"God Gives Tasks, Even To Failures"

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 31, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 105:1-8; Exodus 3:1-15


    This morning we are going to talk about the detours that come our way because of a mistake we made in judgment or because a roadblock interrupted our journey due to some unexpected change.   Life is never a smooth unfolding of events that are always favorable to the direction our life is headed.  The headline in yesterday’s newspaper is a primary example of such a roadblock, “DeFontes pulls the plug on VSB television station.”  Think about the employees of channel 11 when the rug was pulled out from under them.    

    Everyone greets change with a different attitude.  Today we are going to consider a man who lost everything because he could not control his emotions.  As a young man, he had been prepared to assume increased responsibility within the royal family of Egypt.  He had received the best education anyone could experience by being reared in a society that was highly evolved.  As a Prince of Egypt, Moses knew everyone in powerful positions in Pharaoh’s court.

    When Moses learned of his Hebrew heritage, he decided to visit shanty town. He crossed the tracks in order to find his biological parents.  As he searched among the hordes of people, he witnessed for the first time the hardships the Egyptian taskmasters had placed on them.  He became enraged at seeing the atrocities that had remained hidden from him.

    As he continued to wander among his people, Moses came upon and witnessed an Egyptian killing a Hebrew.  He could not restrain his anger and hunger for his form of justice.  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.  While 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?”  Upon hearing this, Moses realized that there had been witnesses to what he had done and that word of his deed had begun to spread.   He ran away leaving his life of privilege behind.

    During his flight, Moses made his way toward an oasis.  As he was approaching, he observed shepherds driving away a group of sisters who were attempting to water their animals.  Moses 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 grace and had disgraced himself in the eyes of the royal family and now he had become the husband to a peasant woman.  Moses had to be thinking about what killing a man had cost him. He found himself having to deal with an overwhelming sense of failure.

    What can make life a fascinating adventure rather than a death spiral is when we realize that life-experiences have a miraculous way of drawing out the best from us.  If we can escape being our own worst enemy long enough to press on with living, we learn that our failures, our mistakes in judgment and those unanticipated roadblocks are only bends in the road.  Life goes on and becomes the adventure it was meant to be.

    Our lesson today opens with Moses tending his father-in-law’s sheep and goats when God calls out to him from the burning bush.  God tells him that he is sending him back to Egypt to liberate his people.  Moses, still feeling the pain of his failure, says:

I am nobody.  I can’t go home and ask my uncle to release my people.  Their culture is more Egyptian then Hebrew.  The only heritage they have is verbal memories that they continue to teach their children. They have lived in Goshen since the time of Joseph 300 years ago. Where would I take them?  How will thousands of people survive?  No, I can’t do this!  I don’t want to do this!

    Think about how Moses felt during the moment when God was giving him a new task. The pain, the insecurity and “I can’t do this” attitude were caused by Moses’ blindness about the unknown possibilities that were in his future. 

    When we examine our own lives, we had no idea where the risks we took would lead us.  We did not know how our children would turn out.  We move forward in life knowing nothing about what is waiting for us around the bend. If anyone would have told us that Bermuda is in our future, we would have thought they were out of their mind.  Having an accurate crystal ball would spoil the adventure.

    Moses fell from grace, he killed an Egyptian and he had settled down with a peasant woman to tend flocks. He had successfully left his past behind, had become son-in-law of Jethro, the priest of Midian.  His future was economically secure. He resisted any thought of returning to Egypt, even if that request was coming from God.  (Exodus 4:10f)

    God, however, needed someone with skills no one else possessed.  Moses had access to members of his former family.  He knew all the important people. He knew his way around the palace. He was well-educated and could speak the language.  He knew the heritage of the Hebrews and had empathy for their suffering.  He knew flawlessly the geography of the area.  To all of these abilities that Moses possessed, God added the thought, “I will be with you.”  (Exodus 3:12)  Moses had to overcome his sense of utter failure to face the people who loved and reared him.

    One of the tasks I had in our Annual Conference was to mentor prospective pastors as they came through The Candidacy Program.  Anyone entering the ministry must go through this process. I would meet regularly with candidates until they were ready to appear before the Board of Ordained Ministry for final approval.

    A new candidate was given to me.  All I was told was that he came from a very checkerboard past that was never quite defined for me.  During our sessions, he was most engaging and eager to learn.  He was insightful.  He asked the right questions. He knew that he would remain a student of what life has to teach him for the rest of his days. 

    He was ordained at Conference years later and as a “thank you” he came by my office at St. Matthew’s and gave me a framed saying that had been created in water colors by a calligrapher.  The significance of the saying only became apparent to me when I read an article in the Washington Post about him.  He was having a remarkable impact on the streets of Washington.  Here is an excerpt from that article that describes how checkerboard his background was: 

The Reverend is a recovering cocaine and heroin addict, an alcoholic, an ex-convict who stole from his mother to feed his $1,000-a-week habit.  At his lowest point, he was in the hospital for the fourth time, his teeth were gone and his liver was barely functioning.  A doctor gave him one more year to live.  He was 30.  Today, at 42, twice married and twice divorced, he entered Wesley Theological Seminary, graduated and was ordained.  He is currently serving Brightwood Park United Methodist Church in the District of Columbia.

    The Post article pointed out that society would label his past habits and passions as evil.  However, for the Rev. Alpha Brown, he learned that everything in his past became transformed into stepping-stones or tools that he could use as he led the wandering young people living on the streets of the Nation’s Capital. 

    Here are the words to that framed saying created by Ellen M. Cuomo.  These words can teach anyone that higher ground awaits them in spite of how misdirected or confusing their background had been.  This piece is entitled:  Faith Is


Faith is risking what is, for what is yet to be.

It is taking small steps knowing they lead to bigger ones.

Faith is holding on when you want to let go.

It is letting go when you want to hold on.

Faith is saying yes when everything else says no.

It is believing all things are possible

in the midst of impossibilities.

Faith is looking beyond what is

and trusting in what will be.

It is the presence of light in darkness,

the presence of God in all things.

    The barrier that keeps us from enthusiastically moving forward in life is fear.  We would much prefer the comfort zones that grow out of our need for security. When we allow our past or present to define the rest of our lives, we are totally forgetting how everything can be transformed by knowing what God said to Moses, “I will be with you.” This is how Alpha Brown’s transformed stepping stones led him toward what was yet to be.  Life is never over because of a mistake or a roadblock. Our self-portrait is not completed until we leave our bodies. 

    This week we received news that Lois’ 99-year old Aunt Alvina died. She never defined herself by how old she was.  She woke up every morning with the same outlook as a 20-year old.  She lived by herself.  She drove her own car and was not afraid to drive at night.   She sang in the choir.  She still counted the offering from the worship services at her Desert Chapel United Methodist Church in Apache Junction, Arizona.

     Tomorrow was always a new day for her with new things to accomplish. She never looked back at mistakes or hurtful things she might have said.  She would say, “Why think about what you cannot change.”  She finished playing pinochle with members of the family, had difficulty breathing, went to the hospital and within a week, the curtain came down on her adventure only to rise again seconds later as an entirely new adventure was about to begin .  She joined her eight other brothers and sisters that pre-deceased her.  

    She taught us that life is an adventure until we draw our last breath.  Do not look back.  Look only ahead toward what is yet to be. Moses did, and he became a savior to his people.