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Worship for World Communion October 1, 2017

By Pastor Anna V. Copeland

Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17

                                    Help Wanted

 

God is so full of surprises. When God needs one of us humans to do something big, seldom do we respond “Pick me, pick me.” You may recall that even those people in the Bible who played critical roles in fulfilling God’s work started out reluctant in the beginning. Noah didn’t want to build an ark. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Sarah just laughed when God said she was going to have a baby, as she was well past the way of women as the Bible so delicately puts it. Joseph didn’t want to get married to Mary. Jesus asked the Lord to take the cup of suffering from him, Paul didn’t want to go to prison, and in today’s story, Moses doesn’t want to go back to Egypt.

 

Nevertheless, when God needs help, God calls us. When God calls us, we resist. When we resist, God insists. Then God sends helpers.

 

Today’s story is God’s call to Moses at the burning bush to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves, Jacob’s descendants. Over an extensive period of time in Egypt, the people of Israel grew into a major community. But life did not go well for the Israelites over time and the rulers of Egypt oppressed them.

Exodus 2:23-25 summarizes their suffering situation and names their cries to God. God hears their cry, remembered the covenant/promise made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and took special notice of their suffering situation.

In God’s call to Moses, we hear our first theme for this morning. When GOD NEEDS HELPERS, GOD CALLS US. God calls us relentlessly like a dog with a bone. God never lets go. When I was discerning 35 years ago whether or not to go into the ministry, one of my mentors said to me, “Don’t do it if you can help it.” He knew the way would be long and difficult. He knew there would be sacrifices. On the simplest level, as a former schoolteacher, I would no longer have summers off with my children.

We don’t have to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa to hear God’s call. It is a persistent, niggling sense that God needs us, that we were made for something more. We get hints of it; we walk away for a while. God comes after us and picks us up by the scruff of the neck, drawing us back to God’s own self like any mother dog fetching a wandering pup. We see God’s action this way with Moses. To save the people of Israel, God chooses not to act alone. Initially, God chooses to engage a human figure as an instrument of this action: God calls Moses.

God’s calling of Moses specifies that he will be sent to Pharaoh to “bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). God takes the initiative, but God does not work alone; God works in and through Moses.

You may recall Moses’ story.

A Hebrew child found in a basket in the bulrushes as a baby where he was placed to save his life, he was scooped out of the water, adopted and raised in Pharaoh’s household. As a young man, he witnessed the cruelty of a slave master whipping a Hebrew slave. Moses killed the oppressor and then fled to the land of Midian . There he married and lived with his wife Zipporah and his father in law Reuel for a long time, the Bible doesn’t say how long, except that Moses had a son. Then God showed up at the burning bush and after identifying Gods self as the “I Am”, told Moses he needed him to go back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh it was time to quit oppressing the Hebrew people. Tell Pharaoh to let my people go.

But Moses didn’t raise his little hand and say, “Pick me God, Pick me.” Moses did everything he could think of to talk God out of the plan, eight times he argued with God.

Moses’ reluctance points towards our second theme his morning. When GOD CALLS US, WE tend to RESIST.

Moses didn’t want to go back to Egypt. Who can blame him? Moses didn’t want to go anywhere. He was happy in Midian. He knew he’d face a murder charge if he went back, and he argued eight times over the next three chapters with God, raising objections seemingly of every kind.

Finally, Moses said, “look God, I have a speech impediment, send my well-spoken brother Aaron.” At that, God finally got mad at Moses. God doesn’t call perfect people, God calls whom God calls. God uses whom God uses. Yet God relented, “Fine he said,” I’ll send your brother Aaron, but you’re my mouthpiece. I’ll tell you what I want you to say to Pharaoh and you can tell your brother and he can say it for you. But you’re going back to Egypt.”

We recently saw a film here that contained an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop reflected on the challenging work that had to be done to end Apartheid in South Africa and work through a very difficult season of forgiveness and reconciliation. He said, “We may think we have free will, but if God really needs us to do something, it is very, very difficult to say ‘no’. God just keeps coming after us if God needs us, and God doesn’t let go.”

This leads us to the third and final theme of the story of Moses. WE TEND TO RESIST GOD’S CALL AT FIRST. THEN GOD SENDS HELPERS.

God called Richard Leigh to a pumpkin patch mission here at First Parish Church to raise money for the Navaho people in New Mexico and for the work and outreach of our church. God gave him Chris and together we see them setting up pallets, working long hours to prepare for the arrival of the semi-truck. That first year Richard wanted to quit. He keeps smiling but I know its true. There weren’t enough volunteers; it took forever to unload the truck. He and Chris ended up covering all the shifts we didn’t.

Yet this work was God’s vision and it wouldn’t let Richard go. God called him, and then God sent helpers. Perhaps nowhere was that more evident that in the unloading of 2,500 pumpkins yesterday. A burden in the rain was made light by dozens of helping hands and good- natured hearts. We may be feeling our glutes this morning for the effort, but we’re not feeling lonely. We know that God gives us one another because God never intended for us to have to go it alone. It matters little whether we are married or single, young or old, we belong to God and to one another. And just when we think we’re in a pickle and there’s no way out, or we don’t know how to respond to God’s voice, or we think we’re inadequate to the task at hand, God sends help.

What can we take away from this continuing story of God’s people? Perhaps as much as anything it reminds us today that one of God’s greatest gifts is the consolation of community, of helpers, the sweetness of companionship. We don’t have to figure out how to live faithfully alone. From the time of Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, to Noah and his family on the ark, to the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, on through the story of God’s people over history, God calls us together in mutual service. God sends us out at the very least two by two. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two in his name, and St. Paul was accompanied by young Timothy whom he considered a son. I’m grateful to God everyday that God sent Pastor Dan to First Parish, a consolation to me in the autumn years of my ministry, and clearly a gift to the church.

We learned more about the consolation of community this past week as we studied the life, faith and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian killed in the concentration camp during World War II for his opposition to Hitler. He didn’t want to die to be sure. In fact he was teaching at Union Seminary in New York when heard God’s unrelenting call to go back home to Germany to help his people.

Bonhoeffer will be remembered among other things for the radical shift in theology he brought to the German people. He believed that God speaks to us directly. and that God meant what God said about how we are to live as followers of Jesus. He challenged the relatively private faith of German Lutherans who saw their Christianity as largely a personal matter, rarely even attending church. Bonhoeffer saw this quite differently.

He wrote the book “Life Together” as his thesis that we are created related, that God gives us by God’s grace the gift of community, that we might enjoy the sweetness of fellowship, laboring alongside one another in God’s work.

GOD NEEDS HELPERS GOD CALLS US.

GOD CALLS US, WE TEND TO RESIST.

WE RESIST. GOD SENDS COMPANIONS TO HELP US ALONG THE WAY.

According to Bonhoeffer, God’s sweet consolation of the community of faith is nowhere more fully realized than here at the Lord’s Supper. Though this meal came long after the time of our forebears Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob, through Christ we are reminded among other things that we are united in our story through Christ and inextricably bound with one another, siblings with different mothers as some say, one Lord, one hope, one unity for all.

Whether we gather for worship, or unload pumpkins or labor at the Village Faire, or travel to Maryland or Pennsylvania or New York or Guatemala or Louisiana or Cuba on Mission, God sends companions to make our burdens light. You are here this morning because God has called you for a purpose greater than yourself, for God’s use and for your joy. You may or may not know what it is, yet you feel it and it won’t let you go. Like Moses standing barefoot at the burning bush, God will reveal it to you, and when you discover that you do no other, you will be given what you need in order to fulfill it.  Amen