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Excuses

posted Nov 12, 2018, 8:55 AM by Cameron Hubanks   [ updated Nov 12, 2018, 8:57 AM ]
11 November 2018   Exodus 3:1-15

EXCUSES

So…. it’s not an everyday thing to be spoken to from a burning bush, right?  

And given the circumstances, Moses might be forgiven for a bit of hesitancy at what the voice asked of him.  

Two weeks ago we considered the bravery of Shiphrah and Puah – the two midwives who slyly wriggled away from Pharaoh’s demand that they engage in the horror of infanticide and kill baby Hebrew boys at the occasion of their birth.  

Pharaoh’s hideous demand partly serves to highlight the bravery of these two women and partly it serves to set the context for the birth of Moses. 

As it turns out, Moses was born in perilous times.  Moses was born in a time when a powerful man thought he’d make himself more secure by attacking folk with nothing – folk who possessed nothing that might threaten the Pharaoh – nothing, perhaps, except a driving will to live and to make something better for themselves and for their children.  

It is in that context that a woman of the tribe of Levi (we aren’t even told her name) gives birth to a beautiful baby boy.  She knows the animus of the powerful Pharaoh, but she is a mother and she loves her child and she is driven protect him whether it was legal or not.  

For three months she hid him, hoping against hope that somehow the obscenity of the peril that she and her child faced would somehow pass.  But of course, it didn’t.  And as the days passed and as it became harder and harder to conceal the child, her desperation (and, it seems, her creativity) grew.  We are told she devised a plan.  She obtained a papyrus basket and plastered it with tar.  She made a mini-ark – a vessel of salvation!

The mother of the infant was observant, and she was bright.  She knew that a young and wealthy Egyptian woman regularly walked along the backwaters of the river near their home.  And so she set the child afloat and instructed her daughter to hide nearby.  Sure enough, the wealthy young woman came by and saw the tiny vessel among the reeds and heard crying and had her servant retrieve this odd object.  The woman – a daughter of Pharaoh, as it turns out – took pity on the child.  And as the baby’s mother and her daughter had undoubtedly planned, the young girl stepped forward at that moment and offered to locate a nursemaid to care for the child.  And so the baby’s mother was hired to care for her own child. 

Eventually Moses went to live with his adoptive mother.  He became a man of privilege – pampered and educated just as a son of Pharaoh would undoubtedly been raised.

The baby’s name, of course, was Moses – which sounds like the word to pull out of water.  

One day the young man Moses went out to the labor camps and got a first-hand taste of the life which by accident (or the grace of God) he had been spared.  And while watching the abusive technique of the Egyptian slave master, his blood boiled, and he struck the Egyptian and killed him.  

Moses had thought his impulsive act had gone unseen, but that was not the case.  There were Hebrew slaves who had seen what had happened and the next day he was confronted by a couple of his kinfolk.  These Hebrew slaves undoubtedly saw Moses not as kin, but as oppressor, and Moses panicked and ran for his life.  He realized now that his murderous action made him a pariah to all.  His own people did not embrace him and surely when Pharaoh learned what happened, he would exact his own brand of harsh justice. 

Eventually Moses settled in the semi-wilderness of Midian, far from Egypt.  There he found both work and a wife – and in the same household – the household of a priest named Jethro.  

This is the backstory to this morning’s text.  You see, the voice from the bush that burned but was not consumed was responding to the groans of the Hebrew people back in Egypt.  This is, Scripture teaches us, what God always does.  The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – and Jesus and Paul for that matter – though they are still far in the future – is a God who aches for the poor and abused – for those who are in peril.  It was true then and it is true today.  And though God’s ways may sometimes seem to be slow and even ineffective – God invariably acts on behalf of the poor and dispossessed – a fact the wealthy and privileged ignore to their own peril.

And so God reveals Godself to Moses and commissions him to be the agent of the salvation for the Hebrew slaves.

There is no small element of irony in this, of course.  Does God fail to grasp that Moses is no hero to either the slaves or the Pharaoh?  Of course God gets this.  In some strange way, I think God choose Moses PRECISELY because he was so obviously ill-suited to the job.  Or maybe not – maybe Moses’ history – his understanding of privilege and power and influence – made him precisely the person God would need to set the Hebrews free.  

This text is full, of course, of meaning for us, the reader.  If we had time we could consider the meaning of holy ground and the symbolism of God instructing Moses to remove his sandals.  We could easily spend a sermon or two on God’s name as revealed here – I AM WHO I AM.  And then there are the fascinating details – why does the bush burn but never be consumed?  

But I think we do best to nod knowingly at Moses’ reluctance to embrace God’s commission.  C’mon God, if Moses does agree to return to Egypt, isn’t he likely to meet a violent end?  I think we are expected to realize that answering God’s call here is dangerous and more than slightly absurd.  

Had we more time we’d delve more deeply into this, but here’s the upshot – after offering several excuses why God was barking up the wrong tree (or out of the wrong bush), Moses did as God instructed and eventually God used Moses to set the Hebrews free.

I can only speculate on the fears that Moses needed to confront as he prepared to take on the responsibility to which God had assigned him.  It is true that Moses had lost his native people and his native land – he had fled Egypt under duress in order to save his own skin.  But Moses had landed on his feet – so the speak.  He married well and had a steady job for a man of influence and respect.  And then comes God the one and only – God the living God – and turns Moses’ newly settled life on its head.

It may be tempting to read a story like this as extraordinary.  It may be that the magnitude of the task laid at Moses’ feet was remarkable – but I am convinced that it is nothing but ordinary to expect that then and now God calls the baptized – everyone of us – to accept challenges that we fear and that we know we are unequal to.  This is precisely the way God works.  Over and over again we encounter this same story – God asks folk to do things just a bit too difficult to reasonably accomplish.  It is a Biblical pattern, and it is pattern among people today.  

God hears the groans of the poor and the sick and the despised just as clearly today as God did in ancient Egypt.  But instead of resurrecting Moses to carry the message of liberation, God is turning to you and to me and challenging us to embrace a challenge that is, by rights, just a bit too big for us.

Will we respond?  Can we gulp (as I’m sure Moses did!) and after offering our excuses, stand up straight and respond – as Moses eventually did – “God, if you think I can do this – if you think we can do this – then with your help, we’ll do it.”

It’s scary and it’s dangerous.  It’s also exhilarating and liberating.  By God’s grace and with God’s help let us be people who carry the liberating message of the Gospel to those who need to be freed and to those who need to do the freeing.  

God help us.  Amen.