Sermon for August 30th

First Reading Exodus 2:23 – 3:15

Second Reading Romans 12:9-21

Gospel Reading Matthew 16:21-28

Sermon “God Works in Mysterious Ways”

When I was in grade school, we were all taught a cautionary phrase to remind us to be very alert and aware when crossing either a street or the railroad tracks. It was the simple instruction to “Stop, Look and Listen”. We were never to blindly run out into the street chasing one another or a ball or even the family dog that loved to run for blocks and blocks. Instead we must stop, cease following whatever was distracting us and be fully present in that moment. Using that focus, we were taught to look left, then right and then left again. Why left twice? Because that’s the way that cars could come up first in the nearest lane. But just looking was insufficient. We were also to be listening for things we could not see, for cars blocked from view behind trees or other parked cars or for trains that might be just around the bend. Stop, look and listen. It’s still pretty good advice and for more than just crossing a street.

Moses had a moment like that in today’s reading. Much had happened to him since that fateful day when Pharaoh’s daughter had pulled him out of the Nile in that reed basket. God have graciously provided so that his own mother was able to nurse and care for him as an infant and then he came to live in Pharaoh’s house. His early life was likely a life of privilege and security, all the while his fellow Hebrew’s were being cruelly used in slavery. Evidentially, Moses knew his heritage and still identified with them, because one day when he saw a Hebrew slave being beaten by an Egyptian slave master he was enraged and killed the Egyptian. Well, the Pharaoh heard of it and Moses had to flee for his life out into the wilderness. He wound up in Midian, marrying the daughter of one of the Priests of that land named Jethro, and caring for his flocks in the wilderness. Moses and Zipporah had a son named Gershom and he spent the next 40 years of his life out there while God filed off the rough edges and completed his preparation. As his son’s name implies, he was indeed a stranger in the land.

And so it was that the Pharaoh who sought Moses life died and another Pharaoh took over, but still as cruel as before. The Children of Israel cried out to God to save them and God did indeed hear as our reading today began: (Exodus 2:23-25 NIV)

[23] During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. [24] God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. [25] So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. But God did what God normally does when something needs doing. He called a human being to be his instrument. In this case, a much chastened, much more humble herdsman who had taken the flock far out to graze at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Let’s look then at what happens from the viewpoint of that childhood instruction: Stop , Look and Listen. The first thing that Moses did was to stop what he was doing. I’m not sure Moses could have done that in his earlier life in Egypt. You see, when he saw that Slave master abusing the slave he just acted. He didn’t stop to think. Oh yes, he took a quick look around to see if there were any other Egyptians, but he forgot about the Hebrew slave. That slave had obviously told the tale and it quickly got back to Pharaoh. That was not the way to liberate his people. God would provide a way and he would be an important part of that deliverance but not then, and not in that way.

We also read about Simon Peter this morning. He is another one who’s impulsive ways God had to tame. Peter didn’t stop to think or ask why Jesus had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He simply reacted and rebuked his master saying “Never, Lord, this shall never happen to you!” How many times have we also fallen prey to the impulse of the moment, forgetting that it is God’s will that we are to follow and not our own. Even our Savior, would often withdraw from the crowds that followed him to stop the swirling chaos and just spend time with his Heavenly Father. Perhaps Moses, didn’t wind up at that mountain by accident either. Perhaps was called to come aside for aside for a while.

What Moses saw from a distance demanded a closer look and so it was that he saw what the text calls the Angel of the Lord in the flames of that strange bush. It’s strange how many times we only see what we expect to find. We are so conditioned by habit and familiarity that we can miss God at work right in front of us. We come together to worship and to pray, but do we expect to find God at work, either here in our midst or in the community around us? If we look, we will see. At first glance, the world around us looks better bad – The Pandemic, Social unrest, Ugly politics, Huricanes, Wildfires – where is God we might ask? Why doesn’t God just snap divine fingers and make all this go away?

