The Long-Game


Sermon preached at Danville Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Sunday, August 23, 2020. The text was Exodus 1:22, 2:1–10. The full transcript is below.

As the child of a woman who faced a difficult choice regarding her newborn child, I feel a particular resonance with the story of Jochebed and Moses we heard earlier. You see, I am adopted; I knew so from a very early age. Growing up, it was always impressed upon me that my teenage mother had made the very best possible choice for her self and for me by choosing to allow another woman to raise me.

“She gave me up,” my adopted mother would tell me, “because she loved me.”

And so it is with Jochebed.

Jochebed has given birth to a male child during the time when an anti-immigrant policy enacted by a cruel, ruthless ruler, demands the execution of all male babies born to immigrant women.

No longer able to hide her son from the immigration officers, all of Jochebed’s hopes and dreams for Moses have unraveled. And Jochebed has to make a difficult choice.

How desperate she must have been to place all her hopes for her baby inside that basket and trust in her God.

How her heart must have broken as she watched him float away from her.

And how brave was Moses’ sister Miriam to protect the basket’s precious cargo and ensure that their plan worked.

Biblical history does not tell us how many women lost children during this genocide. But Jochebed is not among them.

Following the current, it is not long before another woman is faced with a difficult choice. The daughter of the Pharaoh himself, the one who ordered the genocide— offers her protection to the refugee baby—knowing full-well the potential consequences of defying her immigrant-hating father—and successfully makes the case for the child’s adoption as her son. This woman raises the child, loving him as her own; and though not living the life Jochebed had imagined for him, Moses is alive and he thrives.

Neither of these women could have imagined the way Moses’ life turned out, yet both of them did what they could to assure his thriving.

Since the beginning of time, people—women, especially—have had to make difficult choices about their bodies, bravely making the best possible choice they could for themselves at the time. And when it comes to children: mothers and fathers, grandparents and guardians strive to make very best decisions they can at any given moment to ensure the flourishing of the children in their care. Many people make such decisions in the face of impossible circumstances.

And oftentimes, we find that our plans for our children, for our selves, have all but unraveled.

We are living in such a time.

During this pandemic, I have heard more than one parent say, “This is not what I imagined for my children.” Virtual education, isolation from friends and activities, a first semester of college starting from home—none of it what any parent imagines or wants for their children.

And prior to the pandemic, I have listened as fathers express fear they are not doing their best job at home even as they try to stay on top of their role as a bread-winner, as a leader in their vocation, as someone’s husband or son or friend.

And perhaps you have heard the stories of other parents who, unable to provide for their children but unwilling to let them suffer, make dangerous journeys to attempt a better life for their children. Or the stories of those who advocate and lobby and protest for an end to the sin of racism that threatens the lives of their daughters and sons.

Here is one such story I heard this week during the Convention:

And here is another: Recently, Pastor Eric and I were made aware of a migrant family, Juan and his son Manuel here among us who is in need of help:

Juan is originally from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Sololá, Guatemala and his first language is the Mayan indigenous language of K’iche’, however he also speaks Spanish. Juan and his wife have four children:

Manuel is 19 and lives here in California with his father
Keña Antonieta (16), Luis Idelfonzo (13), and Neydi Nayeli Antonieta (4)

Juan dedicated his life to agriculture in Guatemala and worked in the fields planting corn and beans, and cut timber to sell as firewood. He and Manuel left Guatemala in 2018 due to forced gang recruitment. He says more than anything they were being pursued by the local gangs and he wanted to offer his son an education, as it was not sustainable to continue his education in Guatemala with such little resources and pressure from the organized crime. His three younger children remain in Guatemala with their mother and so far they have been safe from COVID19. Juan is still in the process of seeking asylum and has his next court hearing on September 28th, which he says he is nervous for what is to come, but trusts that God will continue guiding him as every Saturday he calls his family and they pray together for blessings. Before the pandemic Juan was working with a landscaping company in California where he built fences and tended to yards, but he says that it has been a long time now that he has not been able to work. 

And here’s the thing—and some of you have heard me say this before—but I’m gonna say it again:

Whether you are crossing borders or home-schooling or grandparenting from a distance or working long hours trying to make ends meet or dealing with a difficult situation at home, hear me say:

Your struggle—the unravelling you may be experiencing—it is yours.
It is valid.

And it is real.
It does not have to be dramatic or as significant as anyone else’s situation to provoke sleepless nights and cause your heart to ache.
Your situation is your situation and your feelings are valid.

