Sorry, folks! No video today. Enjoy reading!
In a galaxy far away, a planet was dying. There was no way to save them all and the ruler of the planet and his wife knew it. There was no way to save their people – not all of them, anyway. But more than being rulers, they were also parents. And while they could not possibly save everyone, they could save the one they loved most. So they sent their son across the stars.
His tiny ship flew through the dangers of space, but he just slumbered… until his ship crashed on a distant planet known as “earth” in a town called Smallville, Kansas. Martha and Jonathan Kent discovered the boy, named him Clark and brought him up to be a great man, and great he was. How many men do you know who are faster than a locomotive, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound? As it turned out, he was more than just powerful, and he was more than just a leader – he was an inspiration. And his inspiration was to more than just his fictions people; he became an inspiration to us in the real world, too. And today, there’s hardly a person alive, even in the remotest parts of the world, who hasn’t heard of Superman.
So where did Superman come from, and why does it matter on a Sunday morning in church? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were just two Jewish kids in 1938, a writer and an artist looking to capitalize on the popularity of comic strips, and perhaps even using the new medium of the comic book to achieve fame. So, for $130, they sold their character and his story to a corporation who’s made billions out of perhaps the 20th centuries greatest icon in fiction or in reality. And their idea for this character, the person possessed of special abilities, who would stand up for justice, who would defend the helpless, the orphan forced away from his home to protect a people he was somehow both part of and apart from – it is the story of Moses.
Siegel and Shuster took a character whose story resonated with them, and turned him into something modern. That’s a stroke of genius. But more importantly, they were able to use this story because it’s deeply ingrained in us, in a way that we don’t always know. Even if you didn’t grow up watching The Ten Commandments, or perhaps The Prince of Egypt if you’re a little younger, this story is part of who we are as believers.
Moses is perhaps the most important single person in this entire Old Testament, and his story therefore the one we’ll be taking the most time to understand. As we continue the journey through the Old Testament that I’ve been preaching for two months already (but with months still to go), we need to pick up the tale of God and God’s people, because this is how we understand who we are in relationship with God.
So, let’s pick up our story where we left it. We’ve heard tell about creation, about Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons. The eleventh of those twelve sons was named Joseph, and he had an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that Donny Osmond got to wear in the movie version. But more importantly, Joseph was sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery, but he rose through slavery and prison to become the right-hand man of the Pharaoh. With Joseph elevated to such a position, Jews, who had been slaves, suddenly received much more favorable treatment in the Egyptian Kingdom. But, of course, eventually Joseph died, and so did Pharaoh. And after some time had passed, a new Pharaoh arose, who started to ask questions.
“Hey, uh, you notice there are a lot of Israelites around here? Like, too many Israelites,” Pharaoh said. So he tried to give them harder and harder tasks, but they just thrived more and more and more. Eventually, Pharaoh tries to cut things off at the source. He tells two midwives, who were responsible for delivering babies, that if the babies are male, they should be killed, but that the girls can live. After all, the girls could serve as Egyptian wives.
So the midwives hatch a counterplan. They still help in the deliveries of the males, and they let them live. In this way, Shiphrah and Puah, two practically anonymous women, become true saviors of the Israelites, because they disobey Pharaoh. When he asks why there are so many baby boys around, they throw some shade at the Egyptians – “Our women are so much heartier than your Egyptian women, that when our women give birth, they don’t even call us – they just do it themselves before we can even get there.” Then, Pharaoh went a step further – he said that all males born now must be thrown in the Nile.
Moses’ mother gave birth to him. And of course, she hid him for a time to get him to be big and strong. But eventually, the time came when she could hide her son no longer, and she followed Pharaoh’s direction: she put him in the Nile. Only she didn’t put him in to die. She put him in a basket and sent him off with a prayer, just desperately hoping that he would somehow survive the torrents of water and make it to safety. And there he floated, like Superman through space, until he was found by an Egyptian girl. And just like in the story of Superman, he was found by someone special. You see, this wasn’t just any Egyptian girl – this was the daughter of Pharaoh. She pulled him out of the river and insisted on raising him in her father’s home. He would be her much younger brother, and he would have all the spoils of the wealthy, even though she assumed it was one of the Hebrew children. Given that she knew the Hebrew children were being killed, she knew there would be a mother among them who would be ready to nurse him. So she went to find a recent mother to help him eat and live for those first few months – and the recent mother she happened upon wound up being Moses’ own mother! So Moses’ mother got to keep her son, for a time, anyway, and he was going to be safe. Her bold action, crazy in a normal time, but her only hope in a period of desperation, had paid off better than she ever could’ve hoped – her son would be raised in the house of the Pharaoh!
At this point in the story, there are already so many sermons I want to preach. I desperately want to tell you about the overlooked, and how God takes care of us, even when society doesn’t. Women are considered nobodies, even property. Yet, in this story, all our heroes so far have been women. Pharaoh’s daughter who rescues baby Moses, Moses’ mother who tries whatever she can to save her son, the midwives Shiphrah and Puah who take their position and use it to save rather than to kill. The women are truly the heroes of this story, and I think it bears mentioning.
