Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sermon for November 6, 2005

Out of Egypt: Not I, Lord
Exodus 3:1-15

The search committee for a new pastor was having difficulty making a decision. One member of the committee, who was admittedly tired of the whole process, offered one last letter of introduction from a pastoral candidate. She read: "To the pastoral search committee: It is my understanding that you have a vacancy in your pulpit, and I would like to apply for the position. I can't say that I preach too well. In fact, I tend to stutter when I speak. I do have many different experiences I could share with you, since I am over 75 years old. I recently had an encounter with God and, despite my initial resistance to the idea, I heard a Voice which told me personally that I was the one to do the ministry for you. One never knows when God will appear right before your very eyes. As far as people skills go, I do tend to lose my temper every once in a while. I also tend to want things done my way, and can get violent if it's not taken care of right away. Once I even killed somebody. However, that's all behind me now. I intend on showing up there in a few weeks to lead you into a brighter future. Although I was reluctant at first to work with you, I still feel called to be with " The committee member glanced up at the rest of the group. "Well, what do you think? Can this person be our leader or not?" The rest of the committee looked horrified. Have an old, arrogant, temperamental, neurotic, ex-murderer as their pastor? Who exhibits such colossal nerve? And who are his references? Who was this guy, anyway? The committee member answered, “It's signed, ‘Moses.’”

When you read his dossier, Moses doesn’t seem like the best candidate to receive a call from God. The story reads like a celebrity murder trial from the National Enquirer. Can you imagine what it might sound like?
Cairo Egypt, 1446 BC. More Misery for MosesDependable sources confirm that the notorious Moses was spotted in the deserts of Midian last Friday. Moses has been camping out in the Midian wilderness for the last 50 years, since fleeing from the brutal murder of an Egyptian guard. Residents on the Egyptian/Midianite border still live in fear of another terrorist strike from Moses. The Egyptian F.B.I. Lists Moses as the 9th most wanted person, and they continue to offer a reward for any information leading to his arrest. Family members close to the murdered guard believe Moses is stockpiling weapons and gathering a band of warlords to overthrown the Pharaoh. Our anonymous sources testify that Moses keeps a low profile. Now married with children, he lives a relaxed pastoral life, tending sheep in the desert. Our journalists captured stunning footage of Moses, now an old man, walking barefoot around a flaming bush. Is the burning a bush a signal to begin his alleged strike on Egypt, or is Moses planning a bonfire marshmallow roast for his neighbors? Our National Enquirer experts think Moses is psychologically deranged. Check the National Enquirer for the latest, and most reliable information.

Most of us learned in Sunday School what the burning bush is really about. Moses is running an errand for his father-in-law. Herding sheep in the desert, he sees smoke in the distance. It turns out to be a burning bush. Moses says, "What's going on here? I can't believe this! Why doesn't the bush burn up?" If that’s not strange enough, the flaming foliage speaks. Moses instantly recognizes the voice of God.

And God says, “Moses, I have some good news, and I have some bad news. The Good News – is that I've taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I've heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I’m here to help them. I will pry them loose from the grip of Egypt.” Moses is surely delighted to know God’s plans. God hears the cry of the people—a cry for justice in their oppression. God promises to come and deliver them. God is not cold and distant. The good news is that the situation will be made right. Quite an agenda—even for God. And Moses must be excited. He may think, "When God gets all that done, maybe it will even be safe for me to go back to Egypt and settle in with the family once again."

But God’s not done. God continues, “Now for the bad news The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I've seen for myself how cruelly they're being treated by the Egyptians. It's time for you to go back, Moses. I'm sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt."

That’s a rude shock! Just as Moses is about to sit back and watch God shift into high gear and free the Israelites, he hears a second message. God drafts Moses to go back to Egypt and do all the legwork. How inconsiderate of God! God’s not taking Moses’ personal problems seriously at all. He’s on the most wanted list, for goodness’ sake! Moses is supposed to go back to Egypt, with a price upon his head, put everything on the line, and help a powerless people escape from a very powerful Pharaoh? “Uh, no thanks, God. I mean, it was great of you to drop in and light things on fire and chat with me, and all. But, I’m somewhat busy here. I got a herd of sheep to take care of, and I wasn’t really planning on an Egyptian vacation right now. And I stutter. That’s right God. I can’t go eyeball-to-eyeball with Pharaoh, because I s-s-s-t-t-tutt-tt-er.”

No matter. God is not impressed by Moses’ lame attempts to avoid an unpleasant task. Moses doesn’t have much choice but to report for active duty. He has been able to flee from the long arm of the Egyptian law, but he knows he cannot flee from the even longer arm of God.

Moses’ story is also our story. When we learn about Moses, we are learning about ourselves. For example, we’re like Moses because we like promises but we hate demands.
· "You are going to become a C.E.O. in the corporation of your choice" (Great!) "But first, you have to be tops in your class getting an M.B.A." (Aw!)
· "You are going to be a very successful politician." (Great!) "But you’ll have to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week and lose your first three tries for public office." (Aw!)
· "You have the talents to do a great deal for world peace." (Great!) "If you are the least bit effective, people will call you a disloyal American.”(Aw!)
· "I call you to be my disciple." (Great!) "You may end up where I ended up, on a cross." (Aw!)
Who wants extra demands? It’s hard enough just to live a decent, ordinary life without heroics. Like Moses, we bargain with God: "How about if I just do the disciple bit on Sundays? I’ll work for peace, but I don’t have to stick my neck out do I? Who needs another martyr?" We like promises bit we don’t like demands.

There’s another reason we are like Moses. We don’t like demands that involve us in conflict. Religion is supposed to warm us and help us fulfill our human potential. We need lots of time alone, and minimal conflict. But it doesn’t work that way. Conflict seems to be the name of the game as far as God is concerned.

There will come a time in your life when you need to risk your personal security to do the right thing. A few weeks ago, I watched a hidden camera program. It showed two actors in a park, pretending to be a couple in a emotionally violent fight. The man was physically aggressive and verbally abusive. The woman was crying and struggling to get away. Most of the other people in the park noticed the fight and walked away. Afterwards, the people were invited to debrief the episode. Some were afraid to get involved. Others were paralyzed by fear. One or two were brave. They swallowed their fear, and stood up for the abused woman.

Have you ever seen a kid being mistreated, and you don’t know what to do, or how to get involved, or whether you will become the target of an angry parent? Ever seen a person receive the explosive rage of another, maybe at a meeting or a family gathering? Did anyone stand up to the bullying, or did they just sit there in uncomfortable silence? It might be easier to run back into a burning building than it is to stand up to an enraged bully. Christians form their lives around God’s call to justice. God takes a stand against cruelty, and hatred, and oppression. And at some point, God will call you to be like Moses in that situation, whether you like it or not. And you will be tempted to avoid conflict and to ignore the suffering you see around you.

Remember, when we go into the places of conflict we are not alone. God is there too. God joins us in trouble. When God hears the people’s cry, the message from the divine throne is not, "That’s to bad. I’ll get to it after my game of Mahjong.” No way! God says, "I'll come down and work with my people in the midst of the trouble." God is right where life is tough and ugly. We are not alone. We discover, whenever we are trying to work for justice, that God has, once again, gotten there before we did, and has been waiting, sometimes not too patiently, for us to show up and get into the struggle too.

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