Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pentecost 12A

Don’t you wish it were that easy? Wouldn’t it be nice to have such clarity? Wouldn’t you want to have such a moment of certainty that you knew - for sure - what God wanted for you and your life?

Hearing directly from God is something I think we all yearn for. We long for certainty in a world of doubt. We try to hear God’s clear voice in our noisy and chaotic lives. And so we might look at this burning bush episode and we might turn a noxious shade of green.

For those of you who don’t know the story, or haven’t seen the movie or the cartoon, we have Moses, having just murdered some poor soul in Egypt, escaped to Goshen, finding a wife, having kids, and getting into the farming business with his father-in-law Jethro.

And life is good. Egypt is a thousand miles away and he’s a different person now. He’s embracing the simple joys of life among the sheep. He loves his wife, and it looks like he’s finally found himself. He settles into this easy existence.

But that’s when God shows up and takes it all away. Again.

That’s when Moses sees this burning bush, but does not become consumed by the flames. So he has to check this out because his eyes seem to be lying to him.

And that’s when Moses meets his God, and tells Moses that the cries of the oppressed Hebrew slaves in Egypt. And so God is sending Moses back to Egypt to rescue the thousands, if not millions, of slaves under pharaoh’s rule.
That’s quite the task. And Moses wonders if he’s up to the job.

Why did God choose Moses for this venture?

Was it because Moses grew up in the imperial household, and knew all the power players?

Was it because Moses assembled a killer resume while in Egypt, building huge cities for pharaoh and overseeing a prosperous economy, and God saw in him a natural leader who could speak with conviction and strength?

Was it because Moses knew his one-time brother Rameses intimately, the one who now occupied the throne, and so Moses could exploit Rameses’ weaknesses to achieve freedom for their people?

That would make strategic sense given that pharaoh’s army was the strongest in the world, and his reach could summon a force greater than the mind could grasp. If God’s people were to be freed from this tyrant, they needed a leader equal to the task. And Moses looked like that leader. After all, you have to fight strength with strength, right?

At least that’s what it looked like on paper. Moses’ record of accomplishments was impressive. He had a first class education. He knew the Egyptian mind, and could speak the language. He knew how their system work, and could navigate their politics masterfully. He was immersed in Egyptian culture and knew their history. He looked like the obvious choice.

But if you read between the lines on his resume, you’d see a different Moses. A Moses who was conflicted. He was a man caught between two worlds. The Egyptian world he was adopted into. And the Hebrew world he born into.

He was caught between wanting to follow God’s will to rescue his people enslaved in Egypt, and living the comfortable life he had built with his wife and family in Goshen.

Moses was caught between wanting to do the work that God put in front of him, and knowing that he was wanted for murder back in Egypt, and would probably be tried and executed upon stepping on Egyptian soil.

His path was anything but clear.

So maybe that burning bush episode is anything but something to envy. That encounter probably sent a shiver of fear down Moses’ vertebrae. His life as he knew it was over. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t hear from God on that mountain. And he couldn’t erase from his mind the fact that God had asked him to do the impossible.

He was conflicted and scared. Stuck in an outrageous situation with no means of escape.

And this is where I’ve always had trouble with the way they show this story in the movie. Charlton Heston’s Moses seems so earnest, so sure of his path, so spiritually elevated, that he doesn’t experience the conflict of his impossible situation. His character is so far removed from most of what we see and hear and feel about God, that I find it hard to relate to him.

That’s why I think the movie has it wrong. The movie makes it look like Moses was chosen because he is such a strong leader and faithful servant of God who, may ask the occasional question, but nonetheless knows clearly that he’ll do whatever God asks him to do.

That’s why the movie gets it wrong. I think God chose Moses, not for his strength, but for his weakness. God wasn’t interested in Moses’ resume, God didn’t care about his knowledge of palace politics, God ignored Moses’ culture, education, and breeding. God couldn’t have cared less about Moses’ record of achievement. God dismissed everything we look at when we choose a leader.

