Scripture Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10 | Psalm 124 | Romans 12:1-8 | Matthew 16:13-20
“But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them.”
So last week we found ourselves in the middle of an election again: we New Brunswickers will be choosing a new Provincial government in a little over three weeks from now. Political signs have been popping up around our communities, from candidates vying for our confidence, and for our votes. Right now, we are being offered competing visions for our future: different agendas for our Province… our communities, and our homes. But we are not simply being urged to agree with what each candidate or party stands for… we are being urged to take action. To do something tangible to help these leaders to accomplish their visions: we’re asked to cast our votes to empower them to take the lead in our land.
In a way, election days ask us to offer up our allegiance. Regardless of whether or not our party or candidate of choice gets voted in, our democracy regularly requires us to personally choose sides… and to take a simple, concrete step to show we’ve offered them our support.
We can find something similar going on in our Scripture readings today: In them, we are also being offered a unique vision of our future… inviting us to take part in it, not only with our minds, but also in concrete actions taken day in and day out. Unlike our elections though God is not after our votes for a few years in office… God is seeking our lifelong allegiance… our ongoing confidence and faithfulness. And though He wants us to join with Him and take part in what He is doing in the world… He does not actually need our co-operation or endorsement to see things through. The Living God is not really like the leaders we know here on earth: He does not depend on our approval or support… rather, God is freely and lovingly at work bringing about New Life.
In our Gospel reading today we heard one of the turning points in Matthew’s story. The disciples had been following Jesus for a while now up to this point, and they had begun to get a glimpse of what He’s about: His vision and mission in the world. They had seen Him cure the sick, miraculously feed the hungry, and display amazing power over spirits, and the forces of nature. They have seen Him go toe-to-toe with influential religious groups, and had heard Him teach the crowds about God’s good Kingdom. And now, Jesus, their Rabbi, asks them an important question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah,” the Christ, the Chosen One, “the Son of the living God.”
This is a deeply pious statement: an expression of hope and faith, that in Jesus the Living God’s mission of mercy and justice are truly at hand. That in Jesus God’s promised deliverance, for which their people had hoped and prayed, was finally coming about. In Him, God’s salvation has come.
But Peter’s words are not simply pious, they’re political words as well… words that challenged the claims of others, like Caesar, or Herod, who seemed to be holding the world in their hands… words calling for concrete steps, for acts of allegiance to back them up. For to genuinely claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, it means a reordering and realigning of our lives is underway… so that, when the choice between His vision and mission is pitted against any other… we are called to enact our allegiance to Him: to live out our faithfulness.
Sometimes this is an easy choice to make… often it’s not… especially when the stakes are high, and lives are on the line.
That’s the kind of situation we heard about in our Old Testament passage this morning from Exodus: as the King of Egypt, Pharaoh, tries to cling to his hold on power, by ordering the Hebrew midwives to slay any male Israelite children being born. What a horrible vision of life when one man’s insecurity fuels the oppression and even murder of so many fellow humans. Sadly, our world has known far too many others who have followed Pharaoh’s lead… treating people created in God’s image as expendable and worthless… as mere obstacles to be removed in their thirst for power.
But in Exodus we hear about a different kind of power: the power to say ‘no’ to injustice and wickedness… a power that flows from the reverent fear of God, of placing His will above all others. We heard about to women, midwives named Shiphrah and Puah, who enacted their allegiance to God by defying Pharaoh’s evil demands, and saving the Israelite newborns. Risking much, they mess up Pharaoh’s genocidal intentions, at least for a time. And we are told God honours their faithfulness and draws them into His mission. Through their willingness to defy Pharaoh and live in line with God’s vision for the world, God brings to His people a deliverer… Moses - whom one day will be sent to confront Pharaoh on the LORD’s behalf: bringing low Pharaoh’s worldly power and pride, and ultimately defeating him, setting Israel free.
On their own it would be hard to see what lasting difference they could make, but through their simple powerful acts of faithfulness, these two Hebrew women took part in the much bigger story of God’s great rescue mission. “The author’s point is clear enough:” one scholar writes: “God is at work in these events to bring about his plan, and no one, not even the great power of the gentile nations, can stand in his way.” Even if it is hard to see how our choices and actions might make a difference, this story invites us to see God at work in our lives as well: eager to draw us into what He is doing in our world, bringing about His New Life to those being crushed down and oppressed.
After Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord goes on to tell His disciples that He too has been sent, like Moses, to confront and disarm the enemies of God… But to do so, Jesus, the Saviour, would be rejected, undergo great suffering, and be put to death. But rather than being a tragic end this was actually the way the powers of evil, sin, and death itself would finally be brought low, and ultimately defeated… for after three days, Jesus would be raised up again from the dead, filled with God’s New Eternal Life to share with the world. Despite all the schemes and plans at work in the world… In Christ Jesus God’s rescue mission has truly come about, and it will have the final say.
And through the Holy Spirit the Living God remains at work today. Often hidden from our view, and rarely operating in the ways that we would have guessed… God is still confronting and disarming the powers of evil through His faithful people: bringing forgiveness, wholeness, and holiness, bringing His New Life into our world, sharing the blessings of Christ’s victory through our simple faithfulness.
When we choose to be true to God’s Kingdom, to let His vision and saving work come to life in us, there’s no telling what the Living God has in store.
I’ll close now by repeating the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, urging us all to offer our full allegiance our entire lives to the Lord:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
By the grace of God, may this be so. Amen.
 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), pg. 242.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School