WHAT MAKES YOU SO STRONG?
Pastor Talbert W. Swan, II, M.Div.
15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:16 and he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birth-stool; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive.18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive?19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.20 And God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them households.22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.5 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it.6 And she opened it, and saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maiden went and called the child’s mother.9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it.10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said, Because I drew him out of the water.
“What makes you so strong?” is the title of a book written by Dr. Jeremiah Wright. It is the question posed to the black woman. “What makes you so strong, black woman?” He like others wonders how could the black female withstand her fall from the African gardens of Eden to endure 400 years of plantation bondage and to wander through the melee wilderness experiences of America? How is it that after being the mothers of ancient civilizations and the mammies to some of this country’s founders and presidents; after years of being messed on and messed over; after years of being walked on and walked out on; how it is that the pharaohs of this land fail to kill your spirit? What makes you so strong? How is it that you still the bear the wisdom of the Queen of Sheba and the courage of Queen Esther? After all that this world has done to you- the abuse and misuse; after all that black man and white man, have exploited and humiliated; what makes you so strong? How is it that you can do all that you do?
After this country and its culture has taught you to loathe your appearance – your broad hips and thick lips; your short kinky hair and blue black skin –after years of straighten-hot combs, burnt scalps, and no lye-relaxers, after years of bleaching and weaving – what makes you still so strong? What makes you Maya Angelou’s phenomenal woman? What makes you Destiny Child’s Independent Woman? Is it really the sun of your smile, the ride of your breast, the grace of your style? What makes you so strong? How can you rule a nation like Queen Cleopatra; yet, lead your people out of bondage like Harriet Tubman? How can you run fiercely like a FLO JO; and yet, walk gracefully like a Halle Berry? You can you dispense justice like a Judge Glenda Hatchett; and yet legislate law like a Maxine Waters? What makes you sing like a Patti Labelle; yet preach the gospel like a Cynthia Hale? What makes you so strong? By what power or by what name do you do what you do? Ted Coppel wants to know? Brian Williams wants to know? And, all those with inquiring minds want to know? My sisters what makes you so strong?
Well, I don’t know about you but I tend to believe that some of the answers lie within the actions of these ancient women- two midwives, a Levite mother, Egyptian Princess, and a young watchful sister. I believe the key to your strength lies within the circle of wisdom connecting these sisters with diverse backgrounds; yet one common goal-that is to provide an ark of safety so that others can survive. The key to your strength lies in the circle of these five women. Now, these are not superwomen but they are strong women. They don’t have the economic clout of an Oprah Winfrey but they had the faith of the widow of Zarepath. They did not have the political power of a Maxine Waters but they could get a prayer through to the heavens like a sister Hannah. They could not sing a lullaby like Lauren Hill but when it came time to testify to the goodness of God, they could dance like Miriam and magnify the Lord like Mary. These women are mothers who knew how to love; they are daughters who knew how to have compassion; they are sisters who knew the right time to intervene. These are women that most of us come from; women with backbone, keepers of the flame; spiritual women who protected and sheltered us through troubling times. These are the women in our text; Women who represent my kind of woman; Woman who are bringing into creation the new millennium man; women working together to save an endangered generation. The key to your strength can be seen in their actions during perilous times.
LAND OF PHARAOHS
And these are perilous times. These are times whereby our eyes are witnessing some of the most devious attacks on the future generations of our people. These are the times whereby we still find ourselves living in a land of Pharaohs; pharaohs whose agenda is to turn back the hands of time and take back all that was gained through the civil rights movement of our people. These are the days when folks want to have a tea party and deny the right of every citizen to have health care, to share the wealth of the world and to lie in peace with others in the world. In this land of pharaohs, government would rather build more prisons to house young black men instead of building more schools to educate them. Politicians are trying to dismantle any type of gun control and put more guns into the hands our youths rather than put a budget together, which would create more jobs and opportunities.
