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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 09/03/2017

Last week in our semi-continuous Old Testament readings we moved into the book of Exodus, the book that really stands at the center of Israel’s faith tradition. It’s in Exodus that the character of Moses is introduced, Moses being the one called by the Lord to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Included in that narrative you get Pharaoh as the bad guy, the plagues, the introduction of the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments all of which makes for great Sunday School stories not to mention movie versions ranging from Charlton Heston to Disney. The stories are foundational and mostly quite familiar.

What you might not know is that how historical any of this is is very much open to question but also that it doesn’t matter because it’s not written to be history as we think of history. Most biblical scholars think that these stories that ostensibly take place in Egypt 1300 or 1400 years before Christ actually reached their final form hundreds of years later during the time of the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles which took place between 600 and 400 BC, a time when the best and the brightest of the people of Israel were deported and dispersed in foreign lands.

What that means, is that while there is no doubt a historical memory attached to these stories, and that versions of them must have been told for hundreds of years, their final version is less about history and more of a commentary on their current situation of exile; imaginative remembering it might be called. The people in exile had to find new ways to tell their stories and practice their faith. The final version was less about what happened a long time ago and more about what was happening in the present.

Historical accuracy then is not the goal; I can’t emphasize that enough. Questions about how the Red Sea parted or how all the water in the land could turn to blood or how Aaron’s staff turned into a snake are essentially irrelevant and miss the point. The more important question has to do with the greater truth of God and God’s faithfulness. The intent was to provide a narrative that witnessed to the fact that the Lord their God was still in control and that there was hope in what seemed to be a hopeless situation. It’s not a whole lot different from what we still do, taking these ancient stories and not just thinking about what they meant back then, but interpreting them in light of our current situation and trying to see how they speak to us over 2000 years later.

To review what’s happened so far then, a key verse is one from last week’s reading. In chapter 1, verse 8 it says, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” You remember in the Joseph story from Genesis, after being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and coming up with a plan to save Egypt from famine. Later, Pharaoh also welcomed father Jacob and Joseph’s brothers to Egypt so as long as that Pharaoh was alive, all was right with the world, the Israelites were safe.

The new king though, the new Pharaoh who did not know the story of Joseph and his family, was threatened by the increasing population of Israelites and sought to do something about it, ordering all Hebrew baby boys to be killed. Moses however, hidden in a basket in the reeds along the banks of the Nile, escaped that fate. He was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the household of Pharaoh.

As a young man though Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and, coming to the defense of his kinsman, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried the body. The next day Moses saw two Hebrews fighting and when he urged them to stop one of them said, “Are you going to kill me like you did the Egyptian?” Moses realized that his act was known and when Pharaoh found out about it, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled to the land of Midian and he was there for a long time.

That pretty much brings us to today’s reading but the verses that immediately precede it are also important: they say, “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”

God heard, God remembered, God looked, God took notice,” all of which sets the stage for the call of Moses. That call starts with the familiar image of the burning bush. The bush, burning but not consumed is an image that has been used over the centuries by both Jews and Christians mostly as being symbolic of God’s care and preservation and more could be said about that. In this story though, mostly it just seems to be an imaginative way to represent the appearance of God to Moses. What’s notable in this part of the narrative though, is now that God has heard, remembered, looked, taken notice and resolved to rescue the people and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, Moses, his chosen instrument does nothing but come up with reasons, alibis and excuses as to why he can’t possibly do this.

It starts with Moses’ sense of inadequacy: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” What’s interesting and a little bit humorous, is that God doesn’t respond by building up Moses and assuring him that he is up to the task which is what we might expect, but instead just reasserts his own sovereignty, saying, “I will be with you.” Moses next point of resistance is wanting to know the name: “What if the Israelites ask me your name? What am I supposed to say?” This time the response is just the reiteration of a formula Moses already knows, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,” along with the enigmatic “I am who I am” which isn’t a name at all, more of a riddle.

It goes on; in the next chapter (which is not included in the lectionary) Moses questions if the people will believe him, and this time the Lord does reassure him to some extent saying that Moses will have access to resources he doesn’t yet know about. Then Moses questions his own ability to speak eloquently and again somewhat humorously the Lord pretty much confirms his lack of confidence saying “We’ll have you brother Aaron do the talking; he’s better at it than you.” Moses final objection really gets to the heart of the matter when he says, “Please send someone else!” in essence saying, “I don’t want to do this.”

All of Moses’ objections were legitimate and quite reasonable; he didn’t want to get involved even though he knew about the bondage of his people and that it shouldn’t go on. So he resisted, but the resolve of the Lord ultimately prevailed. Moses will do this and the Lord, I am who I am, will be with him.

The greater truth behind this story has to do with the idea of call and a sense of being called. The concept of call seems most often to be used in a religious sense; we think about, we hear about a call to ministry, but I don’t think it’s just that. For anyone, call is about a sense of “this is what I’m supposed to be doing in order to be who I’m supposed to be, who God intends me to be.” There are some things you do for other reasons, but there’s not a sense of call; it’s just a job or task or whatever, done mostly for practical, often economic reasons. So being called does have to do with the ways anyone is involved in church life but there are also a multitude of other callings, other ways to serve God and be who you’re supposed to be outside of the church. That’s what’s behind Luther’s idea of the priesthood of all believers; not everyone is called to formal ministry, but everyone is called in some fashion.

Like Moses though, we can often resist God’s call. We hear about something and it piques our curiosity, we feel a pull and we think, “I should do that,” but then we find excuses because, like Moses we know that if we answer the call, it’s going to disrupt our life, move us out of our comfort zone, maybe even threaten relationships that are important to us. Resisting the call, failing to answer, you can still live a meaningful and productive life, many people do. But at some level there might be regret; you might be left with the nagging feeling that you wish you’d given it a shot.

An honest Christian life involves a constant engagement with this question of call. What is God calling me to do today, at this point in my life? It might be what you’re already doing, but the nudges you get, the inclinations you get that don’t go away even with all your legitimate excuses, they just might be signs of the Spirit at work. Once you’ve worked through your excuses, pay attention to those signs.

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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