Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father–in–law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3.1-6
Last week we were with the disciples around the campfire. Kick off your shoes, folks, for today we are heading to the desert to discover another fire… a fire in a bush that wasn’t a fire at all. In fact we discover that the fire is not just a messenger from God, but God himself. Now we know that God being God could have chosen any way to catch Moses’ attention but he chooses a burning bush. Do you ever wonder sometimes how many peculiar things must happen to us before we will show up and pay attention to God. God will go to great lengths to get our attention – even a burning bush! What has been the most unusual way that God got your attention?
There are four key points in the text. First, the burning bush is God’s attention getter. God will go to great lengths to capture the attention of the one he loves. Second, stopping what we are doing is a requirement so we can hear God and be redirected. Entering into dialogue with God requires that we let go of the work we are doing and take time to come aside to hear God’s voice. Third, we have to take our shoes off. When Moses takes his shoes off, all his escape routes were cancelled. There was no more running from God. However, just because we stop running doesn’t mean we’re done negotiating with God. Fourth, if you can’t beat God, perhaps you can twist his arm! Moses wades through 7 different excuses to try to get out of his calling. Excuse #1: What about me? Who am I? Excuse #2: Who are you, God? Excuse #3: What about them? They aren’t going to believe. Excuse #4: I’m not qualified. I am unskilled. Excuse #5: Get somebody else. The last two excuses are inferred from the dialogue between Moses and Jethro and Moses and God. Excuse #6: They are probably already dead. Excuse #7: They’ll kill me. Suffice it to say none of these excuse worked with God. The funny thing is there are two more excuses that we often use but were not even considered by Moses – his old age and his family. They were not even legitimate excuses! Notice how God continued to relentlessly pursue Moses for the sake of his people. Let’s dig a little deeper into the text.
When Moses draws near to the one thing that captured his attention, God speaks. God invites Moses to stop and take off his shoes. When we enter into God’s presence we must slow down and enter with great humility. Moses even covers his face in fear. When was the last time you entered into the presence of the Lord by slowing down and surrendering your personal power. Moses has taken off his shoes and his mode of escaping God’s conversation has just been relinquished. Moses answers the voice of God by simply stating, “Here I am.” And, God responds by addressing Moses. God desires to have a little talk with Moses. And, boy oh boy! Moses had a lot of roadblocks at the ready.
One of my favorite childhood cartoons was a Warner Brother’s character named Daffy duck. Daffy played in a skit as Robin Hood and he would take his stick and defend himself, but he always ended up with a bent beak – ho, ha, guard, turn, parry, dodge, spin, ha, thrust. He always got smacked in the mouth with the very weapon he was using to defend himself. Moses was having a day like that. Every excuse he was making was met with God redesigning his plan. God made every effort to ensure Moses success, and he wouldn’t even consider letting Moses off the hook. “The Hound of Heaven” was pursuing Moses like a pack of sweet puppies ready to pounce on any young toddler and lick them silly. Moses said, “Here I am.” And, basically God said, Let’s talk because I have a problem I want you to address.
But Moses was full of excuses and the dialogue is a lot like one of my favorite Abbot and Castello routines “Who’s on first?” Moses first excuse is the old Joyce Meyer routine that we talked about last week with Peter, what about me? Moses informs God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3.11). Moses struggled with his identity. He didn’t feel qualified. He thought God had chosen the wrong leader. God reminded Moses that he was with them. God says, I am with you and it doesn’t matter who you are (3.12). Moses expresses his unworthliness to be a leader. But God provides blessed assurance. God doesn’t waiver in his determination that Moses is his chosen instrument. God displays utter patience with Moses. God wants to be in relationship. He desires to share of himself with his children. He reveals himself by divulging his name, which is his very nature. God does not coerce us but waits and remains passively peaceful in patience. Sometimes we get so full of ourselves that God can’t do a thing with us. We are more concerned with our personal needs, rather than God’s call on our lives to serve.
