September 7, 2014 – Holy God, holy ground, holy calling

Hebrews 11:23-27

By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.

Exodus 2:11-25

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.   The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom (an-alien-there); for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Exodus 3:1-15

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. 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. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 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.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 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. 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, 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 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.” 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?” 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.’” 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.”

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Pentecost 13 September 7, 2014   Hebrews 11:23-27, Exodus 2:11-25, 3:1-15

Holy God, holy ground, holy calling

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We are standing on holy ground… and I know that there are angels, all around….

And oh, what a long strange journey it is… to holy ground… As Moses sees an Egyptian slave-driver beating a Hebrew slave. And Moses kills the slave-master, and buries him in the sand. Then Moses sees a Hebrew beating another Hebrew and tries to stop the fight. But the one doing the beating turns on Moses, saying “who made you a judge or ruler over us?” Previewing all the complaining against God and Moses that will become the chorus in the story ahead…

Now we hear that Moses flees away to Midian to escape Pharaoh, who’s got a bounty on his head. (Midianites, remember, were the ones who brought Joseph down to Egypt to be sold into slavery. Midianites were children born to Abraham by his third wife, Keturah. Midianites and Israelites are country cousins.) Now the same tribe who brought us down into slavery helps us get started on the way out from slavery. Teaching Moses to be a shepherd like his ancestors. And Moses meets his shepherdess wife at a well, like his ancestors Isaac and Jacob met their shepherding wives long before. Letting us know this second book of the bible is a continuation of the first…

Elsewhere in scripture we hear Moses was forty years old when he left Egypt on the run. Now another forty years have gone by, and Moses is eighty as the story picks up again, with Israel still deeply enslaved in hard labor…

But now God hears the groans of Israel – and God remembers his promises to Abraham and his descendants. God hears the groaning-in-pain of Israel as a prayer, rising up from the anguish of hurting and oppressed peoples….Claiming God’s full attention.

Meanwhile, in the wilderness… Moses is shepherding sheep…as he’s been doing, forty years now… But today, for whatever reason, Moses leads his flock further than usual, on beyond the wilderness, til he comes to Mt Horeb. Where –

Moses stops – looks – sees a bush that burns and burns – and – Moses says to himself, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight – and see why the bush is not burned up.” And from out of the burning bush the angel of God calls:

Moses! Moses!

And Moses replies, “Here I am.”

God speaks from out of the bush that burns brighter then peak-season-fall-foliage-in-it’s-most-intensely-blazing-brightness….

God summons Moses to come nearer with this blazing sign. Yet God also says,“Come no closer! Take off your sandals. You’re standing on holy ground.”

Moses hides his head, afraid to look…

God says “I’ve seen the suffering of my people. I’ve heard my people cry, in slavery. I’ve come to save. I’m sending you to Egypt to bring my people out from slavery.”

Moses says “Who am I to bring Israel out of Egypt?” (Like, you must be kidding. I’ve got no credentials for anything like that…)

God says, “I’ll go with you…And I’ll bring you back here to this mountain to worship.”

Moses says, “But what if the Israelites ask me,“what’s the name of this God who spoke to you?’ What will I say?” (Like, who’s going to believe this?)

And God says, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you. Tell them the God of your ancestors… has sent you…”

And – for another whole chapter beyond where we’ve read today – the conversation goes on and on, with Moses expressing doubts and yet more doubts…         To all of which God says ‘Gather the elders of Israel together. Tell them what I’ve told you. Take them with you. Go to the king of Egypt. Tell him God says we need a three-day weekend away in the wilderness for worship

(Getting out of slavery starts with making time with God, away from distractions.) And God continues, telling Moses ‘I know the king won’t let you go willingly. But when I give the sign, in my time, Pharaoh will let you go.’

Moses says again, what if they don’t believe me, or listen to me?”

God says“What’s in your hand?” Moses says“a staff.” God says “throw it down.” Moses does.. It turns into a snake. Moses jumps. God says “pick it up by the tail.” Moses does. The snake turns back into a staff. The conversation and the signs-and-wonders-demonstration by God continues…

But Moses seems to be getting more and more nervous, now – as the full scope of what he’s being told to do starts to sink in. And Moses says, “Excuse me, Lord – I’ve never been a good speaker. I stutter and stammer…And with nobody to talk to but the sheep (and you), I’ve just about forgotten how to speak Egyptian.”

