Sunday’s sermon: A Reluctant Messenger

Text used – Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:1-10

  • I want to read you a short passage from a beloved book this morning: [READ PASSAGE from The Hobbit[1]] → Bilbo Baggins. The conventional, unassuming, happy-with-thing-just-as-they-are hobbit of the Shire. The respectable, modest, no-nonsense hobbit who went about his days sensibly and dependably, never seeking anything so messy and unpleasant as an adventure.
    • Words to Gandalf when he meets him at the very beginning of this tale: [Gandalf said, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” [Bilbo replied,] “I should think so – in these parts! We are plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”[2]
    • And yet, as this epic tale unfolds, there Bilbo is in the middle of it all.
      • Begins by running off after the dwarves who had invaded his home, eaten all of his food, laid this absurd and dangerous proposal of a quest in his lap, then left in a hurry and a messy before he’d even awoken that morning → Despite all that – all those disturbingly uncomfortable goings on, Bilbo finds himself running after these dwarves, simultaneously hoping and fearing that they have begun their grand quest without him.
      • Soon learns that, indeed, adventures are nearly as uncomfortable as he had believed them to be → But he also comes to the surprising realization that a little bit of discomfort wasn’t as hateful as he may have originally thought. He comes to the realization that “adventures were not so bad after all.”
      • And as it turns out, this Grand Story couldn’t happen without him. Bilbo is a key character. He is essential … even if he begins his foray into this tale with reluctance.
    • Not so different from Moses in our Grand Story of faith this morning
      • Begins as unassuming shepherd for his father-in-law’s flock, just minding his own business and looking after the sheep
        • About as far out into the middle of nowhere as he could get – text said Moses was with Jethro’s flocks on “God’s mountain called Horeb” → “Horeb” literally means waste or desolate
  • And yet even in the midst of that vast and seemingly-empty wilderness, Moses is not alone. God is waiting there for him … waiting to call Moses to the role that he is truly meant to play. The key role. The essential role: deliverer.
    • Love the way that today’s reading is cut because it begins by reminding us why the people of Israel need a deliverer in the first place – text: 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. God heard their cry of grief, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked at the Israelites, and God understood.[3] → saw an interesting conversation in one of the online text study groups I’m a part of this week about this portion of our Scripture
      • The question someone presented: Why does God have to “remember” the Israelites? What does that say about God?
      • Someone else’s response (intriguing): “remembered” = more of a tone of being mindful of something → It doesn’t necessarily mean that God had entirely forgotten the covenants God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It means that God was mindful of those covenants and of the people’s suffering. Maybe they remained on the forefront of God’s mind, and God was waiting for the right person. The essential person … even if he is reluctant.
  • After being reminded of why God needs a deliverer for the people of Israel, we get that beautiful, stirring tale of God calling Moses
    • Dramatic
      • A tale of a burning bush and sacred ground
      • A tale narrated by the voice of God
      • A tale that reveals the name of the one true God – text: But 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?” God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”[4] → Even the name of God here is living and vibrant. It has its own identity, its own essence.
        • “I Am Who I Am” = Heb. YHWH → word related to life, to essence à root is an active word, a word with purpose and agency and vitality
          • Be/become
          • Take place
          • Have
          • Serve
          • There is a sense about this word – about this highest, holiest name of God – that is constantly moving and doing, constantly changing and transforming. It is dynamic and persistent, but it’s also steadfast and deliberate. This is the essence of God – the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the universe – all summed up into two syllables that sound as simple and calming and effortless as breathing: Yah … weh … Yah … weh.
    • Also a name rooted in history … a history that Moses knows nothing about. Remember, Moses’ mother put him in a reed basket and set him afloat on the Nile when he was a baby because Pharaoh, afraid that the Hebrew slaves would overthrow their Egyptian oppressors, attempted to cull the rising population of the Hebrew slaves by killing all the boys. Moses’ mother sent him down the river in hopes that he would find a better life, and indeed, he was found and adopted by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter.
      • Means he grew up in an Egyptian household
      • Means he grew up with Egyptian traditions, Egyptian customs, and, most importantly, Egyptian gods
      • Means he knew nothing of the Hebrew heritage into which he was born: the Hebrew traditions, the Hebrew customs, or the Hebrew God → God who promised to remain with the people of Israel and protect them
      • And yet despite this lack of knowledge, God roots God’s own self and name in this history when God speaks to Moses. – text: [God said], “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God. … 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.”[5]
        • Scholar speaks to the poignancy of God naming Godself in this way: When we are rooted in relationship, the names that we have for God are inevitably particular. They reflect the give and take, the successes and failures, the good times and the bad times of ongoing exchange.[6]
