I love the story of Miriam! Miriam, Moses’s big sister, given the most important babysitting gig of all time, sees her baby brother picked up out of his basket by no less than the princess of Egypt. What does she do?
She is at a definite disadvantage, remember. Her people, the Hebrew people, are slaves in Egypt. They are powerless and subject to the whims of the Pharaoh’s oppressive decrees. The one in force was that every newly born Hebrew boy was to be thrown immediately into the Nile River and drowned.
And there was her brother, floating in his basket on the turbulent river, settled in among the reeds, in open defiance of Pharaoh himself. His very life was a blatant act of protest against an unjust government policy.
And the one who sees him and picks him up, of ALL people it might be, was the daughter of the man who thought of, wrote, and is ultimately responsible for enforcing the decree.
So what does Miriam do?
She redefines the conversation. She reframes the parameters of power.
She. Takes. Charge.
She could have said, “Hey! You can’t do that!”
She could have said, “Hey! That’s my brother!”
Who knows what the results would have been? If that would have changed the outcome at all, or perhaps made matters even worse? People in power tend to dig in their heels when they are challenged directly, even if the challenge makes complete sense. A direct challenge to the princess, in public no less, would not have gone over well. The princess, in her attempt to save face and affirm her control of the situation, would very likely have dismissed Miriam for the powerless, oppressed, enslaved little Hebrew girl that she was.
But lo and behold, the princess was not the one with the power here. True power resides in the ability to frame the conversation in the first place. True power is not winning or losing an argument, it is defining the terms of the argument before it even starts.
Which is exactly what Miriam does.
“How can I turn this situation around so that my baby brother is not only safe, but maybe even gets to come home with me again?” she thought. And inspiration struck. A brilliant idea emerged in her clever mind, and idea that was just crazy enough to work.
But, having the idea is one thing. Implementing it is another. To do so would require a great deal of courage. She would have to take an enormous personal risk in order to pull this off. She would be risking her safety and the safety of her family as well.
Digging deep, she walked up to the princess, who was looking into Moses’s basket and talking with her servants about him. As Miriam approached, she heard the princess say, “He must be one of the Hebrew babies, I suppose.”
This was Miriam’s opening. Looking up boldly into the eyes of the princess, she made an offer. “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to be a nurse for him?” she asked.
Not a challenge, then. Not a confrontation. In one clever question, Miriam redefined the conversation altogether. They were not speaking about what the princess could or could not do; they were not speaking about the particular identity of the as yet unnamed baby; they were not participating in debate and dialogue about the issues of the day.
Miriam deftly and courageously took the princess’s power away from her and used it against her. “You are in charge here,” Miriam’s subtext said. “And I, your humble servant, want to make your life easier by finding a suitable caretaker for your new baby.”
The princess was completely duped by the plan, and agreed … hook, line, and sinker.
Miriam ran home as fast as she was able, grabbed her mother, and returned to the princess.
And then, making the story even more remarkable, the princess not only gives baby Moses back to his mother, thereby allowing him to stay alive, but she actually offered to pay for the child’s care.
So … Moses lives. Moses’s mother gets to raise him. AND she gets paid for it as well.
All because of one clever, courageous girl’s ability to completely redefine the conversation, to reframe the parameters of power, and empowered by God, take charge.
Once again we gather together on a Sunday morning following a mass shooting in our nation. This pattern has become familiar, and that familiarity is unsettling. We ought never to become familiar with violence of the type unleashed in Las Vegas, Nevada last Sunday evening. And yet, here we are again.
And as it happens, this Sunday is “Children’s Sunday” here at Campbell, an annual tradition by which we celebrate the youngest members of our congregation, their work, their faithfulness, and their immeasurable contributions to this congregation’s mission and ministry.
Obviously, this date was chosen for “Children’s Sunday” many weeks ago. I know that there are people here today who would rather we simply talk about how awesome our kids are and how bright the future is and how hopeful we ought to be. I know there are people here today who want to hear that message, because I do. I would rather not have to think about the terror of last Sunday evening in Las Vegas, and the shock, grief, and heartache that it caused.
But not to address it would not be faithful. Some preachers will tell you that God has “laid it on my heart” to say such and so. I have no idea what that actually means, but I do have a sense that I need to say something today. Something important and significant. And if that means that God “laid it on my heart” then I guess that’s that.
