Sermon for Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 10, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon Theme: “Excuses, Excuses, Nothing but Excuses!”
(Sources for this sermon: Emphasis online Illustrations; Brokhof, Series C, Workbook; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Halley’s Bible Handbook)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Imelda Marcos was criticized for having 3,000 pairs of shoes in her closet, her excuse was: “Everybody kept their shoes there. The maids . . . everybody.” (The Divine Salvage)
When Zsa Zsa Gabor slapped a Beverly Hills policeman, her excuse was: “I am from Hungary. We are descendants of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun. We are Hungarian freedom fighters.” (Ibid.)
When God asked Moses to go liberate a nation of slaves, he had more excuses than either Zsa Zsa or Imelda. A couple of those excuses are found in our sermon text, and the others are found in Chapters 4 and 5. His first excuse was, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” I’m nobody. You see, the Pharaoh whose daughter had adopted Moses as a baby had long since died; and when Moses killed the Egyptian guard, he had to flee from the Pharaoh to Midian where he had now been staying for many years shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep.
His second excuse was that when he goes to the enslaved people of Israel to tell them their God wants him to lead them out of Egypt, they won’t even know who he is, and he doesn’t even know what God’s name is. God tells Moses His name is “I am.” In Scripture God’s name appeared as Elohim (Hebrew for “powerful deity”), Adonai (Hebrew for “Lord”) and Yahweh (which comes from the Hebrew verb, “to be”). “Yahweh” would be consistent with “I am.” The Hebrew language had no vowels, so we really don’t know how to pronounce “YHWH” (“Yahweh,”) – which may be just as well, as the Jews considered the name Yahweh too sacred to utter.
In Chapter 4, Moses continues the excuses, saying he has no authority, — “What if the people won’t listen to me or believe me?” And then he says he lacks eloquence, — “I am slow of speech and tongue.” He also tries to convince the Lord he can’t adapt. After he does go and talk to Pharaoh, he wants to use the excuse that he was not successful, no need to try again. Of course, in spite of all these excuses, God does send Moses and Moses does do the job.
Why was God so insistent on sending Moses on this crucially important mission, to lead the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, to give the people the Ten Commandments, etc., etc.? Well, God can choose anybody for any job, even you and me. I mean He chose this lowly peasant girl to be His son’s mother, so He can and does choose anybody.
However, He needed an extraordinary person to work His plan to deliver the Israelites, to lead them through the desert wilderness. Because Moses was raised in the royal palace as a prince by the previous Pharaoh’s daughter, he was the best educated, best trained man in all of Egypt, and later, Midian. The Egyptians had an advanced knowledge of science, math, architecture, and all the arts, and the best education was given to the members of the royal family. The Lord also needed a strong man of God, because as slaves in Egypt for many years, the Israelites had lost many of their religious beliefs and traditions. Even though Moses was brought up in the Pharaoh’s palace, he was raised by his devout Jewish mother and no doubt on her teachings of piety.
None of Moses’ excuses worked; God chose him anyway to deliver the afflicted Israelites. I can’t help but think of that hymn we sang last Sunday during our Mission Festival service, “Who will answer gladly, saying, ‘Here am I, send me, send me.’. . . If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all.” God doesn’t want to hear our excuses either.
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God used some bold attention-getting methods for getting the attention of the person He wanted to call to service. With Paul, a Pharisee and enemy of the Christian movement, it was being hit with a blinding light. With Moses, it was a bush that burned without being consumed, — I think that would get anybody’s attention, including Moses’.
I would guess that most of us in here never experienced signs like those from God, to serve and to send us into the fields to work. “Well, the Lord never gave me a sign like that,” you might say. True, no doubt He hasn’t. But if you stop to think for a while, you’ll probably recall a few times when the Lord got your attention. The trouble is you may have kept walking away from Him.
I told my story about going into the ministry too many times to repeat it today, but the bottom line was that I kept running way from God’s call, and He kept after me until I took early retirement from teaching and became a pastor; my teacher friends thought I was crazy! They still think I’m crazy!
But there was never a blinding light or a burning bush.
God uses many different means of stopping us in our tracks, and when He does, it means He has a job for us, no matter how young or how old we are. Two-thirds of Moses’ life was gone by the time he saw that burning bush flaming up. You might want to slow down in your life, because God might be, right now, trying to tell you something, and you’re too busy to hear Him. If you keep going like this, you might be 90 before you understand what He wants you to do.
Although a few of you may be too busy to hear Him, I suspect that most of you, like Moses, don’t want to move, even the slightest bit, out of your comfort zone – I know that was true of me when God called me into the ministry.
Look at Moses when God’s call came. Two-thirds of his life was gone. Living like a king in the palace as an adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter was a thing of the very distant past. He had long since passed through the crisis of his crime; his murdering the Egyptian guard and running from the Pharaoh who wanted to kill him were pretty much forgotten.
He had a peaceful life in Midian as a shepherd overseeing his father-in-law’s sheep, a good wife and family, a safe, contented life with no more fear, no more hostility, hardly any remembrance of how his fellow Israelites were still suffering at the hands of the Pharaoh in Egypt. He had fully adjusted to his life in Midian and was content.
As Professor Rylaarsdam said, “If Luther had adjusted himself to the life of a monk, there would have been no German Reformation. If the Pilgrims had adjusted themselves to life in Holland, our American Heritage would have been quite different.” Even though Moses had adjusted himself to his bucolic life in Midian, God called him out of his comfort zone, and just think what a difference that made for the Israelites and for us.
We’re all self-centered, young and old alike, aren’t we? At least to some extent. When God calls us, it’s a call to serve other people, whether it’s to live the saving Gospel or the social Gospel. As someone posted on facebook last week, “You [as a Christian] may be the only picture of Jesus many people see.” Wow! That’s an awesome thought, isn’t it? What if they see us as complacent, aloof, indifferent, I-could-care-less-about-the-rest-of-the-world creatures?!
No doubt in his comfortable life in Midian, Moses wasn’t much concerned about the way the other Israelites were being abused in Egypt. He was safe and happy; why should he disturb his life by going to work God’s plan to deliver the people of Israel? Why should we disturb our lives in any way? We might miss a Sunday afternoon’s Texans’ football game! Wouldn’t that be awful?
But isn’t it wonderful that people like Mark Seeger will devote their lives to helping deaf people worship and know about Jesus? And that generous church people will give money for his ministry?
Isn’t it wonderful that the Konrads gave up luxuries to go to Africa to preach the gospel and help remote tribes of people? And that a church would send them money to buy a horse for their ministry?
Isn’t it wonderful that young girls become deaconesses and dedicate their lives to serving others through the work of the Church? And that church people encourage other young girls who might be interested in this ministry?
Isn’t it wonderful for elderly women to sew quilts for the LWML to give to the needy in the world? Or to gather together towels and soap and wash cloths for those who have none?
Isn’t it wonderful that shut-ins send greeting cards to the sick and the lonely? And for young people to be caring and kind enough to visit those very shut-ins and take them cookies and Valentines?
God’s concern for us was shown in the ministry of Jesus. Just as God delivered the Israelites through Moses, His delivery for us is in the cross of Jesus. In Christ, we have a God who cares, who delivers. So listen for His call to us, “Who will go and work today? . . . Who will answer gladly, saying, ‘Here am I, send me, send me.’” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.