A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on August 28, 2011.
Shepherds were not accustomed to hearing voices or seeing spectacular sights, except for the occasional shooting star. Theirs was a lonely, and to a great degree, boring life. Each morning they would gather their sheep and head to a grassy area where the sheep could graze. Often they would travel great distances and spend nights under the open sky in order to feed their sheep.
Moses became a shepherd after migrating to Midian and marrying Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. You recall he fled out of fear from Egypt, where he grew up, because he killed an Egyptian who was beating one of his kinsmen. Upon arriving in Midian, he immediately came to the aid of Jethro’s seven daughters when they were being mistreated by other shepherds at a well.
Jethro was so impressed with Moses that he invited him to stay in Midian and offered one of his daughters in marriage. That’s certainly one way to get good labor in addition to some protection and peace of mind. There must have been something in the deal for Moses, too. He accepted Jethro’s hospitality and settled down with this family.
I’m sure Moses faced a big adjustment. Life on a lonely hillside looking after sheep was not quite as glamorous or exciting as chumming with royalty. Surely, the last thing he thought would happen in this remote part of the desert was to have a life-changing encounter with God. However, as our text reveals, this is exactly what occurred.
According to the narrator, God spoke to Moses after he was attracted to a burning bush that was not being consumed. God informed Moses He was aware of the plight of his kinsmen in Egypt and wanted to deliver them from their life of oppression and misery. God also told Moses He wanted him to be a partner in this endeavor by confronting Pharaoh and demanding that he let the Hebrews go free.
Immediately, Moses offered resistance, knowing this challenge was filled with great risks and danger. God would not take no for an answer, though, and assured Moses He would help him.
Moses accepted God’s challenge, which doesn’t surprise me. It was his nature to take up for the underdog. Once more, he would rise to the challenge.
I had a lot to ponder as I sat quietly and absorbed this text. These questions emerged.
Who needs you to notice and respond to their plight? Whose help do you need in order to meet this need? Whose invitation to partner with them do you need to accept? Who needs you to believe in them as they take on a big challenge? Who needs you to walk with them as they travel into the eye of a storm? Let me begin the discussion.
Who needs you to notice and respond to their pleas for help? God wanted Moses to know He was aware of the oppression of his kinsmen and was prepared to counter it decisively. Look at the strong verbs the narrator used to make this point.
“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” Exodus 3:7-8a.
It appears the same thing Moses did for Jethro’s daughters in their first encounter at the well in Midian, God wanted to do for the Israelites. He was prepared to “come down” and enter into their struggle, providing a way out of their misery.
Who needs you to care about them like this? Who needs you to notice what they are going through and turn toward them, not away? Who needs you to enter into their struggle? Who needs you to make hope visible?
Our faith will not let us turn a deaf ear and blind eye to those who are struggling. A people who claim the name of an incarnate God cannot ignore the plight of those who need help. This is first and foremost what we have been called by God to do. A failure to understand this leads to hypocrisy, hopelessness and a hollow faith.
Whose help do you need in order to respond to someone’s plight or whose invitation to partner with them do you need to accept? Moses could not carry out this challenge without help; neither can we.
“If you can do it by yourself, it won’t be very big,” my friend told me years ago. This is some of the best advice I have ever received. Excuses for failing to respond to needs fade when partnerships form. As a matter of fact, I am convinced problems are not solved because they are too big, but because enough people have not been included in the solution.
Moses was right in thinking this challenge was too big for him. No one could argue that, not even God, who did not refute one thing Moses said. However, God was not sending Moses alone. He and others would accompany him on this journey of deliverance and hope.
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Moses asked. “I will be with you,” God responded.
Of course, this led to a discussion about who was calling Moses to this dangerous mission. “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?”
“I am that I am,” God told Moses. God’s very name, a verb and not a noun, indicated Moses would not take one step on this dramatic and dangerous journey of faith alone.
“I will do whatever I must do to save, redeem and take care of my people,” is what God’s name means, according to Old Testament scholar, Dr. Roy Honeycutt. In addition, Honeycutt says, God’s name implies God will be whatever God must be to save, redeem and take care of His people.
I can still hear Dr. Honeycutt expound on this in class. “It was as if God said to Moses, ‘If I must send ten plagues upon the Egyptians in order to set my people free from bondage or part the water of the Red Sea to liberate them, I can do it and I will. If I need to become human and walk among you in order to redeem you, I can become that person and I will.’ God will do whatever God must do to take care of His people, turning despair to hope and death to life.”
How can anyone turn down the opportunity to partner with a God who loves us this much and calls us to be His partner in delivering others from bondage? How can we turn away from One who promises to take each step with us along this journey of faith and hope? How can we turn down One who has so much confidence in us? I don’t know. This was and continues to be an irresistible call for me.
Who needs you to believe in them as they take on a big challenge? Why do you think Moses accepted this enormous challenge, filled with risks and danger? I believe it had to do with the confidence God expressed in choosing him for this task. If God believed in him this much, how could Moses say no?
Who needs to know you have this much confidence in them? What difference would it make if you told them and challenged them to step out on faith?
On the other hand, who needs you to accompany them as they walk into the eye of a storm? God did not send Moses back to Egypt alone. Neither should we send even those in whom we have the greatest degree of confidence on their journey alone.
“Dad, I’ve never felt this level of grief and remorse. This has been the most gut-wrenching experience of my life.” This is what Amy told me Tuesday night on her way home from one of her best friend’s house.
Jessica was one of Amy’s college roommates and the maid of honor at her wedding. Later, Amy was the matron of honor at Jessica’s wedding. They went their separate ways after college, but stayed in touch. For the last three years, they have lived fairly close and visited each other often. Amy has three year old twins and Jessica has a two year old son.
Last Friday, Jessica’s husband suddenly died. The autopsy revealed an aneurism burst on the left side of his brain.
On her way to see Jessica, Amy sent me a text. “Dad, what do I say to Jessica when I see her?” I called her and we talked about it while she was on her way down the road of shock and awe. “Amy, it is not what you will say tonight or tomorrow which will mean the most to Jessica. It is just being there. Let your tears do your talking. However, at the appropriate time, say this to Jessica. ‘I know you are not all right now, but you will be and I will help you.’ ”
Maybe God whispered this in Moses’ ear as he walked into the eye of the storm. If you listen carefully, God may be saying the same thing to you this morning.