There was one comment that my mom made to us every morning when we were getting ready for school, “Don’t miss the bus” My mom was pretty laid back much of the time, but when it came to this command “Don’t miss the bus” she was serious, stern, and unrelenting. During one particular week we had gotten in a rough patch of finding many different ways to miss the bus. We had gotten up too late, missed alarms, taken too long to eat our breakfast, you name it we did it. It wasn’t that we meant to miss the bus on purpose, but for some reason it seemed all too easy to do. At the end of this particular week, my mom had enough. “You have to make the bus this morning” she warned. “I am not driving you to school again” she informed my two brothers and me.
The bus usually came within a couple of minutes of 7:30 each day. But for some reason, the bus arrived at 7:20 on this particular Friday morning. This was not good because of course we were not ready to get on it. My two brothers and I threw our shoes on, grabbed our backpacks and ran outside, but it was too late. The bus driver, Ms. Emmer, was not one to stick around for long and it was true on this day as she saw no one standing outside, so she moved on quickly to the next stop. So as we stood out of breath in the driveway, we had a decision to make. Do we go back inside the house and face the wrath of my mom or do we stay out here where it is a bit safer. We decided to take it one step further, and decided instead of facing my mom we would try to walk to school ourselves. Now, there are a couple of things that I should note at this point in the story. First, I was 12 and my brothers were 10 and 8 years old. Also, this was a cold winter day and we lived about 8 miles from school in the middle of country. However, somehow the cold and distance went away when we thought about how angry our mom was that once again we found a way to miss the bus. So we set off down the road to get to school. All three of us went to different schools but we had the whole trip mapped out in our heads. We would drop Kyle off first since his school was probably the closest (and he was the youngest), Jimmy would be next and then I would be last since my school is the furthest away. It all made sense…in the heads of fearful 12, 10, and 8 year olds to go on a stupidly naïve trip to school in the dead of winter out of fear of our mother.
Our first reading from the Book of Exodus begins in a similar fear filled way. Throughout the conflict between the Israelites and Pharaoh and the Egyptians fear and hard-heartedness drive the story. Pharaoh is fearful at how great Israel is becoming. He is afraid that Israel is becoming powerful and if a war came they would rise up with the enemy and escape from Egypt. The Israelites have become very valuable to Egypt and Pharaoh cannot afford to lose this important commodity. So in reaction to that fear he orders the Israelites workload increased and their male children slaughtered.
This may be a story from 3,500 years ago, but it’s a familiar narrative. Look around at the carnage that lays in fear’s wake. It’s fear that brings buildings down, brings wars about, and seems to dominate legislative processes. One word about employment statistics or credit ratings sends investors fleeing, and sends economies reeling. The stock market seems to be run on fear at this point in time.
But, even if we unplug from the outside noises and turn off the TV, close the laptop, stop reading the news, there are still many ways in which fear dominates our personal lives. How much of our energy goes into protecting, insuring, and risk managing? How often does fear dictate our parenting, our time-management, our job, and even our ministries?
Are there things in our lives we don’t do because of fear? Fear of failure? I have heard about that ministry failing in other places so I don’t think we should try it here. Fear of what other people might think? My co-workers would think I am an idiot if I did that. Fear of rejection? My friends would look down upon me if I did that.
Now don’t get me wrong, a little fear can be healthy. For example, when I take my dog on a walk there are a couple of houses that we stay away from. They have rather large dogs that are not tied up and have heads that are larger than my entire dog. Out of fear of what would happen to my puny dog, I don’t go by those houses when I walk Lilly.
But when fear drives our narrative, and becomes the center of all our reactions and decision making it stops being healthy. It becomes consuming. It consumes us. And, often, like the children of Israel, it consumes those around us. When fear takes us out of relationship and affects our relationships negatively then it becomes a problem.
The women in these two chapters of Exodus provide an example of how to respond to fear. Instead of allowing fear to write the story of their lives, they responded to the fear with compassion. First, the two midwives Shiphrah and Puah, are given the responsibility to kill all the Hebrew first born sons. But they refuse to listen to the edict handed down from Pharaoh. They could have feared for their own lives and well being if they did not listen to the command. But instead they responded out of love and compassion for the Israelites. The Pharaoh’s own daughter responds with compassion as well. Instead of allowing this baby to continue floating down the Nile. She plucks baby Moses out of the river and brings him into her house. She could have feared this child of another race and culture. She could have feared her father’s reaction if he found out that she had a fugitive in the house. After all it was her dad, the Pharaoh sent down the decree to kill all the male firstborn. She could have feared that she was not capable of raising an infant. But her narrative wasn’t dominated by fear. It was dominated by compassion. The Pharaoh’s daughter decided to respond with compassion when she was met with a fearful situation.
It is difficult to make the decision to respond with compassion in the midst of fearful situations. But when we respond to out of compassion instead of fear, it is noticeable. Recently, our furniture and clothing ministry Joseph’s coat was without a location since our free location was going to be rented out. So we could have responded out of fear when we thought about the possibility of paying rent and relocating the ministry again. We could have said, well it was a great ministry, but we just cant continue it. We didn’t money budgeted for rent this year, so we are going to have to call it quits. But Messiah (partnering with St. Pius) responded with compassion and thought about the needs of the community, so that this much needed ministry can continue.
Messiah responded with compassion unlike those three idiots that tried to walk to school by themselves in the dead of winter. We made it a couple of miles down the road before my panicked mom and located us and instead of yelling at us for our extremely stupid and naïve decision to walk to school, she embraced us and told us she loved us. She reacted with compassion and love when she certainly could have screamed and yelled at us for our stupid decision. Although I think she grounded my brothers and me for life once again.
None of us are immune from experiencing fear. As Christians we don’t get a free pass that allows us to avoid fear. But we do have help during times of fear. We have a community like Messiah Lutheran Church that is able to be a sanctuary, a holy place that is able to be supportive and that is able to respond with compassion and love in the midst of fearful situations in our lives.
In those moments of fearfulness may we respond to those around us with compassion. May we find comfort in our communities. Instead of pulling away in those moments, may we draw close to those around us. May we be like the Pharaoh’s daughter and respond to fear with compassion. That draws us into relationship with our friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.