In this land of pharaohs, racial profiling and false arrests are still a reality. Black men are incarcerated 4.5 times more than whites. Black on black crime is steady increasing and our life expectancy is decreasing. In this land of pharaohs, corporate layoffs are massive; affirmative action is becoming negatively inactive. We are still the last hired and the first fired. We are being afflicted with adult illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, and high rates of infant immortality.
In this land of pharaohs, we are being told to make bricks without straw. We have faith-based initiatives but our people show no initiative to demonstrate faith.
GOD IS STILL ON OUR SIDE
Yet, God is still on our side. God is still watching and moving. God is still on our side. Pharaoh has increased our labors; and yet, we are still not broken. He has decreased some of our wages; and yet, we are still striving. He has thrown his very worse at us; and yet, we as people go stronger and wiser. We have been given less; and yet, we are still doing more. God is on our side. There were some things that were cast down to us that have become instrumental in our development as a people. Think about it. We were thrown into slavery and oppression; and yet, we came out with Negro spirituals and the black church. They threw at us segregation and discrimination. We came back with rhythm and blues, jazz and soul, historical black colleges and the Harlem renaissance. They threw at us the pig inners, intestines, and bones. Our mothers cooked them up and gave them an ethnic cuisine –hog mogs and chitterlings. Pharaoh increased our burdens yet we still achieved and survived due much to the strength of these strong women.
WHAT MAKES YOU SO STRONG?
And so my question still stands, what makes you so strong my mother, my sister, my auntie, my friend? What words of wisdom can you give to this new generation of women? How can we create more women of God and less ‘hoochie mamas’ dime pieces and honeys? How can we introduce to the world more debutantes with integrity rather than vixens with attitudes? How can we as brothers usher you into your glory, create for you a haven of rest, and treat you as the queen you are? What makes you so strong?
THREE QUALITIES IN EVERY GOOD WOMAN
Well when I examine the women in our text, I notice three very important qualities that every good woman should possess. I can see three gems of gold that a wise woman can pick up and place in her purse of experience: insight, intervention, and involvement.
Every good woman should have insight. You may call it a woman’s intuition. I call it insight. What made these women so strong was their insight. They had divine perception because of their Godly relationship. They were able to see that which others could not see. Just look at the story. Here we have a nervous pharaoh issuing a new law because of the perceived threat he sees in the Hebrew people. He tells his people that the Hebrew children were dangerous. He told them that they would grow up and take arms- bringing violence and chaos to their society. Pharaoh saw these Hebrews as dysfunctional and disruptive, lazy and shiftless, abusive and ignorant. His prejudice against these people affects his perception of their capabilities. His narrow-mindedness towards these people of a different persuasion, a different culture, class, and color affects his judgment regarding their potential. But thank God for some women who did not buy into his propaganda.
Thank God for some sisters who did not believe the hype. Thank god for this young Levite mother who looked at her child and she saw that he was a good child. Her insight saw that he was good and it pleased her, as well as God. My sisters and brothers, when you look into the eyes of this generation, see some good, like these women. Where the pharaoh saw malice and problems, these women saw miracles and promise. Where pharaoh saw drug dealers, pimps, and criminals; the women saw doctors, lawyers, politicians, and preachers. And we need more women who can see our possibilities and not our problems. We need women who can see our capabilities and not our calamities, our destiny and not our dysfunction, our promise and not our pain. We need women who can see this generation’s creativity and not the chaos. We need women who can look past the irritation and see the inspiration, past the doubt and see the deliverance, past the attitude and see God’s assurance, past the statistics and see the salvation. We need women who can see past the sagging pants, past the tattoos, past the multiple piercings, past the broken English, past the bad grades, past the low self esteem, past the bad attitude, past the disrespectful demeanor, past the bad language and see the potential of a generation that God can still use. We need women who can see the potential of a new generation and the not the preconceived notions of negative media. We need women with insight. (Say, insight).
