October 3, 2021
*You can listen to a preached version of this sermon on Podbean.
What have you done in your life that is good and strange? Or maybe you think it is good even if other people think it is strange. What is a piece of your life that, when other people observe it—or learn about the history of it—they have questions? Or they have at least this one question: Why in the world did you do that?
One of those things in my life is adopting my two oldest children. This is definitely a good thing in my life—and hopefully in theirs. And it’s a little strange. Maybe not too strange; plenty of people—including an unusual percentage of people in this congregation—have formed families through adoption. Adopting through the foster care system, though, is a little more unusual. But really, it’s when people find out that we adopted before even trying to have “our own” baby that the question tends to come: Why in the world did you do that?
How I answer the question depends on how well I know the person asking and, to be honest, how much energy I have. I particularly remember a conversation with a KU professor several years ago—I didn’t have a class with her and I don’t even remember why we were talking. I didn’t know her very well, but I did know her to be a person of faith, active with the Jewish community in town. When she asked the question—asked why we had adopted our children—I hesitated for a brief moment before I just said, “God.”
Of course, there were lots of other answers I could have given. Lots of other answers I usually do give when that question comes up. But this response still seems to me the most right and honest. “God.”
I can imagine a conversation Moses might have had later in his life. Maybe (probably not, but just go with me here) he runs into one of his palace tutors out in the wilderness, decides to grab a quick lunch of mana and quail and catch up. “So,” this old tutor might say, “you walked right up to Pharaoh, the most powerful person in the world, and demanded that he let all the Israelites go. That was kind of a crazy thing to do. Why in the world did you do that?”
Of course, there are lots of answers Moses could give. Layer upon layer of reasons that Moses went to Pharaoh. But maybe the most right and honest response would be, simply, “God.”
“Of course it was God,” you’re thinking. “This is Moses, the burning—talking—bush.” “God” is easy for Moses to say. But what about us? How do we hear from God when there’s no burning bush around? How do we figure out what God’s call is for our lives when we aren’t biblical super heroes?
One thing I love about Moses’ story is that, even though it contains miraculous elements that seem beyond our experiences, Moses himself as a character is very relatable. And in a lot of ways, he’s nothing special. He’s middle aged, second career; working a fairly menial job in the family business; doing what he does every day. Everything is calm and predictable and fine . . . until it’s not.
So while the calls we hear from God might be a little more subtle, a little less clear than what Moses experiences in this story, there is still a lot we can learn here about how God’s call might work in our own lives. I really started thinking about this as a read a sermon from my friend Rose Marie Zook Barber. And I’d like to share three lessons from Moses about receiving God’s call.
1) Pay attention: Do we miss the burning bushes? What would it take to notice that something was on fire and not being consumed? Moses was working—he had to look away from his sheep to look at the bush; he had to be willing to be interrupted.
Pay attention or, another way to frame that is to think about following our curiosity. In his commentary on Exouds, Terence Fretheim tells us that curiosity leads to call.
What have you noticed lately? What do you see that other people don’t—or even can’t—see? What are you curious about? And what would it mean for you to follow that curiosity?
2) Know yourself well. Because your strengths, your weaknesses, your experiences will be relevant to your call.
Moses was specifically qualified for the work God called him to–not because Moses planned ahead, just because of his life experiences and his personality.
- Moses’ history in royal court
- familiarity with wilderness
- willingness to argue w/ authority
If you’re willing to argue with God, then confronting Pharaoh shouldn’t be any big deal, right? Sometimes what can be perceived as our negative personality traits are what qualifies us to do the work. Moses’ passion for justice is problematic when he kills the Egyptian, but that passion also part of what makes Moses the right person for this job.
Our community is also important—Moses had Aaron to help him. Rarely can we do the work of God on our own.
What unique qualifications do you have? How do your life experiences put you in a position to have access to certain people, to better understand particular situations? When people offer you gratitude and praise, what do they say? When people are unhappy with you, what do they say? And how might God be calling you to use all of that—all of who you are—for holy purposes of love and justice in the world?
3) Finally, keep your heart open.
We already talked about paying attention to specifics—notice that the bush isn’t burning up. But we also have to pay attention at a much bigger scale. Moses knew about the oppression of the Israelites. Even though he was in a privileged position in Egypt, he had compassion for the Hebrew slaves. And he certainly hasn’t forgotten them as he is herding sheep in the desert.
It can, I know, feel like a burden to be aware of, to pay attention to the hard things in the world. We hear stories from friends that break our hearts—many of us heard these stories at our recent Justice Matters house meetings. We watch or hear or read news story after news story of people suffering, of injustice in the world. It can wear on us. There is a thing called “compassion fatigue,” and it’s real.
And yet, if our hearts aren’t open, we won’t be in a position to respond to the call of God, no matter how clearly it comes. (Spoiler alert: When Moses does go to Pharaoh, he refuses to let the people go because his heart is hard.)
Even as you keep our heart open, you also have to know—not just in your head, but in that beautiful wide-open heart of yours–that it’s not your job, and it’s not your call, to address every situation of injustice and oppression and suffering in the world. And the second you feel the compassion well up may not be the time God is calling you to do something. Moses did act when he felt compassion for the slave being abused, but I don’t think his murder of the Egyptian was part of God’s call. That was Moses’ own human reaction. Moses spent years in the wilderness before a clear call came from God about how to address this injustice that weighed on his heart.
How open is your heart? What situations stir your compassion—or even your passion? How can you be attentive to God’s timing and direction as you think about how to live out your compassion?
God does call us. Maybe not with burning bushes.
God does call us. Maybe not to free an entire nation from slavery. Some calls from God may be big, may take a substantial commitment. Others may be small: to tend the little pantry for a month or take a meal to someone, to make a donation or attend a meeting or have a hard conversation.
In so many ways God invites us to be part of the divine work in this world. And when we pay attention, when we know ourselves well, when we keep our hearts open, even as we wander the wilderness we will be ready to hear and respond to God’s call.
And then, when people see these the good and strange things we are doing and ask Why in the world did you do that?, we can say, “Because . . . God.”