Exodus Fire, sermon by Rev Fred Kinsey
In this Year A of the semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament, we’ve had opportunity to read our way through Genesis, hearing the story of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and, well – there were three women, who were the three mothers of the 12 sons of Jacob -- Leah/Rachel/Zilpah. Most notable was the youngest son, and favorite of Jacob, Joseph, who wore the flashy robe his father gave him, which drove his 11 brothers wild, and made them almost kill him, but instead, only sell him off, to slave traders, who took him to Egypt. There, Joseph went from the bowels of prison, to the Pharaoh’s right-hand-man, saved his family and many Israelites from famine, and then reconciled the family, before his father Jacob’s passing.
After Joseph died, and a new king arose, the story of Joseph, in Egypt, died too. But there arose another Israelite who was born to save his people. Moses, whose story makes up the book of Exodus.
The new king of Egypt was alarmed that these foreigners among them had swelled into a people more numerous than they! And Moses is born under an edict of infanticide. Baby Moses is hidden, and then plucked out of the Nile River and saved by women, obedient to God, not the Pharaoh. Moses is adopted by the Pharaoh’s wife, who hires Moses’ mother, to nurse him. Moses grows into a kind of superhero protector, fiercely and innately, defending justice, as when he protects his Hebrew brothers against the Egyptian Police using excessive force, striking the officer down. He also intervenes between his own brawling Hebrew brothers, to keep the peace. But the one in the wrong, out of his guilt, taunted Moses, “Do you mean to kill me like you did the Egyptian?”
So Moses, knowing the cat’s out of the bag, and anticipating the wrath of Pharaoh, runs away to dwell in neighboring Midian. Resting by the town watering hole, he again finds himself in his protecting role, this time when seven Midianite sisters are bullied by some shepherds, who also come to water their flocks. Moses drives them off, and courtly draws water for the sisters’ animals. So, not unlike, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, who long ago fell in love with each other at the town well, Moses finds his mate, and marries the sister, Zipporah. Together they have a son, who Moses calls, Gershom, which means, “A sojourner have I been in a foreign land.” Thus Moses, the insider/outsider, royalty/slave, protector/outcast, was born, raised, and found a home.
Working for his father-in-law, Jethro, he takes up the life of a shepherd, in Midian. A wonderful, pastoral, kind of life. Living the middle-class dream. Until one day, everything changes. God finds Moses, wandering in the wilderness, and calls him. Calls Moses out of a burning bush! Not a California wildfire in the forest, just a single bush in the desert.
Moses had been shepherding his flock, deep into the wilderness. And at Mt. Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai, the theophany occurs. He could have turned away. It wasn’t like there was a danger of the fire spreading. In fact, in this case, because it was God calling, the bush wasn’t even consumed! No fossil fuels were used in the making of this fire! Perhaps that’s what caught his eye. Perhaps, he had been alone too long, was tired, and seeing an apparition. But he had to check it out.
And it’s almost as if God would have let Moses go, if God had not caught the eye of Moses. For only then does God call out to him from the midst of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am,” that quintessential response, of the prophet. “’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 upon God.” And because, there are expectations for the follower, who has been addressed and called by God.
Everything, was about to change for Moses. His wandering life. His pastoral life. His running away from his people. All that will be like a dream, after God’s call, from the burning bush.
“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’…” The LORD has come down from Israel, to bring God’s people back up, again. But how will this rescue take place? What kind of miracle will God perform, after the burning bush, to unburden the people, suffering under the iron grip of Pharaoh?
“9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come,” God says to Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
That’s God’s plan! Send the outcast, Moses, to the great Pharaoh. Moses, the lost shepherd, will go and perform this unimaginable task!
If we put ourselves in the Moses’ sandals, how would we feel? Are we up to the task? Are we ready for that adventure? Later, Moses asks for some protection, some equipment that will give him a fighting chance against Pharaoh. And God says, you’ve got your shepherd’s staff. That should do it! Really? Against all the chariots and firepower, of mighty Egypt?!
When God calls us, are we ready? Probably not. At least, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight when God sends us out into the world. A world that is increasingly more out of control and chaotic than it was yesterday, or a month ago – or four years, or four decades ago.
Our world has Pharaohs’ and Egypt’s in it, too. Our people are being oppressed too. We are morally challenged. Our leaders have twisted the faith. Our country seems to be turning, to use its power in oppressing its own people, to consolidate control for a few rich rulers.
But if we learn nothing else about the fidelity of God, here in Genesis and Exodus, certainly we have learned that God has created the world for all to enjoy, equally, and God will stand with the poor and the oppressed, when things go bad. God hears our cries, God sees our misery, God knows the suffering of God’s people, as Exodus reiterates. And God promises to lead us out of Egypt’s bondage, “into a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
But first God calls to us, like a burning fire, of love and concern. I am sending you to the king, says the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses – to the seat of power. I know you don’t want to go. I know your faith has not been tested in this way, and you don’t think you can. But the only way to the Promised Land, is to wade through the Red Sea, with the chariots of Pharaoh, nipping at your heels. The only way from here, to there, is to go straight through the powers that oppress, standing up to the false gods, who do not have my permission, says God, to rule here, any longer. Therefore, I call on you!
Of course, when you encounter them, they will not be reasonable, or morally grounded. Here in our country, which is still structured in unequal ways, delineated simply by the color of our skin, the examples of inequality seem, to me, so clear. A man who is stopped by the police can end up dead or paralyzed, if he is black – [where if he was white, he would be sent away with a warning]. A white man who is under-aged, carrying an automatic rifle into an already tense BLM demonstration, who kills two people, can walk home freely and wait for the authorities to come and politely arrest him, and then give him a month to mount a defense.
There is nothing you can do about this, they tell us. At best, they calmly explain, you are being unreasonable, please don’t get involved, we’ll handle it. At worst, you are told, you deserved to be paralyzed, and our streets, obviously, need more law and order, that is, more over-policing, especially of majority-black neighborhoods.
But BLM, and more and more supporters of all colors, (like Moses) are not backing down. This little dance, for far too long, has become a broken record, and we are tired, exhausted. So, protestors continue to hold the streets peaceably, in the face of authorities using teargas, guns and tanks.
You and I are called to respond, too. Not necessarily, take to the streets. But we can’t be neutral either. Being neutral is really just like being a supporter of the status quo. Walking away from the bullies at the Midian town well, was not an option for Moses. Neither can we remain silent about racism in our world. Ibrahim Kendi says, the choice is not between being a racist, or not a racist. We all must be anti-racist – as in being actively engaged in working against the tidal wave of oppression, that is the status quo in America, based on race. All of us deserve to be free, to escape the slavery of Egypt, in our lives.
The faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – and Moses – was not just a belief. It was faith-active-in-love. Abraham gave up his cushy life in Haran to move to Canaan and start all over in his old age. Rebecca craftily setup Jacob to receive Esau’s birthright and Isaac’s blessing, and raise-up Israel’s best hope for the future. Jacob wrestled with God all night, to a draw, to secure that blessing for his 12 sons, the 12 tribes of Israel, and Joseph the last and rejected son, kept the hope alive in Egypt, until Moses could bring them home again. Egyptian and Hebrew women, right under Pharaoh’s nose, ignored his edict to kill all the baby boys, and in faithful defiance, saved Moses.
There is nothing passive about the life of faith, believing in God, our creator and redeemer. With Moses, we may complain, “Who am I that I should go to [someone like] Pharaoh” and stand up for justice and the realm of God? But, we are the people of God, for this time. God has called us, like a fire of rebirth, and God assures us, “I will be with you!” as we go.
In baptism, Christ has called us to die with him, that we may also rise with him. The only way through, is to face the oppression and fears we have, and know that God is by our side, as we continue our journey – as we carry our cross, and walk wet, with all our siblings in the faith. We pray: God of the Matriarch’s and Patriarch’s; God of Moses and Jesus; God our creator and redeemer; God be with us!