You Called?! Exodus 3:1-15

I want to begin with a little commercial. Last week, I told Friends that for the next few Sundays in worship, we would be following the story in the book of Exodus. I also encouraged people to begin reading Exodus, since the focus scripture each week will skip parts of the story. Next week, we’ll jump over to chapter 12. So please, in the next few days, read a little each day and find out what happens between chapter 3 and chapter 12.
Now; since we left Moses last week, a lot has happened in the 15 verses between chapter 2 verse10 and chapter 3 verse 1…Moses has grown into adulthood, he’s become aware that the Hebrews—his people, even though he was raised in Pharaoh’s house—these Hebrews are oppressed and forced to work very hard. One day Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and as he responds to what he identifies with as injustice, he kills the Egyptian. So Moses flees Egypt and settles in a desert community, where he makes a new life for himself. He becomes a shepherd, marries and has a son, which is where today’s scripture picks up.
I came across this quote from United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon:
“The great challenge” said the management guru, speaking to a group of business executives, “is to transform your job into a vocation. Until you do that your job is destined to be dull, unfulfilling, and tiresome.” And I thought to myself, “We Christians certainly agree with that. However for us, that transformation occurs at God’s initiative rather than ours.” One of the greatest gifts of God is God’s ability to come TO us, to catch up our little lives in God’s purposes; to transform job into vocation, work into witness, life into adventure.”
One of the most interesting, engaging pieces of my ministry over the past 20 plus years has been to walk along with young people as they begin to attempt to discern what they should do with their lives. As each group of students graduates from high school, they become intensely focused on IF they’re going to college; WHERE they’re going to college, WHAT their focus will be; WHERE they will work; just exactly HOW they will survive in the world. For some it’s a relatively direct path; where the goal has been clear for a long time and defining what they were born to do is obvious to everyone who knows them. Others are less than certain and so the process of figuring out where they’ll end up becomes an adventure of testing and trying out a variety of options. And then there are those that surprise everyone, most of all themselves, as they find a place that seems totally right but so disconnected or opposed to who they thought they were. Being able to listen to and observe these folks also brings back my own experiences as young adult who was searching for a college major that would give my life direction. As I stepped on to the campus of The Ohio State University in the fall of 1977, I really had no idea what degree I would pursue. Throughout that first year, as I sampled classes and gathered information about the possibilities, I was able to choose a course that fit me.
Our scripture today involves a story that brings forth this same issue…here we encounter Moses as he grapples with the question about what his life’s work will be, even though he THOUGHT he already knew. Moses’ call to begin to work for Yahweh—the Lord God—who will deliver the nation of Israel through this ordinary and somewhat unlikely character; Moses; speaks to us about what being “called” means, and about how working out of a sense of call fulfills us, challenges us, and gives us a place in the story of God’s people.
As chapter 3 begins, Moses is engaged in the routine of his daily life tending his father-in-law’s sheep. This is lonely work; done in a lonely place. When he comes upon a burning bush, he investigates. This is an unusual sight—the flaming shrub is never consumed by the fire. Moses’ exploration leads him to an encounter with God.
Today, so much of how we decide to act is calculated way ahead of time. We gather information, and assess the time and resources required. I, for one, like to have a plan and then WORK that plan to completion. Anything from how we choose a college to what we have for dinner can be so scripted that unexpected events or unforeseen circumstances rarely happen and if they do, they’re sidestepped and forgotten. What would happen if we considered interruptions or unusual circumstances as openings? Openings where we might encounter God? A God who has important messages for us.
It’s also interesting to note where Moses is in the course of his life. He is NOT a young man at the beginning of his adulthood. He’s at least middle aged, with a family. Mistakes have been made; time has passed. Culturally, our focus is on those who are young—they’re the ones who should be trying to figure out what they’re going to do.
Moses reminds us that discerning and responding to queries about who we are and what we’re doing can and will be a life-long process.
Through the conversation Moses has with God, it becomes clear quickly that God does, in fact, have things for Moses to do. God does not work alone. It is the Divine intention that the human journey be linked with God. While I certainly do not believe that God plans every human thought and action, I DO believe that God has hopes and desires that can be fulfilled by us. Each individual’s call, and our response to it is a vehicle through which we can align ourselves and our lives with God’s motives. AS we find meaning and purpose in the focus our lives take, God’s goals are realized.
My favorite part of this passage is when Moses questions God. It’s clear that Moses is not passive in receiving this call. Also, God is not alienated by Moses’ questions and reservations. Because Moses resists and asks for more information, more about God’s nature is revealed. Through the dialogue, it becomes known that God will be present with Moses that this Yahweh possesses the power and authority that was revealed through Moses’ ancestors, and that God’s intention is to remain in relationship with humans through future times. This relationship of questions that God and Moses (and thus ALL humans) have is more valuable than attaining any pat answers that have a fixed or limited scope. “Who am I?” God says. “I am who I am, and I will be what I will be. Come along and spend the rest of your life finding out What that means. R.W. Rilke advises those of us called by God to “love the questions—live the questions. Perhaps someday far in the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answers.”
Also vital to those of us who are seeking our calling is the lesson we learn when we realize that all of this has been initiated by God. This isn’t something that Moses sought or was prepared to do, It is God that called, God who moves toward Moses, and God who utilizes what Moses has—his gifts and abilities—for good in the world. It is God who has heard the cries of an oppressed people—God who will work so that salvation comes to those people. GOD’s intentions are fulfilled by GOD’S actions through the call that GOD initiates toward Moses; GOD’S person. What else can Moses do, but take off his shoes and acknowledge that holy ground? His response to God, as you know, results in the liberation of the people of God; the exodus and a lifetime of adventure with the Divine.
Our lives also are filled with God-initiated circumstances where we too might become participants in liberating God’s mercy, love, and salvation into our world. These circumstances come in the midst of our ordinary, messy, complicated, “planned” lives. They speak to and invite us to respond to the mystery of the Divine which will call us and use us, AND our life-long journey, as it continues and evolves through all of our days. What else can WE do, but acknowledge the life and the salvation present in these holy places, and then respond as God calls?!


