Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 17)

Text: Exodus 3:7,8,10
The Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them... So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.


When God Calls

A lad left school as soon as he could to go on the farm and work with his father. He eventually took over the running of the farm. It was a dairy farm and he was doing as well as could be expected. As he worked on his property over the years, he got a feeling that being a farmer wasnít what God had in mind for him. He hoped that this uneasy feeling would go away, but it persisted. He kept pushing this thought into the back of his mind and carried on farming. But this strange feeling kept coming back again and again. This feeling became more definite and more and more it became clear that God was calling him to enter the ministry. "What about my family?" he reasoned. What about the farm? How can I just uproot myself and sell up and go to the city? And besides Iím not a scholar. I hated school and got out as fast as I could.

To use his own words: "God got me by the ear and dragged me along kicking and screaming." And today he is the pastor of a large congregation.

Doesnít that story remind you of Moses who was called to be a messenger for God? In Exodus 3 we find Moses minding his own business, keeping out of sight in the wilderness, minding his father-in-law's sheep. There, on an average working day, something happens, so strange that Moses is filled with curiosity and must turn aside from his work to investigate. God was getting Mosesí attention.

Through the voice in what appeared to be a burning bush, Moses hears something of the peculiar nature of God. God has tears in his eyes as he hears the cries of suffering of his people in Egypt. He says: I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. God has such perceptive eyes and ears as to hear the voices of the voiceless and to see those who live in intolerable situations, unseen by the eyes of the powerful and rich.

What is more God not only sees and hears but he acts. Because of the misery of his people God moves, acts, calls and delivers. God says: "I have seen and heard the suffering of my people, and guess whoís going to help me? "

Moses wasn't going to accept this call from God lying down. He was far from willing to participate in what appeared to be "Mission Impossible". Like the prophet Jeremiah, Moses pleads to be excused from this commission and pleads his case: God must have the wrong person to be his messenger and the deliverer of the people of Israel. He pleads that he is unworthy to speak for such a holy God, that nobody will listen to someone as unsuitable as he was. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? he reasons. He begs: O Lord, please send someone else to do it. And what is more, if God is going to be so insistent, he ought to send someone along to help him. He complains he doesnít know Godís name. God gives him his name and tells him to "Go".

This story invites us to reflect on the way God works. We note that a primary way God gets his business done is through people. God could work through thunderbolts, miracles, weird occurrences and if you know the rest of the Exodus story, there is some of these, but mostly God gets his business done through people, people like Moses, who are commandeered by God to participate in the work of God. And often "God takes them by the ear, kicking and screaming".

Another thing about the way God works. He not only works through people, but God also works through some rather ordinary people. As the Exodus story unfolds, we find that Moses turned out to be an extraordinary leader. But that was later. For now, Moses is a shepherd of somebody elseís sheep, hiding out in the wilderness, a murderer on the run. He had killed an Egyptian in a fit of rage. He was not good at public speaking. He obviously has a low opinion of himself and his abilities.

So why would God choose Moses rather than someone else? Thatís a question we canít answer, except to note that throughout the Bible, God does seem to have the odd habit of choosing some rather ordinary, not overly talented people to do his work. Abraham, Jacob, David the shepherd boy, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter, James and John. The list of those called is both long and odd. God manages to choose people to help him whom we might judge to be ill equipped to do Godís work. But then, God seems to judge a great many matters differently from the way we judge things.

Perhaps something God said to Moses helps to explain God's willingness to put his trust in someone like Moses to help God liberate Israel. When Moses first objected to the call of God, God promised Moses, "I will be with you..." (Ex. 3:12).

Moses may not now have all that he needs to be an eloquent spokesperson for God. Moses may not now know the first thing about organising and leading a whole nation out of slavery toward freedom. But none of that matters if God is faithful to the promise, "I will be with you." And the rest of the story of the Exodus proved that. God was indeed faithful. God stuck with Moses, through thick and thin. God is with those whom he calls.

Martin Luther King, whose famous speech, I have a dream, echoed through the stadium at the opening of the recent Olympic Games, was a young pastor in the late 1950s. He loved to read and to write, saw himself as a scholar rather than a public leader. He was a pastor with a definite inclination for the books. A group of leaders of the black community came to Martin Luther King, asking him to help them boycott certain businesses which discriminated against blacks. King begged them not to ask him to join in. But they persisted and King agreed to help and the rest, as they say, is history. God does seem to call the most unlikely. God really does seem to be with those whom he calls.

Doris Taylor was born in Mt. Gambier, SA, 1909. She was very seriously disabled - she couldnít turn her head, sit up, or even feed herself. What an unlikely person this was to organise one the communityís most valuable services. What could a person who is so seriously handicapped do to help others.

During the 1930s during the Depression she became concerned for those who were disadvantaged. Doris Taylor began supplying hot midday meals for the aged and chronically ill in their homes. This was the beginning of Meals on Wheels. Remember Doris was a cripple but she was still able to put so much energy into creating this organisation to help others whom she considered worse off then she was.

Stories about the most unlikely people doing the most unlikely things are repeated in our own lives. Has it been your experience, I know it has been mine, that you have thought that you were most unlikely person for a particular job, but you dared to take up the challenge and you found that you were able to do it. Had you gone by your first reaction to being asked to take up a task, you wouldn't have done anything. Paul would have considered himself the most unlikely candidate to be called to be a messenger of the Good News. History is full of people who first said: "Who me!" when God challenged them. In his strength they were obedient to God's call.

We may not understand burning bushes, and the reason why Gods calls us to take up certain tasks, but one thing we do understand. It is not beyond God to call what appears to be the wrong people, for the wrong jobs at the wrong time and place. When we are confronted with the call of God to take what appears to be something way beyond our wildest imagination, we can be assured God knows more about us than we give him credit. He knew that Moses would be able to handle the job, he knew that he would be the greatest leader of his people.

God knew what he was doing he chose the shepherd boy David to stand against the giant Goliath. The whole scene was all wrong. How could a boy fight a trained soldier, a monster at that. But with the strength of God he was able to be victorious. Likewise the same could be said about the fisherman Peter.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he called Peter to follow him. Sure he was a simple and plain fisherman, but Jesus knew that, with the help of God, he would be able to handle his special job as a messenger (an apostle) of the Good News of Jesus. What we judge to be wrong, is often, in the power of God, right.

The apostle Paul says this: Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. It seems all wrong, but God knows what he is doing.

The same thing applies to us. Daily God throws challenges our way. They may be simple things, but our first reaction is: "Who me!" We can think of a million reasons why we can't do it and why we are the wrong person to be asked to do this kind of thing. It may be a simple act of kindness or an act of generosity, but our first reaction is that we are the wrong people to be asked. We may be challenged to actively do something for God through this congregation. We protest and say we can't do that! Remember how Moses made all kinds of excuses but God didn't let him off the hook. God said to Moses, and he says it to us: So now, go. I am sending you... Or there may be some here who are challenged to be pastors and teachers in the Church. "Who me?" you say. "Yes you!" God is replying.

Let me conclude by reminding you of the promise that Moses received at the burning bush, and the promise that goes with every challenge God gives us - I will be with you. God doesn't give us a job and then says, "well it's up to you now". He was with Moses as he faced Pharaoh, he was with young David as he faced the giant, he was with Jeremiah as he spoke God's word of judgement and faced rejection by his people, and he is with us as we take up the challenges he gives to us.

The message of today's text can be summed up in this word from God: I am going to do a great thing and guess who is going to help me?

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
28th August, 2005

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