The second excuse is familiar to us as well, “Who are you?” We really like to question the voice of God and pretend it really wasn’t God voice at all. It makes you want to whistle and go right along with your own business. Moses inquires, when they ask me, “‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3.13). Moses was definitely looking for a loop-hole. Moses didn’t know God well enough, yet. He wasn’t yet able to articulate his belief about God because he lacked intimacy with God up to this point. God desires for Moses to know him, I am with you… I am ever present… I am everything you need… I am who I am. Moses had only a glimmer of understanding from his encounter, but by the time that his life ends Moses will know God in a way that only a few of us will ever experience. God is the revealer of himself, and provides the comfort that Moses needed to accept his strange relationship with God that was formed out of an encounter with a burning bush and a voice from heaven. God says, I will be whom I will be. God simply expresses to Moses – that He exists. God exists. He is a real person. Sometimes we think we know God better than we truly do. We think of God as old what’s his name.
The third excuse Moses offers sounds a whole lot like Peter’s response when he was called last week, But what about them? Moses inquired of God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”(Exodus 4.1). Moses was fearful of how the people would respond and react. He wasn’t sure what they would say or what they would do. Moses was intimidated not by God, but by the people whom God created in his image. Moses isn’t sure if God would have his back. But God assures Moses that before he is finished with the people, they will listen. when God speaks, he means business. There are many powerful hierarchies that we live within – family structures, church organizations, and political influence. But all must bow low before the Maker of Heaven and Earth. God is not threatening to reveal himself – he is promising to reveal himself. Moses believes himself to be incompetent for the task of convincing the people of what God wants. Yet, God remains faithful to Himself. God will provide signs and wonders for the people to see. Sometimes we mishandle power and influence. When we lead others, are we spending time listening to God’s directions first?
The fourth excuse Moses is disqualifying himself by saying to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4.10). I can just hear Moses’ proud as a peacock smile thinking to himself, I’ve got you on this one, Lord. You can just imagine Moses jaw dropping when even a stuttering tongue wasn’t going to disqualify Moses from the job. God will speak through Moses, even with his stuttering tongue. Moses fretted about his inadequacies, never considering who made him that way to begin with. God is always willing and ready to fill in our inadequacies with himself. God chooses the imperfect people of the world to show his power. God chooses the humble and the lowly to shine his glory through. God the Creator has designed us for a purpose, but have we inquired of God what his plan might be for us? So often we make our own plans and tell God what we are going to do instead of asking God what his plans are and joining him where he leads us. The opposite of incompetency is over-competency. We become arrogant and lean on our own understanding, skills, talents, education, and experience without ever asking God his point of view. So have you prayed about your decision-making lately? We can get ourselves in a tremendous mess by disregarding the pathway of humility in prayer.
And, the fifth excuse, Moses utters the words, Could you please stop hounding me and just get somebody else? But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (Exodus 4.13). Can you imagine Moses being so sure of himself that he would not have to answer this call that God had presented him with. But even then God would not relent in his pursuit of Moses. I know you can find somebody else more qualified. I just can’t see myself doing that. I know what you are asking me, but that’s not for me. Moses measured himself against the shadow of someone else, and he pleaded with God to take away his calling and his commission to go and rescue the perishing. Please God send somebody else… Our excuses can go on and on. I don’t have time. My family needs me. My health is failing. I have young children. But God works with us in and through our excuses, because he loves our quirky personalities. Sometimes I don’t know how he puts up with me. Maybe you feel the same way. But God works with us, and he keeps calling us. God makes room for a ministry partnership, and he is sent not as a lone ranger but with companionship. His partner will have a call of his own to wrangle with, but the bulk of the responsibility will remain on Moses. Moses has to fulfill his own call from God, and no one else can fulfill it. The call of God on your life is irrevocable. God says, I’m still calling… will you answer.
But wait that’s not the last excuse. The sixth excuse… Moses speaks to his father-in-law, “Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive” (Exodus 4.18). Is there a hint that Moses hopes that they are all dead so he doesn’t have to fight for their freedom? Or does he hope they would be so few in number that it wouldn’t be an issue? Sometimes people wish themselves into negativity, but that doesn’t stop God’s relentless pursuit. Moses will discover that the people he returns to will be hard-hearted and bitter from their forced labor. Moses will bring about change to a community who should desire the new freedom. But read on in the story and you will discover trouble all along the way to the Promised Land. I surely wish that the journey into the future were smooth, easy and without the mishaps of disobedience to God’s best efforts to rescue us. But in all honesty, we know that problems are part of the growth process. Conflict is an inevitable part of God’s relationship backlash. And, unfortunately it’s human nature that we are quick to self-sabotage.