But the women aren’t the only overlooked. How often does our culture tell us that there are “too many” of “those people” in our midst? We’re encourage all the time, through the media, through our upbringings, through our own experiences, to classify people. And here in Egypt, unsurprisingly, we see this immigrant people, already low in status, being objects of fear and oppression; and when that doesn’t work to get rid of them, the Egyptian government chooses to oppress them more. Yet, God stands by the side of those who are stepped upon. God wants the success of the stranger in the strange land. This is an invaluable lesson that we need to carry with us today, as well. “Those people” are not bad; they are people, and God loves them.
But honestly, those are just some of the things we can pull out from just the first half of our Scripture reading. Moses was taken care of his mother in his infancy, but really grew up at the palace. He was, after all, now a part of the king’s family. He grew up in the lap of luxury. In Moses’ story, we see someone from the lower class brought up in the dominant class, and we actually see it turn south in a passage we didn’t read. Eventually, Moses ends up seeing just how the people related to him are treated. He sees some of his fellow Jews being beaten by a slave driver. Incensed, Moses kills the man beating them. Now a murderer, Moses is forced to flee the country, as well as to acknowledge that he’s grown up in a place of safety in spite of being no better than the people around him.
So Moses runs away. That’s what he has to do. Even though he has the protection of the Pharaoh, suddenly he’s drawing attention to his status as an outsider, and you can bet that didn’t sit well with people. Moses runs away and gets married, and decides to live a quiet life. But, honestly, what are the chances that a man who had this incredible story so far would get to fade into the background of history? His whole life was set up for greatness, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he somehow finds himself back in an unusual position.
While keeping his father-in-law’s flocks, Moses sees a burning bush. Kind of odd, right? A bush, in the middle of nowhere, just burning. So he goes to investigate, as the curious among us would. As he examines further, he realizes that the bush isn’t even being burnt up – it’s still just sitting there, perpetually on fire, but never consumed. And from the bush, God called him by name, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses answered, “Here I am.”
“Here I am” is a loaded phrase in Hebrew. It sometimes has a simple meaning, no more complicated than saying “hey” in response to someone calling your name. But in a setting like this, the meaning is often closer to the phrase, “At your service.” So God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and Moses realizes that this is no laughing matter. Moses knows the stories of his ancestors, just as we must. Heck, it’s the reason I’m preaching all these Old Testament texts – we need to know where we come from; we need to know the story we share with God.
And God says to Moses, “I’ve heard the cries of my people; you will go free them from Pharaoh.” Imagine what this means for Moses. He’s a wanted murderer, the boy who ran away from Pharaoh’s family, who abandoned his brother, who would (of course) become the next Pharaoh. And God tells him, “You’re the man for the job.” How do you respond to that? How are you supposed to react if you’re just trying to keep your head down?
That’s not a hypothetical question by the way; by being here, in church; by being a Christian, you are tasked with sharing with others, both sharing what we know of Jesus and sharing the good things we have. Generosity is meant to be a hallmark of what we do, both in the words we share and the actions we undertake. And it’s really, really easy to say, “Who am I to tell anyone?” “How can I be asked to share when I have so little?” “Who am I to serve as a deacon or elder?” Who am I to teach Sunday school?” “Who am I to share what God has done in my life?”
And that’s when God gives the answer at the root of all answers; it’s not about you. “I will be with you,” God says. In other words, it is not that we are worthy, it’s that God is worthy, and God is asking us to do something about it.
But Moses is not going down without a fight, so pushes back again, “Who should I say sent me? What is your name?” And God gives the greatest response.
Unlike in the story of Jacob last week, when God’s mysterious wrestler wouldn’t give up his name, God is willing to tell Moses his name, usually pronounced as “Yahweh,” but translated “I AM WHO I AM.” I’m going to be a nerd for a second, though, because the cool thing about Hebrew verb forms, though, is that they don’t have tense, particularly in the perfect form. This means, “I am who I am,” or “I am who I was,” or “I am who I will be,” or “I was who I was,” or “I was who I am,” or “I was who I will be,” or “I will be who I was,” or “I will be who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” It means all of those things. God is constant, faithful, and good, and those things do not change. It’s in God’s very name. In the story of Jacob, we heard of someone receiving a new name to reflect who he had become; in the story of Abraham, we heard of someone receiving a new name to reflect who he had become. Ancient people believed strongly in the power of names, and here, God tells Moses his name.
The meaning of this name is important, because it tells us that God is trustworthy, even when we struggle, because God is constant. It tells us that God is a riddle, and we will always struggle to understand. But it also tells us that even Moses, the unworthy murderer who rejected luxury, who tried to hide from his life, who didn’t have any business being someone special, is God’s beloved child. Over and over in these stories, we see people who are unlikely to be picked by God, because everyone is unlikely to be picked by God; yet at the same time, everyone is picked by God. Not for the same tasks, no; but we are all God’s ambassadors. Perhaps not to Pharaoh, perhaps not to set a nation free, but nonetheless to love with the same reckless abandon of God, to set free people caught in sin and oppression, to pray with ferocity and joy.
God has set a task before each and every one of us. While the task may seem impossible some days, didn’t it to Moses? While we may seem unworthy, wasn’t Moses? Yet God wants you, loves you, and calls you to the burning bush to listen. Now go, and heed God’s call. Amen.