Sermon – September 14, 2014

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe Connolly

PROPHET SHARING OR MIRIAM AND AARON

A TWO CHARACTER PLAY WITH A NARRATOR

by J. F. Connolly

For a .pdf version of this sermon, click here.

(Audio not available)

 

NOTE: The following hymn was used as the Opening Hymn (v. 1, 2, 3) at this service. Verses 3 and 4 were used as the Closing Hymn and verse 1 as a Congregational Response at the end of the service.

Come You Faithful, Raise the Strain (NCH # 230 – TUNE: ST. KEVIN)
© J. F. Connolly 2014

Come you faithful raise the strain
of our grateful gladness;
God has brought all Israel
into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Let them with unmoistened foot
through the reed filled waters.

We the people of the land,
tribes but yet one nation
Follow God’s redeeming Word:
promise of salvation.
When in depths of grief and pain
We, in supplication,
Pray to Yahweh, God of love,
God of all creation.

Spring has dawned and God has saved;
Noone is forsaken;
Marched we boldly toward the East,
Trust in God unshaken.
Archers, horses, chariots—
Pharaoh sent to take us.
God protects us, liberates;
Never will forsake us.

Now the joy of seasons, bright,
pass each day in splendor;
God will lead us to the light,
with a love so tender.
On this day we seek God’s will,
grace and love bestowing,
Peace and joy which evermore
passes human knowing.

Note: this setting is somewhat based on but significantly deviates from the lyric of # 230 in The New Century Hymnal.

A READING FROM THE TANAKH IN THE SECTION KNOWN AS THE TORAH — Exodus 14:19-24, 15:20-21 [ILV]

INTRODUCTION OF READING:
This reading has two segments: the first is a part of the story which retells the crossing of The Sea of Reeds. This episode has commonly been connected to The Red Sea, not The Sea of Reeds, but that designation displays a poor understanding of the location and the nature of the event. The event described is much more likely to have been the crossing of marshland, a sea of reeds. Now, this event is also the primal, saving story of the Hebrew Scriptures, a tale of liberation in which Israel receives its identity and hears a clear disclosure about the nature of God. Therefore, to see this story as merely a miracle is to fall short of understanding its implications. The second segment of the reading is found at the end of the 15th chapter of Exodus. Most of the 15th chapter is comprised of what is commonly called The Song of Moses. We will hear the end of the 15th Chapter, commonly called The Song of Miriam. Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. What is of interest here is we know The Song of Miriam is a much older text than The Song of Moses, perhaps as much as 500 years older. Therefore, not only is it likely that the older text is a more accurate representation of tradition, we also need to realize the song is a primary description of that primal event in the history of Israel and it is recorded as being intoned by a woman. Hear now this reading as it come to us from the Tanakh, in the section called the Torah, in the work known as Exodus.

[19] The angel of God, who was going before the Israelites, moved and went behind them; the pillar of cloud left the front of their number and took its place behind them, between the Israelites and the Egyptians. [20] All through the night the cloud provided light to one side and darkness to the other side, so there was no contact between them.
[21] Then Moses stretched out a hand over the sea. And Yahweh, God, swept back the sea by a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned the sea into dry land. When the waters were thus divided, [22] the Israelites marched into its midst on dry land, with water on their right and on their left.
[23] The Egyptians followed in pursuit and went into the midst of sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. [24] At the morning watch, at dawn, Yahweh, God, looked down upon the Egyptian forces from the fiery cloud, and threw the army into confusion and panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they could hardly turn. The Egyptians turned to flee from the Israelites, saying, “Their God fights for them against us.”

And after the description of the crossing this is what was written in the last two verses of the 15th Chapter:

[15:20] Then the prophet Miriam, the sister of Aaron, the sister of Moses, picked up a tambourine; and all the women following her danced and kept a constant rhythm with the tambourines as [21] Miriam sang this:
“Sing to our God,
Who has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider
is thrown into the sea.”

Here ends this reading from Scripture.