What made these women so strong was not only their insight but also their willingness to intervene. These women knew when to step in and get involved. They were willing to speak up and speak out. Just look at their natures and their names. By nature, these were midwives- anointed to bring forth life. By their names, they were denoted as being beautiful and well spoken. That’s what their names means. Shiphrah means ‘the elegant one’; the beautiful one. Puah means “the one who cries out”. Beautiful women are strong women who aren’t afraid to go against the norm and speak out. They are like Queen Esther who took a stand against Xerxes saying “if I perished, I perish.” They follow in the footsteps of Sojourner Truth whose feet took her and the slaves she led towards freedom and opportunity. They follow in the footsteps of Rosa Parks who sat down so that a people may stand up. Strong women are those who actions towards others create a beautiful thing. That’s what made Pharaoh’s daughter so beautiful and strong. That’s what brought out the queen in her. It was her willingness to reach outside her class and address those crying for help. What made her so beautiful was not her looks but her love. What made her elegant was not her economical status but her empathy for humanity. It wasn’t the cosmetics on her face but the content of her character. It wasn’t the curves of her body but the brightness of her conscious. Real beauty can’t be bought but real beauty radiates from the inside. You can’t get it from Mary Kay, Maybelline or Avon. You can’t get it from Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, or Michael Kors. It doesn’t come from Saint John, Evan Picone, Ralph Lauren DKNY or Etienne Aigner. Real beauty comes from doing good rather than looking good and when you do good you look good. That is what made this princess of the Nile a queen in heaven. Although she was wealthy and powerful, she was not bourgeois and egotistical. She wasn’t what I call boughetto, a combination of bourgeois and ghetto (but that’s another sermon). Although she lived in a palace, she was still willing to open her doors to others.
And that’s what we need in our community-women who are willing to use their clout and compassion to help those in crisis. We need women who have keys to the executive bathroom willing to reach out to those still working the kitchens and scrubbing the floors. A strong woman shows her beauty when she is willing to intervene out of compassion and help those in need.
Finally, what makes you so strong is your involvement. Get involved. What amazes me about this story is not only the fact of Pharaoh’s daughter taking pity on this Hebrew baby, but her decision to help the Levite mother by paying her to nurse this baby. What amazes me is her willingness to take this child and treat him as her own. She got involved. Oh I tell you, the world would be a better place if we had more women of virtue who were willing to collectively treat other children as their own. Only if we had more women who are not filled with jealousy and envy, and could trust each other enough to work for the benefit of our children.
Only if we had matriarchs who were willing to help our younger women in the bond of sisterhood and not feel threaten or intimidated. Only if we had more woman who could take the time and mentor our young girls in the rites of womanhood. And who knows your words may be the words that lift someone up from the sea of sin. Your words may be the word that causes some girl to wait for someone who will treat her right instead of settling for any old body. Your words may be the word that causes some young boy to stay in school, not join the local street gang, and keep away from drugs. Your words may be the word that causes that man to turn his life towards Christ.
When I think of the women in my life, when I think of what made them so strong – I think of their insight, their intervention, and their involvement. I’m grateful for the kindness of a mother name DeLois who nurtured me, taught me, loved me and supported me. I’m grateful for a step mother named Lorraine who encouraged me. I’m grateful for aunts like Dottie who took me to church and like Ora, Maxine and Marion who have supported me in my ministry and told me that I was somebody. I’m grateful for grandmothers Sallie and Alice who spoke into my destiny and let me know that I was going places and that I would do great things some day.’ I’m grateful for teachers, who used their insight, and saw past the timid and shy nature of a young boy and said, ‘Boy, you better open your mouth.” I’m grateful for sisters like Rhonda, Freda and Nikki who believed in me in spite of my mistakes. I’m grateful for the church mothers, who said “Son, just give Jesus a try.” When I think about the women in my life I think about strong women, beautiful women, Godly women, who use their insight to intervention and involvement to make this world a better place. These are women that made a difference. And I thank God for my mothers, my sisters, my aunts and for the future generation of women that will come from my nieces, and my daughters.