What I feel like I need to say today is not so much about the event of last Sunday, as about the days that have followed it. It’s about our “conversation.” The social environment in which we live. Our community. Our nation.
It is simply this: We need to pay attention to who is defining the conversation.
The one who defines the conversation itself is the one with the power. It’s not about who “wins” or “loses” the argument, it’s about who sets the terms of the argument in the first place.
The one who defines the conversation is the one who defines the parameters of power. And that one is rarely a public figure, by the way. Rarely a politician or an athlete or an actor or a TV preacher. People who define the terms of the conversation stay out of sight, under the surface, in the shadows. And they like it there.
I’d like to be very blunt, very honest about something. I suppose I’ll get emails this week about “being too political.” That’s fine - email@example.com - go ahead and send them. I have prayed about this, thought about it, wrestled with it, and here I am. “Too political” or not, you all know me and I’m happy to have a cup of coffee with you this week and talk about it face to face. So here it is.
We are not a “divided” nation. We are a “polarized” nation. It does not seem to me that we are divided, meaning that half of us think one thing and half of us another. It seems to me that we are polarized, meaning that there are relatively small minorities on both “ends” of the spectrum and a large majority in the center. I find this to be true in many issues, and one of those is when it comes to guns.
There is an extreme pole that wants to repeal the second amendment. That is true. Those people exist. And there is an extreme pole that wants any and all guns to be accessible to any and all people. That is also true.
Here’s the thing, if you were to add up the “no guns for no people” group and the “all guns for all people” group, they would be a minority. A significant minority. The vast majority of us are reasonable and rational people that can actually talk about things with one another. Whether it is me, who doesn’t like guns and has never even picked one up let alone fired one, or someone else who collects them, hunts with them, keeps them clean, and stores them safely, both of us could be a part of this reasonable middle group. And both of us would agree that no, we should not repeal the second amendment and also that yes, there should be reasonable limits on what kind and how many guns should be allowed to be owned and used by qualified, licensed, responsible people.
However, if you listen to how the conversation is framed, you would think there are only two possible ways to think about it - either “no guns for no people” or “all guns for all people.” That’s the way our “national conversation” has been discussed. But it is just not true! It isn’t reality!
And so the question is - Who is framing the conversation that way? Maybe that’s where we need to spend some time and energy. Who benefits from keeping us at each other’s throats over issues that aren’t really issues in the first place? That is where the power resides, after all. And they stay hidden, under the surface, in the shadows.
And maybe some different, deeper, and more Christ-like questions are - How can we REFRAME the conversation?
How can we resist getting sucked into fearful, hateful, unhelpful confrontations, elaborately choreographed by someone we will never ever see?
How can we redefine the parameters of power?
How can we take charge of the moment on behalf of today’s babies floating in their baskets, to speak a word to the unjust and oppressive decrees of our day?
For we know that true power resides with God, whose reign is announced and embodied in Jesus, and brought to life in the world by the Holy Spirit.
These are not an easy questions to answer. Doing so required of Miriam not only a great deal of cleverness, but also a amazing and inspiring courage. Miriam was living with three strikes already against her: a Hebrew, a child, and a girl. She is an unlikely hero indeed. But it is her story, her example that we can follow today as well.
For the sake of the children we celebrate today, we have to find a way to reframe the conversation so that it aligns more closely with the priorities of the Reign of God, as described and defined in the Holy Scriptures. Peace. Justice. Hope. Love. And like Miriam’s example of scripture, maybe today’s children have something to teach us about how we might do so.
Children have not yet been taught that the world is polarized. Or divided. Children understand that people see things differently, that people are different from one another. And children actually like it that way! Too much sameness and children get bored, right?
Maybe that is a part of what gave Miriam the cleverness and courage to pull off the greatest babysitting feat of all time! It’s not coincidence that Miriam was down by the river, not her mother. Would her mother have even thought of such a plan? And if she had, would she have had the courage to pull it off?
Maybe we ought to look towards our children for guidance through these turbulent times. Not to put pressure on them as potential saviors of the world, but rather that they might teach us how to reframe our conversations, how to reframe our actions, how to reframe our lives according to God’s own purposes.
And maybe, if we do, maybe just maybe the world will begin to change, for God’s sake. It could happen! After all, as Miriam showed us, never underestimate a clever, courageous child.