Holy Plot Twist, Cathie

moses in nile

This painting is Moses in the Reedbed by Addie Hirchten.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

This story of Moses has plot twists worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster.

There’s nothing like a good plot twist, especially when it revolves around life and death. The 1999 movie The Sixth Sense is remembered for two things. The line uttered by nine year old Cole Sear, “I see dead people,” will forever be part of the pop culture lexicon. And the movie’s concluding plot twist left movie goers slack jawed. In this surprise ending, child psychologist Malcom Crowe, who we see visiting with Cole throughout the movie, helping him accept and understand his ghostly visitations, is shown at movies end to have been dead all along, himself a ghost. The Sixth Sense is a redemption story, at the same time the ghost of Malcom Crowe is helping Cole, so he is also working out some unfinished business of his own, healing the relationship with the wife he left behind.

It is always risky using movies or books as sermon illustrations. The point may be lost on those who never saw the movie. Whether or not you saw The Sixth Sense, remember this, redemptive plot twist.

The Sixth Sense had a redemptive plot twist, an unexpected element that healed, restored and affirmed the meaning of the lives of the characters. Of course the foundational story of our faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, has the greatest redemptive plot twists of all time. Three days after his gruesome death on a cross, Jesus emerges from the tomb affirming God’s love for humanity forever.

Well, this short passage chronicling Moses’ first months has more plot twists than a Latino telenovela.

To summarize, Joseph (a Jew of Technicolor dream coat fame) had emigrated to Egypt with his family, found favor with the king, and prospered. Joseph died and a new king arose in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph or his family. This king saw the increasing population of Israelites as a threat, so he oppressed them and enslaved them.

But the more the Egyptians persecuted the Israelites, the more they multiplied and spread throughout Egypt.

Seeking to stem the tide of Israelites in Egypt, the king instructed Hebrew midwives to kill any male Hebrew children at their birth. The midwives refused to execute this awful command and instead made up a story to tell the king to save their own lives. It worked. Next the king told the Egyptian people to throw every male, Hebrew infant in the Nile River to drown.

Now we learn of Moses’ birth to a here unnamed Hebrew couple. His mother, fearing for his life, kept his birth a secret for three months. Imagine how afraid of being found out she must have been every time he cried. When she felt she could no longer hide him from the prying eyes of Egyptian neighbors, in desperation, she waterproofed a basket, put him in it, and hid the basket at river’s edge among the reeds. Imagine the hopelessness and despair that would cause a mother to abandon the child she loved, knowing that if found by the Egyptians he would likely be drowned. Moses’ sister, we are told, watched from a distance.

But plot twist. Of all people, it is Pharaoh’s daughter who finds Moses when she goes down to the Nile to bathe. She recognizes him as one of the Hebrew children but, instead of having him put to death, she takes pity on him.

Then, plot twist, Moses’ sister steps from the shadows and offers to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for her, and Pharaoh’s daughter agrees.

And, plot twist, Moses’ sister calls her own mother, Moses’ own mother to come, and Pharaoh’s daughter agrees to pay her to nurse and raise Moses!

And still another plot twist, after Moses is grown, his mother brings him back to Pharaoh’s daughter who takes him as her own son! She names him Moses which means to pull out, to draw out, of the water.

The final plot twist is yet to come, that Moses will be called by God to confront Pharaoh, his adopted grandfather, and free the Israelites from slavery.

Now this is a redemption story, revealing the ways God moves to redeem suffering and death.

Notice, I say that God moves in this story, by God does not have a speaking part. Rather, the redemption of suffering and death is enabled by the actors, Moses’ sister and mother, Pharaoh’s daughter. God moves through them, and God moves through us, empowering us to perform the plot twists that redeem our experiences of suffering and death.

Moses’ sister is our example. She watched for God to create an opportunity, then she responded, spoke and acted with God to give life.

I have witnessed a powerful example of just such redemptive plot twists in the life of our beloved church member Cathie Behrens these past couple weeks. I asked her if it was OK to share these stories and she agreed.

