Focus moral energy on love and change, resist fear and hate, Machado says

The Reverend Dr. Daisy L. Machado delivers the morning worship sermon July 23, 2023, in the Amphitheater. HG BIGGS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“This is a wonderful story,” said the Rev. Daisy L. Machado of the morning’s scripture reading. “It is about a worried and frightened Pharaoh, a nation taught to hate outsiders and a nation worried about its children. But at the center are two women who dared to defy death and choose life.”

Machado preached at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “A Midwife to God’s Vision,” and the scripture text was Exodus 1:6-22, the story of Shiphrah and Puah. 

The story, Machado said, is a primer for how to act in life: “We can react out of fear or we can act out of compassion.”

Pharaoh acted out of fear which led to a decision to promote violence. His dread of Israel came from his belief that Egyptians and Israelites were essentially different. He set a plan into action that would increase the workload of the Israelites and kill the male children. 

“Fear escalated violence,” said Machado. “Pharaoh could come right out of today’s headlines. We see that fear at the southern border and in the differences we think exist because of sexuality, nationality or race.”

As examples, Machado cited the separation of children from their parents at the border, a Muslim woman on a train whose defenders were killed by the man trying to attack her, the continued fight for Black Lives Matter, the plight of Haitian refugees and the seventh anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub killings in Orlando because its patrons were LGBTQ. 

“There is a lot of xenophobia about the Latino community in this country,” she said. “As we think about this reality, even with a liberal slant, our own fears are buried deep in our souls. We struggle with the principalities and powers.”

In the midst of the hate of Pharaoh’s empire, two women decided not to be tools of state policy, but to promote life. “They were just two women who sought to confound fear with compassion,” Machado said.

She quoted Hebrew scriptures scholar Phyliss Trible who said that if Pharaoh had anticipated the effectiveness of these women to stop his decrees, he would have had all the women killed. 

“Shiphrah and Puah feared God and not Pharaoh. This was not the fear that Pharaoh produced. They trusted God more than they trusted Pharaoh,” Machado said. “They trusted that God would help them deal with Pharaoh. That may sound like a death wish, but in the words of Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ ”

She continued, “Shiphrah and Puah believed they were called to protect the newborn babies, that women should keep their babies alive and that the Israelite community had value. They were convinced deep in their souls, in their heart of hearts, that they could trust God more than Pharaoh.”

The Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays campaign and the Poor People’s campaign, has said, “I’m going to heaven on the Love Train. If I’m wrong on anything, I’m going to be wrong loving folk.”

Machado said, “Shiphrah and Puah were willing to make mistakes. They dared to err on the side of love. This was not pie in the sky, kumbaya love, but a way to defy and denounce the principalities of empire, to push against hate with a deep moral core, to offer resistance and embrace difference.”

Shiphrah and Puah were very smart and clever in how they dealt with Pharaoh. They knew that Pharaoh thought the Hebrews were different, so they told him that the women were more vigorous and had their babies more quickly than the Egyptian women.

“They effectively countered Pharoah’s ideology of difference. Those who are arrogant are duped by their own ego,” Machado said. She noted that the word for “vigorous” has the same root as the one for “life.” “The implication is that the identity of the Hebrew women resists death.”

The resistance to death is a key reality for all communities fighting for their rights, Machado said. “In La Lucha, the fight, this resistance to death, enables the community to defy the agents of death. Theologian Renita Weems has said that our story is the product of social conflict.”

Machado continued, “It is the power to redefine reality, to refuse to labor for the empire. Women were at the center of the liberation of the Hebrew people. They were wise, resourceful givers of life. They used their consciousness and compassion to obey God rather than cooperate with oppression.”

What does this mean for us today, Machado asked the congregation. How do we resist fear and hate? How do we change the categories and tools to promote difference? Where is the focus of our moral energy?

William Barber has asked his audiences why Christians focus on gay marriage and banning books when the focus of the gospel is justice and mercy. 

“Two women dared to act justly and love mercy and they changed the destiny of a people,” Machado said. “Who will answer the call to transformative love, to be a midwife to God’s vision?”

Machado used the movie “The Mission” as an illustration. Near the end of the movie, after slave traders have slaughtered a village and the Jesuit missionaries who were working there, the Jesuit superior reads the report from the slave trader. The Jesuit said to the slave trader, “You have the effrontery to tell me this was necessary?” The slave trader responded, “Such is the way of the world.” The Jesuit said, “No, such is the world as we have made it.”

“We can choose,” Machado said. “We can reply, ‘Such is the world,’ or ‘No, such is the world we have made and we can change it. We can dare to choose love, justice and mercy. Who here today will be a midwife to love, hope and change for humanity?”

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, presided. Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer of Chautauqua Institution, read the scripture. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, played “Fugue in E Flat, BWV 552B” by Johann Sebastian Bach, for the prelude on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Chautauqua Choir sang “The rain will seek the rivers,” music by Robert J. Powell and text by Beverly Easterling. The choir was conducted by Stafford and accompanied by organ scholar Nicholas Stigall on the organ. The offertory anthem was “Have you heard God’s voice,” music arranged by Frederick Chatfield and text by Jacqui G. Jones, sung by the choir under the direction of Stafford and accompanied by Stigall. The postlude, “Prelude in E-flat, BWV 552A,” was played by Stafford on the organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.