Minding His Own Business..., Lent 3 (C) - 2001

March 18, 2001

In today's reading from the book of Exodus, we find Moses minding his own business, tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. Suddenly an amazing thing happens to him. The angel of the Lord appears to him in a flame of fire out of a bush, and he looked. Although the bush was blazing, it was not consumed by the fire. This amazing event got Moses' attention, and he turned aside to see what was going on. And when God saw that Moses was paying attention, God spoke to him, telling him that he was standing on holy ground, and further identifying himself: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

Moses was afraid and hid his face, but God continued. God wasn't appearing in a burning bush just to give Moses a thrill, but rather, because God had a job for Moses to do: God was sending Moses to Pharaoh, so that he could then lead God's people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

Now Moses is a great hero in the Bible, one of the pioneers of the faith whom we all revere. So we might like to think that what Moses said was, "Whatever you say, Lord." But that's not exactly what happened. Of course, Moses is not the only character in Holy Scripture who had questions, doubts, or excuses when God asked them to do something. Sarah laughed, Isaiah said that he was a man of unclean lips, Jonah ran away, and Jeremiah reminded the Lord that he was "only a boy." Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to wonder, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

But it seems that Moses takes first prize when it comes to excuses. Only two of his excuses are included in today's passage from Exodus, but if you read a little further you will see that they did not end there.

His first excuse is a very common one: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" Probably most of us would be tempted to make this excuse if God asked us to do something really important. "I couldn't do that, I'm not good enough, I'm NOT WORTHY, Lord." But God has the answer for that excuse: "I will be with you." Moses couldn't do it by himself, but God didn't ask him to do it by himself. God promised to be with him. That's a good lesson for us to remember - we can do nothing in and of ourselves, but with God all things are possible.

Now Moses, of course, wasn't through yet. He questioned God. "All right, suppose I do go to this people and tell them that the God of their ancestors has sent me to them, and that they ask me what your name is? THEN what shall I say?" This was a difficult question, because God's name was too holy to be spoken. But God had an answer for this, too. God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." This may also be translated, "I will be who I will be," or, in the third person, "He causes to be." And just to make it crystal clear, God reminds Moses of what has already been said: "I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The Israelites knew who that was, all right, and so did Moses.

The next objection that Moses came up with was, "But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, "The Lord did not appear to you." Moses has obviously entered into the land of the "what ifs" here. We've all heard it from our children: "What if the teacher doesn't like me? What if there's a monster under my bed?" and so forth. Moses already tried the "What if they want to know who you are?" line, and now he tries, "What if they won't listen to me?" And so God explains that Moses will receive certain signs from God which he can use to convince the people: the staff that turns into a snake, the hand that turns leprous, the water that turns into blood.

It seems that for every excuse or quibble that Moses can think of, God comes up with an answer. But Moses is not daunted; he tries again. "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." I just can't do it, Lord; I'm not a good speaker. Some have speculated that Moses stuttered, or had some other speech impediment. But no matter, of course God has the answer. God said to Moses, "Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak." God didn't ask Moses, nor does God ask us, to do something without also giving us the help we need in order to do it.

Well, our friend Moses is getting nowhere. He has tried the "O Lord, I am not worthy" excuse; he has tried the "But what if this or that happens?" quibble, and he has tried explaining why he is not the right man for the job. Now, finally, he is going to have to be honest enough to say what he wanted to say all along: he doesn't really want to do this. "O my Lord," he cries, "PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE!" But God is not taking "no" for an answer. God does, however, meet Moses halfway. God agrees to send Moses' brother Aaron with him, to be, so to speak, his mouthpiece. "You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do."

And so in the end, having used up his stock of excuses, Moses bows to the inevitable. He goes with Aaron to Pharaoh, and the rest, as they say, is history. And not just any history, but part of Salvation History, that great story of God's dealing with God's people.

Brothers and sisters, the way Moses behaves in this story is all too familiar to us. We all are a lot like Moses. God has revealed himself to us in a much more amazing way than God did to Moses. Instead of speaking to us from a burning bush, God has spoken to us by sending God's son to become a human being, like us. God's son lived as one of us. He sweated, cried tears, and shed blood, just like we do. He speaks our language. And God has a job for us, just as God did for Moses. This job applies to each of us individually and also corporately to us all, to the church at large and to our congregation.

And our task is this: to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. All the time. Wherever we find ourselves. To everyone. No quibbling. No excuses.

For we are just as good at quibbling and making excuses as Moses was. We're not worthy. So what? Read your Bible and you'll see, over and over again, that unworthiness never stopped God from using whomever God wanted, to bring about God's purposes. What if they ask something we can't answer, what if they won't pay attention, what if they even laugh at us? Doesn't matter. God is with us. But we don't have what it takes, we're too old, too poor, too small, too whatever. We're just not able. Well, guess what? God is not interested in our ability nor in our disability. God is interested only in our availability. If we make ourselves available to God, God will use us in ways that we never expected. God knows what God is doing, even when we don't.

God is faithful, as St. Paul tells us, and God will not let us be tested beyond our strength. And don't even think about that "O Lord, please send someone else" line. There isn't anyone else. WE are that someone else, and God is counting on us today. God is also empowering us today. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Amen.


Christopher Sikkema

Editor, Sermons That Work