Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
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(Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17)
We have taken a leap of about 500 years from Jacob sleeping on a stone up to this morning’s part of the story. Trickster Jacob prospered as God promised. He had 12 sons who did not fall far from the family tree. They took sibling rivalry to a new level. Their cahoots led to their family relocating to Egypt. Generations of Israelites were born in Egypt and as they grew in number Pharaoh grew in fear of them, the other. They were enslaved and oppressed. One of the Israelites, Moses, was spared from Pharaohs threats by the faith and boldness of his mother. He ends up being raised in Pharaoh’s compound. He has a life of privilege and he observes how Pharaoh abuses the Israelites, who are Moses’ people. This morning we meet Moses in his adult hood. He has moved from Egypt, has a fine life in Midian and the God of enslaved Israel is about to make good on the sacred promise to Abraham, Issac and Jacob with Moses joining in. Listen to the part of our sacred story beginning in Exodus chapter 2 verse 23.
2:23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. 3:1 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. 4:10 But Moses said to the Lord, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." 11 Then the Lord said to him, "Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak." 13 But he said, "O my Lord, please send someone else." 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, "What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. 17 Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.” Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
We hear about the call of Moses this morning. An ancient story with such contemporary relevance. Moses has had a really unusual background. He was born at a time when Pharaoh had issued an edict to kill all the male Israelites babies. His mother figured out a way to protect him and he ended up being raised as part of Pharaoh’s entourage. Moses’ people are slaves. He lives in the seat of power. He is conflicted as he grows. Knowing what access and privilege are afforded to him and seeing how his people are abused and oppressed in slavery. The inner conflict escalates and one day he snaps. He observes the abuse of an Israelite and he kills the abuser, the Egyptian. That action leads to his running away from Egypt and creating a new life in Midian. Its all going along up there in Midian. He has land. He has a family. He seeks to hold the memory of the murder and the pain of his people at a distance so that he can go along doing the things of life and future building. He has plenty on his plate. He has dreams and hands calloused from making them real.
There he is going about the things that are needed for life for his family and himself and then this thing happens. He has an encounter with God. An encounter that is a jarring wake up call to Moses. There is God work that needs to be done. The ancient promise of God for life for God’s people is not happening. The Israelites are enslaved and God is going to get them to freedom. God is calling on Moses to get it under way. God is asking Moses to go back to the place from which he escaped and speak bold words of challenge to the person with the most power in the land. God is asking Moses to speak in a way that lets the enslaved, vulnerable, fear filled, exhausted Israelites know that the fullness and wonder of the Holy is with them and acting for them and creating a future. This is a task that makes Moses tremble. Really God? Come on. This is craziness. Who will believe me. I have no credibility. God responds in that God like curious way - go ahead Moses, do it and if asked who sent say I am sent me. I imagine Moses thinking, sure, God, like that’s going to work. Moses has his list of why it shouldn’t be. God calls, enables, stays close. God invites Moses to speak words of life and hope in the very challenging, oppressive realities of his day - to speak truth to power in order to bring life and opportunity to the vulnerable.
The story of the Church is much like this. We started in as vulnerable a time as Moses. Jesus executed and his followers threatened by the state. The chance for survival was slim by human standards. The earliest Christian communities were at such risk and so much was unknown. Then came Constantine and his conversion to Christianity and like Moses welcomed onto Pharaoh’s compound the Church became an arm of the state with all the power and access that afforded. This continued for a long time in our history - power of the state and then power of cultural norms semi-recently. Today the church is more like Moses out there in distant Midian. Going about the things of life with having hands calloused from moving pumpkins and sorting thrift shop donations. We are doing things that matter. We are engaged and at work. Going about our business we encounter God in our midst and something inside us is churned up and opened up. The light of love and hope pulls us in and we hear God’s call to speak - to speak words of life and freedom and welcome and hope. To speak these words to those who likely don’t want to hear them. To give voice to God’s way of justice and freedom. To speak for those who don’t have a voice due to various forms of slavery be it literal or figurative. To speak trusting that it is God who will give us the words and God who will stay close.
How scary was it for Moses to go back to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh. How risky as well. It is the same for us. We are invited into the life giving and very challenging ministry of speaking God’s truth and hope and love into the world. We are called to speak with compassion, curiosity and conviction. We are not called to be self righteous bullies declaring we are right and others are wrong. We are called to created space for conversation where we can speak our truth and listen with kindness. Facebook and Twitter are not platforms where this happens. These life giving, scary, transformational conversations happen in the very vulnerable person to person, face to face engagements -rooted in the knowledge and trust that is is God that will give us what we need - like this (from Spill the Beans)
Bryson: Oh God, why do you have to pick on me? Whether my name is Moses, or Jonah, Rebekah, Mary or Elizabeth,there are much better people who could do this work of yours!
C’mon Lord, there are people who are used to speaking in public!
People who are fearless, passionate, persuasive. Who stick their neck out for the sake of others and seem to be filled with your Spirit, making them erudite, eloquent, articulate.
As for me, I am shy, and I get flummoxed when I stand up in public.
You know I have a stutter and every word takes an age to be formed in my mouth. You know that I get all muddled in my thinking.
You know that I am, well, not the brightest in the classroom, and that I could never stand up to Pharaoh and his thugs.
Chelsea: Moses! Moses! Moses!
All I hear are excuses, and more excuses!
Don’t you think I considered all the possibilities?
Don’t you think I knew who all the potential candidates were?
You have insider knowledge of Pharaoh and his people. You were brought up as one of them,
you have more knowledge and understanding than anyone. Your stepmother was an Egyptian Princess, and the Egyptian of officials know your name, and Pharaoh will listen to what you have to say... eventually!
Moses, trust me on this, I am making myself known to you.
I know what you are like,I know every hair on your head.
I know your weaknesses and your strengths, your gifts and talents,
your limitations.I know the times you have let me down
and I know the times you have remained faithful.
I chose you, because I know you are the right man for this job. I will be with you every step of the way.
I will give you a staff as a symbol of my presence.
So, when you speak, I will put the words in your mouth. When I call on you to act,
I will be one taking the lead.
When I make demands on Pharaoh, you will be listened to.
When I promise to be with you, I will be there every moment of the way.
You are the one for this job.You have met me face to face,and you know I am faithful to my word.
So I am not going to pick your brother Aaron, I am not going to pick anyone else to do the job, I am choosing you, because you are exactly right for this job!
Accept it, cherish it, and live it, I AM, has spoken!
Main Street Congregational UCC
October 1, 2017
Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (ESV)
3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “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 surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (ESV)
10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. 17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” (ESV)