PROPHET SHARING OR MIRIAM AND AARON

A TWO CHARACTER PLAY WITH A NARRATOR

By J. F. Connolly

NARRATOR
When the Israelites pass through the waters it is probably not the Red Sea as Hollywood and Cecil B. DeMille might have us believe. It is much more likely to be a marshy area called the Sea of Reeds. So, that’s not the R-E-D Sea. That’s the Sea of R-E-E-D-S. Now, it needs to be noted that when we heard the reading from Exodus we heard that the Song of Miriam is more ancient than The Song of Moses. Just as we can tell the difference between Elizabethan English and Modern English, we can tell the difference in Hebrew which has been recorded in different eras. So, let me repeat the words said my Miriam in that passage. “Then the prophet Miriam, the sister of Aaron, the sister of Moses, picked up a tambourine; and all the women following her danced and kept a constant rhythm with the tambourines as Miriam sang this: ‘Sing to our God, / Who has triumphed gloriously; / horse and rider / is thrown into the sea.’”

So, this is a play about the Exodus event. And this is a play about how events can illuminate the relationship of humanity with God. The setting is at the time of the Exodus, on the evening after the people of Israel have crossed the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians have been vanquished by the power of Yahweh. The play takes place on a rock strewn plateau, overlooking the encampment of the Israelites. As the curtain rises it is night and we can see out into a valley in the distance. There are many camp fires burning in the valley. There is an occasional flash of lightning. We can hear rolling thunder. We can hear people singing.

CHOIR
Song of Miriam
Music by Becki Slagle Mayo
Words from Exodus 15, alt.

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.

How awesome is your power, Lord;
you made a path in the mighty sea.
Faithful to your promise,
you rescued us from the enemy!

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.

Your majesty forever reigns.
You led your people from Pharaoh’s land.
Faithful to your promise,
you rescued us with your mighty hand!

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.
For the Lord is my song!

NARRATOR
Miriam comes on stage laughing and giggling. Aaron follows.

MIRIAM
Oh Aaron, Aaron. Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it amazing? Who would have believed this? Who could have predicted this?

AARON
Marion, you could have predicted this.

MIRIAM
Me?

AARON
You do not give yourself enough credit, Miriam. I have seen you. I have seen you predict things, and they come true as surely as the sun rises.

MIRIAM
Speculate? Yes. Predict? I think not. And this? Predict this? This triumph is too… too… incredible.

AARON
Not at all. It is not only possible, but predictable. And these things that have happened are things that came about because you had a hand in them! You are the one who is most apt to have seen these times coming. Did you not know? Were you not aware? How could you fail to see them coming?

MIRIAM
But I had no hand in vanquishing the Pharaoh. It was not I who set our people free. It was not I who led the escape from the land of oppression.

AARON
Oppression is never overcome overnight, or by an individual, my sister. It takes years, decades, centuries. It takes many people, thousands of people, doing small things, working, building over a very, very long period. Then when the timing is right… no, when Yahweh’s timing is right, it, it just happens! (He sings joyously, clapping as he sings.) “I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;…” (Now he laughs.)

MIRIAM
(Irritated.) You mock me.

AARON
(Shocked.) Never! It is you who have had a great hand in this night, Miriam. You will be remembered by many for what you have done.

MIRIAM
But what is it that I have done?

AARON
You still do not know?

MIRIAM
I am at a loss.

AARON
(He now becomes a reluctant teacher.) Very well. I will explain. Our brother, Moses, and I went to Pharaoh and said “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.’” Who was it who sent Moses to do this thing, to say these things to Pharaoh, and who told him that these things would come to pass?

MIRIAM
(Hesitantly, knowing that it was not her.) It was not I.

AARON
No. You know who.

MIRIAM
(Again, hesitantly, as if she is worried that what she full well knows is the right answer, might be the wrong answer.) It was the God of our ancestors, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebekah and the God of Jacob and Leah and Rachel who sent Moses.

AARON
(With a small condescending chuckle.) Very good. Now, why did Moses believe God, this one called Yahweh, the one known as I am who am. Why did Moses believe? After all, Moses told us Yahweh spoke from a burning bush. How is that possible? Why would Moses believe?

MIRIAM
(Miriam thinks that Aaron is making fun of her and that this question is ludicrous, so Miriam uses a mocking tone toward Aaron.) Oh, yes, how is it possible that Yahweh might speak to Moses from a burning bush and Moses would believe? And well of course, who would not believe a command given from the midst of a burning bush which fails to be consumed? And, indeed, who would not believe when a rod is turned to a serpent or a hand made leprous and made well again in the blink of an eye?

