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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 08/28/2011

Moses has been described as having  had an “interrupted life” and I think interrupted life is an idea worth thinking about.  Moses, of course, becomes one of the heroic and idealized figures of the Bible, challenging Pharaoh, crossing the Red Sea, leading the people of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, you know the stories.  It all started with his life being interrupted in the burning bush encounter, the burning bush I think being one of the most compelling and mysterious images of God in the entire Bible.

Moses with his interrupted life is remembered as a hero, but he is also another textbook case of God using less than perfect people as his instruments.  Moses described himself as an alien living in a foreign land but in a sense he was homeless and always had been; a Hebrew born in Egypt, hidden by his mother in a basket in the bulrushes down by the river because of fear of Pharaoh, only to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter but then with a little clever deception by Moses’ sister, he was raised by his own mother until being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter when he was older. 

As a young adult though he was forced to flee Egypt when he was afraid someone had seen him killing an Egyptian who was beating one of his fellow Hebrews.  That’s the story of Moses’ early life, none of it particularly heroic.  That’s who Moses was when the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush.  It was an already interrupted life being interrupted again.

Moses wasn’t exactly heroic in his response to this latest interruption either.  He was duly respectful and worshipful and in awe in the presence of this God.  When he heard what God wanted him to do though, Moses resisted.  He offered five points of resistance and in each case, Moses objection has to do with his inability to view the world and himself differently.  He’s always dealing with past reality, what he believes to be true based on what he has experienced which is a perfectly normal and logical response; it’s sensible.  In contrast though, each response of the Lord looks to the future and it’s a future that doesn’t depend on past realities.

Moses’ first objection was simply “Who am I?  Who am I that you would call me to do this?”  It’s a legitimate question in that there wasn’t much in Moses’ past that would make him especially qualified for this task of taking on Pharaoh.  The Lord doesn’t exactly answer the question.  He just says, “I will be with you.”  That says more about who the Lord is than it does about who Moses is.  It’s assurance that the future will be in the Lord’s hands as he supports Moses but it doesn’t necessarily alleviate Moses’ sense of inadequacy.

Moses second question is also understandable.  He wants to know the name of the one who is sending him on this mission.  He knows it’s the God of his ancestors, but he wants more; he probably figures he deserves more if he’s expected to engage in this dangerous civil disobedience against Pharaoh.  He also might be looking for some leverage with this God as, especially in that culture, knowing someone’s name would give a degree of power over them.  Remember when Jacob wrestled with Lord and wanted to know his name?  It was the same thing.

As with Jacob though, Moses doesn’t quite get what he wanted, “I am who I am,” the Lord says.  That’s vague; it does give Moses something; but it’s also an indication of divine power and presence and mystery, a reminder that “I’m God and you’re not.”  It lets Moses know who’s in charge.  He is free to ask questions, and the Lord will answer; he’ll give Moses something, but maybe not everything.  In answer to Moses’ demand for a name, “I am who I am,” will have to do.

After initially being in awe though, Moses was increasingly bold with this voice from the burning bush so even after much reassurance he continued to resist, “What if they don’t believe me?” he says.  This time the Lord does give him more, more than verbal reassurance.  The Lord gave Moses a glimpse of divine power first telling him to throw his staff on the ground and Moses watches as it turns into a snake and then back into his staff.  The Lord tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak and it comes out leprous, then he puts it back in his cloak and it’s restored to health.  “Show ‘em those signs and they’ll believe you,” the Lord says, “and if they don’t, here’s one more; draw some water from the Nile, throw it on the ground and it will turn to blood.”  He gave Moses some cards to play.

At this point though, even with these revelations of God’s power and that the future God has in mind isn’t based on the limitations of the past, it’s becoming clear that Moses just really doesn’t want this interruption in his life.  The Lord’s plan wasn’t his plan; he liked things the way they were.  Moses was settled in Midian, married with a son and with flocks to tend.  Life was good.  So Moses continued his resistance with the excuse that he wasn’t a very good speaker and you sense the Lord tiring of this as he says, “Who gives speech to mortals?  Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind.  Is it not I, the Lord?”  This is like God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind. “Now go,” he says, “and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.!”  At which point Moses finally cuts to the chase and just says, “Please send someone else!”  But Moses was the man.  His brother Aaron would be sent along as support, but Moses was the man, the man living an interrupted life; that’s what an encounter with the Lord will do to you.

Moses was called to do heroic things with his interruption.  For most of us that’s not the case, yet we are called to live interrupted lives.  One of the clearest teachings of the Bible is that to follow the God described in these writings, to follow the God revealed in Jesus Christ means that life can’t go on as before.  Like Moses though, we want it to.  For the most part we’re pretty comfortable.  Like Peter in today’s gospel lesson, we want life on our terms.  We want to follow Jesus, but we don’t really want it to change how we live.

That’s why Peter winds up being rebuked by Jesus.  Last week he had the right answer when he said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  But apparently for Peter that meant a path to glory and he was envisioning riding along on Jesus’ coattails.  Talk of suffering and take up your cross didn’t fit with that.  That was an interruption Peter could do without.  He was willing to have his life interrupted by Jesus, but not for that.

The Romans passage is another example of what it means to live an interrupted life, it may be the clearest example we get today.  Romans gets to the heart of what Paul believes about Jesus and for Martin Luther Romans was at the center of his journey to justification by grace through faith.  There is a lot of theology in Romans and it can get confusing especially when you just hear pieces of it week to week in the lectionary as we have since the end of June. 

After eleven chapters though, it’s like someone says to Paul, “That’s great, we’re impressed, but what does it mean?  How are we supposed to live?”  The answer however, may not have been what they wanted to hear.  It starts with a verse from last week, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  That sounds real nice, and better still, it’s vague so we can affirm it and still effectively ignore it, but not for long.

In today’s verses Paul gets quite specific.  There are, I think, 23 imperatives in these 12 verses, 23 things a Christian is called to do.  Paul doesn’t elaborate on any of them; he doesn’t have to because coming at you in waves, one after the other as they do the vagueness of “don’t be conformed, be transformed” is gone.  It’s pretty clear that for Paul living life as a Christian means an interruption.  It means living in ways that are contrary to the ways of the world, as comfortable as those ways may be, especially when it gets to bless those who persecute you, live peaceably with all, don’t repay evil for evil, provide your enemies with food and drink.  Focusing things even more is the fact that Paul is echoing Jesus’ here, echoing his call to pray for those who persecute you, to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you and so forth.  It’s pretty clear.  This following of Jesus isn’t a casual, ho-hum thing; it’s an interruption. 

But we don’t want to be interrupted, so we resist.  Like Moses we come up with a list of excuses for ourselves and for whatever un-Christian attitudes we have or support.  Like Peter we say, “You don’t really mean that.”  We want our faith to allow us to conform to what already is, not to transform us to a different, sometimes more difficult way, so we let God’s interruption become so familiar that it doesn’t really affect us at all. 

But we also remember that despite their resistance to interruption God worked through Moses and Peter in dramatic ways.  Again, that may not be the case for most of us.  Unlike those two, most of us are called to go back to tending our flocks or back to our fishing boat, whatever our situation happens to be.  We go about our business not necessarily in dramatic ways but we go about it differently because we’ve been interrupted.  The God of the burning bush, the God revealed in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit has interrupted us and having been interrupted, life can’t be the same; it really can’t.  We see things differently; most notably we see the future in God’s hands, and it is different.  It’s a future not limited by the past, but one that is always open to the grace and hope and new life of God.  For that future, it’s worth being interrupted.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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