Let me close by letting you know a woman’s place. A woman’s place is in the home. Now don’t go crazy on me here, it’s not what you think, because actually, a man’s place is in the home as well — each of our places is in the home. The home is where we are nurtured, loved and encouraged. That doesn’t mean that a woman’s only place is in the home, but, as with men, it is her best place. Women are so much better at this nurturing thing than we men are. Home should be where men and women find their meaning, because this is the place of our most important and abiding relationships. It is in the home where we learn to live with other people in important ways. We learn to forgive other people when they are wrong. We learn to extend grace when they are difficult. We learn not to set unrealistic expectations on others. We learn that love is more than a feeling A woman’s place is in the home, because she is to be the recipient of these divine gifts expressed through human agents — namely her family.
A woman’s place is in the world. Proverbs 31 describes and praises a woman who is truly a worldly woman. She has her own business and takes her place in the marketplace. She is dealing in real estate. She is helping those in need, and providing for the needs of her family through her trading. The Bible ends this section describing her activity by saying, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31). You would have to have lived in the time which this was written to appreciate how radical this elevated view of womanhood is. The surrounding cultures did not give women a place of dignity and honor, as the Hebrews did.
The whole point of the story of Adam and Eve is that man by himself was inadequate in this world. He needed someone — not just someone to do his work and meet his needs, but a full partner without whom life would not be nearly so rich. Just imagine, if you can, a world where there are only men (You don’t even want to go there!)
According to the United Nation’s statistics: “Women constitute over 50 percent of the world’s population. But women do three-fourths of the world’s work, receive one-tenth of the world’s salaries, and own one one-hundredth of the world’s land.” Women are major players in keeping the world going, but get less than their share of the compensation. Yet, they keep going, because they are not doing it for the sake of monetary reward, but out of the satisfaction of being responsible — even though they may be doing more than their share. One bumper sticker read: “Real women don’t have hot flashes, they have power surges.”
Well, the third thing it is important for us to recognize is that: A woman’s place is in the church. We all know that the church could not exist without the women who do so much of the work of the church. And they do this in spite of the fact that they have often been kept out of the positions of leadership. In many churches women are not permitted to preach. A few churches do not even allow them to hold leadership positions of any kind.
But remember that it was women who faithfully stayed by Jesus in his darkest hour after all the men had fled. They were the last ones at the cross and the first ones at the tomb. They were the first to tell the world about Christ’s resurrection. It was a woman named Anna who first preached to the world about the infant Jesus being the Messiah. A large group of women were in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers. It was a woman named Lydia who was the first gentile convert during Paul’s missionary journey to the European continent. In the Old Testament Hebrew culture, Miriam served alongside her brother Moses in leading Israel. Deborah became a judge, or Prime Minister, of the nation. And the woman Huldah was a prophet. Priscilla was a co-laborer with her husband as they preached and taught in the early church. The church met in the homes identified by the names of women, indicating she was the leader or preacher of that church. In Romans 16:1 it is interesting that Phoebe is described as a “deaconess” or “servant” in many translations. The word in the original Greek is diakonos. When that word is used in context with a man it is most always translated “minister.” But in order not to offend those who believe that women should not be ministers, and suffer the loss of sales, the publishing companies chose the word deaconess instead. But there is no reason to believe she was not exactly what the Word of God says she was — a minister in the same sense as men were ministers.
One brilliant woman who had a Ph.D. and was capable of pursuing a profitable and rewarding career but chose to stay home with her children when they were young had to continually answer people who would ask her, “What do you do?” If she would answer, “I’m a homemaker. I stay home and take care of my children and my husband,” people would look embarrassed for her and cut the conversation short. So she decided to come up with a different response. The next time someone asked her what she did, she said, “I’m socializing two homo-sapiens in Judeo-Christian virtues so they will appropriate the eschatological values of utopia. What do you do?”
So whether you are a woman who is teaching the eschatological values of the kingdom to the occupants of your home, or doing it in the church or in the world, the hand of God is on your life. As the Scripture says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” AMEN.