11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 24 • 2014)
‘God’s Strength in Community’
ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH
Perhaps many of you are, like me, glued to the news about baby Gammy and his surrogate mother in Thailand. For those of you who don’t know the story, let me briefly tell you about it.
Baby Gammy was born from a surrogate mother in Thailand. His biological parents are a couple who live in Bunbury, Western Australia. Because commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, the couple went to Thailand. Through a surrogacy clinic, they asked a young woman to be the surrogate mother for their babies. The young Thai woman gave birth to twins: Gammy and her sister. Her sister was born a healthy baby, but Gammy was born with Down Syndrome.
Baby Gammy’s story became international headlines recently because Gammy’s biological parents were accused of taking only Gammy’s sister back to Australia, leaving Gammy behind with his surrogate mother who lived in an impoverished neighbourhood in Thailand. The surrogate mother told the media that not only had Gammy’s biological parents left Gammy behind, they and the surrogacy clinic had once asked her to abort Gammy because of his Down Syndrome. She refused to have an abortion because it was against her Buddhist faith and Thai culture. Gammy’s biological parents, however, rejected all of the claims saying, first, that they didn’t know about Gammy and, later, that they had to leave Gammy because of the recent political unrest in Thailand.
Perhaps, we will never know which version was true. I am inclined to believe the version of baby Gammy’s surrogate mother. Forced abortion was common in many surrogacy cases. Surrogate mothers often had to sign contracts, declaring that they would agree to abort the baby if it was known that the baby had a defect of some kind.
In the interview with Channel 9, Gammy’s biological father let slip comments that indicate that he indeed didn’t want Gammy in the first place. He acknowledged that it was too late to do anything when he found out about Gammy’s condition, late into the pregnancy, and said, “No one really wants a handicapped child.”
Just like Gammy’s surrogate mother refused to abort her own baby late into the pregnancy, we hear today, in our story in Exodus, similarly brave women who refused to follow the order of an evil, yet powerful ruler to kill, innocent Jewish babies in Egypt.
Today, in the book of Exodus, we hear an intricate plan to rescue baby Moses from the bloodlust hands of the most powerful individual at the time - Pharaoh. But, unlike baby Gammy who only had one protector, i.e. his surrogate mother, Moses was protected not only by one woman, but many.
Our story begins with an irony. Pharaoh looked down on women. He ordered the killing of all Jewish boys, but he allowed the Jewish girls to live. He didn’t perceive women as a threat to his mighty kingdom. But he would find out later how the people he undermined were the very people who undid his plan!
First, the midwives, whom had been ordered to kill all Jewish baby boys, refused to follow the order. Then came along Moses’ mother and sister who designed a plan to save him from danger. Last but not least, Pharaoh’s own daughter plotted against him when she took Moses out of the river and adopted him as her own son.
So God did not use one person only to save Moses, but many. Not a single person was able to protect baby Moses from Pharaoh’s evil hands. None of the women involved - one of the midwives, Moses’ mother or sister, Pharaoh’s daughter or one of her maids - had enough power to challenge Pharaoh’s power. Yet, together, they managed to foil Pharaoh’s plan. Each had a different role, yet they were all connected together in God’s plan to save Moses.
Just like the women in Moses’ life refused to follow Pharaoh’s evil order, Paul called the Christians in the ancient metropolitan city of Rome to not conform to the degenerate morality of many people in ancient Rome. Paul asked the Christians there to offer their life as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.
But holiness does not mean being perfect all of the time. No one is perfect. Only God is perfect. A biblical understanding of holiness is about being separated for God’s purpose. When Paul asked the Christians in Rome to live a holy life, he asked them to live a different life from the life of other people around them; a life of obedience not to the will of the world, but to God’s will.
But, the only way the Christians in Rome could fulfill this task was not by doing it as individuals, but as a community. The only way they could be transformed and achieve ‘holiness’ was by working together as one Body of Christ. Their transformation and holiness could only be achieved when they worked together as one community.
God’s mission is indeed too heavy for one person to carry alone. That was why Paul asked the Romans to think humbly about themselves because no one person, not even Paul himself, could fulfill God’s plan for the world. Each one of them was simply one part of the body of Christ. Each one needed the others for the whole body to function.
One of the most iconic photos of the 20th century, I believe, is the photo of Nelson Mandela walking together with his then wife, Winnie Mandela, after he was freed from the prison (after spending time there for 27 years). Both Nelson and Winnie raised their arms with closed fists as a symbol of their long-fought freedom.
I have always seen the gesture of raising one’s arm with a closed fist as a symbol of one’s determination to fight against injustice (after all, you close your fist when you try to hit someone in a fight ... not that I’m suggesting you to pick up a fight; I’m just telling a fact). But, I learnt a different meaning of the gesture when I watched a British-South African movie called, Mandela, A Long Walk to Freedom. The movie tells the story of the complicated political and personal life of Apartheid’s main opponents, Nelson Mandela and his then wife, Winnie.
In the movie, the old Mandela explained to the new generation of activists that individually, they would achieve nothing; but together, they would be strong. He explained this by using his hand. Each finger in his hand represented each person who fought against Apartheid. One person would never be strong enough to achieve their goal. But when all of the fingers were joined in a closed fist, they would become strong.
Alone, one person, including Nelson Mandela himself, could never achieve the ultimate goal: the dismantling of the Apartheid system and its replacement with a democratic and more humane system. But, together, they could achieve what seemed to be impossible then. It was only when all people - black and white, young and old, male and female, poor and rich - were united to achieve a common goal, that the daunting task was finally overcome.
The task that God gives to us today is no less daunting. We are called to proclaim the Good News, to cure the sick, to heal the wounded, to find the lost, to visit the forgotten, to fight against evil, to be God’s justice, to be light in the dark, and so on. No one person can do all these. Not even the Minister, however charming, smart, and good-looking that Minister is.
None of the women in Moses’ life was strong enough, on her own, to challenge Pharaoh, the most powerful individual in ancient times. Yet, the sum of their efforts was stronger than this most powerful person of the ancient world.
Each woman may only have a small plan to execute, minuscule when we compare it with Pharaoh’s grandiose and evil plan. Yet, God used each of the plans and combined all of them into a larger plan that did not only match, but also overcame Pharaoh’s evil plan. The Apostle Paul was right. We are not to think too highly about ourselves. We are to focus on the ‘simple’ and ‘small’ task given to us. God is the One who could and would combine all of our efforts into a grand design that is beyond any one of us could imagine.
Therefore never be afraid when God calls you to do something. God never calls each one of us without promising that there are others who will help us on the journey. We are called to do God’s will as a community, so that when someone is weak, we can make him/her strong again; and when we are weak, others will make us strong again.
Remember friends; there is only one Savior and Lord. That person is Jesus Christ. None of us is called to replace him. None of us is called to be the new savior of the world. We are called to work together with others, combining our gifts with the gifts of others, to spread and proclaim the Good News of Christ in our words and action. Our salvation is from God and God alone; and God delivers God’s salvation through our work together as a community.
 Natasha, Bita, Your ‘Right’ V Their Life: the Surrogacy Dilemma, on http://www.theaustralian.com.au (August 9, 2014 12:00 AM)
 From an article by Freya Noble and Daniel Mills on http://www.dailymail.co.uk (Updated: 11 August 2014 09:06 AEST)