AARON
No, no, no. You don’t understand what I’m getting at. Of course, anyone who has amazing experiences of God believes— a burning bush not consumed, a rod that becomes a serpent, a hand made leprous and well. But I want you to think about this in a broader perspective. But I’m not asking how is it Moses believed God. I’m asking ‘why?— ‘Why did Moses believe God’ (Pause.) Tell me, who was it who taught Moses about the God of our ancestors?

MIRIAM
Well, Mother and… (She begins to realize what she is about to say and her voice trails off in wonderment.) …I, we both took turns… No! Why, we never dreamt!

AARON
Of course, you didn’t dream. But you had a hand in this— a large hand. And you didn’t dream about it, you never could have dreamed of a night like this, a night of freedom, a night when God’s salvation becomes real and tangible back then. Who could have dreamed about these things when we were bound, as we were, in slavery. Who would have believed the reality of what has happened? But without your part— your part— in teaching Moses about the God of our ancestors he never would have stopped to hear Yahweh speak! As soon as he saw the bush, he would have run away. He would have been just another shepherd having delusions from too much desert sun! And now! Now we have our freedom! Because Moses listened to Yahweh! And you did it! It is obvious to me that you were part of a plan, part of a hope that would not die, part of a legacy that we will pass from generation to generation. This is what makes us the people of Yahweh. We are a light to the nations! They shall bless us! Our God, Yahweh, saw our affliction, and heard our cries, delivered us out of the hands of our oppressors and shall bring us to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. He shall take us to this land, a land flowing with milk and honey!

MIRIAM
Aaron, you are always the politician!

AARON
Am I?

MIRIAM
You go on and on. You enjoy hearing yourself speak.

AARON
(He chuckles.) You cut me to the quick. You’re right. I do enjoy hearing myself. But it is you to whom Moses listened.

MIRIAM
Moses listened to Yahweh.

AARON
You are too modest.

MIRIAM
I am too honest.

AARON
And you are no politician? (She nods affirmatively.) Will you tell this politician what it is you told Moses when he was a boy and lived in the palace of the Pharaoh?

MIRIAM
Why?

AARON
Curiosity.

MIRIAM
Killed the cat.

AARON
We are no longer in Egypt. That’s where cats abound. I am interested in hearing this. I want to listen to what you said, to how you told the story. Perhaps I can say it the same way to my children. Perhaps I can convey something of the same meaning and feelings that you imparted to Moses.

MIRIAM
What is it I told Moses? (Pause.) Over the years it was so much. And it is now many, many years ago. Of course, it started with the stories of Abram. But I do not think I was very concerned with the facts of the stories. Mother was. I can never remember details. I am only concerned with what things mean, not with what actually happened.

AARON
And what did you say to Moses about what the story of Abram means?MIRIAM
I told him the obedience of Abram when God told him to leave the land of his parents. And yes, of course, God promised to make Abram a great nation, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I told Moses about that. But it was Abram who accepted the challenge, was it not? He packed his family and crossed miles of desert first to Shechem, then to Egypt, but always in obedience. He never questioned. And the covenants! The covenants! God’s promises! I told Moses about those! And I told Moses that Yahweh was Abram’s God— personal, real, familial! And I told Moses God made promises with ancient ceremonies of animals and fire! God promised to give us the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites!

AARON
I thought you were not good on details.

MIRIAM
I’m not. I have no idea where these lands are. But I know that God has promised to grant them to us and our God is a God who keeps promises. Is our freedom not proof of this? God promised to free us from our bondage, and God has. Yes, it has taken time. How did you put it? God’s timing? That is an apt phrase. Often we have to wait and often we do not understand what it is that God has promised, but God always delivers what God promises.

AARON
Tell me more of what God and Abram did.

MIRIAM
Of course, God changed the name of Abram to Abraham. And that of Abraham’s wife from Sarai to Sarah. That was important. The naming was an outward sign of the covenant. And then God gave them a child in their old age. Such a joy to have a child in their old age! And this, (she sweeps her hand toward the congregation) this nation called Israel, these are the people of God, they will be God’s congregation. And it is all from that seed!

AARON
So what have we learned from Abraham?

MIRIAM
God’s love for us. God will provide, if we are obedient.

