The text for this sermon is Exodus 3:1-15.
In the Matthew text read this morning, we heard Jesus say “If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Preaching professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul says the same thing differently, “Faith is full contact sport.” The implication of following Jesus is that where we are is not necessarily where God needs us to be. But to leave where we are and go somewhere else is tough and scary.
This was certainly true for the young Moses tending sheep on the side of Mt. Horeb, which in Hebrew roughly means wasteland. Fitting, because I am betting as Moses tended those sheep he was pretty much thinking the promise of his life had been wasted. Have you ever took stock of your life and wondered if this is all there is?
Neither Moses nor anyone else thought he would have ended up tending sheep. He was special all of his life. The Pharaoh of Egypt fearing the growing population of his Hebrew slaves ordered all Jewish baby boys be killed. The mother of Moses saved him by putting him in a basket and floating him down the river just when one of the daughters of the Pharaoh was out for a swim. Instead of meeting the fate of his dead cousins and dead playmates, Moses is raised in the most glorious house known to man, the palace of the Pharaoh.
Things should have worked out well for Moses, but he didn’t fit in anywhere. Neither Egyptians nor Hebrews embraced him as one of their own and Moses becomes bitter. In a fit of rage he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. The Pharaoh finds out and puts out a shoot to kill order. Moses flees Egypt.
This is why Moses is tending sheep on the side of a mountain called wasteland. They aren’t even his sheep. They are his father in law’s, who lives on this dry pile of rocks with his daughters, one of whom Moses married. Moses, raised in a palace, educated by the smartest men of the known world, used to wearing silks and jewels, is doing the lowliest of jobs as a hired hand for his father in law. God meets us where we are, but often where we are is not where we should be.
Moses is hiding but God finds him. God has an agenda, too. With a series of verbs, God speaks to Moses his concerns. I have seen. I have heard. I have known. I have come down. God has seen, heard, known the cries of the people he made a promise too through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. God comes down to Moses to keep His promises, but God needs Moses to fulfill His plan.
God needs Moses. This is what it means to be called. There is a need in God’s world that God sees, hears and knows. God comes to us, uniquely gifted to correct this wrong. When we are called to follow Jesus, we become a hinge between God and God’s people. When God speaks the words I will send you, to Moses or to us, there is a direct link between heaven and earth. When God sends Moses, God’s plan follows with Moses. When God sends you or me, heaven and earth are joined together by our work.
Moses understands right away why this is scary. God calls, but it is the fragile body of Moses that will have to walk past the guards to gain an audience with the Pharaoh. It is the shaky voice of Moses that will have to convince the Pharaoh to free his slaves. It is the unarmed Moses that will have to lead the slaves past the armies of the Pharaoh. The joining of God and God’s people hinges on the risk taking body of Moses.
Is it any wonder Moses has some doubts? Great plan God, but here is the problem I see. You are God and can do all these crazy things, me I am a shepherd working for my father in law. You got some sheep you want me to take care of, I am all over it, freeing slaves from the most powerful nation in the world…not so sure I’m the guy.
Moses is overwhelmed by the huge task before him. The scope of the problem is so big and Moses is so small. Anyone who has ever heard God’s command has felt this way. Become a pastor? God the church is in sorry shape, especially the Lutheran version of it. I think I will keep working for Roadway. Serve the poor? God even if I help thirty families a week at Joseph’s Coat there are still hundreds more I can’t help. I think I will enjoy my quiet retirement. Work with the youth? God I spend time with youth all day at work so I know just how messed up this generation is. I’ll watch Amazing Race on Sunday nights.
Moses asks God the classic question, who am I? I am just one guy. I can’t make a difference. Who am I? Look at me, I thought I was special, but I am not special. Look at me. I tend sheep on an ugly mountain, manage a fast food restaurant in the suburbs, mother three kids in Pickerington, drive a truck during the day and bus on the weekends to make ends meet. Who am I?
God doesn’t answer by giving Moses a pep talk. He doesn’t point out Moses’ gifts, which he could have, right? Moses is uniquely qualified for this job. He knows the language of the Pharaoh, the culture, the way the palace works. He has passion for the people whose blood he shares. He is a survivor, crafty, smart. God comes to Moses on the side of Mount Wasteland for a reason, just as God comes to us for a reason. We fit into God’s plan.
God did not tell Moses how he fit into the plan. God simply dismisses Moses’ reluctance as unacceptable. Moses sense of his own inadequacy is met with an assertion of God’s adequacy. God keeps promises (I am the God of Abraham…) and God promises to be present. This must be enough. Moses will have resources that he does not know he has at this point, but God does not go over this with him now. It is enough to simply listen, trust and go.
Moses understands what we too often miss in our watered down faith that asks little of us. God’s call for our lives is a threat to our lives. We have trivialized what being a follower of Jesus means. We think the sacrifice we are called to make is the loss of an hour of sleep on a Sunday morning. Understandably but mistakenly, you think the cross you have to bear is weekly hearing me preach. God sees, hears and knows the cries of the world. God is calling you not only because you have the gifts God needs, but because with God, you will be more than enough to serve. Yet, there is danger in saying yes.
God does not force Moses to do anything. Moses at any time could have said no, thrown water on the bush, put back on his sandals and got back to the sheep. God will not force us to get off our mountain called wasteland, but the life you are saving is not worth saving. It is a life where nothing is required of us and nothing is healed by our existence. It is a life that is already dead. We just don’t know it yet.
As Moses tended his father in law’s sheep wondering if this is all life had to offer, God broke in and said no but to make a difference in this world you have to be willing to risk it all. All of us at times feel like Moses. Tending our sheep and wondering if this really is all that God has planned for us? Faith is full contact sport. Say yes and get into the game. Amen