Growing in Grace Part 3: Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17

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We’ve been journeying through Genesis for the past month.  A couple weeks ago, we entered into the story of Abraham’s (often dysfunctional) family.  God decided to partner with Abraham and Sarah, to call them to a different way of life, and to bless them so that the world would be blessed through them.  With each generation, God re-established this promise and calling.  Each generation, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, each of them strove to live out this calling.  And each of them made a mess of it at some point.  Yet God persisted and remained faithful year after year.  Each generation came to experience God’s grace.  Each generation experienced profound gratitude for all God had done.  Each generation learned how to live out that calling—in spite of all their messes. 

Through a series of messes and tragedies, God’s people ended up in Egypt at the end of the Genesis story.  I encourage you to read it later this afternoon—I assure you the story is just as captivating as anything you’ll find on TV. 

In any case, when the Israelites first came to Egypt, they had an in.  Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, was Pharaoh’s right-hand-man.  They were safe and protected in Egypt.  As more generations passed and that initial relationship faded, Egypt became suspicious and fearful of these foreign Israelites. There were so many of them, and a later Pharaoh felt threatened by them.  So that Pharaoh enslaved them.  

It was bad.  Slavery can’t ever be anything but bad.  Slavery denies the image of God in fellow human sisters and brothers.  No matter when or where, slavery is a powerful sin.  Slavery hardens the hearts of the oppressors and whispers convincing lies.  Slavery inflicts wounds that take so many generations to heal.  Once slavery has dug its claws into a society, this mammoth sin does not easily let go. 

Slavery breaks God’s heart.  Of course, God heard the cries of God’s people.  And for reasons I don’t always understand, God continued to partner with God’s people to face this evil.  God partnered with many people in the Exodus story, including 2 midwives, a mother, and a big sister.  Today, we get the story of God calling Moses. 

There came a time when Pharaoh declared that all male, Hebrew babies should be killed.  One mother decided to send her baby down the river, in hopes that someone else would adopt him.  That baby was Moses.  He grew up the son of an Egyptian princess.  He lived a privileged life, and had an identity crisis when he discovered his true heritage. 

Once he saw how the slaves were treated, he was outraged.  He got so angry he even killed a slave over-seer.  But instead of respect or gratitude, the Hebrew slaves were afraid of Moses and didn’t want him around because Moses just made the overseers treat the slaves even more harshly. 

Moses no longer belonged in the palace.  He didn’t quite belong with the Hebrews either.  He didn’t seem to belong anywhere, so he ran away from all his problems and took refuge in the wilderness. 

Lots of important God-stuff happens in the wilderness. 

While our story can seem so far removed from these ancient Bible stories, there are so many ways this story has spoken truth to countless generations, and can continue to speak to us today.  We still grapple with the sins of slavery today—both the aftermath of institutionalized slavery in our country’s history as well as the covert slavery that persists today.  God’s heart still breaks for oppressed people everywhere.  Slavery seems to surface somewhere every generation.  It’s a topic deserving of an entire sermons series in the future, and I welcome more conversation. 

For today, I want to focus on the general picture of this story.  No matter who we are, at some point, the problems of the world seem overwhelming.  All you have to do is look at the news.  In a similar way, the problem of Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Hebrews loomed so large.  There were a few brave souls who did what they could, but the problem was so much bigger.  No wonder Moses escaped to the wilderness. 

I think of the church today.  Society is going through some rapid changes, and the church is not immune from the consequences.  Plus, about every 500 years, the church seems to have gone through a dramatic transformation.  We’re on the cusp of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and let me tell you, that change was messy and overwhelming.  I whole-heartedly believe the church is on the cusp of something dramatically new today, but it’s in such a nebulous stage, we can’t see it yet.  All we can see is the messiness of transition. 

We see declining attendance-at least in the northern hemisphere.  We see half-full or even empty education wings.  We see churches struggling or unable to make budget—and I can tell you we are not alone on this.  We see nostalgia setting in and people grieving glory days that can’t be replicated.  We see fighting, and apathy, and increasing disengagement.  We see general decline.  It’s scary.  It’s overwhelming. 

More, and more people wonder where they belong.  More, and more people are crying out, and sitting, and waiting for someone else to do something.  More, and more people are giving up on church all together.  “Let somebody else take care of things.”  “I’ve already taken my turn doing that.”  “Somebody else needs to do this.”  And we wonder what God can do.  The problems loom so large.  Transitions are a kind of wilderness time.

Lots of God stuff happens in the wilderness. 

Moses had built up a relatively comfortable life in the wilderness.  He married a shepherd’s daughter, and helped care for the flocks.  He found a little place to belong, where he didn’t have to deal with the problems of Egypt and slavery.  He was in a good place. 

And then one day, he was minding his own business, when he just had to notice this bush.  It looked like it was on fire, and yet it wasn’t burning up.  It took a burning bush for God to get Moses’ attention.  Moses took off his sandals and entered that holy space.  And God started a conversation with him.  God brought up the slavery issue that Moses tried to avoid.  "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” 

The shocker comes in verse 10, when God said to Moses, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

The problem of slavery was huge.  And God expected Moses to do something about it. 

Naturally, Moses protested.  In just about every call story in the Bible (except for maybe Mary), everyone protests in some way.  God calls people to do outrageous things beyond what they think they can do.  Moses protested not one, but 5 times.  He’s just one person.  He’s not good enough.  He doesn’t know how to explain God to the Hebrews.  He doesn’t know what to say to the Hebrews.  He’s not eloquent enough.  Just please, send someone else God. 

Nonetheless, God persisted.  God uses our gifts to bless and transform people’s lives beyond anything we might have imagined…

There’s no doubt the church today faces lots of challenges, and Hope is no exception.  In church, it’s easy for us to see the problems, easy to try one thing that doesn’t work, and then throw up our hands.  It’s easy to expect someone else to take care of things.  As Lutherans, we can even be tempted to think that grace means we don’t have to do anything.  It’s easy to come up with excuses.   

But God works through our transformation.  God blesses us, transforms us, and calls us to do God’s transforming work in the world.  When it comes to these problems that seem so big, God calls each one of us to do things we never imagined we could do. 

The church is on the cusp of something new, and even though the vision is still foggy, God calls us to trust.  Moses had no clue how God was going to free all the slaves and get to that promised land, but he eventually learned to trust that God would get them there.  Transformation from death to new life is the central story of our faith.  God is birthing something new among us.  God is calling each of you to be part of this vision.  God is calling you to give of yourself to this vision, to give of your time, talent, and yes, treasure (a.k.a. money) to this vision.  God needs each of us to put forth our best selves to meet the challenges of the church in the 21st Century. 

 

Later this week you will receive a letter asking for your commitment for the coming year.  One of the ways we answer God’s call is through our financial commitment.  It’s our way of saying, yes, I see the ways God has blessed my life.  Yes, I believe God is at work in the world.  Yes, I trust that God’s vision is bigger than the problems of the world.  Yes, I want to be part of this mission.  Yes, I see that God calls us to do things we never imagined we could do.