This goes for all of us—regardless of gender or the configuration of our families.

Each of us has experienced the sting of disappointment, of dashed hopes, of unrealized dreams. And we likely will again.

But I can assure you that every parent in this Zoom has questioned their abilities, has lamented their lapses in judgment, have feared disappointing their children. Have wondered if they will be able to deliver on those dreams they placed such ardent hope in.

Nod your head or give me a thumbs up if you can hear what I am saying people of God.

So what—then, Pastor Todd—So what?
Where is this hope y’all promised in the e-News this week?
Where can there possibly be hope for our children when no end to this pandemic is in sight?
What can we possibly do about a broken immigration system, about an epidemic of housing insecurity and hunger?

Ah—I hoped you’d ask me that.

See—that’s why I find so much value in ancient stories like the one about Jochebed and the Egyptian princess. And specifically, in the stories of women who nevertheless persisted!

You see—

There, in the unravelling,
THESE WOMEN PICKED UP THE LOOSE ENDS

AND MADE A WAY OUT OF NO WAY.

Jochebed said you will NOT take the life of my son.
And a princess helped fulfill that promise.

Now nowhere in this story from the Exodus does it say that what these women did was easy.
We don’t know if Jochebed ever got to see Moses once he lived in the royal household
or hear how the princess’s heart must have broken when Moses had to flee Egypt for his life.

But in the end, we know that Moses flourished and was part of God’s plan of liberation.
And I have to believe that was enough for both women.

My friends, I have heard some of your stories of challenge and heartache…

I, like some of you, have heard firsthand the story of our friend Mayerling’s brave decision for her children. Of our friends in San Antonio who have left their homes to come here.
I have heard how you are innovating in your homes during this pandemic…
Have heard young people checking on their peers to make sure they’re doing ok…
How one of our young people looked around at the blessings of her life and said, “I need to share this…” and has invited other teens to share their clothing with others…
I see parents working so hard to try to do all the things and grandparents and aunts and uncles and god-parents and extra parents pitching in to provide support and encouragement….
I have watched you show up for each other…
Heard how our deacons are holding such beautiful space for the church…
Witnessed how you’ve helped people you don’t even know make an impossible way a reality.

And in just a few weeks, you’re going to hear from the children and young people of this church who are going to come up with a plan to help Juan and his family.

And so I have hope.
I have great hope, indeed.
And hope—well, hope is the long-game.

So many of you have—in spite of the chaos, the cabin fever, the frayed nerves—created memories that your children will have for a lifetime.  The special dinners, the dressing up, the extended family Zoom calls, family devotionals—all of it: THESE ARE WHAT YOUR CHILDREN WILL REMEMBER. Oh, they’ll remember the pain of virtual school, they might recall some lapses in patience.

But they’ll also remember that period of time when spaciousness breathed into their lives. When you were all at home together for multiple meals a day, multiple times a week. How you played games more. How you went to church more. How even though you were working, you were home. How you persevered in making your hopes for them a reality in spite of a pandemic.

Sure, this is not necessarily the future you imagined for your kids—but you gotta view this moment through the lens of hope and play the long-game.

As the son of two women of Hope—one who gave me up to have a better life and the one who gave it to me—I am sitting here on this Zoom because they played the long-game. They were not limited by the consequence of one decision but liberated by a fervent hope that though unraveled was woven into something as beautiful as what they’d always dreamed.

And as a father to four sons who witnessed me make more than one mistake and saw me not at my best self multiple times …

What they remember is not so much my mistakes but that I tried to do better with each successive opportunity.
That I did not give up on my self and that I did not give up on them.
I’m certain they remember the tough times but that’s not what I hear them talk about in their 20s and 30s.
They talk about the good times, about the joy they hold in their hearts when our family “made a way out of no way.”
[And also they love to tell us all the things they did that their mother and I never knew about!]

And it is the same, I believe, with each one of us.

You love your children…your grandchildren…the children of your heart.

You love your parents…your grandparents…the dear friends you can no longer spend time with.

And I know you, Danville Congregational Church United Church of Christ.

And I know as much as I know my own name:

You will take the frayed edges,
Untangle the ravelings
And you will make a way out of no way,
Creating a tapestry that tells a story of perseverance.
A story of flourishing.

Because you are playing the long-game.

May it be so.

Amen and Ashe.

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