"Being a Willing Instrument"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 31, 2008
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-27; Exodus 3:1-15
Out of nowhere striding
up the trail behind us at a marathon pace were three men and a woman.
The four of us got out of the way as they hastily passed in front of
us. We were invisible to them. We did not get so much as a curious
glance or a “Hi” as they walked by. People always greet one another on
the trails, but not this time.
Listening to snippets of their conversation, we gathered that the four were completely engrossed in a discussion about the opportunities that had become available to their company for a corporate merger. Talk about taking time to smell the roses -- these four were taking the time, but chose to remain in a universe very distant from where the roses were.
My point in telling you this story is to call attention to a stark contrast between successful business executives, whose consciousness was focused on a corporate merger, and Moses who had lost every bit of the success that was once his.
Unlike the business people marching up the trail, Moses was alone tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, facing a different set of distractions. When looking after sheep was all that Moses had to do, his mind often wondered about his life and the people he had left behind. His mother and father had chosen to surrender Moses to an Egyptian princess in order to spare his life. What had he done with that opportunity? Now he was tending sheep.
As a young man, he had been prepared to assume increased responsibility within the royal family. He had received the best education anyone could have by being in such an evolved society. As a Prince of Egypt everyone in powerful positions in Pharaoh’s court knew Moses.
When he learned of his Hebrew heritage, he decided one day to cross the railroad tracks and visit the people who brought him into the world. For the first time, he witnessed the hardships placed on the Jews by their Egyptian taskmasters and became enraged at seeing the atrocities.
As he continued to wander among his people, Moses came upon and witnessed an Egyptian murdering a Hebrew slave. He could not restrain his anger any longer. When he thought no one was looking Moses killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the desert.
Later he found two Hebrews fighting with each other. As Moses attempted to break up the fight, one of them said, “Who made you our ruler and judge? What are you going to do, kill us like you did the Egyptian?” Moses realized that there had been witnesses and that word of his deed had spread, so he fled Egypt.
During his journey Moses became thirsty. As he made his way toward an oasis, he observed shepherds driving away a group of women who were attempting to water their animals. Moses easily took control of the situation and drove off the shepherds. In gratitude, the women took Moses home with them. He met their father, Jethro, who was the priest of Midian. When Moses decided to settle there, Jethro gave him his daughter, Zipporah, to become his wife. Moses and Zipporah started a family.
Moses had fallen from the pinnacle of success among the royal family of Egypt to become the husband of a peasant woman. No doubt, he was considering his losses simply because he had not used good judgment. Moses found himself very vulnerable in dealing with his own sense of failure.
The business people our family encountered on the trail were full of themselves. They were not vulnerable. They were not overcome with a sense of failure. In fact, they were experiencing just the opposite – the opportunity of a corporate merger would give them increased wealth, power and prestige.
People who are filled with illusions of success, power and wealth are in very different place from where Moses found himself. The four business people never once looked around to see the bushes blazing with colorful blooms that filled the trail. When people carry themselves with a sense of invulnerability, frequently the symbols in the external world that have the ability to put them in touch with God’s presence remain invisible. Had Moses remained a prince of Egypt, he may not have encountered the burning bush. Now Moses was vulnerable, reflective, pondering where life might take him.
Stripped of his symbols of power, Moses drew near to a bush that appeared to be on fire but was not consumed. Moses heard a voice, “Moses! Moses! I am the God of your ancestors. I have heard the cries from my people in Egypt. I am sending you to lead my people out of Egypt.”
Believing that he had been a failure thus far in life, Moses responded, “I am nobody. How can I go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God responded, “I will go with you.” While Moses heard these words from God, they did little to empower him with inspiration, enthusiasm and confidence.
All of us know intellectually that God is with us every moment. Where the rub comes is when we become fearful that what is coming up for us is far more than we can handle. Our task will not be to confront a world leader or lead people out of some type of bondage. That was Moses’ task. Our future, however, may be equally as confusing. Some examples might put us in touch with some of those uncertainties that come up for us.
Lois and I recently attended a birthday party for a 97 year old who has been in my life since I was two. While there we met another friend who is an account executive for Merrill Lynch. He is 70 and still working a full schedule. I asked him when he was planning to retire. His response was classic. He said, “You know the wedding vows you give to couples? You talk about ‘for better or for worse, for richer or poorer.’ There is nothing in those vows that talks about being together 24/7. I don’t think my wife could stand my being home all the time.”
While both of us laughed at his response, retirement does represent a life circumstance that is coming. No more office with our name plate on the door. No more recognition as a person to know because of our connections to others who can bring success to our ventures. God said to Moses, “I will go with you.” Do we hear and understand the implications of those words?
Our economy is certainly bringing havoc to countless families who need two incomes coming into the household to meet expenses. Most people believe they can meet their financial obligations until there is a debilitating illness or one of them is laid off from a company that needs to cut its expenses.