The seventh excuse, God speaks to Moses, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead” (Exodus 4.19). Moses had real concerns for his life. He was a wanted man by the most powerful nation in the Ancient Near East. God anticipated yet another excuse from our superhero of salvation history, and assured Moses that his enemies were no longer an issue in the community. That’s what amazes me about God’s grace. He loves us so much that he will not relent. In our culture pushy people are a turn off, but in God’s economy it’s called a work of grace. God has Moses in the “hot seat” of relentless grace. God has been at work in Moses life all along quietly working in the background of his daily life. But here is the first series of encounters Moses talks with God. God is no longer silent, but an active participant in a relationship with Moses. God has been wooing him with his love. God’s will has been drawing him in relationship. God’s desire has pursued Moses. God’s gift of grace freed Moses to respond to the invitation to trust God and be in relationship with Yahweh. It is easy to connect our own stories to the story of Moses.
How many excuses have each of us made to God about answering our call to serve and our responsibility to the people of God? Moses is our star pupil in God’s salvation story. When we discuss Moses, we know him as the hero that deserves his own scrapbook with all the photo ops and selfies of a comic strip superhero. For Marvel fans imagine that Moses is on your left. He is the super hero of church history and shows up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah as they chat with Jesus before the crucifixion. He is one of the most remarkable men of all time, yet, his excuses for not stepping up into his call to help God’s people is tiring to say the least. I wonder how long this conversation went on before Moses was finally worn down with all God’s loving compassion and encouragement.
To be sure when God called Moses, Moses was not equipped to do the work that needed to be accomplished! God empowered him to serve, and gave him the stamina that he needed. God doesn’t equip his servants before the task. Instead God gives us the empowerment as we walk out beyond our abilities. God doesn’t want people in the Kingdom who know how to do things for God. God desires people in his Kingdom who are humble enough to ask for help and engage others in dialogue. God chooses the broken, lost, last, and lonely people to do his best work. God chooses those who will kick their shoes off and relinquish their escape routes. God chooses the humble who will cover their face when God is in their midst. God chooses those who will respond in dialogue with Him. God chooses the underdogs who have made mistakes, but have the courage to become overcomers. God chooses the aging and retired folks who think they are past their prime like Moses, and invites them to surrender their preferences to take up God’s task. God ensures that Moses will have a companion for the work ahead, but the work will surely require faith beyond measure and courage that can only be attained by the grace of God.
In our story there is good news! We have been invited into God’s Kingdom economy where the poor in spirit are lifted up and the impoverished have the Bread of Heaven. What made Moses a person God could use? First, Moses took time to be alone with God on the back-side of the desert at the Mountain of God. Second, Moses was fully transparent with God and he remained in dialogue with God when he didn’t get the answers he wanted to hear. Third, Moses was hungry for God more so than uncomfortable with his calling. His excuses didn’t diminish his hunger.
What prevents us from being alone, transparent, and hungry for God? Moses declared some significant excuses as to why he could not and would not follow God’s request, but perhaps the churches of Revelation give us even more insights into those excuses. There are several churches described in Revelation that can open our eyes to our deep-rooted excuses. John Maxwell calls these churches: persecuted, compromised, corrupt, deceased, faithful, and lukewarm. The persecuted church was consumed with fear, failure of nerve, and unfaithfulness. The compromised church used God’s gifts for a profit. The corrupt church was accepting of sexual immorality. The deceased church worked hard for God but failed to live by the Spirit. The faithful church lacked the strength and stamina to hold fast to God. The lukewarm church was rich in resources and complacent in their on-going relationship with God.
We are given an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God, and the altar is open for those who desire to step up and answer the call to faithful discipleship. God’s grace is like the “Hound of Heaven” wooing, pursing, drawing, freeing, and empowering you and me to seek that pathway of sanctification that leads us to the holiness of heart and life. Grace is relentlessly chasing us, Church! And, that’s good news!
O God, thank you for pursuing us until we cry out to you in sweet surrender. Take away the spirit of offense that invades our thinking when we are challenged to answer the call to deepen our relationship. Pour out your love upon us until we experience the sweetest joy of your Spirit. Amen.