  • And then our lectionary reading for today cuts from God’s response to Moses’ question to Moses’ response to God’s call. It brings the story back around. – text: But 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.”[7]
    • This feels like a very Bilbo response to me. God has said to Moses, “I am looking for someone to share in a salvation that I’m arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” And Moses replied, “I should think so – in these parts! I am a plain quiet man and have no use for an exodus. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable thing! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”
      • Also feels a little bit like one of Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts that was popular a number of years ago: “To me, it’s a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, Hey, can you give me a hand? You can say, Sorry, got these sacks.” → This sort of feels like Moses’ way of trying to sidestep God’s call – like Moses’ way of excuse his way out of God’s call. “Sorry, God, I can’t help you. I’ve got these sacks. I’ve got this baggage – this slow mouth and thick tongue. Looks like you’d better get someone else for the job.”
    • And we can sit here and laugh, and we can side-eye Moses for being so audacious as to try to evade the direct and definitive call of God … but how often do we do the same thing?
      • Feel that pull to invite someone to church … then talk ourselves out of it
      • Feel that pull to ask if we can pray for someone … then talk ourselves out of it
      • Feel that pull to talk to someone about God or our faith or who Jesus is to us … then talk ourselves out of it
      • “I don’t have the right words. I don’t want to intrude. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to bother them. What I have to say can’t be that important … can’t be that impactful … can’t be that helpful.” And we keep out mouths shut and go about our daily lives. Sorry, God, we’ve got these two sacks … *shrug*
  • Today’s reading: God sees right through Moses’ excuses
    • Initially God tries to firmly reassure Moses of his own gifts by tying them back to God’s own powerful nature – text: Then the Lord said to [Moses], “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? Now go! I’ll help you speak, and I’ll teach you what you should say.”[8]
    • Moses again tries to deflect God’s call (definitely more desperately and directly this time) – text: Moses said, “Please, my Lord, just send someone else.”[9]
      • Heb. includes tiny, untranslated word that is used for pleading, for urgent requests
      • Heb. worded in such a way that it’s clear Moses is asking for someone else who is equipped – “someone else” = connotations of someone with the ability or power, someone with the means to accomplish whatever the task in question might be → And I think this is important because it shows us that Moses isn’t objecting to the task itself. Moses isn’t begging God to just leave the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. He isn’t throwing up his hands in apathy, saying, “Not my problems, God.” Moses is throwing up his hands in doubt, saying, “Not my forte, God.”
    • But again, God cuts straight through Moses’ objections (decidedly less forbearing this time)
      • Text tells us God actually got angry with Moses → God’s patience with Moses’ meekness has run out
      • Text tell us God directs Moses to find his brother, Aaron, to be his righthand man – text (God to Moses): “Speak to [Aaron] and tell him what he’s supposed to say. I’ll help both of you speak, and I’ll teach both of you what to do. Aaron will speak for you to the people.”[10]
    • And there it is. Moses is out of excuses. He’s out of reasons to say, “No.” And dang it all … God is still calling him. So what’s a guy to do?
  • Text is rich with nuggets and lessons, to be sure → But I think there are two really critical lessons we hear in this text this morning, especially in the way it’s cut and pieced together for today’s reading.
    • FIRST, as the popular phrase goes nowadays, “God does not call the equipped. God equips the called.” → God didn’t call Moses because he was the perfect person to speak eloquently to the people of Israel or to Pharaoh, simultaneously spinning a web of convincing arguments around Pharaoh and inspiring the people of Israel with moving sermons and impassioned testimony. God called Moses because God needed him. God called Moses because God knew Moses’ heart. God called Moses … because.
      • God doesn’t call us because we’re perfect
      • God doesn’t call us because we’re indisputably equipped
      • God doesn’t call us because we’re necessarily even ready!
      • God calls us because there is work to be done for God’s kin-dom here on earth. There is love to be shared. There is good news to be told. There is a table to be spread. There is hope that abounds. And we get to be a part of that because God calls us.
    • SECOND, God didn’t call Moses alone → God called Moses along with Aaron → God called Moses in community
      • Makes me think of Paul’s words in Eph: He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ.[11] → Not one of us is called to be all of those things in one human being. Not one of us is called to be a one-person show for Christ. Not one of us is called to do It All and be It All in the kin-dom of God. But we are called to work together – to bring our gifts as God has given them to us to be the body of Christ together: to share the love, to tell the good news, to come to the table, and to live into hope. Together. Together with the Great I Am. And that, friends, is indeed good news. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 27, 28, 29.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ex 2:23-25.

[4] Ex 3:13-14.

[5] Ex 3:6a, 15a.

[6] Reed Carlson. “Commentary on Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17” for Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/gods-name-is-revealed/commentary-on-exodus-223-25-31-15-410-17-2.

[7] Ex 4:10.

[8] Ex 4:11-12.

[9] Ex 4:13.

[10] Ex 4:15-16a.

[11] Eph 4:11-12.

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