11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” 14He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.
16The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”
23After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He 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.
7Then 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, 8and 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, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
We continue this morning with the story of Moses. Last week we heard about the birth story of Moses and that Moses was born into a particularly atrocious time in Egypt. There was a new king in Egypt who didn’t remember Joseph, a Hebrew, who was a friend to Egypt, and therefore, due to his prejudice towards people who were different than him and his irrational fears, this King began to enslave the Hebrew people. We learned that a fearful leader is a loveless leader.
This king ordered that all the newborn boys be killed, and then eventually that all the Hebrews boys be killed, regardless of age. But then we also got to learn about the power of women to stand up to evil. Pharaoh was afraid of the boys, when really he should have been afraid of the girls. Because they were his downfall. They were the ones who disobeyed him, so as to bring about love and life, rather than discrimination and death. And we learned that in the midst of such an awful time of history, people were still falling in love and making babies. Which is such a hopeful act. And this one Hebrew baby, a boy, was protected by his mother, and then sent down the river. It was Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued him and disobeyed her father by letting the child live and eventually adopting him as her own son. That boy’s name was Moses.
Today we continue with Moses story. Now, many of you know that the readings we have each week at church are pre-assigned readings from what is called the lectionary. It is a three year cycle of scripture readings that takes us through much of scripture, but not all of it. I typically am in favor of the lectionary. I love it throughout much of the world, people are preaching on the same texts each week. But sometimes the lectionary does us a disservice. Last week, our reading ended at Exodus 2:10. And then this week, the lectionary wanted us to skip the rest of chapter 2, and simply begin with chapter 3, which is an exciting chapter because it is when God speaks to Moses through a burning bush.
But what happened in the rest of chapter 2? And when you look through the entire lectionary, all three years…chapter 2 is nowhere to be found. Now, either the lectionary people didn’t think it was important enough to include, or they’re hiding something from us. Something they don’t think we should know. And as you can see, it’s right there in the beginning of our reading for today – 11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
Moses, the great Moses, the one who will lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses, the one who is so important to God’s story that Jesus is portrayed as the NEW Moses. That Moses is a murderer! Moses is now all grown up. He goes outside and he sees the Egyptians, which he is believed to be since he was raised in the palace by Pharaohs’ daughter…he sees the Egyptians enslaving the Hebrews. And then he sees an Egyptians beating a Hebrew and something inside him snaps. He kills the Egyptian. And he knew it was wrong – he looked around and made sure no one else would see and then afterwards, he hid the body.
This is rated-R kind of stuff we are dealing with here. And so no wonder why the lectionary wanted to protect us from this story about Moses. It’s hard to hear. But as is so often the case, the very thing that is meant to protect us is the thing that hurts us. Because as a result of not hearing this story, we’ve put Moses up on a pedestal, as a hero of the faith, and we’ve been brought up to believe that God uses those who behave themselves. We’ve been taught that God works through squeaky-clean people, which none of us are, and then as a result we doubt whether God is at work in our lives at all.
When really, what we ought to learn is, and what is true to the story is that God comes to Moses, a murderer, and calls him to be the one who will save the Israelites from Egypt. You see, when we cut out part of the story, we miss the gospel. That even when we were yet sinners, God can and will still use us for the sake of a better world. Therefore we must never discount anyone from being an agent of God in this world.
When we cut out part of the story, we miss the gospel. This happens at funerals all the time. At funerals, it is so, so, common for us to lift up all the good things about a person. All their accomplishments and how selfless and loving they were to everyone. In fact, just about every single funeral I’ve been involved in, someone has said, “So-and-so always thought of everyone first.” And what I’ve found myself wondering is, if what we say at funerals is true, then the world should be a much better place. But it isn’t. And so often, at funerals, we cut out part of the person’s story. And when we do that, we miss the gospel. The God saves us even when we are still sinners.
A couple of years ago, when I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis, I would spend time at a nursing home nearby. And the nursing home was this old, frail nun, who was just awful to be around. She was mean and crabby and demanding. She could suck the life out of any room. And then she died. And many of us went to her funeral. And the pastor got up there, and we all held our breath. What on earth could be said about this woman, we thought? But the pastor stood up, shared some details about this woman’s life and then she said, “You know, Sister So-and-So was really hard to love. And most of us didn’t get along with her. But she is a child of God, a sinner in need of grace, and now part of the great community of saints.”
And suddenly, we all could breath again. Because the part of her life that we all knew and the part that we all expected to be cut out wasn’t. And we could hear the gospel then, because of it. That God saves imperfect people.
So Moses is a murderer. And we can’t forget that part of the story.
Okay, so the next day, Moses goes out and now two Hebrews are fighting. So we learn that even the Hebrews aren’t perfect either. Even they are fighting with themselves. So not only does God use imperfect people, but God uses imperfect people to save an imperfect nation.
So Moses asks them why they are fighting and they turn on him, saying, “Who are you to judge us and rule over us? What are you just going to kill us like you did the Egyptian?”
Whoa. So now it’s out there. What ever Moses did to try and hide his actions didn’t work. And even these Hebrew men called him out on it, who you would think would be glad that Moses had killed an Egyptian who was beating one of their own. But no. All they can see when they look at him is a killer. And soon enough, Pharaoh finds out what Moses did, and now Pharaoh is after him. But it’s not just Pharaoh. Remember? It is Moses’ adoptive grandfather, seeing how Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses.
So Moses runs away. Understandably. And he meets a woman and get married and they have a child together.
But then the next thing we learn is that Pharaoh has died. Which you would think would be the best news ever, since this Pharaoh is the one who enslaved the Israelites. But as we know from our own governance, sometimes bad practices and corruption can be passed from one administration to another. And it appears the new Pharaoh continues the slavery, because the text says, “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out.”
Where do you hear people groaning and crying out in suffering these days? Either in our own community or this country or the world, where do you hear people crying out in need? And now listen to what comes next…
Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
And then the very next thing to happen is the scene we’ve all been waiting for – God comes to Moses in a burning bush and speaks to him. And God says to Moses, the murderer, “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, 8and 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….The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
God is a god who hears the cries of the people. And God is a god who calls on the least likely to do something about it. God uses imperfect people to save and rescue imperfect people.
So, God uses the likes of you and me. God calls us to do things we’d never imagined, even as God knows we’ve failed and messed up and doubted God so many times. God always seeks us out and calls us to new risks, new pathways, new life. What is it God is calling you to do? What has stopped you in your tracks and you know it’s something you have to do? So, have you ever felt like God was calling you to something? Have you ever felt like it came to you so clearly, like a burning bush, that you couldn’t help but stop and listen?
I don’t care who you are or what age you are, I think God is calling you to something.
So if we take anything away from our short jaunt through the story of Moses, (which doesn’t end here of course), it can be this – don’t cut out part of someone’s story. It is what makes us who we are. And what makes God’s love for us all that more profound. And never think that anyone is so far gone that God cannot use them for the sake of a better world.