“God’s Grace in the Life of Moses”
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 20, 2017
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Something dramatic gets Moses’ attention one day when he is out in the wilderness keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law at the foot of Mt. Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai). Moses is intrigued when he sees a power of nature—fire—revealed in a bush. Likely it is not a beautiful azalea or camellia—it is, after all, in the desert. Likely it is just a rough, scruffy looking bush, from which the holy appears. Moses is about to become a firsthand eyewitness to the holy for Moses is about to encounter his Divine Creator.
Let’s ease up for a closer look. Moses sees the bush that is on fire but it does not burn up. He surely thinks, “What’s going on here? I’ve never seen anything like this before!” (I believe we can safely say that God has Moses’ attention.) Then God calls out, “Moses, Moses,” and Moses responds, “Here I am.” Just in case Moses is not aware the magnitude of this moment, God offers a warning. “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals. You are on holy ground.” There Moses stands, barefoot before God, and Moses hears the voice from the bush saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Barefoot Moses hangs his head for he is afraid to look at God.
It turns out that God has seen the misery and injustice the people of Israel are suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. God, filled with compassion, is about to respond to their cry for help. It will be Moses’ mission to go to Pharaoh, lead the Israelites out of slavery, and travel with them to the Promised Land.
At first, glance, as all stories go, this one looks routine. You know the pattern: God calls. The person objects. “I can’t,” they say. “Yes you can,” God answers. This may look like a typical call story unless we consider how resistant Moses is to the call. He puts up quite a fight. If we examine today’s reading, and then on into chapter 4, Moses raises some objection to God’s call—not once or twice—but five times!
First, Moses says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” This is a question of identity. Who am I? But, who better than Moses to go to Egypt? He has been raised there. He has inside information. And in God’s economy—none of our experiences are wasted. God knows who we are and from where we have come, which is exactly why God calls us to go…say…do…. And we need not fear because God does not call the equipped. God equips the called.
On to Moses’ second objection to God’s call: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and tell them all this great news and they’re a tad skeptical, you know, to the point of asking just who this God is who sent me. What am I going to tell them?” It is an understandable, reasonable question except that it’s not just a question. It’s a power play—subtle—but a power play, nonetheless. In ancient biblical times, it is believed that a name reveals the character of a person so to know another’s name is to have some control over them. With his question, then, Moses is probably trying to hold on to a little control of his own. Moses wants to wile the name out of this divine being because to know its name is to have a certain power over it. Which is what makes God’s answer so perfect: “I AM WHO I AM!”[i] A better translation is I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It seems God won’t play this game of manipulation. Poor Moses, his control is slipping away.
“Now be on your way,” God says, “Get the elders together and tell them what I have told you. They will listen to you.”
Again Moses objects. “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to me. They are going to say, “There is no way God appeared to you—no way!” Moses is filled with self-doubt. Maybe he’s thinking about that day when he murdered an Egyptian who was beating his kinsman—back when he lived in Egypt—back when he was still known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Maybe he thinks since they know he was raised behind the palace walls. They won’t trust him. To this objection, God responds with one miracle after another. “What’s that in your hand, Moses?” “A staff,” and then God turns the staff into a snake, has Moses grab it by the tail and it becomes a staff again. Then God makes the very hand of Moses leprous—then heals it. In essence, God proves, “The elders will believe you, Moses. I will make sure of it.”
Still riddled with self-doubt, still so aware of his own shortcomings, Moses says, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, in the past nor even now. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” By now God is getting fed up. “And just who do you think made the human mouth? Isn’t it I? So get going. I’ll teach you what to say.”
Poor Moses, slow on the uptake, has yet to figure out there will be no denying the call of YHWH on his life. But in one last effort, he gives it a try and says what is really on his mind: “O my Lord, please send someone else, anyone else…” Completely frustrated with this unwilling servant, God provides a mouthpiece for Moses through Aaron, Moses’ brother, and God sends Moses away with his staff in hand.
It just looks like a bush on fire—but Moses encounters God on holy ground and Moses will never be the same. We may think of Moses as larger than life. How can we relate when, the truth is, most of us do not see ourselves as the stuff of which faith-heroes are made? But that’s probably because we haven’t been reading our Bibles very carefully. Remember David? He is one of the most revered characters in the Bible—described as a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he lies, he steals another man’s wife and then has her husband executed. His sins are many but he turns to God and God forgives him.
And what about the Apostle Paul? Before he has his little “Jesus meeting” on the road to Damascus, he is a ruthless crusader intent on destroying Christianity in its infancy. But he ultimately dedicates his life to spreading the message of salvation to the world.
Then there is Peter. Peter walks with Jesus—learns from Jesus—witnesses Jesus in action—yet he denies Jesus in his hour of need—denies him three times. Yet, recall what Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church…”
The truth of the matter is few of the characters God employs—including Moses—are the stuff of heroes. Yes, Moses is a murderer. Yes, Moses resists God’s call. But along the way, if we examine the life of Moses throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we see an imperfect man who just happens to love God—more and more with each passing day.
Moses, this hero of our faith, what can we learn from him? In the presence of God, Moses is transformed from a man who resists the Holy to a man eager to seek God’s face. Oh, the road isn’t always easy. Leading God’s people turns out to be more of a challenge than Moses could have ever imagined. Still, he sticks with it and he sticks with God—who sticks with him! At the end of his life, Deuteronomy tells us: “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
God meets Moses where he is, a runaway living in Midian, a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flock. God meets Moses where he is but he does not leave him there. God has another flock for Moses to tend—the flock of God’s people. Moses struggles with his own identity. He struggles with God’s identity. He is filled with self-doubt—so much so that he pleads with God—send someone, send anyone else. But over time, Moses becomes a man who is changed and who changes the lives of the people whom God calls him to lead.
Isn’t it remarkable? God has a way of using frail, fallible, ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. By faith, Moses stands barefoot before the holy. By faith, Moses walks with God, staff in hand. By faith, Moses leads the people out of captivity and into freedom. And every step he takes he is accompanied by an outpouring of God’s amazing grace and love.
None of us deserve it—this amazing love! Nonetheless, we are recipients of it. And God has called each of us to be about God’s work of love in the world.
Around the 2nd Century, Christians came under suspicion. Rumors began to circulate about what they were doing when they met together. Tertullian, a church leader in Carthage came to Christianity’s defense, indicating that it was out of jealousy that the church was being criticized—because Christians displayed character the outside world did not possess. He wrote, “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another, they say…how they are ready even to die for one another…”[ii]
I wonder what it would be like today, if people outside this church looked at us and said, “Those people at First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta—see how they love one another! See how they love their friends and family, their co-workers and their neighbors! See how they love the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner, the outsider, the one no one else loves! See how they share the love of Christ at every opportunity!”
None of us deserve it—God’s amazing love! Nonetheless, we are recipients of it. And God has called each of us to be about God’s work of love in the world. What is your work of love to do?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[ii] The Apology, Chapter 19.
*Cover Art “The Burning Bush” © Jan Richardson Images; Used by subscription.