"Shattering Our Comfort Zones"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 1, 2002

Matthew 16:21-28; Exodus 3:1-15

     As most of us may recall, not long ago a local community was torn apart by a natural disaster.  A near class five tornado released its terror on the unsuspecting citizens of La Plata, Maryland.  The people living there had their bubble of security shattered. In the aftermath of the devastation a very typical thing happened -- a deeper sense of community was reborn.  People began working together to achieve a common goal.  They wanted to get their town back on the map as quickly as possible. With the help of many eager hands they are succeeding.  Reconstruction is ahead of schedule and the town is rising from its ashes better organized and stronger than it was.

     One of our very human qualities is that we can easily reach a level of contentment and unwittingly put the gearshift of our lives into park. People do not know, for example, that a hero lives inside of them until circumstances force them to be one.  People do not believe that they can work 60-hour weeks without complaining, until necessity requires that they must. 

     We often learn how God made us when we finally have to live by the faith we have  talked about for years.  Many of us, however, must first experience our lives being turned upside down before we understand that we always have more talents and creativity that we can offer.

     In our lesson today, we find a comfortable, contented Moses.  He was living life the way he wanted. After killing a task master, this former prince of Egypt fled north to Midian.  Upon arriving there, his first act of kindness was to rescue seven preacher's daughters who had been driven from a communal well by several shepherds.

     The women rallied around their handsome hero and invited him back to the house for supper.  In time, Rev. Jethro gave Zipporah, his oldest daughter, to Moses for his wife. He accepted the offer. Soon the couple had a son, Gershom, and the family decided to live happily ever after in their rural community. Moses contented himself with taking care of Jethro's numerous herds.

     Life was fine for Moses and his family until a burning bush shattered everything that was secure, familiar and comfortable. When Moses turned aside to examine more closely a flaming shrub that would not burn, he discovered that he was standing in the presence of God.  He listened patiently to what God wanted.  God said, "I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you can lead my people out of Egypt."  Moses did not have to think very long about God's request; his response was immediate.  He said, "I am nobody."

     How many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by similar feelings when major requests come our way? We say, "Me?  Oh my, no!  You cannot be serious.  You need to ask someone far more experience!"  We prefer the 9-5 job.  We choose to spend our time in front of the television set or buried in a great book each night before we go to bed.  Or, perhaps we are a person who enjoys attending evening meetings or participating weekly in various athletic events.

    Of course, not all of us do this but we get the point; our lives are full. Just as Moses was trying to convey to God, we want to preserve a life that does not require anything more from us.  Many of us claim to be extremely busy.  This is not just a claim -- we are busy. 

     Our schedules are often spent running from one arena to another.  Moses was very busy.  Mice are very busy as they run on their treadmills.  Where are we going?  What are we accomplishing?  Are we making our world a much better place because we are part of it?  To do so was at the heart of why Jesus sent his disciples to be among others who could not love each other.

     Years ago Jackie Gleason portrayed a character known as the poor soul.  During one comic sequence, a conveyor belt was delivering pies that had to be boxed and shelved.  Suddenly the pies began arriving closer together.  The conveyor belt eventually began to run faster.  Jackie increased his speed until he could no longer manage and the pies began hitting the floor.  Without all this imagery, this is what life looks like for many of us.

     We resent someone telling us that we are on treadmill.  After all this is our life.  Equally, we may resist anything that tries to control us or aim us in a particular direction.  Moses confessed, "I am nothing."  He gave God every excuse and argument he could think of to protect the life he had learned how to manage well.

     He asked God, "What should I do if I go into Egypt and no one believes that you sent me?"  Finally, he told God, "No, Lord, please don't send me.  I have never been a good speaker, and I have not increased my skill since we have been talking.  I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant." 

     Who among us knows ahead of time what we have to offer in each new circumstance? Who we are may never reveal itself until we are either forced or we choose to use undeveloped skills that lie beyond our awareness.  God knew that an articulate leader was inside of Moses' physical form, but such an identity would not have surfaced had Moses chosen to remain in his comfortable, unchallenging, rural environment.

     When something enters our lives, could this be our "burning bush?"  Could this be God calling us to our next level of usefulness?  Our initial resistance to any request may be rooted in our desire for security rather than growth, for the known rather than uncertainty, for comfort rather than having to act on faith.  What "burning bush" experience may be asking you right now to take a leap of faith? 

     Even though our steps may be hesitant at first, faith says we must take them.  We may not experience God's call as a burning bush or a blinding light because the voice calling us often comes in different forms.  We might hear a request to give money, to teach a class, to coordinate a project, to enter a new job or to deal with problems and issues for which we sincerely believe we have no skill.  We should ask ourselves, "Why has this "calling" come to me now?" 

     After all his reasons and excuses, Moses finally stepped out on faith.  There are certain invitations that come to us that are no where near our comfort zones.  They are asking us to begin living by faith, something we have talked about for years.  Join the choir.  Become involved somewhere in the life of our church. Assume a new responsibility. Volunteer somewhere.  Take a new job. Move to another part of the country. 

     Moses accepted the challenge and trusted God with the outcome.  A nation was liberated.  Books in the Hebrew Bible were written.  The Ten Commandments were given.  Today we live with results that Moses could not possibly have foreseen when he said, "Yes." 

     Expanding is what the universe does every day.  Are we?  


    Gracious and eternal God, we truly enjoy living our lives peacefully and lovingly.  We are grateful to be a healing presence among those with whom we share our lives.  Yet being a light in darkness is not easy for us.  Ministering among the least of these is often disturbing to us.  It is painful when we feel compelled to struggle with others who do not share our values.  We prefer the green pastures we long to preserve.  We enjoy friendships with those who are much like ourselves.  Strengthen our resolve, O God, to reach beyond our known boundaries.  Require more from us so that who we are might become more fully revealed and understood.  Amen.


    We thank you, Lord, for these moments together.  We have so much to celebrate this weekend.  In spite of how our minds appear to be trained by our society's peddlers of information, we are able to see a much greater miracle at work. We spend so little time celebrating the intricate tapestry that multitudes of people have woven together.   

    When we enter a grocery store, the shelves have been stocked by someone.  Food has been delivered to that store by a truck driven by someone.  Our streets are paved by someone.  Our  disposable refuse is picked up by someone.  Our children are taught by someone.  All of the things we believe we need from our clothing to our automobiles were created by someone, a lot of someone's.  On this Labor Day weekend, O God, we celebrate with joy a society where one of Jesus' lessons is made visible every day by a lot of people -- serve one another. 

    We love to knit pick at ourselves and we lift up every bit of unpleasantness that we can find.  But on this day and over this weekend, we want to celebrate so much that is working, the fruits of  a lot of unrecognized people who together are making a big difference in how we live.  We pray these thoughts in profound gratitude through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .