Pastor David Clark sermon: The God Who Calls
Exodus 3:1-15 August 31, 2014
We continue our sermon series from Exodus by remembering that the story begins with news that there arose an Egyptian king who did hadn’t learned his history and betrayed the people who had saved his country by putting them into slavery because he was afraid of the sheer number of foreigners in his country. But the Hebrews multiplied so he ordered the midwives to kill every male child at birth. The midwives defied him and the Hebrew population exploded. Pharaoh ordered slaughter of all the Hebrew boys. And the people cried out in their pain and oppression, “God, remember us, deliver us.”
A boy was born, and his mother hid him for a while and then she hoped against hope that God would be merciful and Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the boy and the boy grew up in the king’s home and they worked a little deal were Moses’ own mother got to nurse her son.
When he grew up, Moses saw a Hebrew mistreated by his slave masters so Moses murdered them and had to skip the country. Life was tough for him. He went from prince to refugee and tried to put the past behind him. He married and worked for his father-in-law, Jethro, herding sheep.
One day, Moses found himself on Mount Horeb, which means “wasteland.” His life had turned into a wasteland. Wasted opportunities, potential, and broken dreams, no clear future. Something caught the corner of his eye, and he explored it and he discovers the burning bush that is not consumed and commands him to remove his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. This wasteland was no wasteland after all, it was the mountain of God. One of the recurring themes of scripture is that people find God in the wastelands. Or more properly, God finds us when we are in the wasteland experiences of life.
Often when it seems like God is most absent, if you turn your head, and look around, suddenly God seems most present. I’ve found this to be true in my own life. Like when I was a chaplain in Sioux City and United Flight 232 crashed killing 110 people on board, I thought God could not be present in that wasteland. But God was there in the people who cared for each other and helped the survivors and the families of the victims through the tragedy. Once I thought God was not present in a wasteland when I had a project I worked hard on fall through and fail; I got so worked up that I nearly missed the upturned face of my daughter who was wanting to spend more time with me.
For those who learn to look, you can find God even in the harshest places. The Spaniards used to call some of the harshest basin of the American desert, “The Palm of God’s Hand.” The story of scripture is that when the hard times come, that is especially when we should be on the lookout for the presence of God.
Did you ever wonder why Moses had to take off his sandals? Does God like stinky feet or something? Probably not; removing shoes in many cultures is a sign of respect and this passage it reminds us that getting in contact with God is not just a cerebral thing; it’s a whole body, a whole person thing. Too often we act as if faith is just a thing we do in our heads; this passage reminds us that sometimes we need to get out of our heads and embrace all of our senses. Maybe today you feel like you are in a wasteland time of life with problems, troubles, and wondering where God is for you. Go ahead, kick off your shoes. They rest on the holy ground of this sanctuary. God is with you. This sanctuary can be your Mount Horeb where you can come to terms with the fact that you are not alone and God will help to deliver you.
You may not have a burning bush to look at, but God is still speaking. You don’t have God’s audible voice, but you have the scriptures about love and forgiveness and justice to guide you. You have prayers, songs, and even a goofy looking gapped toothed preacher standing before you to testify to the reality of the God who gets us through the wasteland. God’s word comes through the centuries and makes a claim on your life too. This story isn’t in the Bible to give you little biographical details of Moses’ life; it is there to help you figure out your life and how God relates to you.
In fact, a good way of looking at any Biblical passage is to ask three questions about it. First, what does it say about God. Second, what does it say about us as humans? Third, what claim does it make on how we should live our lives?
The first question, what does the burning bush story say about God? We find that God hears the cries of the suffering and calls normal human beings to address the problem. We learn that God calls people that no one would expect including barren midwives and a murderer. We find that God is interested in setting free people who are oppressed. You want to find where God’s heart is? Look in those who are poor or suffering and hurting. Those are the friends of God.
Another interesting thing we learn about God is that God is always going to be more than we can grasp. Moses asks for God’s name, “If I go to Egypt for you, who shall I say sent me, who are you?” God replies “I AM who I AM.” What sort of an answer is that? I AM? God is the source and ground of all that is, of all existence. I AM.
In Hebrew the words for I AM who I AM is Yahweh. If you hear someone refer to God as Yahweh, it’s because of this passage. Some earlier translators got it a little wrong when they put it into English and they thought it should be translated: Jehovah. But there is no hard J sound in Hebrew so it is probably closer to Yahweh. Either one is the name of God. God’s name means that God is. No matter what happens, God is.
But that is a little abstract and different places in the Bible have tried to use different images to help us understand better the character of God. For example, in Luke’s gospel, God is a savior, God saves people from their wounds, from their enemies, from their sins. In Matthew’s gospel, God is an alternative ruler to Caesar establishing a new matrix of how to live. In Exodus, God is the one who liberates and leads out of slavery. Our 9:30 Sunday adult class is reading a book about all of the metaphors for God that broaden our understanding of who God is. At times, the Bible says, God is like a shepherd or a friend, or a rock or a mother hen brooding over her chicks, or a father or mother. All of these are images that help us understand something of God’s nature.
Sometimes in our spiritual journey, we need someone to save us. Sometimes what we need from God is someone to comfort us, other times it is someone to guide us, other times it is someone to heal us or to liberate us. No one image says it all or works for everyone. Ultimately God’s vague name: I Am, is a reminder that we should never try to limit God; God will remain ineffable mystery. We can apprehend God, experience God see the afterglow of God’s presence in our lives, but we will never fully comprehend all there is to know about God.
But that is not to say that God is whatever we want to make God out to be. We have images from scripture and our beliefs about God need to be consistent with the images of God we find there. In those images, we discover a God who cares about those who are suffering. We find a God who calls for peace and justice and creates new realities out of barrenness.
What does the passage say about us? It reveals that when God makes a claim on our lives, we make excuses. God called Moses and Moses said, “Send somebody else.” In the course of the two-minute conversation between God and Moses, Moses offers five excuses. He gives everything from, “Who am I? I have no power or influence” to “I’m, a wanted man, and I’ve got a speech impediment.”
We, like Moses will usually find some excuse to try not to do what God wants us to do. What’s your favorite excuse? I don’t have enough faith? I don’t have enough time? I might make a spectacle of myself? If I change, I’ll be a disappointment to someone? But God said to Moses, “I don’t care about your speech problem. I’ll send someone to be with you and help you. Your brother Aaron will be the spokesman.” Talk about someone with a past; Yahweh called a murderer to make the divine plan work. It says that we are never ever outside of God’s ability to call and make a claim on our lives. It says we are never so damaged that we can’t be of some use for God’s larger purpose.
What God calls us to do, God will support us in doing. And God seemed to be saying, “I don’t care about your past, about your fears, you lack of knowledge about who I AM, of going back to the place where you are wanted. I’ll be with you.”
If you’ve been resisting and putting up excuses, you are in good company, but you’ll be in even better company if you follow where God leads. If your excuse is lack of faith, taking a leap of faith is the best way to help it grow. If your excuse is that you don’t have enough time, you’d be amazed by what happens when you stop trying to shoehorn faith into your busy life and make it the priority. So many of those life-sucking, energy-draining things you are doing that keep you so busy will just fall away and you’ll be glad to be rid of them.
So, what claim does this make on your life? Only you can answer that. Notice one thing about the enormity of what God asked Moses to do: liberate an entire people from slavery. It’s easy to point out his excuses, but it becomes a bit more real if we realized its equivalent for our lives. What if God were to say to you: Go liberate the Middle East from violence or liberate those tens of thousands of girls being sex trafficked around the globe; Liberate my creation from the poisons that people are dumping into it. Who? Me? Who am I?
But isn’t that exactly what God is calling you to do? To find places where your passion meets the world need and to act? When you are part of a church, you contribute to efforts for peacemaking across the globe, relief projects to feed the hungry and liberate trafficked girls and boys. You join with others who work for environmental justice. You don’t have to do it alone.
Some people look at the world and ask: Why isn’t God doing anything about the problems? My response is that God did do something. God created you.
The bonus fourth question we can ask of a text is: who else needs to hear this? Who do you know that needs to hear that even if they are in a wasteland time of life, they are still in the palm of God’s hand? Who do you know with a past that needs to hear that those old mistakes don’t disqualify him or her from doing something wonderful today? Who do you know that needs encouragement to take a step of faith and put their excuses away? Amen.
Pastor David Clark is interim senior pastor for the Redlands United Church of Christ. Pastor David Clark began his ministry in Redlands in 2013.
Pastor David Clark sermon: The God who Liberates. Preached at Redlands United Church of Christ, Redlands, California. Former Iowa Pastor David Clark is now Senior Pastor of Redlands UCC.