When a family faces losing everything for which they have worked because of a foreclosure or the repossession of one of the cars, they are faced with the same sense of failure as did Moses when he had to flee everything that had once defined him. Starting over is an adventure only for those who choose to see it that way. God said to Moses, “I will go with you.” How many of us apply those words to our lives and experience the results?
Think of the young men and women who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with bodies that are not as whole as when they left, or whose families have been shattered because of one spouse’s extended absence, or who were promised that their jobs that would be waiting when they returned only to find that they were not. Again, God said to Moses, “I will go with you.”
When we focus on our painful circumstances rather than God’s presence, we often cannot experience anything but our pain. It is very difficult to navigate changes peacefully and with the sense of adventure when our practice has been to approach God only when we are in trouble. For countless people, their image of God appears as a lifeboat, an afterthought, or the being they must approach that has been an undefined concept all of their lives. We want our lives fixed as soon as possible so that we can go on living without all the ripples and cross-currents we are experiencing. God might say to us, “There is nothing wrong with a detour.”
What Moses was given was a detour -- the request by God to go into Egypt, confront Pharaoh and lead thousands of Hebrews to a new life. Moses did not resonate with the fact that God would go with him. In fact, as the Moses story continues, the author of Exodus described how God had to jump through countless hoops to help Moses find enough confidence to go, even to the point of sending Moses’ brother, Aaron, who would do the talking. (Ex. 7:2).
When we examine the life of Joseph, another Hebrew savior, everything he experienced was grounded in his confidence that God was with him. The difference between Moses and Joseph was that Joseph assumed that God needed him to be in the various settings in which he found himself.
He was sold into slavery by brothers who were jealous that Jacob loved him more than any of them. He was taken into custody and jailed on false charges. He was forgotten by Pharaoh’s wine steward, a person for whom he had accurately interpreted a dream. As soon as that wine steward was free from jail, Joseph became a forgotten memory.
Joseph, nevertheless, continued to apply his abilities so that eventually he was in charge of the detention center. Finally, Joseph understood why his life had taken so many detours. His destiny was to save Egypt, her neighbors and his family from starvation. He did so by being second in command of the most powerful nation on earth after he had interpreted several dreams that Pharaoh experienced.
God did not have to say to Joseph, “I will go with you.” Joseph knew that and that piece of information gave him a unique window through which to view life. His knowledge gave him the tools to navigate in waters in which he had never before been even when the winds were those of a category four hurricane.
Being a willing servant means that our main objective is to show up in every circumstance and allow God to create in whatever fashion God chooses. This means that we must bloom where we are planted. This means we must grow wherever the winds carry our seed. This means to sprout in whatever soil we find ourselves. Sometimes we have to let go of the world we would prefer in order to inherit a world where God can use what we have become.
When we frame life in this way, we may spare ourselves the fearful thoughts, anxieties and doubts that uncertainty can easily evoke in us. We may not be a leader like Moses. Our work, however, may be equally as important.
Few saviors ever considered themselves as such during their lifetimes. Such a label is given to them by the people who reflect on how God worked through the lives of the few who were at the right place at the right time to served humanity. What can God do through us is partially dependent on our willingness to trust that where we are, is where we need to be.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and peaceful God, many times we find ourselves in circumstances that need resolution and we feel so ill-prepared. We do not know what to say to help someone’s pain to go away. We try to be careful not to judge, but we do. We recognize that our feet are made of clay, that our emotions can shift with our moods and that many of our decisions are based on self-interest. Help us to recognize that where we are, is our moment to show up fully present. Enable us to cast aside our feelings of unworthiness. Spare us from listening to the voice of expedience as it tries to guide us away from taking time to be with those who need our love. We know that we cannot put others in possession of what will heal them, but we can be a friend who realizes that what we cannot do, you can do. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, as we come to another Labor Day weekend, how pleasant it is to remember the Sabbath day by being in the place that is made sacred by what we do here. We need days of rest and we do not take nearly the number of them that we need. We are conscious about how days, weeks and months turn our lives into a blur of passing events. It was just yesterday that many of our children were out of school for the summer, and now they are returning to their classrooms. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries that are subtle reminders of how time stops for no one. This morning our thoughts turn to our relationship with you. Sundays offer us the opportunity to reflect on who we are growing up to be.
We invite your cleansing spirit into our minds and hearts. Help us to release those things which preoccupy us with worry. Help us to sense the adventure that comes from life's events over which we have no control. Still our minds, O God, that we might sense your presence with greater clarity. You have placed within us so many qualities that reveal their beauty to others the moment we give them away. Help us to remain generous with all that we have, that each of us might become the art form you designed us to be.
As we take your hand, O God, and we find ourselves stretching and growing, lead us to join with others so that together in our journey, we might leave this world a better place because we lived. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .