Ash Wednesday – 2020 LSB #543
Text – Exodus 2:6
When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”
BIG THINGS WITH SMALL STUFF
Howard Rutledge was an American fighter pilot. He was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese in 1965. His captures threw him into a prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam. What was the prison called? Heartbreak Hotel. Howard Rutledge writes:
“When the door slammed shut a feeling of utter loneliness swept over me. I was locked in a six by six cell. It’s hard to describe what solitary confinement can do to defeat a person. There are no books, no magazines and no newspapers. The only colors you see are drab gray and dirt brown. You’re locked in your filthy cell, trying to keep your sanity.”
You and I know what it feels like to be locked up in Heartbreak Hotel. The problem though, is that at first it didn’t look like Heartbreak Hotel. It looked like the Promised Land! It even was the Promised Land for a while. That moral indiscretion? “No big deal!” That financial dishonesty? “No big deal!” That small, little lie? “No big deal!”
Sooner or later, though, “no big deal” becomes a really big deal! What we thought was the Promised Land becomes the death of a job, the death of a marriage, the death of our hope, the death of our joy. Satan slams the door shut and says, “Welcome to Heartbreak Hotel! You can check out anytime you like, but you will never leave!”
Tonight, we begin a new series on Moses’s book called Exodus: “Let my people go!” God sees His people Israel in the Egyptian Heartbreak Hotel and orders Pharaoh – seven times – “Let my people go!” You remember the story. Because of a famine in 1,847 BC Jacob and his family (70 people in all) traveled from Canaan to Egypt. That’s Exodus 1:1–7. Fast forward 300 years and we arrive at Exodus 1:8: “Then a new king, who did not know Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” This king, or Pharaoh, saw that the Israelites were becoming too numerous and too powerful. So what did Pharaoh do? He created his own version of Heartbreak Hotel!
Stage One: State Slavery. Exodus 1:11 says: “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom & Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” Every Israelite slave was required to produce 3,000 bricks a day – That’s 3,000 bricks a day!
You think you have a tough job! Try this. Get water from a canal. Pour it into a mud pit. Step up and down in the mud pit. Add straw to the mud. Let it dry in the sun. Presto! You’ve got a brick! Now make 3,000 of those a day – every day – with no time off – Ever!
Stage Two: Private Infanticide. Exodus 1:15–16 describes it this way: “The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’”
God sees two women – Shiphrah and Puah – who obey him and disobey Pharaoh’s command. So, God puts their names in the Bible. But this Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the earth, his name is not in the Bible! Why is that? God does big things with small stuff!
Stage Three: Open Genocide. Exodus 1:22 describes Pharaoh’s decree: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” It’s against this backdrop of Pharaoh’s Heartbreak Hotel that Moses is born.
“Now a man of the house of Levi [Amram] married a Levite woman [Jochebed], and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (Ex 2:1–2). This son is Moses. He’s the couple’s 3rd child. There’s an older sister, named Miriam, and an older brother, whose name is Aaron. “When [Jochebed] saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch” (Ex 2:2–3). This word translated “basket,” is the same word translated “ark” – as in Noah’s Ark – in Genesis. The ark in Exodus, just like Noah’s in Genesis is coated with tar and pitch. But you say, “Noah’s ark was so much bigger!” So, I say, in the book of Exodus, God does big things with small stuff!
This baby boy is placed in the Nile River and Miriam runs along the river’s edge. She watches as Pharaoh’s daughter bathes with her servants in the Nile River.
“She [the servant of Pharaoh’s daughter] opened it and saw the baby. He was crying and she felt sorry for him” (Exodus 2:6). Moses is crying. This changes everything! In the book of Exodus, a baby’s cry changes everything? Of course! God does big things with small stuff!
“When the child grew older, [Jochebed] took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I brought him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10). Moses! Moses is an Egyptian word that means “bring out of water!” Finally! Someone who will bring Israel out of Pharaoh’s Heartbreak Hotel! And Moses will do that through what? Water!
Moses will part the water of the Red Sea with a wooden staff. A wooden staff? Yeah, God does big things with small stuff! God sees us in our prison, our self-made Heartbreak Hotel. He sees us trying to get out. He sees us putting on our Superman or Superwoman cape, thinking that we are superheroes who can save ourselves.
I’ve got really bad news for you. You are not a superhero. Neither am I. We can’t fight our way out of the prison of sin. We can’t think our way out, buy our way out, educate our way out, vacation our way out, or blast our way out. We are all stuck in sin – Heartbreak Hotel! But the news does not end there.
We have to begin there because it’s true, and only the truth will help us to appreciate the good news. And there is really, really good news for you! God does big things with small stuff! Jesus brings us out of our prison of sin and death. And, just like in the book of Exodus, Jesus does it all with small stuff, with the tokens of His Passion – a chalice, torch, lantern, 30 pieces of silver, sword, whip, whipping post, clothing, dice, spear, the hand which struck Christ, the pitcher of gall and vinegar.
Jesus does not recoil, run, or retreat at the sight of our ugly prison. Jesus comes to us right where we are. To do what? To do really big things – to set us free – with really small stuff.
After his report on life in solitary confinement, Howard Rutledge had more to say about Heartbreak Hotel. He wrote, “I prayed for strength to make it through the ongoing night. Then, one day, a glimmer of light dawned through the bottom of my prison door. I knew that God would set me free. And he did!”
In this sinful world life gets dark – sometimes really dark. What we thought or hoped was the Promised Land turns out to be Heartbreak Hotel. “You can check out anytime you like but you will never leave!”
Yet, because Yahweh is our Creator, there’s a glimmer of light dawning. Can you see it? It’s connected to the end of death in the light of Easter. It’s the new creation Jesus inaugurated as He rose from the dead. And it is here, for you, right now! How can we be so sure?
God still does really big things – sets us free – with really small stuff, like the bread of wine of Holy Communion, in, with and under which is the true body and blood of God’s Son! In the name of Jesus, that is God’s gift to you. Amen.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul? When I was sinking down, sinking down; when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul! To God & to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing; to God and to the Lamb I will sing; to God & to the Lamb, who is the great I AM, while millions join in the theme, I will sing. And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on. And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on. I’ll sing His love for me, and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on. Amen. Excerpts from LSB 543:1-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet