Immersed in the Graciousness of God
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. 3:2 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. 3:3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 3:4 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." 3:5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
3:6 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. 3:7 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, 3:8 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. 3:9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 3:10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
3:11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
3:12 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."
3:13 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?"
3:14 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.'" 3:15 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.” (Revised Standard Version)
Every Sunday here at First Presbyterian is a celebration of God’s graciousness. That is particularly true of this Sunday; for this Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate the beginning of the Fall church activities. Sunday School begins again, we celebrate with a breakfast before worship and fellowship after worship. The choir members lend their voices once again to the praise of God’s goodness. And, above all, today in worship we are honored with the baptism of little Rebecca Catesby Razor, and the receiving into our fellowship of faith Steve and Tony Rogers. All of these celebrate our calling by God, whether we are newly born into our church family, new members, or tried and true members for years.
Our Scripture lesson for today, the calling by God of Moses, is most appropriate for this day. For not only does our lesson talk about God’s graciousness, it also helps us to answer a question we bring with us each time we worship – where and how do we find God today, and what does finding God mean for our daily lives? Before we see how our Scripture text helps us answer this question about where to find God today, we need to step back thirty-three centuries, to remind ourselves about the story of Moses.
With respect to Cecil B. DeMille’s movie “Ten Commandments,” and to the acting abilities of Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner, the story of Moses in our lesson today is far more intriguing and full of depth than any special effects a movie set could muster.
After Pharaoh’s family finds Moses as an infant in the Nile River, they raise Moses in the royal household. He grows up with all the privileges of that household. To say that he, like many other characters in the Bible, is spoiled is an understatement. Yet, he also has a conscience.
One day he sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. In his anger, Moses kills the Egyptian. Moses flees for his life. In the years ahead, Moses marries into a family of sheepherders. One day, while leading his flock in the wilderness, Moses sees a bush that is burning. Turning aside to see this unusual sight, God surprisingly calls to Moses out of the bush. Moses responds, “Here, I am.” Then God says, “Come no closer. Remove your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground.”
God continues by telling Moses that he has seen the suffering of the Hebrew people, and God has come down to deliver them into a land flowing with milk and honey. To Moses surprise, God wants Moses to help, to go to Pharaoh and tell the king to let God’s people go. Moses, however, knows his own weaknesses. God tells him that God can use his inabilities to lead the people to liberation. Soaked in God’s graciousness, Moses finds God, and finds that God enables Moses to accomplish a miracle – the Hebrew exodus from Egypt.
What does this story of Moses tell us today about out encounter with God? What does it say to us who are infants born into the family of faith, or new members joining with us in our journey with God, or we who have been on our journey with God awhile?
First, this story tells us that if we are to find God it is in the wilderness experiences of life that God shows himself most clearly. It is in the unpromising places and events of our lives that the burning bushes of God’s presence shows itself to us.
True, we do sometimes find God in the lovely places of life, in the beauty of the lilies. But to Moses, he found he needed God when he was fleeing for his life, when he was forced into the wilderness. But when he was amidst the sagebrush and the sand the arresting message came that it was there in the wilderness was holy ground. Perhaps it was because when he was alone, without distractions of a comfortable life, without the promise of a future, when he had lost almost everything, he found he needed God the most. It was there that he was able to see the burning bush; it was there he found that he needed something and someone beyond himself who could speak to him in his life.
The same can be said for us today. It is in our times of loss, in our wilderness experiences that we listen more closely, and look more dearly for God’s presence, someone and something who can help us when we cannot help ourselves.
When I was much younger, a mere teenager, I found that it was in an wilderness experience that I needed something and someone beyond myself to get me through life, and for me to hear God speaking.
My family was in a critical stage, moving from town to town, and we were living from one motel to the next that I found my burning bush experience. I was a teenager with part of my family in a dingy motel in Dallas, Texas underneath a freeway overpass, that I finally heard God speaking to me. With my family mostly torn apart, money at a premium, and not much of a future, I found myself with nothing to do but to read a copy of the Gospel of Mark left in the motel room. In the two or three days that I read and re-read that copy of Mark I began to hear a whisper of God speaking to me in my need.
