God’s call to Moses from the burning bush shows that God calls flawed, imperfect people to service. That means God is calling you into service. This sermon on Exodus 3 demonstrates how God calls despite our flaws and failures in making a positive difference in the world. Moses was a murderer and had a speech impediment, yet God still called him. In the same way, God has a purpose for you, despite your flaws. God calls us to take a daring step in faith, reassuring us that the Spirit is with us and will help you on your journey.
God Is Calling You Into Service
We continue our sermon series from Exodus by remembering that the story begins with news that there arose an Egyptian king who did hadn’t learned his history and betrayed the people who had saved his country by putting them into slavery because he was afraid of the sheer number of foreigners in his country. But the Hebrews multiplied so he ordered the midwives to kill every male child at birth. The midwives defied him, and the Hebrew population exploded. Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of all the Hebrew boys. And the people cried out in their pain and oppression, “God, remember us, deliver us.”
A boy was born, and his mother hid him for a while and then she hoped against hope that God would be merciful and Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the boy and the boy grew up in the king’s home and they worked a little deal where Moses’ own mother got to nurse her son.
From Prince to Refugee to Shepherd
Moses grew up in privilege while his people toiled as slaves. One day after Moses had grown up, when he saw a Hebrew mistreated by his slave master, so Moses murdered the slave master, thinking no one had seen it. But it couldn’t be covered up. Word was out. In their eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth worldview, Pharaoh put a hit out on Moses, ordering his death, so Moses had to skip the country. He ran until all the dust of Egypt fell from his feet.
In an instant, he went from prince to refugee. But he moved on–creating an emotional distance between his past life and his new. Eventually, he married Zipporah and they bore a child while Moses worked for his father-in-law, Jethro, herding sheep. Quite a reversal of fortunes.
God Meets Moses in the Wasteland
One day, Moses found himself on Mount Horeb, which means “wasteland.” It’s symbolic of Moses’ spiritual geography which must have felt like a wasteland. Wasted potential, and broken dreams, no clear future–doing Jethro’s bidding.
Just then, something caught the corner of his eye, so he explored it and then discovered the blazing bush that was not consumed. A voice from the bush commands him to remove his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. This wasteland was no wasteland, after all, it was the mountain of God. One of the recurring themes of scripture is that people find God in their wastelands. Or more properly, God finds us–reveals God’s self to us when we are in the wasteland experiences of life.
As we go through this time where so much is shut down and feels unfamiliar. It can feel like a wasteland. Not just what the band The Who called “teenage wasteland,” but one for all of us.
Often when it seems like God is most absent, if you turn your head, and look around, suddenly God seems most present. I’ve found this to be true in my own life.
Expect to find God in the Wasteland Periods of Life
Like when I was a chaplain in Sioux City and United Flight 232 crashed killing 110 people on board, I thought God could not be present in that wasteland. But God was there in the people who cared for each other and helped the survivors and the families of the victims through the tragedy.
Once I thought God was not present in a wasteland when I had a project I worked hard on fall through and fail; I got so worked up that I nearly missed the upturned face of my daughter who was wanting to spend more time with me. She tugged at my shirt and I remembered the goodness at work in the world and the blessings of life.
Look around with new eyes–the eyes of faith and see if you don’t notice good things, still begging for your attention. Be like Moses, investigate it. It’s how God redeems our wasteland times.
The Palm of God’s Hand
For those who learn to look, you can find God even in the harshest places. The Spaniards used to call some of the harshest basins of the Coachella Valley, “The Palm of God’s Hand.” The lesson of scripture is that when the hard times come, that is especially when we should be on the lookout for the presence of God.
So, here is a spiritual practice for you. When you are feeling lost, as if the spiritual geography of your life is a wasteland, hold out your palm and press your finger into it. And think about yourself not going through a rough patch but held in the palm of God’s hand.
Why Did Moses Have to Take off His Sandals?
Did you ever wonder why Moses had to take off his sandals? Does God like stinky feet or something? Probably not, removing shoes in many cultures is a sign of respect. Thus, our passage reminds us that our reverence for God is not just a cerebral thing; it’s an experience of our whole selves, mind, body, and soul.
Often faith presented as if it is is just a thing we do in our heads–an intellectual exercise. We believe a set of doctrines and learn things about God. But this passage reminds us that sometimes we need to get out of our heads and embrace all of our senses. Maybe today you feel like you are in a wasteland time of life with problems, troubles, and wondering where God is for you. Go ahead, kick off your shoes. God is with you. What if you embodied practices that signified reverence and that no matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, the ground beneath your feet is holy, too.
Moses Experienced God’s Presence through a Bush. What do we Get?
It’s hard to know what Moses really experienced with the burning bush. I know it’s hard to describe a spiritual experience to someone else. You reach for metaphors, and when you write it down it seems more literal than what you experienced. Whatever happened, Moses had a spiritual experience. He encountered something that made him feel differently about his surroundings, and what he was doing with his life. Maybe you don’t get a burning bush, but a news story, a Facebook post, you hear about something going on that gets you to pause and reflect. It’s every bit as holy as what Moses felt on Mount Horeb.
You may not have a burning bush to look at, but God is still speaking. That’s one of the core slogans of the United Church of Christ. We don’t have God’s audible voice, but God still speaks to us in many ways.
God is Calling You into Service through Many Means
- We have the scriptures about love and forgiveness and justice.
