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July 15, 2015, 1:52 PM

Meeting Moses


Exodus 3:7-16
Then 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, and 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 The Lord 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.”
13 But 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 God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] The Lord said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[b] 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.
16 Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 
 
“Meet Moses”
 
The Exodus! It is the foundational story for Israel. All of Hebrew scripture, and much of the New Testament, point toward it. Even in Genesis, the great Exodus is foreshadowed. In one of their conversations, God promises Abraham that although his descendants would languish in Egypt for 400 years, God would lead them back to the Promised Land. At the close of Genesis, Joseph instructs his people, that when they are returned to the Promised Land, to take his bones with them when they go. This is God’s great work of liberation and the birthing of the nation God promised to Abraham long ago—the Exodus. And the figure at the center of God’s great work…Moses.
 
When I hear the name ‘Moses,’ one image instantly jumps into my head—Charlton Heston on the mountaintop, long beard blowing in the breeze, holding the Ten Commandments. If you are unfamiliar with the image, google it. It will pop right up. If I push past this image my mind pulls up the animated Dreamworks movie, “The Prince of Egypt,” with its fantastic musical score. The stories of Moses, interwoven in the Exodus, are beautifully visual and captivate our imaginations: the babe floating in the basket on the Nile, the bush that burns but is not consumed, the Reed Sea parting so the people may walk through on dry ground, the giving of those Ten Commandments. These stories create a larger-than-life prophet, wielding God’s staff and the signs and wonders. “Let my people go!”
 
Today, however, let us try to lay aside all these images from cinema and Sunday School and try to see Moses, and the Exodus, with fresh eyes. Let’s meet Moses.
 
The Exodus story does loom large because it is about so much more than the freeing of a group of people. This is the great narrative of God’s way breaking into the world and upsetting the world’s way. This is about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom, God’s commonwealth, the Beloved Community. Egypt becomes for us any nation or society or institution that seeks to set up a pyramid system. It is a system where the vast majority of power and wealth and resources reside at the very top in the hands of a very few. As the pyramid moves down, there are more and more people and less and less power, wealth and resources. At the bottom are the masses crushed by the systems that sits on their backs. Pharaoh becomes anyone who seeks to sit at the pyramid top and nurture the structure. Exodus is a warning and a reminder of the upheaval caused when God’s commonwealth, God’s kingdom, God’s beloved community is birthed. Everything is turned topsy turvy as the pyramid collapses onto the level plain.
 
The leaders who serve as God’s midwives in this birthing, the partners in this inbreaking, are ones that the world would never, ever hire (or even consider) for such a task. So who does God choose (we can revisit our providence discussion from last week another time)…who does God choose to stand up to the embodiment of this pyramid society, to rally a hopeless people, to wield God’s signs and wonders, to build a new society, to lead a 40 year road trip through the wilderness with 600,000 people, to receive God’s Law? Moses, an outsider.
 
The only mark Moses has that lets him in the door for this journey is that he is literally born a Hebrew, son of Yokheved and Amram. In the lovely twist of chapter three, Yokheved is hired by Pharaoh’s daughter to serve as Moses’ nursemaid, but it is unclear how much of his Hebrew heritage she conveyed to him. We don’t know how long she was able to stay with him. Was she dismissed as soon as he was weaned, or was she able to stay on as a nanny of sorts? But we do know that Moses is raised in Pharaoh’s courts, so in most ways he is not a Hebrew, for he has access to many privileges and luxuries of wealth and power. However, Moses is not an Egyptian. The princess easily recognized Moses as a Hebrew baby and scripture tells us he is aware of his ethnicity. Moses has a foot in both worlds—Hebrew and Egyptian—but belongs to neighter.
 
And then he becomes a criminal. In a fit of anger over witnessing a task master beating a Hebrew slave, Moses kills the task master and then flees for his life as a murderer. He comes to live with a pagan society, the Midianites, and marries into the family of the high priest—marrying someone who is both a pagan and a foreigner, frowned upon by the Hebrew people. And on top of all this, Moses has a speech impediment.
 
To an enslaved and despairing people God sends an unrecognizable redeemer. One who bears the name of their oppressor—the name ‘Moses’ is found in many Pharaoh names. One who is wanted for murder. One who married a pagan foreigner. One who cannot speak well in public. Can we imagine how he was received when he gathered the elders of Israel as instructed by God? “This is what you send us? Oy-vey!”
 
“Let my people go” echoes from the One deemed criminal by Pharaoh and viewed as an outside (at best) by his own people. The redemption of God’s people, the inbreaking of God’s way, the crumbling of Pharaoh’s pyramid, the birthing of the beloved community is brought about through God partnering with one who has never belonged. Liberation, transformation, redemption, and commonwealth-building is dangerous business. It shatters the status quo and it is work that is entrusted into unlikely hands. But whose hands would work harder to create a community of belonging than one who has yearned for such a thing. Moses only dreamed of truly belonging until God spoke from a burning bush and partnered the outsider for an amazing journey.
 
Pharaoh’s Egypt still holds sway in our world. God’s beloved community is still in the birthing process. We are reminded and warned…the pyramid will not last. Do not discount unlikely people. And understand, we are all unlikely people. Perhaps a bush burns in our midst. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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