15 Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert
1 September 2013
There are four major events in the Old Testament which can be remembered with this acronym CCEE – Creation, Covenant, Exodus, and Exile. Today we focus on the first E - Exodus, the story of Moses being called to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. This is a key narrative for understanding the nature of the One who calls us.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations”
(New Revised Standard Version)
Moses, born to a Hebrew family, was destined to die a tragic death, like all the Hebrew male infants, according to Pharoah’s decree. But beautiful baby Moses was spared by his creative mother and devoted sister, and then discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, who decided the baby would be hers to keep. The wise sister makes sure mom is chosen as the nanny for this boy. Moses, raised with the privilege of Pharoah’s family, nonetheless feels the pain of his people and their forced labor after he comes of age. In a flash of temper, he murders an Egyptian. Now the Ten Commandments had not been given to Moses at this point in the narrative, but it is fairly clear that his righteous indignation about the harsh treatment of his people, has led him to the wrong action. He is forced to flee to the land of Midian, where God can prepare him for the right action.
Let’s stop and think about how in our immature, youthful zeal, we sometimes have the right motives and the wrong action. Later God inspires us to use that drive for justice to accomplish the right thing in the right way. But Moses, just like so many wonderful characters in the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, resists the call. Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? Well, Moses, who else? I mean you grew up in Pharoah’s household and you are an Israelite. Why not you? We often do not see that we are actually perfectly case for the roles to which God calls us. You might be scared to do it, but you are the one, Moses. You are the perfect one. God says, “I will be with you, and here the sign – you will worship me on this mountain when you have brought the people out of Egypt.” Well, now, wouldn’t it have been better to have a sign that he’s doing the right thing sooner than that? He’s got to do a lot of brave stuff before he gets the confirmation from God that he’s on the right track.
Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr got God’s confirmation about the March on Washington, prior to the march 50 years ago? I doubt it. Do you think the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Friends got confirmation that yesterday’s peaceful protest would make a difference toward the goal of Fair Food, decent wages and an end to harsh treatment in the fields of Florida? I doubt it. Do you think that the leaders of our country are going to get a clear signal from God about the right way to deal with Syria? I seriously doubt it. Usually the signs of confirmation come after the hard decisions.
Are you trying to make a difficult decision? Are you praying to God for clarity. Don’t stop praying to make the right choice, but don’t feel like a failure if you don’t get immediate confirmation, but remember that God promises to be with you, just as God promised Moses. Take off your shoes, and look into the bush of God’s glorious power, listen for God’s voice, and believe that God will see you through this challenge.
If you are taking leading the powerless to greater freedom and a more humane life, if you are being courageous in the face of danger, if you are speaking truth to power, when you’d rather be quietly minding your own business in a quiet pasture of sheep, then there is a good chance you are doing the will of God. Moses was not seeking power, he was resisting using his place of power to influence Pharaoh.
He was even reluctant to assert his influence with the Israelites. Why will they listen to me? They will want to know who sent me. Whom shall I say sent me?
Again Moses is looking for certainty. Give me your name, God. Let me have the power of knowing you intimately, so I can put you in my pocket for security, so the people will trust my word. But God is too big to fit in Moses’ pocket. God is too immense to be contained even in our minds.
One of the problems with modern church is that we keep trying to domesticate God. There’s been in recent years a great emphasis on the immanence, the closeness of God, the One who is with us. But we have to hold that in tension with the transcendence of God, who is beyond us, mysterious and powerful, whose name cannot be uttered, whose presence is nearly blinding. This story of Moses’ call reminds us that a mysterious, powerful, God beyond us, comes to us and talks with us about doing daring things to help people. This I AM who I AM. I will be who I will be calls us to have faith that God will be with us, as we dare to be faithful and courageous.
Think about the danger of Moses returning to Egypt. His adoptive Egyptian grandfather was looking to kill him for murdering a Egyptian in cold blood. The Israelites have no reason to trust him – he who is the only boy who survived Pharoah’s brutal killing of the baby boys. He the one raised by Pharoah’s daughter? Why would the Israelties trust him? But God reminds Moses that he more than the hot-headed Hebrew boy from Pharoah’s house. Moses comes from a long line of faithful followers who listened to God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebecca, the God of Leah, Jacob, and Rachel. That is the One who calls you, Moses. That is the God, who calls you, Peace, to be faithful.
The same God who called Miriam and her brother Moses and his wife Zipporah, who surely did not know what she was getting into when she married that runaway Hebrew shepherd from Egypt. Did she sign up for the danger of Pharoah and his chariots, of forty years in the wilderness? No, she did not. She was expecting a nice calm life on the pasture land of Midian, near her family.
I bet your life has had some twists and turns you did not expect, and the call of God on someone close to you or on you yourself has sometimes challenged you to do things you did not think possible or sensible. Moses figured he’d burned his bridges with Pharoah and his own Hebrew people, but God said, “Go back to Egypt and Pharoah.” Go back because my people are being mistreated. The call of God is always to lift up those who are beat down. Jesus quoted Isaiah, when he uttered his first statement of call: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We are hoping to lift up the downtrodden in our work at Mission Beth-El as we collect school supplies, book bags, and food, and as eight or ten compassionate people go each week to pack food bags for those who have so little. We are hoping to bring good news to the poor when we support farmworkers in Immokalee – through Mision Peniel (ministry of compassion) and with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (the mission of justice)? At our presbytery meeting last week-end we decided to boldly continue to support and develop Mision Peniel without diverting our support of Mission Beth-El – ministries of compassion in two locations. The confirmation, the sign from God will come when we later see that these brothers and sisters living in a land of promise and of freedom, when they are liberated from oppression and worship Jesus Christ with us on these plains of SW Florida.
It is not always clear what we should do in such matters. What can WE do to make a difference? Who am I that I should go stand with the farmworkers? Who am I that I should speak up in the workplace or in the neighborhood or in the newspaper when I see groups of people whose human rights and basic needs are being ignored? God is calling. The Holy One is calling us to leave the comfort of living just as we please, so we might start living in the land of committed faith, putting God first. I think that God wants to liberate the contemporary church from a too casual, too familiar, too comfortable, my-Jesus-and-me attitude.
We are worshiping the Holy One, the God of the Universe, not our buddy. This God says, “Don’t try to put me in your pocket, or even think you can contain me in your little mind or your little heart. Don’t think that I am your sugardaddy or your benevolent granny. I’m bigger than that. I’m larger than you. I don’t belong to your particular faith community or your club or your country. You belong to me!”
“So stand back, church, don’t get burned. God says, “Trust in my love, but don’t take it for granted. Don’t abuse my good gifts or ignore my people who are suffering. Believe in my grace, but don’t cheapen it by living as you please. If you utter my name, do so with careful, reverent adoration, with deep respect. I am who I am. I will be who I will.”