AARON
And what of Isaac?

MIRIAM
The boy named laughter. That son of Abraham’s old age.

AARON
The son God would have Abraham destroy.

MIRIAM
But God did not have Abraham destroy Isaac.

AARON
No.

MIRIAM
No, indeed! God provided for the sacrifice when all seemed lost. Trust! That is what we learn! Trust!

AARON
Trust is hard sometimes.

MIRIAM
Is trust ever easy?

AARON
Well… no.

MIRIAM
I digress. Trust is, indeed, one of the things we learn from Isaac. Trust and God will provide.

AARON
Trust? The stories of Isaac make life seem so easy. It’s easy to trust when life is easy.

MIRIAM
Is that so? Life was easy? May you be blessed with two son’s like Esau and Jacob and we’ll see how easy life is for you!

AARON
I see your point. So… you said that from the story of Isaac and Rebekah the people should learn something of trusting God, but what is it you told Moses of Jacob? (Playing the devil’s advocate.) What is it you could have told Moses of Jacob— Jacob, the great conniver— Jacob the schemer. How could you have said anything good about him?

MIRIAM
Jacob, the one who wrestled with God?

AARON
Yes, Jacob— the one who wrestled with God.

MIRIAM
The story of Jacob is the simple story.

AARON
Simple?

MIRIAM
Yes. If you wrestle with God, if you listen to God, if you grapple with God, then you may be the weakest clay that God, the potter, has, but God will mold you into the finest pot, fit for use at a sovereign’s table— at Yahweh’s table! And if you wrestle with God your name shall be called Israel, for you have striven with God.

AARON
Miriam, you amaze me.

MIRIAM
How?

AARON
You have spun out the history of our salvation in these several minutes. It is no wonder Moses listened to you. You have summed up the meaning of Yahweh.

MIRIAM
You are mistaken. It is not possible to really say in words what Yahweh means.

AARON
Even as you say it, I know you are right. I have experienced Yahweh, and yet I can’t express it. Not fully. Not adequately. Maybe that is why I asked to hear you talk about it. There is no way to really express the inexpressible, is there?

MIRIAM
Only in metaphor, Aaron. We can express the inexpressible only in metaphor.

AARON
Ah ha! So, the only way we can describe the unspeakable is to speak, not with our mouths, but with our hearts, to say things with song and dance and stories and myths, to speak of the deepest truths and to be free to express our feelings about God with our imagination.

MIRIAMWell said, my brother, well said. And we must continue to tell and retell each other the stories. We must remember Yahweh by telling these stories, for there is no other way to express the experience of Yahweh except by telling these stories, our stories.

AARON
And it will be as you say, Miriam. We will tell and we will retell the stories of our ancestors. We will retell the story of this night forever.

MIRIAM
There is one thing I would like to know from you, one thing that I would like you to explain, Aaron.

AARON
As if I could. (Pause.) Well, what is it?

MIRIAM
I can tell you that we have escaped the land of Egypt, the land of our oppression, but now that we have done that, what does that mean?

AARON
I, for one, do not care to know what it means.

MIRIAM
Why not?

AARON
We can only know meaning partially, and only then in the past. I have no wish to know what it means now. The only thing that I want to know is: what is gong to happen next?

MIRIAM
That (pause) I can answer!

AARON
I knew you were a prophet!

MIRIAM
(She shouts.) Whatever will happen will happen in Yahweh’s timing!
(She runs offstage. He stands there for a moment stunned. Then he realizes what she has said.)

AARON
Why yes! How could it be otherwise! God’s time! God’s timing! (Aaron runs after Mariam.)

NARRATOR
As Marion and Aaron leave there is again a bolt of lightening and a roll of thunder. Singing is heard in the distance.

CHOIR
Song of Miriam
Music by Becki Slagle Mayo
Words from Exodus 15, alt.

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.

How awesome is your power, Lord;
you made a path in the mighty sea.
Faithful to your promise,
you rescued us from the enemy!

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.

Your majesty forever reigns.
You led your people from Pharaoh’s land.
Faithful to your promise,
you rescued us with your mighty hand!

I will dance and sing and play the tambourine;
I will sing all day long!
I will dance and sing and play tambourine,
for the Lord is my song.
For the Lord is my song!

THE END

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