At the same time, in some way, I was saw in a grocery store shopping lane, a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. describing his experience of God. Somehow, I was able to get the 75 cents to buy that book. And, in the days ahead, along with the Gospel of Mark I read the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s experience with God and call to the ministry.
In that time the seed was planted. I did not know if I was being called to the ministry or not. But as the years passed, as I finished high school, and later was able to get into college by scholarships and grants, I found my sense of call was not diminished. As I entered seminary after college, I found that my calling to the ministry only felt stronger.
It was during those times, my times in the wilderness, that God spoke to me in the burning bush of those books I read and the people I talked to, and God helped me in my life. I was then able to continue on to help others.
If I had been in a comfortable family living a comfortable life with no experience of loss, I probably would have never seen my burning bush or the books that I read or the people with whom I talked.
While we can find God in the lovely experiences of life, it is when we find ourselves in need that we are more aware of our surroundings and how and when God may be speaking to us, helping us in our need.
Secondly, this story of Moses reminds us that we find our greatest fulfillment of life when we lose ourselves in something greater than ourselves.
Moses could have spent his life in the luxury of the Pharaoh’s household. But his sense of conscience called him to act on behalf of a beaten slave. While his anger at that time got the best of him, it did show that he was sensitive to needs of those who were the victims of injustice.
When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, Moses could have turned away, to live his life as a shepherd, taking care of his own needs. However, his encounter with God gave him the eyes to see that his life could be used for a larger purpose. He was called to help liberate a people in bondage and fear.
Next month we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther spoke out against the injustices of the church and the state in his times. Luther could have remained hidden in a monastery or in his university praying and teaching in the cells and classrooms of safety. Instead, he heard the voice of God calling, and spoke out on behalf of the poor people of his day who were being used by the church and the state. Because of his courage, we today, at the end of our service sing his powerful hymn – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Today, God may be calling you to speak out in some way and in some place to help heal people who are hurting. The exact way God is calling you, only you will be able to tell.
When I served by first church in St. Louis as an Associate Pastor in a large church, I decided I needed – along with other pastors and people – to speak out against the growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons both the United States and the Soviet Union was continuing to build. I spoke out for a nuclear freeze on the building of more weapons considering that more weapons would only cause the eventual demise of humanity.
At the time I spoke and preached as a young pastor, I did not realize how controversial the subject would be. What I did not take into account was that most of the congregation worked for a defense contractor in St. Louis. Their living depended upon their continuing work there. It was a difficult few weeks the congregation, pastor, and I spent together during that time. We worked through the time, and in the seven and one half years I spent there, we all gained respect and care for one another. We all learned something from one another during that period of stress. The people became more willing to listen to the need I was trying to address, and I became more open to listening to what people older than I had to teach me. I learned not only of their needs for a living, but also of their beliefs in how they saw we should prevent a war by deterrence.
You don’t always have to agree with a person in order to respect them and to learn from them. I learned how to preach in love. When the congregation knew I cared for them by good pastoral care they were more willing to listen to me. I learned to listen to them and their experience and needs and that they too cared for me.
Together, as a family of faith, we grew and sought to discover how God was calling us to liberate a world in need.
Many other things this story of Moses teaches us, but time does not allow me to go through them all.
This much I will say in closing. I love this story of God calling Moses in the wilderness. I love it because it all started with an experience. Moses could have walked by or never heard God calling. But his need led him to look and to listen. He had the courage, which I hope you and I have, to listen to our own experiences of how God is speaking to us today, and what God is calling us to do. In do that, we will discover God’s call for our lives. Our experience is important if we will take them seriously. It is not that every moment has a message from God in it, but that every message from God has its moment, and we only have such moments when we find the faith and the courage to pay attention to them.
(Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson 2017. Use only with permission.)