God chose Moses because Moses was a stuttering, fearful, murderer. The only power that God would equip Moses with was God’s power. God stripped Moses of everything Moses had, and asked Moses to walk into enemy territory unarmed, but with one simple, four word message, “Let my people go.”

If you know the story you’ll know that it takes a while, and a lot of pain and suffering on both sides, but pharaoh finally gives in. God’s people are free. Not because of Moses’ brilliant tactics, but because of the simple power of God’s message. “Let my people go.”

Of course we could say that Moses also had visible signs and wonders, and even the power over life and death, at his disposal. But we remember that Moses was only a vessel, or a mouthpiece. Moses could claim no credit for what God achieved. Only God could claim recognition for this liberation.

So maybe that’s the good news in this story. Since we’re not in charge of results, we can live in the freedom of knowing that failures don’t meaning anything in God’s scheme. In fact, God uses your failures to create miracles. God uses your weaknesses to bring strength. God uses battles and lost to win God’s war.

It is in your falling that you rise.

And we as a church continue in Moses’ footsteps. We will walk into the imperial halls of suffering and grief, armed with nothing but the word and promises of God. We will enter the fortress of despair and depression as mouthpieces of God’s liberating healing. We will confront the empire of pain and death with words of God’s freedom.

It’s your scars, not your strengths, that qualify you for this ministry of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. It’s your wounds, not your wins, that allow you to walk into peoples’ hurting lives. 

It’s the parts of your that others put down that God lifts up. It’s those moments when you’ve taken up your own cross with Jesus, and followed him into your own grave of fear, hopeless, and grief.

Moses could have traded on his inside knowledge of palace politics, he could have devised an action plan based on his experience in pharaoh's house to launch an attack against those who would enslave his people.

Instead, Moses found out that God can use the stuttering tongue of a murderer to achieve liberation for God’s people. Moses found out that records of achievement aren’t what God is looking for when God chooses someone for a job. Moses found out that earthly accomplishment is nothing but a flimsy veneer, a smoke screen thinly hiding our own insecurities when God stripped Moses of everything he had, his status, his success, his swagger, all his worldly power, and in their place, set in Moses' mouth God’s simple words of freedom.

And that’s the same for all if you. It’s not the battles that you won that give you wisdom, but the battles that brought you to your knees.

It’s not your achievements that qualify you for ministry in the church, but the wounds and scars that you try to cover up.

It’s not the easy successes or simple wins that put you on the front lines of God’s healing work, but it’s your failures and fights that authorize you to speak God’s words of freedom to those who are trapped in their own personal bondage.

Your most powerful work rises out of your pain. God looks down into the deepest, darkest, parts of your lives, the parts you’d rather keep hidden,
the moments of a memory that you’re ashamed of,
the stumbling blocks at your feet and the doors slammed in your face,
the scraped knees and the bruised hearts,
the crushed dreams and the thwarted ambitions,
the squandered past and future denied,
those times when you’ve landed face-first in the dirt and wondered if you’ll ever get up again, and God says, “Yes. This is someone I can work with. This is someone who knows what life is like. This is someone who’s fresh from battle and is living to tell about it.”

If God can use a stuttering murderer to speak an entire nation into freedom, God can and will use YOU. God will place words of liberation in your mouth when you recognize the suffering of others.

God puts God’s message of a new tomorrow on your heart to those who can’t see a future. God puts in your eyes the vision to see the path that leads from slavery into release from the chains that keep those stuck in the tyranny of a painful past.

It may not be a burning bush you see, but God calls you to be a healing presence. God is calling you be a liberation agent to those who are in bondage to sin. God is calling you to speak God’s message of a new and abundant tomorrow to those who can’t see that life can get better.

You are Moses. God only uses those scarred and bruised by life to bring salvation and freedom to the world.

And God sends you out, God arms you with one simple, four-word message: Let my people go!

May this be so among us. Amen.

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