re just following orders,
or to claim that one person cannot make a difference
or that it’s not our problem.

Shiphrah and Puah knew that the king would
probably come up with another plan to get rid of the Hebrew boys…
but they chose not to take the easier route.
They chose not to conform.
They chose to resist.

If Shiphrah and Puah had been there,
my guess is that they would have spoken up against the atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq ten years ago…

If Shiphrah and Puah had been there,
my guess is that they would have done what they could to stop the gang rape on the bus in India last year.

If Shiphrah and Puah had been there,
my guess is that they would have spoken out against the cuts in food stamps in the farm bill this past week.

So I ask us today…
What is the issue God has placed in our paths for which we need to hear a “Call to Prayer?”
Where are we being called to be like Shiphrah or Puah
and instead of settling for a peace without justice,
where are we called to work for making a just peace?

Amen.

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