- You have the still small voice within, as the prophet Elijah found when he was discouraged.
- We have prayers, songs, and teachers and mentors to testify to the reality of the God who gets us through the wasteland.
Like Moses, God’s word comes through the centuries and makes a claim on your life too. This story isn’t in the Bible to load you up with biographical details of Moses’ life; it is there to help you figure out your life and how God relates to you.
A good way of studying any Biblical passage is to reflect on three questions. First, what does it say about God? Second, what does it say about us as humans? Third, what claim does it make on how we should live our lives?
What Does This Story Say about God and God’s Intentions?
What does the burning bush story say about God? First, God hears the cries of the suffering and responds. God is interested in setting free people who are oppressed. Do you want to find where God’s heart is? Look in those who are poor or suffering and hurting. Those are the friends of God.
Second, God calls normal and flawed human beings to relieve suffering. Throughout scripture, God calls people that no one would expect.
Look at some of the Bible’s most honored faith heroes: Jacob plotted and schemed, yet he emerged as father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses murdered yet he freed the Israelites from slavery. Rahab the prostitute, is listed in Jesus’ family tree. David was an adulterer and a murderer; yet, he became the greatest King Israel has ever known. John the Baptist ate bugs; yet, he prepared the way for Jesus and baptized him. Repeatedly, we find God working through all the “wrong people.” And God can use you, too to make this world a better place.
What is God’s Name: I AM
Moses asks for God’s name, “If I go to Egypt for you, who shall I say sent me, who are you?”
God replies “I AM who I AM.”
What sort of answer is that? I AM? God is the source and ground of all that is, of all existence. I AM.
Yahweh or Jehovah
In Hebrew, the words for I AM who I AM is Yahweh. If you hear someone refer to God as Yahweh, it’s because of this passage. Some earlier translators got it a little wrong when they put it into English, and they thought it should be translated: Jehovah. Last week we sang, Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah. But there is no hard J sound in Hebrew, so it is probably closer to Yahweh. Either one is the name of God. God’s name means that God is. No matter what happens, God is, God is within and through all that is.
Ultimately God’s name is vague. It’s not so much a name as a verb. This is a God of action. “I Am,” is a reminder God always lies beyond our full comprehension. However we conceive of God, God is still bigger than what we can imagine. The implication is that we should never try to limit God to what we think God is. God will remain an ineffable mystery. We can apprehend God, see the afterglow of God’s presence in our lives, but we will never fully comprehend all there is to know about God.
But that is not to say that God is whatever we want to make God out to be. We have images from scripture and our beliefs about God need to be consistent with the images of God we find there. In those images, we discover a God who cares about those who are suffering. We find a God who calls for peace and justice and creates new realities out of barrenness.
What Does the Passage Say About Us When God Calls Us Into Service?
It reveals that when God makes a claim on our lives, we resist, make excuses. God called Moses and Moses begged, “Send somebody else.” In the two-minute conversation between God and Moses, Moses offers five objections. He gives everything from, “Who am I? I have no power or influence” to “I’m, a wanted man, and I’ve got a speech impediment.”
We, like Moses, will usually find some excuse to try not to do what God wants us to do. How do you resist God’s call to service?
- Maybe you say, “I don’t have enough faith!” or
- “I don’t have enough time or expertise?” or “I’m too flawed.”
- We may fear that we might fail?
- If I change, something in my life, I’ll disappoint someone?
- Perhaps you think, “I’m too old?” Fun fact: Exodus 7:7 tells us that Moses was 80 years old when he was called. I’m looking at you, seniors. Until your toes curl up, you can still participate in God’s activity to make the world better.
But God said to Moses, “I don’t care about your speech problem. I’ll send someone to be with you and help you. Your brother Aaron will be the spokesman. The point isn’t how strong or qualified you are, but how great God is who will help you do what you are called to do.
God Will Help You Do The Service You Are Called Into
What God calls us to do, God will support us in accomplishing. God seemed to be saying to Moses, “I don’t care about your past, about your fears, your lack of knowledge. This is about who I am.” God promises Moses, “I’ll be with you.” So too, God will be with you, in whatever service God calls you into.
What Claim is Made on Our Lives? Discovering Your Form of Service.
So, what claim does this make on our lives? First, it means that we need to see that today we stand on hallowed ground. Your life is not ordinary, God is near to you and calls you by name to realize that the holy has touched your life. Second, you are not alone, you are blessed. Third, the God who creates, and sustains and brings hope out of the wasteland is with you and calls you to do some things you may not feel that you can do. But you can because God does not abandon you.
Moses grew up in privilege and this story shows how he was called upon to use that privilege to help his people, not to leave them behind. Growing up in the palace conferred on him a great education, leadership skills, organizational skills he uses in the story of Exodus. Part of the story is his immediate access to the Pharaoh who he grew up with as brothers. He uses his gifts and abilities to work for giving people better lives.
Consequently, this means God calls you into service, too. It means we have to confront our fears. It means we have to know that God hears the cries of the needy and sends us to do something about it. We cannot sit safely on the sidelines and live our lives without knowing we are called to relieve suffering, to help the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to narrow the gap between the way things are and the way they should be. God does something about the world’s problems, God sends us to respond. Now go, and be not afraid, for God is with you and will help you do something great. Amen.
Rev. David J. Clark delivered this sermon for an online service for Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California.