HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
October 1, 2017
Exodus 2:23-3:15, 4:10-13 (CEB)
A long time passed, and the Egyptian king died. The Israelites were still groaning because of their hard work. They cried out, and their cry to be rescued from the hard work rose up to God. 24God heard their cry of grief, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked at the Israelites, and God understood.
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb.2The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.
4When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”
5Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 6He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
7Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”
13But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
14God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” 15 God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me…
10But Moses said to the Lord, “My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”
11Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives people the ability to speak? Who’s responsible for making them unable to speak or hard of hearing, sighted or blind? Isn’t it I, the Lord? 12Now go! I’ll help you speak, and I’ll teach you what you should say.”
13But Moses said, “Please, my Lord, just send someone else.”
I want to start this morning by trying to sort of re-cap everything that’s been happening lately. First, there was Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating flooding in Texas. Then, there was Hurricane Irma, which resulted in widespread damage across Florida, but especially in the Keys. Right on Irma’s tail came Hurricane Maria which completely destroyed Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. Somewhere in the midst of all that, the North Korean Foreign Minister decided that, based on some of the things our President has said, we have declared war on the North Koreans. Then, somewhere in the midst of all of THAT, we got sidelined in a very heated debate about the expectations of US citizens during the playing of our National Anthem. Last Sunday, about the same time several NFL teams were working to weigh in on this debate before taking the field for Sunday afternoon football, a gunman walked into the sanctuary of a church in Antioch and started shooting, killing one and injuring six others. Did I miss anything?
In the meantime, on a personal level, we’ve all been dealing with our own ups and downs. I, for one, have stayed incredibly busy in recent weeks. This always happens in the Fall for several different reasons. New ministries and classes are started, it’s Charge Conference season, and so that means the busy-ness of all the annual paperwork that has to be done in connection with that. For some reason, it seems like there are always more meetings in the Fall, which of course takes up time. Ken is busier, too, for all the same reasons, and with a middle schooler and a toddler, that means that around this time of year, we start to feel more like two ships passing in the night. So, my ongoing mantra in recent weeks has been, “Well, I’m really busy, but…” And what usually follows is some feeble attempt of me trying to fit one more thing into my schedule. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Can you relate to this craziness that sometimes infects our lives and makes everything chaotic?
It seems a truth of our world today that we live very busy, distracted lives in the midst of a very busy and chaotic world. All the craziness I just referenced really only skims the surface of the myriad different things humans around the globe are dealing with every day. In the grand scheme of things, we really can’t handle it all effectively, and so a lot of times, it seems like we just sort of duck our heads and press forward as best we can. What I’ve discovered in the last several weeks as I have tried to push through everything that needs to be done is that I haven’t really been very attentive to all the things that are happening in the world around me. I try to listen to the news as I’m getting ready in the mornings, or driving around at various points during the day, but I feel like I’m not catching everything. I’m so focused on the things happening in my life that I’m quite disconnected from the things that are happening in the world around me, and more importantly in the lives of others. Thank goodness God is better than us at staying focused on the important things!
This morning we pick up the Biblical narrative with the story of God summoning Moses to deliver God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. As we open the book of Exodus, we find God interrupting Moses’ distraction to summon him to go to Egypt for this important work. Where we left off when I was last here two weeks ago, God had instructed Abraham to take Isaac and offer him as an entirely burned offering. Abraham, of course, faithfully followed God’s instructions, and when God saw Abraham’s faithfulness, a messenger intervened and Isaac’s life was spared. There’s a lot that happens from where we left off a couple of weeks agoe to where we pick up again this morning. So let me try and give you the Cliff Notes version. God fulfilled his covenant with Abraham, and Isaac gave birth to Esau and Jacob. After taking the birthright from his older brother Esau, Jacob gave birth to twelve sons, who would become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The brothers grew up, but eventually famine struck the land and they fled with their families to Egypt where there was food. While in Egypt, the twelve tribes flourished and grew. But after a while, the Pharoah enslaved the Israelite people. So, once again, there is this tension where it seems God’s covenant promises are in question. The Israelites are not in the Promised Land, and even worse, they are enslaved. So the Israelites cry out to God. And this passage from Exodus tells us that God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That’s where Moses comes in. Moses was an Israelite, but he had been raised in Pharaoh’s household. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a fellow Israelite, and Moses killed the Egyptian. After that, Moses was afraid and fled Egypt. He settled in the land of Midian, married Zipporah and became a shepherd. We’ve talked before about the lowly life of a shepherd. It’s a tiring job with long and thankless hours. It often means days away from home as you move your sheep from one grazing place to another and sleep among them at night to keep predators at bay. Moses was likely absorbed by his work and his young family. It seems that he had put Egypt behind him and was doing everything possible to forget all that had happened there. But then, in the midst of the ordinary busy-ness of life, Moses gets interrupted. As he is out working with his sheep, he looks and sees a bush that is burning, but is not consumed. I tell you what, that must have been some sight! Certainly, it’s enough to pull Moses out of his work-a-day haze, so he moves toward the bush to get a closer glimpse of this strange sight.
This is where I want us to focus in this morning because Moses is just a normal guy like the rest of us. He’s busy like the rest of us. He’s got problems like the rest of us. He’s trying simply to mind his own business just like the rest of us. But meanwhile, the world is falling apart. And so God disrupts Moses’ work to let him know that the cries of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt have been heard and God intends to do something about it. And, of course, as we learn, God’s plan is for Moses to be the one to go down to Egypt and free his people from slavery.
As I read this story this week, what struck me was how Moses, just minding his own business, was jerked out of his reality and drawn into God’s. While Moses was busy simply trying to live his life, the lives of people in another part of the world were completely coming apart. It made me think especially of the people in Puerto Rico right now. I know so many people are suffering there. I know that aid is slow in coming, and they are doing everything they can just to survive. I have no doubt that they are crying out to God, nor is there any question in my mind that God hears their cries. But at the same time, here I am, so absorbed in my own work that I’m effectively oblivious to the great need of the people on that island; and that fact is not helped by the fact that our society has been absorbed in all sorts of relatively mundane matters, rather than the need of these people in Puerto Rico and in other places around the world who are crying out to God. Our focus is all wrong. We are absorbed by all the wrong things. And in the meantime, the world is falling apart. God is attentive to it, but are we? Are we prepared for God to jerk us out of our distraction and set us on a different path, because that is effectively what God did to Moses.
As Moses stood before that bush, God told Moses that he would go down to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh free the Israelites. It really is absolutely absurd. Moses is a shepherd who murdered an Egyptian, how could he possibly have any clout with Pharaoh. But no matter what excuse Moses throws out (and as you heard, he tried several), God is not deterred. God essentially says, “I AM who I AM, and this is what I AM going to do.” God has heard the cries of the Israelites, God is going to bring them out of their misery, God is going to save them, and Moses is going to be a big part of making that happen.
It is far too easy for us to get caught up in the really mundane. It is far too easy for us to be absorbed by things that don’t really matter. It is far too easy for us to put our noses to the grindstone and to miss what is happening in the world around us. But if we learn anything today from this encounter that Moses has with God, we should see that God is not going to let the cries of the needy go unheeded. God is not going to let suffering and misery continue. And in order to end the suffering and the misery that so many in this world are experiencing, God needs our help. God needs our hands and our feet. God needs us to come out of our bubble and to start paying attention to the cries of the needy around us…and then do something about it.
I want to end with the words of Saint Teresa of Avila who famously said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless his people now.”