THE CALL OF GOD
Exodus 3: 1-15
On this Labor Day weekend, we will address the subject of work; not just holy ground work, though that is important, but what some people call their secular work as well. Back in 1986 we were blessed to have an evening service with the late Dr. David H.C. Read preaching. He was the long time pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City and was known as one of the greatest preachers of his day. Back in 1996, he wrote these words: “Labor Day weekend gives a preacher the opportunity to explore with his flock the rich variety of what might be called ‘the Christian attitude of work.’” On the positive side we find celebration of the creative works of God, with Jesus reminding us that our God is not a potentate whose work is done, eternally awaiting our applause, but a living, active Lord whose work Jesus is reflecting. [Jesus said:] ‘My father has never yet ceased his work, and I am working too.’ (John 5:17.) …We have to avoid the medieval habit of drawing a line between the kind of work represented by the activities of the secular world and the ‘religious’ work performed by the servants of the church.” Today in addition to your work as a Sunday School teacher or shepherd; singer or bulletin preparer, and so on. We are considering that whatever work we do, we can do it for God’s glory, for the betterment of some part of society, and as work using God-given talents along with human training. I once knew a fine church Elder who worked at a plant in a small town. The town rose and sunk by the work done at that plant: with high wages, the town flourished when the aluminum industry flourished; when the plant had layoffs, the town suffered. No one forced anyone to work there, but the money kept them coming back for the feast or famine experience. When I said to this elder, that, in spite of frustrating and discouraging times, I loved my work, he said without missing a beat: “I get to retire at age 62 and that is 3 years and 7 months from now. I am counting the days; I can’t stand my work.” Some here today may think the same thing: “I am counting the days.” Sometimes injustice or corruption makes a job miserable. But the man I mentioned made a difference in the world with the work he did and the money he made. What you are doing makes a difference in the world too? If it is a helping profession then you have healed or helped others. If it is a production or technology profession or trade then you have made products for others that have brought them comfort or protection, of saved them time and labor. If you have taught, you have changed the lives of children or young adults; and if you just put a widget onto a part on an assembly line, you have made money with which to bless your family, church, or charities. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things with their work and their choices of volunteer tasks. The world is better with your work being done well; and in our age, American labor and ingenuity has to be at its finest with our global market inviting in those who are driven to work hard and turn out exceptional work competing against us.
There are times when I wish Charlton Heston playing Moses in the epic film ‘THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” was not such a “larger than life” character. Today we will see how ordinary people with ordinary tasks say yes to the news that they are soon to be parents, say yes to a prayerful decision about taking another job, say yes to civic service or church service, or to a political position. What they bring to their work that is Godly and transformational is up to them. Today in Exodus we find Moses, a man ill-equipped to be a leader. In the wake of our two party system, each picking dazzling candidates to be a team for their party, we are looking at the man who brought salvation to countless Jews and who is the forerunner of Christian salvation. He is a man who was the epitome of what people expected Jesus to be; “the new Moses” some called Jesus. And yet this ordinary man was just going about his ordinary work. The Bible doesn’t tell us if he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep exceptionally or listlessly, but he was a shepherd. Are there skills that a shepherd learns that can carry over to human leadership? Absolutely. As the preacher Isaiah put it so memorably: “All we, like sheep, have gone astray; everyone to his own way.” There are things to learn about people from sheep! Besides having Moses raise his hands to part waters, God gave him the ministry or a wanderer: to take grumbling, suspicious, error-making, uneducated men and try to move them into believing in a God they couldn’t see and whose name they couldn’t say. Moses’ work with Jethro’s flock did a number of things: it showed his father-in-law that he could follow instructions, be devoted, and be part of a family where jobs just needed to be done. How tedious is it when children think it is either beneath them, or that it is not there job, to make their