Twelfth Weekend after Pentecost
August 26-27, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Earlier this summer, I was shopping for a graduation card and saw a few that said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. I’m sure it’s inspired many, but frankly it never did much for me. I just don’t see myself as a “world changer.” I don’t see me curing cancer or solving global warming. I’m just an ordinary person, kind of insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away… there was an ordinary fisherman named Simon Peter who probably felt that way too, as he lugged the days catch off his small boat, but not today! For all the times Peter falls short, today Peter gets it right. When Jesus asks him, “Who do you say that I am?” He answers, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, Jesus’ response is paraphrased as, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. It’s on this example of Peter’s faith-filled and bold witness that Jesus will build his church, and here we are, almost 3 billion Christians later.
Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen Peter. He probably didn’t have two nickels to rub together. All he had was a small boat and some old fish nets. But when Jesus came down to the lakeshore one day and asked him to follow, well, the rest is history. It seems that God had chosen this rather ordinary fisherman for extraordinary things. Have you noticed that God’s always doing that? And in today’s Gospel, this ordinary fisherman becomes a “world changer” – just like that! He probably didn’t see that one coming, but God did.
In today’s reading from Exodus, we meet some other rather ordinary people. Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives who loved God so much that they disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to kill all the Hebrew baby boys they delivered. The new king feels very threatened by the growing number of Israelites and he seems to have conveniently forgotten the whole Joseph story, how generations ago, Joseph saved Egypt from famine and back then his clan was welcomed into Egypt as allies and honored guests. God blessed them and they multiplied, but now there is just too many of them, so Pharaoh enslaved them. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied, so Pharaoh orders Shiphrah and Puah to do the unthinkable.
And, when the midwives were called before Pharaoh to answer for their misdeeds, they lied to Pharaoh and told him these Israelite women were “vigorous”, popping babies out like toasters, before they even got there. Brave and daring, risking their lives, Shiphrah and Puah saved probably hundreds of newborn babies. Each of those babies would be gifted in accordance with God’s purpose for them. Some would become teachers, some doctors, some rabbis, etc. We only know the name of one of the babies saved by these two midwives. His name is Moses and he will be the one to deliver God’s law for the Israelites and lead them to the Promised Land. Shiphrah and Puah never knew that their humble acts of mercy and justice would change the world.
One hundred years ago, there was a baby born here in America who grew up to become a meteorologist and mathematician. Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 – April 16, 2008), in the course of repeating some weather experiments grew frustrated when even though he repeated the exact same experiment over and over, he never got the same result. The reason was that he could never begin with the exact same weather conditions from 5 minutes ago. There would always be some very minute change of temperature or wind direction. We can thank him for coining the phrase “Butterfly Effect”, which refers to the idea that the flapping of a butterfly's wings on one side of the globe creates tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado in on the other side of the globe.
There are now several books and charity websites based on this idea that even our smallest actions create an unforeseen Butterfly Effectthat can ripple across time and space to make a change in the world that affect the countless lives of others.
Sometimes, these stories are made into books or movies, like that of Oskar Schindler, or Antonina Żabiński, the Zookeepers Wife, who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews during WWII.
We actually publish the stories of world changers every month in our own Holy Trinity Lamplighter newsletter: Stories of Sunday School teachers, furniture movers, gardeners, generous donors of time, talent, and treasure, organizers of the Nearly New Clothing Sale, seekers of justice and peace for the hungry, the homeless, the refugees and the imprisoned. There is just no way to measure the Butterfly Effect. Even your offering today, a percentage of which is generously shared with the NJ Synod who in turn, shares half of it with the ELCA for worldwide ministries.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are all members of the body of Christ, each with different gifts, each with the same potential for God to use us to change the world. Maybe like me, you struggle with envisioning yourself as a “world changer”. Some days, I don’t have two nickels to rub together and I feel like it’s just me and my old fishnets, (I don’t even have a small boat!) so I’m really holding onto this Butterfly Effect; and we can all hold onto Psalm 138 in your Celebrate insert which ends with “You will make good your purpose for me; O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.”
Purpose is so important to me and each and every time I receive Holy Communion, I pray that with the help of the Holy Spirit, these gifts of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ will transform me in accordance with His purpose. Our actions, our decisions, our choices,
whether big, bold and courageous or hardly noticeable,
like the flap of a butterfly’s wings all have consequences;
all have the potential to change the world.
My prayer for us today is that the Holy Spirit will stir up a renewed sense of purpose within us,
and that God will bless the things we say and do, individually and together as the body of Christ,
to make His kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Linda S. Magill