Finding Our Identity Exodus 1:8-2:10

I was reviewing some of the events and activities we’ve been involved with here at Adirondack this year, and happened on my notes and curriculum from the Adult class this spring on the first part of the book of Exodus. While this is one of my favorite parts of the Old Testament, I also think it is a very important piece for us to become familiar with as a faith community. So, for the next few weeks, we will be exploring –or re-exploring if you were in that class—some of these passages in worship. If you want to be prepared for this, I encourage you to read the first 12 chapters of Exodus. I think you’ll find it interesting or a good review if you’ve read them recently. I’d also like to suggest that you rent or borrow the film “The Prince of Egypt”. Released in 1998, this movie is an animated version of this part of Exodus. It is a good way to encounter and bring to life the stories from scripture.
The verses in our reading this morning from the first two chapters of Exodus would be really easy for me to just jump right over in order to get to the more exciting parts of the story. But within this text –from the very beginning—we can identify the prominent forces that will play out on through this important narrative.
For our Jewish sisters and brothers, the Exodus text is a foundational, integral part in their identity as the chosen people of God. We too should take heed and notice and learn even—especially here at the beginning about what it is and who it is that shapes our past and can direct our future.
Of course, the story in Exodus has its roots or “prequel” in Genesis….It takes up with the people of God as they continue to seek to live into the covenant they have with God. When we last left the Hebrews back in Egypt, what were their circumstances? Remember how Genesis ends? The Hebrews—Jacobs family with 12 sons—have moved to Egypt because of a famine…Joseph who was sold as a teenager and makes his way into the court of Pharaoh as a trusted and valued official, is reunited with his family. The Hebrews are given a place to live and the means to prosper in Egypt. Remember that covenant with God has three main promises to come to fruition in exchange for the people’s devotion to God; Land, progeny, and blessing.
Here, as Exodus opens, we learn that things are not so good now for the Hebrews.
Several generations have passed and the Egyptian king does not remember Joseph or the agreements Egypt had with his family. This king fears the Hebrews because they are so numerous, and so he enslaves them. The result of this oppression upon the Hebrews is that –amazingly—they continue to multiply and spread; even as the work they are forced to do becomes harder and harder. The power of God’s blessing upon these people is discernable in the growth of their numbers.
As the king becomes more and more desperate to control this people, he orders two midwives; Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the boys they deliver to Hebrew women. The deep fear that possesses this ruler has evoked a policy that murders the babies who have the potential to be the most productive workers in this system of slavery. Talk about ironic and irrational! When confronted for their non-observance of the king’s order, the midwives response is somewhat humorous and act of civil disobedience. They are unable to fulfill the king’s demands because Hebrew babies come fast and furious. In the contrast between actions resulting from a desire for controlling power and actions in response to the power of divine blessing, we can see and understand that God’s promise is manifested as humans respond with faith and hope to promote and protect life. God’s blessing can empower folks to confront and override death and oppression, even in those sanctioned or supported by laws and governments.
In the last episode of this scripture passage, again the order is given: ALL of the king’s people are to kill Hebrew boy babies. Again, through the power of God’s blessing, although death is decreed, birth happens. This time the boy born is the one who save his people. He is rescued, protected, and nurtured by the efforts of Pharaoh’s own daughter, who has pity and compassion for him. Knowing full well that this child is a Hebrew, Pharaoh’s daughter, along with the help of the baby’s sister and mother—two women who should be her enemies, lives and acts in response to the providence of God in bringing hope and life to God’s people. This scripture is the story of how the power of God’s blessing cannot be stopped by any human power. It is also the story of how God’s people in response to God’s blessing can counter oppression and death by living into the hope, possibility, and promise of the divine.
While walking through the forest one day, a man found a young eagle who had fallen out of his nest. He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens it was no longer an eagle.
“Still it has the heart of an eagle” replied the naturalist, “and can surely be taught to fly.” He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth.
Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know
who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.
The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, “You
are an eagle “Stretch forth your wings and fly.” But the eagle was afraid of his unknown
self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist
took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, *’ You are en eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry soared away into the heavens.
It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barn yard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.
Immersed in the comfort and convenience of life in the U.S. middle class, it’s easy to overlook or forget or ignore the oppression and injustice and evil in our world, which sometimes is promoted and protected by big business or a government or a prominent person. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk away than get involved.
But, I am a person of God. We are God’s people! As such we have the opportunity; the responsibility to live into the power of God’s blessing; bringing hope and life and compassion and concern to all, even if sometimes it’s risky or includes acts of civil disobedience. Sometimes the greatest risk is not taking any risk. Our effort to live into God’s promises can and should begin as we recognize in ourselves the possibility that we might live and act as Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter as advocates and conduits for divine providence and grace. This then, we find, is our true identity.
Earlier this morning, having just completed this message, I turned to the news feed from my internet provider…Friends; our world is FULL of opportunities to live into the reign of God as one of God’s people. What would it mean for US to advocate or act for the masses of child refugees attempt a dangerous border crossing to flee the violence in their homes?! What would it look like for US to confront our government’s leaders in their efforts to make this more about political or financial manipulations?
How will God’s people respond to the violence in the Ukraine or on the Gaza strip?
Our own identity as advocates for peace, and compassion, and justice, and the environment is being called forth from the barnyard out into the wild blue sky answering the call of divine power and love; identifying with and acting out God’s grace. How will we respond?