God says, “Never mind. I’ll give you words. I’ll teach you how to speak.”

Some of the ancient commentaries say this dialogue between God and Moses went on like this for a whole week. And God was very, very patient with Moses, all the while… That is, till Moses says, “please God, send someone else. ”

Then even God loses patience. But even though God’s irritated now, he does make a concession and grants Moses a helper. And God says, “Here comes your brother, Aaron. He doesn’t mind talking. He’ll be your press secretary. Now take up your staff. Get going!

And Moses gets going… And ever since..

Exodus is our first biblical full-length spiritual travelogue. The story of what it means to become God’s people, on the journey… Unlearning slavery to the world… Traveling with God on a forty year wilderness journey… Receiving the law and teachings from God on Mt Sinai. (Actually Mt Sinai and Mt Horeb, as it turns out, are the same mountain by two names.) And just as God says, just a few months after Moses sees God here in the burning bush – all of Israel will be camped at the foot of this same mountain – now all ablaze with God’s presence…

Our Exodus journey is the story of fire in the burning bush, fire on the mountain, fire in our bellies and bones – as we join the freedom journey with God and Moses and Israel… Learning the nature of God and the nature of how we, God’s people, are called to side with God, with the poor and oppressed; the slave, the alien, the stranger – all those at the outer margins of this world’s power and wealth.

Forty is the biblical number signifying “this will take time.” It takes Moses forty years to discover he’s called to be an Israelite, not an Egyptian. Even though he’s grown up in Pharaoh’s household, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, a child of power and privilege – still Moses comes to understand – his real calling is to be a child of God…Sharing in the trials and sufferings of God’s people…

Then it takes Moses another forty years of shepherding sheep to be ready to shepherd God’s people… (Even then he doesn’t feel ready.)

And it will take Israel forty years of unlearning slavery to even begin to be ready for the promised land. Forty years is the biblical metaphor for how long it takes – for most of us, most of the time – to really hear the word of God and step out in faith… (Forty years may only take forty months in real time… Though it may still feel like forty years. Time is relative.)

Knowing the road ahead will help. I hope we’ll all read through Exodus…a hugely important book for all the New Testament writers, who interpret the story always with Jesus in view. The letter to the Hebrews sees Moses (more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus) already suffering for Christ. Reasoning perhaps, as John Wesley reasoned later, that since Christ has died for all, therefore his atoning grace flows in all directions – backwards and forwards in time, to reach all people everywhere… (And indeed–)

God is still always aflame with love for us, and all God’s people.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries… unaware …”

So wrote poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, nearly two centuries ago. (When there was little need to explain the imagery of the burning bush – since nearly everyone knew the story of Moses then…)

And whether or not we know or notice – God is always here – ablaze in the pure light of love, always…

And no – I don’t think I’ve ever heard God speaking from a burning bush… But – like many of you probably – I have heard God calling more than once – sometimes in ways just as un-subtle as a burning bush. And by grace I too have moments when I actually notice – We are standing on holy ground…

and I know that there are angels, all around….

And I wish I could say I’m always clear about my calling. Always saying ‘yes Lord’ when I hear God call. But I take heart in knowing that Moses and Israel, are, like me, works-in-progress… I take heart that the journey takes time… I even take heart when I consider how God is surely not surprised – when I offer the same old objections and excuses Moses tried long ago.

And yes, when we first hear God calling, many of us, like Moses, still try to convince God to send some one else. “I’m not trained for this work, Lord…. I’ve got a day job, Lord….I’ve got family, Lord… Send someone else, please Lord…”

But of course – God isn’t persuaded by my excuses… Any more than by those of Moses long ago.. And of course God knows exactly what God’s doing – when God calls you and me… So may this be our prayer:

Help us, dear Lord our God, to realize who we really are –

and who we’re really called to be…

Help us recognize You as the Great I AM – who hears the cries of the suffering and enslaved…

Who calls us to hear with You… and respond with You.

Help us know you are our holy God…

Help us know we’re standing (even now) on holy ground…

Listening for your holy calling…

Help us, dear God, we pray. In the name of your Son Jesus.

Amen.

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