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?!


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