St. John's, Centreville
September 3, 2017
Proper 17 A
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Before we can understand what is happening in our Old Testament lesson this morning, we need to go back to where we left off last week. The Pharaoh had decreed that all male Hebrew babies should be killed because the Israelites were becoming too numerous and, he feared they might become too powerful. A Levite couple has a male child, and when the mother can no longer hide him, she puts him in a basket in the river. Pharaoh's daughter finds him, his real mother comes to nurse him, and he is raised as an Egyptian in Pharaoh's house. This baby is Moses.
The story then jumps to when Moses is an adult. He sees two men fighting, an Egyptian and a Hebrew. Moses steps in and, seeing that no one is looking, he kills the Egyptian. But word gets out about what he has done and the Pharaoh vows to kill him. Moses realizes this is a good time to get out of town and he flees to the land of Midian. There he meets Reuel, a priest in Midian. Moses marries his daughter Zipporah, and he works for his father-in-law, keeping his flocks.
Now we pick up with today's story. As Moses is out in the fields with the flocks, he sees that a bush is burning, but it is not consumed. Wanting to make a closer inspection, God calls out to Moses and he replies, "Here I am." God says to Moses, "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hides his face because he is afraid to look at God."
God has seen the affliction and the oppression of the Israelites, slaving under the hand of the Egyptians. God knows they are suffering and God has come to deliver them and take them to a better land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But God is not going to do this by a divine decree. God needs Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. But Moses doesn't feel he is up to the task. "Who am I that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" In other words, who is going to listen to me? But God promises Moses that God will be with him.
Then Moses has another question. "If I say the God of our fathers has sent me and they ask me what your name is, what do I say?" God says, "I am who I am." Using a verb rather than a name emphasizes how God is actively present for God's people, leading them, caring for them, even in the remote part of the wilderness.
While the Israelites are groaning under slavery, God is already at work to set them free. But God is not going to do this alone. He chooses Moses to lead this effort to free the Israelites. And as we will see later on in the story, it took a long time, a lot of plagues, a lot of promises, and finally a sea that went dry for the Israelites and then flooded over the Egyptians.
God does not work alone, although God certainly could. God calls on us to do our part. God uses doctors and nurses to heal those who are sick, sometimes miraculously. God uses lawyers and judges to bring justice to those who have been harmed. God uses teachers and preachers to help us who need to learn and grow.
And we have all seen on the news and the internet this past week of how God has used ordinary people to rescue strangers from the flood waters in Texas. Some people have come from far away with their boats and large trucks to help rescue those who might have drowned in the floods. Some of the first responders might have been trained in water rescue and they were doing their job. But the rest were regular people, not specially trained, not called to a vocation such as this. People needed help in life and death situations and those with the means to help, did so. They took time off from their jobs or school to aid those in need. Those are the people God used to save those who might otherwise have drowned.
Some of you may have seen Steve Hartman's "On the Road" segment on the CBS Evening News on Friday. It was a wonderful commentary of people helping people in Texas. He showed a segment of people frantically forming a human chain, locking arms with each other, to get to an older man who was stuck in his truck, and the water was rapidly rising. They saved the man and brought him to safety. Steve's commentary was "If you take out one Christian or Muslim or Jew, one Democrat or Republican or immigrant - remove any link in this brave chain of people, the whole group is adrift and a piece of humanity is lost." We are dependent on each other. We need each other.
Moses didn't have any special gifts or abilities that we know of to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But God called him, and he replied "Here I am". We hear that same response in other Bible stories, from the calling of Samuel to the calling of Mary. Ordinary people going about their ordinary jobs, but realizing that God is calling them to do something, usually something that was not easy, something that they often felt they were ill equipped to do.
Before God called Moses, God had to get his attention. God used a burning bush that was not consumed. What does God use to get our attention? Sometimes it's that still, small voice. Sometimes it is a gut feeling. The older we get, the better we are able to discern the voice of God calling us to do something.
For some, God may get our attention through the voice of a friend or family member who seems to plant a seed in our minds. Perhaps God gets our attention through a death or an illness or something in our lives that brings us up short and forces us to take a look at our lives. God does not cause bad things to happen to us, but God may use them for good.
Moses life went in a completely different direction after his encounter with God - from being a shepherd watching over his father-in-law's flocks to being God's chosen one to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt.
Our lives, too, can change when we listen to the voice of God, maybe not as dramatically as Moses' life, but in new and different ways. We may think we are going in one direction and God calls us to take a different road. The call of God can be exciting, frightening, energizing, scary. But God does not leave us alone to accomplish the task. As with Moses, God is with us to give us strength and guidance and support.
Who would have thought two weeks ago that hundreds, maybe thousands of people with boats and trucks would have come from different parts of the country to rescue people in Texas from Hurricane Harvey? A lot of lives were changed, both those who were rescued and those who were the rescuers. Who would have thought at the beginning of the summer that by the first week in September, St. John's parishioners would have repaired and painted two sides of this church building? Lives changed, relationships strengthened. God is with us, at all times and in all places, whether we feel God's presence or not.
God calls us, perhaps not to be like Moses and to lead people to a new land, but to whatever ministry God has in mind for us big or small. May we listen to God's call and reply like Moses, "Here I am." Amen.