Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell
(Exodus 3:1-15, 4:10-12)
For just a moment, I invite you close your eyes if you’d like, take a couple deep breaths in and out and as you do that, think about where you’ve seen, felt, or heard God in your life. Think about all the places you’ve lived, all the experiences you’ve had, all the ups and downs that life brings. All the houses and apartments. All the friends you’ve known. The wise older family members that maybe you’ve lost or the newer members that have joined right in. All the places you’ve called home, even if it’s brief. Where has God been in your life? Recently, I gave this some thought and for me, God is never in one spot. I’ve seen God in the eyes of a Zambian baby on her mother’s back as they push through the market to get home. God walked with my dog Sadie and I every morning and every evening in Central Park when I lived in NYC reminding me to breathe through my first call. God just lives in my parent’s kitchen and God is in the warmth of my pups on a cold winter night. For me, God is always resting in the sanctuary of my home church, and still, somehow, able to be in the quiet chill mornings as I look out at my overgrown back yard. And even in those long, loud, fun nights of dancing with my friends in college, God was there too, dancing among us. God has been in the hands of a stroke patient and in the room of rough looking construction workers saying their goodbyes to a young man who died way too young. God has not showed up to me in a burning bush, but God’s been around. Thankfully, God is not bound to just holy places and thankfully, encountering God is not bound to just “holy people.” This is a promise to all of us who are feeling exceedingly ordinary today. And you know what, ordinary is exactly who God worked with in our holy scriptures.
Moses was going about this ordinary routine life, keeping the flock for his father-in-law when we decided to take them beyond the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God. And there God appears to Moses in a burning bush. A tale as old as time. We know it like the back of the hand. Moses is frightened and yet, curious. He wants to look, but after learning who is the bush, Moses turns away, not daring to look directly at God. God calls Moses by name, setting the genre of a call story into action and speaks to Moses with such heartfelt emotion. God says, “Moses, I’ve heard my people’s cry of injustice…I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians.” And without even asking, God continues to say to Moses, “So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Really God, no reasoning, no explanation?Moses doesn’t get a say in this? He should just go?
Honestly, Moses seems like the last person God should call. Moses has a long history with Egypt, not exactly welcomed to that nation. He’s wanted for murder and Pharoah would be a happy man if he, personally, could to take such justice. Not only that, Moses, while a Hebrew at birth, is not known among the Israelite people. They have no idea who he is and the likelihood of them following Moses is slim to none. And so it makes sense that this ordinary shepherd roaming the wilderness hills, responds to God with, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses is so relatable. The conversation continues between God and Moses for one and half chapters and every time God finishes God’s speech, Moses pipes in with questions dripping with lack of confidence. “What shall I say to them? Who am I to do this? Supposed they do not believe me. I’ve never been eloquent in speech. I am too slow. O my Lord, please send someone else.”
Fairly ordinary responses in my opinion. Imagine, going about your day and being told that you are to go and rescue people in a nation that is completely against you. In fact, I’m sure you’ve had these thoughts or said these things in much less intense situations. It’s only natural. And usually when we have these responses, we are looking for assurance as to why we have been asked to do something. We need someone to toot our horn for us. To remind us of our gifts, our talents, the things that we might be proud of, but too humble to say. We need someone to say that no matter what we think about ourselves, that we have leadership skills in this area, that we are amazing at this and that. Please tell me how amazing we are! We want the compliments and affirmations to shower over our ordinary thoughts of I am not enough.
So Moses is objecting left and right, never satisfied with God’s assurance because those personal affirmations are never given. God’s reassurances are less about Moses and more about God’s people. God doesn’t reassure Moses that Moses, himself, is called, but that the people will listen, if he trusts in God, and they all are called together. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about this passage, “Moses, it now becomes clear, was entitled to have doubts about his own worthiness for the task. What he was not entitled to do was to have doubts about the people.”1 That’s what God is speaking to in our passage today.