Many of you know Cathie. She has been a member of First Church forever, she worked here in a number of essential roles for 25 years until retiring last fall, and she leads both a women’s small group Bible study and our Card Making ministry. To say that Cathie is beloved is an understatement.

Rev. Kev and I were on the mission trip just one month ago when Cathie called from the ER saying that she was experiencing some unusual bleeding, and everything moved very rapidly from there. She was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer, then with lung cancer that has metastasized, and just early this week with a golf ball sized tumor in her liver. Her doctors tell her that this is an extremely aggressive, fast-moving cancer. Sadly, accompanying people through such tragedy and trauma is part of being a pastor, so I thought I knew what to expect, a series of very somber visits with Cathie.

Well, plot twist.

Every time I would call Cathie over the past couple weeks, she would say seriously, I’ve got more bad news, and update me on her latest doctor visit. But she would immediately follow this by saying, “But I have to tell you about the God-moments I experienced today.

God moments are Cathie’s way of describing the ways she experiences God in the world. These usually involved people she met in the course of medical appointments. There was the doctor who, like Cathie, was a Duke University alumni. They compared notes about the basketball team’s prospect this year. There was a nurse who, like Cathie, had once ridden horses competitively and knew many of the same people Cathie did. These were God moments, experiences that assured Cathie of God’s continued presence. They didn’t erase the fear, anger or sadness she felt, but they helped redeem these experiences, place them in the larger context of God’s love.

Like Moses’ sister, Cathie watched for God to be revealed in this difficult chapter in her life.

Then, just a few days ago, Cathie was put in hospice care. Here again, I thought I knew what to expect.

But again, plot twist. I had a long conversation with Cathie on Thursday afternoon during which we talked about her life and faith. Her life changed for the better three years ago, she said, when she decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, she would make ten people smile every day. And she has never stopped. This has become a daily spiritual practice for her. She does this simply by asking people about themselves, wishing them a good day, and sharing a smile, and she has maintained this practice throughout her illness. When they smile, she says, my life is better too. Just in the course of our visit I witnessed her work her magic on three people, a doctor, a nurse and me.

And like Moses’ daughter, Cathie didn’t just stand back and wait for God to appear, when God created openings, she responded with a kind word and a smile.

I visited Cathie last night and she was having a rough time. Likely the effect of an ever increasing dose of pain meds, she was finding it impossible to complete a thought. She would start to talk, say a few words, and be unable to get the rest of the words out. She would doze off, and wake with a start, and after forty five minutes we had been unable to have a meaningful conversation. I thought maybe it might help if I just said a simple prayer together.

Now, I need confess something necessary to understand the rest of this story. When I visited Cathie on Monday, just after she found out about the tumor in her liver, I screwed up the words to the 23rd Psalm. Some of the most well-known, beautiful and comforting words every written, to be delivered at this most difficult time, to this woman I adore, and I blew it. Now, Cathie was a good sport, but I left feeling like I had missed an opportunity to minister to her.

So last night, I suggested to Cathie that we say the Lord’s Prayer, and…

Plot twist. After what had so far been a frustrating visit for both of us, Cathie got a familiar twinkle in her eye and said, without missing a beat, “If you remember the words.” We both laughed, then prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. Perfectly.

Cathie is still making people smile, making me smile. And, this was a God moment, an experience that reminded us that God was still present, even in the face of suffering and death. This was a redemptive plot twist. Cathie and I were the actors in this scene, but we were equipped and enabled by God to perform our roles.

Every moment is pregnant with these God moments. Remember, Moses would have died, never gone on to save his people, if his sister hadn’t been paying attention, then hadn’t risked a conversation with Pharaoh’s daughter, a conversation that revealed an unimagined, life-saving, life-giving way forward.

To experience life’s redemptive plot twists we need to do more than watch and listen, we need to participate. Like Cathie, we need to face our fears and suffering and talk to one another, make each other smile through simple acts of kindness. When we do, God will lead us from death to new life, today and always. Amen.

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