bed, put their clothes in the hamper, clean up their sink area, and help with chores like taking out the trash, or yard work, or vacuuming? There is no divine job description that puts those jobs on moms or dads! What seems dumb and pointless to a child is preparing him or her for the next generation, for running a home, and being a person who doesn’t just take, and ask, and have attitude (which is someone no one will hire!), but teaching them how to be team players. Staff and workers here all pitch in to do what needs to be done without the tired complaint “that’s not in my job description!” Moses was being trained for God’s call way before the burning bush. God was preparing Moses, not to be great, but to be a worker in a holy plan. Yet even Moses, the forerunner of the faith, was more like you and me than he was like God. He was like some of the children I’ve witnessed; like some of the husbands I’ve heard about: he gave excuses of why he was the wrong man for the job. Sunday School directors, choir directors, Operations Elders, parents, and teachers hear these excuses all the time! But Moses, like a child or a teenager, gave God himself five, count them, FIVE reasons why God should get somebody else to do his work! Was Moses, like a loafing young man in his 20s, just happy to be with sheep, go home, and have three hots and a cot each night? Could God have chosen a man with such low ambition? Or, as Jenny pointed out in her sermon last week, could this man Moses, raised by Egyptian royalty, have thought most work was beneath him? What went through the mind of the pivotal figure of Exodus? We can surmise, but cannot know. What we can know is that he tried to avoid the work with five answers that were unsatisfactory to God! In Exodus 3, after God gets Moses’ attention with desert fireworks and identifies himself as the holy God of history, God pastes the “I want you!” pictures on the walls of Moses’ mind. He was being drafted. Moses protests: verse 11 is the self-deprecating protest: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (verse 11) God answers him with patience. That protest was expected. Protest number two: “How can I go for you; I don’t even know your name!?” (verse 13) God answers with a holy introduction and a long and very complete history of what he had seen and what he will do. Moses still protests! Number three: “They won’t believe me.” (chapter 4, verse 1) God shows his power through Moses, and it’s pretty amazing if you read Exodus 4: 2-7. Still Moses has a fourth protest: “I’m not a good public speaker. “Now God loses patience with this debate, like a parent would. He pulls on his arsenal of reminders: “Who do you think made the human mouth? And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind? Isn’t it I, God? So get going! I’ll be right there with you, and will put the words in your mouth!” (THE MESSAGE, Exodus 4) God must have thought he had closed the argument when Moses spoke yet another time, in protest. Clearly God will choose whom God will choose! Others might have been worn down at that point. But good parents, good leaders, and our God need to bend willfulness to a plan that will help the other one grow and accomplish a goal at the same time. Moses’ fifth protest was perhaps like words that have come out of our mouths: “Ask somebody else.” (4: 13) This time God, like others who ask more than once for a job to be done, gets angry! It says so in Exodus 4:14. God said he would send his brother along with him on his mission, which seemed to give Moses the comfort he needed. He shut up, and made plans to become a reluctant leader.
As the old Yiddish proverb puts it “A man makes his plans, and God laughs!” God has plans for you and has had plans for you all your life. Whether or not you have stayed in the field all your life (like Moses wanted to do) with shoes on, and a “get somebody else to do it” attitude, God has never given up on you. God is still asking you to serve until your dying day; there is no retiring from God’s plans once you retire to Florida! Like a mind that, when unused, becomes contaminated with dementia; and like a body that, when unused, turns into a weakened pile of skin and bones, the ways that God wants you to serve others and honor his call are different for each person. And you can’t out guess God. Sometimes God calls women to jobs traditionally held by men; and men to jobs traditionally held by women; God calls kids to trust the training that those who are older impart on them, even when you don’t see the point in your not yet fully formed brain. God needs you; God’s world needs you; God’s church needs you. How much of God’s time will you take protesting and deflecting holy requests, before you say what God wanted to hear in the first place, the answer that would not only help God and others, but also help yourself: “Okay, Lord, what do you want me to do?” Today is your desert, and your burning bush. Listen for God’s word to you.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 31, 2008