God tells Moses that when you, Moses, tell the people who I am – “I AM WHO I AM, and I AM has sent you” – they will know and they will listen. God tells him, Moses when you show my people signs of my power and presence, they will know and they will listen. God tells him, Moses I know you don’t think you can speak well, but I AM in your words. They will know and they will listen. And God tells him, “Come on, Moses. Give my words to your brother, Aaron, and with his mouth, I will teach you what you shall do.” They will know and they will listen. Moses and God go back and forth, every time both a little more frustrated with the other. And never once does God say, Moses is not worthy. His doubts are justified, ordinary considering the resistance Moses faced, time and time again, with God’s people in the 40 years of wilderness. But as Jonathan Sacks writes, God was teaching Moses a lesson on sustainability and hope – “a leader does not need faith in him [or herself], but [they] must have faith in the
people they are to lead.”2
Several weeks ago, I introduced our fall theme to you, Prepare the Way. And in that theme, we are preparing for what it is that God is leading us to as we discern what it truly means here at Trinity to grow together and welcome all. In a couple of weeks, Steve and I are putting together a four-part sermon series titled, “Let’s Get Real” where we will lament together, start a healing process together, celebrate the church together and look at how Trinity might transform together. We’re being very intentional about this sermon series because let’s be honest, the church is not what it was 30 years ago, let alone before the pandemic. We’ve experienced loss, we have truths we must acknowledge and begin to heal from. And we have a lot to celebrate, all inviting us to be open to the transformation that God has instore for us and the church in the world. And a lot of that comes down to sustainability and hope. And so I promise, I’m not going to rush the process, or try to repeat myself but I want to prepare you as we enter those four weeks.
Here’s how I’ve shifted my mindset on the church in our current world. At a low point about a year ago a close friend of mine, I think tired of hearing my complaints about the lack of participation, low numbers, and how the church has changed post pandemic. She gave me the best advice. And I’m hoping I can pass this on to you as we head into the next few weeks. She said, “Becca, you are the leader of that church and if you are down in the dumps, lacking with hope, then of course your people will follow. They feel all that from you. You must find the hope, even if it’s a glimmer, and lead with it. That is your job, that is your calling. Believe in your church and the church as a whole.” It really changed my perspective and adjusted my mindset of quality over quantity. Instead of worrying about numbers, why don’t we focused on meeting people where they are at? Why don’t we have have fun while doing it? Why don’t we build relationships while addressing the needs of Trinity? I’m not always great at it, but I’ve been able to let go of some of the disappointment and stress and instead, look at the good and everything we have right now. And guess what, Steve, Jodi and I are not the only leaders of this congregation who must lead with hope. You, you are the leaders of this church. You are the leaders that will sustain Trinity and prepare the way for God’s transformation.
And so just like Moses, while you might have doubts in how you, personally, can lead Trinity, God is saying, I will use you regardless of what you say because I believe in you and now you must believe in me and thus, believe in my people. There’s something to be said about both seeing the surface faults that we as ordinary people tend to carry and also lifting up the underlying virtues that makes the church who we are.3 There’s something about a prophetic task, a leader’s task of, as Jonathan Sacks, writes, “to speak out of love for one’s people; to defend them, see the good in them, and raise them to higher achievements through praise and not condemnation.”4 There’s something about laying our own “I or we are not enough” thoughts into God’s hands and instead believe that God is enough and if God is enough then we know we are enough. There’s something about believing in God that makes it a whole lot easier to believe in the church and the people who make up the church. This is a path towards sustainability and hope. And I promise you, if you believe, other people will believe it as well.
Moses was an ordinary man, watching his flock in the wilderness, unable to believe that a group of people would follow him out of Egypt. But this scripture was never about Moses, it always been about God and God’s people. It’s always been about God’s presence showing up in unexpected ways and remaining with us and with God’s people forever. It’s always been about ordinary people who believe in each other, ultimately because they believe in God. And that’s enough to sustain us and to lead in hope.
1 Jonathan Sacks, Covenant & Conversation, Exodus: The Book of Redemption (New Milford: Maggid Books, 2010), 31.
2 Sacks, 32.
4 Sacks, 33