Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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When God Calls

Exodus 3:1-4:17

 I would imagine that we’re all familiar with Moses’ back story, but we’ll just review it briefly just to set the stage.  

 We ended last Sunday with the Israelites going down into Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh.  But times have changed.  A new Pharaoh has come to the throne who knows nothing of Joseph or his service to the nation.  The reason is that at the time of Joseph, northern Egypt was ruled by dynasty called the Hyksos Dynasty.  They were foreigners, Semitic people from the lands to the east, so they were friendly to the Semitic Israelites.  But eventually the ethnic Egyptians regained control of the whole of Egypt, and they were not friendly to these Semitic foreigners.  They tried to erase every piece of the Hyksos history, which would have included Joseph.  

 The new dynasty turned against the Israelites.  They enslaved them.  They gave them hard labor.  When they continued to increase in numbers, they instituted a campaign of “population control,” killing Israelite boys.  Moses was only spared from this fate by his mother’s ingenuity and God’s provision.  

 Instead of being killed, he became a member of Pharaoh’s own family and was raised in Pharaoh’s court.  But his heart remained with his own people, and he murdered an Egyptian for abusing an Israelite.  In fear for his life, he ran away to Midian.  Midian is today part of Saudi Arabia.  It was the land to the east of the Sinai Peninsula.  There Moses married his wife Zipporah and worked for her father Jethro.  

 He was tending his father-in-law’s flocks in the Sinai wilderness, when he encountered something strange, a burning bush.  That in itself was not strange.  In that desert region, less than an inch of rain falls each year.  And in the summer, no rain falls for six months.  And temperatures could soar about 120 degrees.  Wildfires were common.  But there was something different.  This bush, though it burned, it was not consumed.  

 That’s a picture of what God does in our lives:  He transforms but does not consume.  He changes us and uses us for his purposes, but he does not destroy who we are.  It’s the very thing that God will do in the life of Moses.  He will burn with the Spirit of God, but not be consumed.  

 Now that God has his attention, he speaks, “Moses, Moses.”  God knows his name.  Moses does not volunteer for this job.  He is called for it.  So often in the church we focus on “finding volunteers” rather than allowing God to call people to ministry.  

 “Take off your shoes.  You’re on holy ground.”  Many ancient Near East temples were served exclusively by barefoot priests, going barefoot being seen as a sign of humility.  The ground is holy, not because it’s a special place, but because this is an encounter with God.  God doesn’t appear here because it’s holy; rather it’s holy because God appears.  

 “I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.”  Moses lived in a polytheistic world, a world of “many gods,” and maybe especially so in Egypt.  He was probably used to the idea of many gods and the God of his fathers just being another one of them.  

 “I will deliver my people from their oppression in Egypt and bring them out to the land I promised them.”  Hey, that’s a fantastic idea, God.  You should get right on that.  “Now, go.  I’m sending you.”  Oh.  

 Well, you see, God, I’m not really the person for the job.  Who am I to go before Pharaoh?  Who am I to lead your people?  I’m unqualified.

 Really?  You know, Moses may have been the most qualified Israelite for this job.  He was an Israelite who had been raised in Pharaoh’s own court.  Being raised there, he would have been educated in reading and writing and foreign languages.  He would have learned public speaking and diplomacy, even the ways of warfare.  He just may have been the best person for the job. 

 But he felt inadequate.  What does God say to him?  Does God reassure him?  “It’s okay, Moses, you can do this!”  No.  Instead God simply says, “I’ll be with you.”  Moses is inadequate, but God is more than adequate, and God will be with him.

 We are always inadequate for God’s calling.  But God is always more than adequate.  One of the few times in my life when I really believe that I heard God speaking to me was when I was about to go off to college and was beginning this whole, long process of becoming a pastor.  I said to God, “Are you sure about this.  I don’t feel up to this task.”  And I heard God say, “It’s not about you, but about what I can do through you.”  And that’s just the way it is when God calls us.  We are inadequate, but he can still use us.

 But Moses isn’t done making excuses:  Okay, God, who are you?  

 Why does Moses want to know God’s name?  It’s probably not for a particularly good reason.  Most everyone in the ancient Near East world believed in the power of magic, and especially in Egypt, which was famous for its magicians.  And they believed that if you knew a god’s name, then you could use magic to control or manipulate that god.  I think Moses was trying to gain leverage on God.  Not that it would work!

 God says, “My name is Yahweh.”  The name Yahweh comes from the Hebrew word that means “to be” or “to exist” or “to live.”  What does it mean?  

 One possibility is that it means that God is the God who Exists, the God who Lives.  He is not like any other god.  All these other so-called gods were nothing more than idols, dead pieces of wood or stone or metal intended to represent gods who were created by human minds.  

 A second possibility is that God’s name was “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”  A name can’t capture God’s essence.  We can’t define who God is or what he does with a name.  We can’t narrow him down like that.  How many names for God are there in the Scriptures?  Dozens: The God who Sees, the God who Provides, the God who Saves, Almighty Lord, Heavenly Father, and many more.  

 Well, now that we know who everyone is, God says to Moses, “Go.  The elders of Israel will accept you.  As for Pharaoh, not so much, but I will convince him.”  

 But Moses still had more excellent excuses.  What if they don’t believe me?  

 So God gives Moses three signs to show that God’s authority is with him.  The first is his staff, which could turn into a snake.  The staff was a symbol of authority, especially royal authority.  The second sign was the sign of causing or taking away leprosy.  Leprosy was often seen in the ancient Near East as a punishment for excessive pride.  For example, King Uzziah of Israel was punished with leprosy for over-stepping his place as king.  I think it’s also to show God’s power to cause or to take away problems.  And third was the sign of turning water to blood.  The Nile River was the economic lifeline of Egypt.  But God could turn their prosperity into hardship.

 In one way or another, each of these signs was directed against Egypt in general, and Pharaoh in particular.  God had authority, and gave it to Moses.  God could strike at the pride of Pharaoh who thought himself a god.  And God could destroy the prosperity and financial security of Egypt. 

 But Moses still wasn’t done: I don’t talk real good, God!  

 “Who made your mouth?  I will give you the words to speak.”  

 Just please send someone else!!!  

 Apparently, God knew this was coming and was just getting tired of the excuses because he tells Moses, “Your brother Aaron is already on his way to meet you, and he will speak for you.”  I think God was just being gracious with Moses here.  He gives him a “security blanket” in Aaron.  But you know what, when Moses gets to Egypt, it seems that he does most of the talking.  Maybe Moses just needed one last push out the door.  

 Why all the objections?  Well the thing that’s never said is that Moses is just plain afraid.  He’s afraid for his life, though God does tell him later that those who were seeking his life were themselves dead.  But the point is that God’s calling is not safe.  God does not call us to safety but to service.  

 The other issue is that Moses is so focused on all the potential problems ahead of him that he can’t see the power of God behind him.  All he can think about is, “What if they don’t believe me?  What if I can’t speak well enough?”  But the power of God behind him is more than adequate.

 I think this is always a relevant story because God is always calling us to serve him.  God still uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  And in the midst of our daily lives, while we are “tending sheep,” God may speak to us in a “burning bush.”  Not literally, probably, but God still calls us out of our ordinary lives. 

 And if God calls us to it, God will empower us for it.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that God will not call you to a task that you are not prepared for.  God’s calling is not based on our abilities but on his power.  Just because you’re no good at _______, doesn’t mean God won’t call you to do __________.

 And one last thing, also don’t assume that God’s calling only comes at certain times in our lives.  We sometimes think God calls young people.  But Moses was almost 80 years old when God called him!  You’re never too old to experience God’s calling.  

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