March 5, 2017 God Hears and God Calls Exodus 3.1-12 Tandy Taylor
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses had a powerful encounter with God, in an ordinary place, next to a previously ordinary bush. It seems to me that there are lots of ordinary places we can encounter God; it seems to me that lots of ground is holy. Triune in particular seems like holy ground, with its 100-year history of being a United Methodist congregation, and now the past 11 years of being an outpost of hope and healing and mercy for those who are often overlooked by society. The personal transformation that frequently happens here is powerful; it shows us all the power of God to bring healing and wholeness. I feel deeply honored to join this community; I am eager to be part of mighty acts of God in this place. I like to think that here, we are all standing on holy ground.
After God gets Moses’ attention with that bush that was burning but wasn’t burned up, God goes on to say some amazing things. God says: “I have observed the misery of my people; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings; I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them.” The Hebrew people are crying out to God because they are in terrible circumstances: they are slaves in Egypt. Exodus chapter 1 tells us that “the Egyptians set taskmasters over the Hebrew people to oppress them with forced labor; the Egyptians become ruthless in imposing tasks on them, and make their lives bitter with hard service. “ The Egyptians even resort to genocide, with the Pharaoh’s order that all Hebrew baby boys be killed at birth. (Remember the story of baby Moses in the basket of reeds, floating on the river? His mother is desperately trying to save her baby from being one more victim of genocide.) So, the Hebrew people cry out to God to deliver them.
And lo and behold, God hears their cries… Today as well, God hears the cries of those who are suffering, regardless of the particular circumstances of that suffering. God hears the cries of those who experience the ravages of addiction; God observes the misery of those who are hungry; God knows the suffering of those who are sick. God hears the cries of those who are abused; God observes the misery of those oppressed by systemic racism; God knows the suffering of those who are victims of human trafficking. Just as God heard the cries of the Hebrew people in slavery in Egypt, so God hears the cries of misery in every age, in every place. This text gives a powerful message, that we are not alone in our suffering, but that God sees, and hears, and knows.
And the next thing God says is equally as powerful: “I have come down to deliver them.” Not only does God see, and hear, and know, but God swings into action to bring deliverance.
But notice here that God doesn’t use a magic wand to “fix” things. God doesn’t strike Pharaoh dead out of the blue; God doesn’t overturn the whole system of oppression as if by magic. No, God acts through calling a person, Moses, to lead the people out of bondage. At the burning bush, God calls Moses to be God’s instrument of deliverance for the people.
So, let’s think about Moses for a minute: he was “adopted” by the daughter of the Pharaoh after she “discovered” him when he was a baby in the basket of reeds in the river. So Moses, this Hebrew slave child, grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh. Then one day after Moses was grown, Exodus chapter 1 tells us that he “went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew man; he looked both ways, and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” But it turned out that someone had indeed seen him do this, and when Pharaoh learned of it, he sought to kill Moses; so Moses had to flee for his life, into the land of Midian, where he settled down, married, and then much later, encountered the burning bush.
At that bush, when God says to Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt”, Moses objects mightily, saying 5 different times and different ways, “not me… I’m not qualified… please get someone else to do this…” But God persists, and Moses finally relents.
In this story, we see that God uses a flawed person, Moses, even a person that the world might consider “unqualified”. Moses, after all, was wanted for murder; he had a criminal record. Interestingly enough, many other heroes throughout the Bible were flawed as well: Jacob was a master of deception, King David orchestrated a murder to cover up his adultery, Peter denied even knowing Jesus, Paul persecuted Christians. Actually, it’s a major theme in the Bible: over and over again, God uses the flawed, the weak, the unqualified, the overlooked, the unlikely, for God’s holy purposes.
So, where do we find ourselves in this story?
· Maybe some of us feel the same reluctance Moses felt; we don’t feel capable of doing the things God wants us to do. We know our own inadequacies, our flaws, and our failings, and we tend to think that this disqualifies us from doing what God calls us to do. This text is good news, that God can and will use us, no matter our background, no matter our hesitations, no matter our self-doubts. In this text, we hear God calling each one of us, like Moses, to be God’s instrument of hope for other people.
· Or maybe we find ourselves in this story, feeling trapped in bondage like the Hebrew people, longing to be free from addiction or abuse, longing to be free from crippling fears and despair, longing to be free from the oppression of systemic racism or economic injustice. Maybe we hear ourselves crying out to God, pouring out our misery and suffering, begging God to hear us and to deliver us. The good news of this text is that God hears our cries, God sees our sufferings, and God is swinging into action to deliver us.
· Or maybe we find ourselves in this story, less like the Hebrew people than like the Egyptian people, people who may be only vaguely aware of the oppression of others, people who even benefit from the structures of society that oppress the poor. As difficult as it is to think about, could it be that some of us unwittingly participate in the oppression of others? Maybe we enjoy low prices for consumer goods that reflect cheap or even exploitative labor, whether that labor is here in the US or somewhere else in the world. Maybe we enjoy privilege and opportunities that come our way because of the color of our skin. Maybe we benefit from inherited wealth, which we did absolutely nothing to earn or deserve. Maybe we elect leaders who make decisions that perpetuate oppression and injustice. Maybe we enjoy protections that others do not have because a whole group of people is disenfranchised.
Unfortunately, there is oppression in every time and place, not just in ancient Egypt. In this text, I hear God calling us to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, so that we see the misery that God sees, so that we hear the cries that God hears, and pay attention to the suffering of others that God knows. And in this text, I hear God calling us, like Moses, to participate actively in the liberation of the oppressed. And by doing that, we participate in our own liberation, liberation from our isolation, liberation from our fears, liberation from our desperate search for meaning.
So, regardless of where we find ourselves in this story, God is calling us to new life, to liberation, to healing and wholeness and hope. Thanks be to God!
Now, as we gather at the communion table, I invite you to open the eyes of your heart, to see that here we are standing on holy ground, because here we have an encounter with the Living God, the God who hears our cries, the God who calls us to participate in God’s activity in the world, the God who sent Jesus Christ into the world.