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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout the summer we have focused on one of the five guiding principles of the Reformation, Sola Fide, by Faith Alone. For Martin Luther, faith alone was the solid, unshakable confidence in God’s promise which allowed the believer to act in a broken world. This morning we continue our sermon series on the Old Testament characters mentioned in the Book of Hebrews who embodied this faith. Today we turn to Moses.
From Hebrews 11:24 – 28
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not. Just then, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy. “Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”
The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”
The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naïve, young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation. “Wow!” Exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water
Moses is one of the most important figures in the Old Testament, and probably the most important figure in Judaism. Interestingly, he was just as important in the early Christian Church. Jesus spoke of Moses more than any other character in the Hebrew scriptures. In the scene of the mount of transfiguration, Jesus was seen together with Moses. The church drew similarities between Moses and Jesus. Both men led God’s people out of captivity. Moses led the Israelites out of physical bondage and slavery in Egypt, and Jesus led God’s elect out of spiritual bondage and slavery to sin. Moses stood before Pharaoh and said, “’Let my people go.” Jesus came “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and . . . to set the oppressed free.” Moses like Jesus performed miracles. After Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, the people’s thoughts ran immediately to Moses’ prophecy: ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’”
Oddly, these are not the reason that the author of Hebrews believes that we should follow Moses’ example of faith. It was not about what he did, but it was about what he sacrificed.
According to scripture, Moses spent the first 40 years of his life surrounded by riches. He grew up in the royal palace of Egypt, then the world’s most powerful nation. He received the best education and had a good life before him. It was a wonderful life of opulence and privilege for 40 years, and then it all changed. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian task master beating one of the Israelite slaves. Surely, Moses had witnessed oppression and disparity before. No doubt, the Pharaoh’s daughter, his mother had told him how she found him at three months old in a basket nestled in the reeds along the Nile River, and how he had been nursed by a Hebrew mother. His very name meant drawn from the water. And for 40 year, he had lived with that inconvenient truth. It was impossible to imagine giving it all up. But that day, Moses looked this way and that and when he didn’t see anyone else, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The next day, however, when Moses came out of the palace and saw two Israelites fighting one another, he asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” And when Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, a land in the northwest of present day Saudi Arabia
Moses had it all in Egypt, and he gave it all up to rescue a fellow Hebrew. His life had gone from royalty to exile. And for the next 40 years of life, he spent his time and energy following sheep. It was hot, hard work, but Moses was learning the ways of the desert. While in Midian, he married Zipporah who bore him two sons. Then came the grand finale to Moses’ life. That is where today’s reading begins.
Now, at 80 years old, while herding in a remote region of Midian, an angel of the Lord led Moses to a burning bush, and a voice spoke. “Moses, Moses!” And he answered, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Moses protested to God. He might have become a heroic character earlier in his life after all he was once a prince of Egypt, but after 40 years in the wilderness, it just wasn’t going happen. He knew his own inabilities and limitations. After 40 years of chasing sheep around the desert, Moses didn’t have the same self-sure confidence that he once had. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Unfortunately, it’s the response and excuse we all offer when God calls us. “Who am I, Lord?”
Life doesn’t always work out as we had planned, from little things to not so little things like college, marriage, kids, jobs, and finances. Like Moses we can find ourselves in a place in our lives we never anticipated. Perhaps like Moses you are in a Mt. Horeb sort of place, a desolate region in time. Perhaps like Moses your life direction has not exactly gone according to your plans. Two thirds of your life is already behind you, and when you suddenly stumble upon a burning bush, you’re not sure what to do.
It would be so easy to trust God, if he just gave regular and consistent signs. Yes, it would be simple to follow God, if he erected a heavenly traffic light with flashing red and green lights. But that is not the way God acts. Instead, we must act by faith- or as it is written in Hebrews- Moses persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. Moses didn’t see God, he only saw the burning bush, but he dared to believe. Moses knew that by himself there was no way he could do what God asked of him, and so God reassured Moses, “I will be with you.”
That’s the important part of the story for us. God calls us at all ages to new ventures. God sees your strengths and weaknesses. He knows the passion of your heart- and he calls you to do his work in the world. God saw the heart of Moses who had once identified himself with the disenfranchised Hebrews working as slaves. God also knew his experience and skills. He was uniquely qualified for the task he was being given. For 40 years he had lived in Egypt. He knew the Pharaoh, and the language of the Egyptian court. And for 40 years he had lived in the desert. He knew the ways of survival and sustenance in the wilderness. Who was better prepared than Moses to lead God’s people to freedom. And still Moses asked, “Who am I?’ Frankly, it was the wrong question. It should have been, “Who is God?” You see, when you know God is with you, and you know his power, like the little boy who trusted that God could part the waters of the Red Sea and drown the Egyptian charioteers, you can step forth confidently to do his will. You dare, because you know God sees in you the possibility for success; he sees in you your weakness, and knows when his strength will be needed- and he promises to see you through.
Eric Milner-White, the dean of King’s College at Cambridge, once wrote a prayer reflecting the call of God to the unknown. It is a prayer for of us to persevere as though we have seen and heard the invisible God face to face. “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.”
Moses will always be the favorite character of Sunday School children. After all he introduced medicine. Yes, God gave Moses two tablets. He was also known as the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible. He broke all 10 commandments at once. But most of all, he is remembered as the one, who in spite of his doubts, accepted God’s call for he trusted that God’s promise. “I will be with you.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.