Where is God in all this? Right where God always is – Just as the text says today: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people… I have heard them crying out…, and I am concerned about their suffering. [8] So I have come down to rescue them… and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land.” How did, how does God do that? Did some giant hand reach down from heaven and drop the Israelites into the promised land? No – He sent a shepherd to lead them then and he sent a far greater shepherd to lead us in the fullness of time. God shows up in the midst of our struggles for any who but care to Stop and Look and take a close look at what is going on around us. I imagine Moses was feeling pretty good when God acknowledged that he heard the Israelites cries and had come to rescue them – Great! But God has a particular instrument in mind to act out his deliverance – Moses! OOPS.

Now being aware of the presence of God is wonderful and marvelous and necessary, but yet insufficient. We need to listen as well. Sometimes that’s the hard part. We want to tell God all about just how we want a given situation dealt with. I’m certainly guilty of that on a distressingly regular basis and I suspect you might just be as well. Listening, conversing, questioning, waiting for a response – these are all things we need to do in our experience with God. Moses was told to take off his shoes because he was standing on Holy Ground. What made that particular patch of wilderness Holy? The presence of God of course. And God was calling Moses on a mission he could scarcely imagine. No wonder he replied “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring my People out?” Who indeed, 40 years ago maybe – a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, but now? An 80 year old goat herder from the middle of nowhere? Who was Moses? No one special – Only the one that God promised to guide and direct.

Moses next question was logical in its own way. After asking who God thought he was, he then asks to be able to tell the Israelites who God is. At first at the bush, God had introduced himself as “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” That was enough for Moses because he hid his face, afraid to look at God. But now, he asks for a name. Perhaps the people had largely forgotten the God of the patriarchs over the long 400 years that they had been in Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped many Gods – over 300 in fact. Names were important to keep them all straight. And so the question: “If they ask, “what is is name”, what shall I tell them?”

Now the answer that God gives has puzzled folks for a long time. The Hebrew is hard to translate: God responds with the enigmatic “ehyehasherehyeh” (hayah asher hayah). It’s a verb, not a noun, and scholars have spent centuries debating the grammar and significance of this puzzling pronouncement to Moses, rendering the translation anywhere from “I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be” to “I am who I am.” J. Gerald Janzen says this about the mysterious ehyehasherehyeh, “Many interpreters take the statement . . . as a way of withholding the divine name, to protect the divine mystery from human manipulation and control. This name, however, identifies God as that ultimate mystery who is free to be whoever and whatever God chooses to be, in whatever situation or circumstance.” God promises to be present, to shepherd God’s people, but will not be reduced to a simple name.

That’s the way it is with God. Job didn’t get the simple answer why things happened to him either, neither did Elijah at that same mountain hundreds of years later and Peter certainly didn’t get the response he was looking for either. God is always Present, God is always Good, God is always Active. Our part is to Stop what we are so intent on doing, Look for what God is doing, Listen to what God is saying and then of course to Go and do what God calls us to do. What does that look like? Well, it will vary with the person and the moment, but we could do a lot worse than to listen to Paul speak God’s word to us this morning. Listen to them as a charge, Look for ways to be obedient to them this week:

Romans 12:9-21 (New Living Translation)

[9] Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. [10] Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. [11] Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. [12] Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. [13] When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. [14] Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. [15] Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! [17] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. [18] Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [19] Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. [20] Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” [21] Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

This morning you are invited to Stop your busy lives for a moment, look at the times and place that God has brought you to, listen to the wonderful and challenging words of God. And then go in the eternal presence of God as his ministers, working as God directs. We are commanded to pray and bring our petitions to God. But Prayer is a two way conversation and we need also to listen. Sometimes, that inner voice of the Spirit will be specific, more often at least for me it is general, as in Paul’s admonitions. Often we may find that God has used us as the answer to another’s prayer. That is the mysterious way that God often works.