< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 10 November 2019

First Reading                                   Exodus 3:1-15

1Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “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 surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” 13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

Psalm                                                          Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. 2Praise him, all you angels of his; praise him, all his host. 3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. 4Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. 5Let them praise the name of the Lord; for he commanded, and they were created. 6He made them stand fast forever and ever; he gave them a law which shall not pass away. 7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps; 8Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will; 9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;

10Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds; 11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; 12Young men and maidens, old and young together. 13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven. 14He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him.  Hallelujah!

Second Reading           2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17

1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Gospel                                         Luke 20:27-40

27There came to {Jesus} some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30And the second 31and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32Afterward the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” 34And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40For they no longer dared to ask him any question.


One of the national cellular telephone company’s commercial asks, “Can you hear me now?”  The assumption is that one can hear any time, any place, in any situation through their advanced network when you subscribe to their service.  I remember, not very long ago I might add, that this was awe inspiring technology and people flocked to the cell phone stores to see one of these amazing devices.  We had seen “communicators,” devices that resembled flip phones, on the original Star Trek series.  These folding communicators were used by the crew to talk with each other and the ship, and many scoffed at the idea that in the future we’d actually use similar devices.  Yet just a few years ago, we saw a flip phone in action and people were amazed.

In our first lesson for today, we read about the voice of God coming from the midst of a burning bush, and Moses finds excuse after excuse for not hearing or listening to God’s call.  In essence, God was asking, “Can you hear me now?”  Upon hearing God speak, Moses responds with what he thinks are good reasons and credible excuses to resist, but God, nonetheless, persists in calling.  God’s call is key to the liberation, the ultimate purposes and the destiny of the Hebrew people.  God was calling Moses to go, so that He could continue to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham.

Moses has come a long way since his time in Pharaoh’s court as a “prince” in Egypt.  By way of a quick recap, Moses, in defending an Israelite, kills an Egyptian.  His adoptive grandfather, Pharaoh, hears of it and seeks to kill Moses.  Moses then flees west, across the Red Sea, to Midian where he meets the priest Jethro and his seven daughters.  Moses stays in Midian, marries one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah, bears a son, Gershom, and settles down as a shepherd, keeping Jethro’s flocks.  It’s here in the region of the Sinai Peninsula that Moses has time for the maturation of his soul in solitude and quietness.  It’s in the wilderness near Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, that Moses is confronted with fire, a bush that isn’t consumed, and the mighty call of God.

We too, as Christians, are called, not necessarily from burning bushes and fiery manifestations of God, but in more common and ordinary ways.  We are chosen, called and gathered by the Holy Spirit through word and sacrament, through both mundane and extraordinary experiences, and also through the church, the body of Christ.  St. Paul in 1 Corinthians writes: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1:26-28).

The Greek word for call is klesis.  In the New Testament, God’s klesis is an upward call (Philippians 3:14), a holy call (2 Timothy 1:9), a heavenly call (Hebrews 3:1), and, throughout the New Testament, a shared call (1 Corinthians 1:26; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:10).  Followers of Jesus are also called in hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4).  As an upward, holy, heavenly, shared, and hopeful call, God’s invitation calls us to Himself, for His purposes.  God’s call also invites us to share in His joy as we answer and respond to that call.  And central to that purpose, is the salvation of the world.

One very important thing that we need to note is, the New Testament does not take an institutional view of God’s call.  This call isn’t to an occupation or an office, but to a joyful relationship with God and others.  As Moses was called, we too are individually called.  We are chosen by grace in baptism; we are summoned to follow Christ through word and water.  St. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy, “God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus” (1:9).

One of the Lutheran Reformation’s greatest contributions to the Christian church was its teaching on vocation or, a Christian’s calling in the world.  Prior to the Reformation, “Vocation” from the Latin vocatio — to be called — became a word referring only to monks, nuns, and priests; ordinary Christians were taught that they didn’t have divine vocations.  Luther changed all that.  Taking Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9 to heart, Luther taught that we are all priests in God’s kingdom.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Each of us stands before God in service to Him and on behalf of others.  Luther wasn’t doing away with priests; he, in agreement with St. Peter, was multiplying their number by saying each of us is a holy servant in the vocation to which we are called.

Luther was certain God always calls through means — God’s word, the sacraments, other people, our histories, experiences, and our vocations.  These are all ways through which God’s will and guidance is made known.  In fact, Luther sometimes called them larvae Dei – the masks of God.  But because of God’s absolute holiness and pure glory, we can’t know, or see, God directly.  Even Moses, on Mount Sinai, could only see God’s back, “for man shall not see [God] and live” (Ex. 38:20b); so we only know God through masks, or what God chooses to show us.  Thankfully, the ultimate way that God reveals Himself to us is through His only begotten Son, Jesus.

What we need to understand is, our Christian calling relates directly to who we are, what gifts we’ve been given, and our entire life’s activities and experiences.  The temptation for us today is to take the Time magazine approach to our vocation and calling.  According to Time’s format, religion is but one segment, one slice, and it should be kept in its place.  Other areas, according to the Time magazine approach, such as law, sports, books, and environment, are in other parts of the magazine and are not connected to one’s religion.  But we know, nothing could be further from the truth.  We don’t set aside our Christian values to be politically correct.  We are, first and foremost, Christians and everything else proceeds from that reality. 

One’s call, one’s vocation, that recurring sense that your life isn’t for nothing, a whisper that becomes a controlling word in your life, the gradual realization that who and where you are, may be where God needs and wants you to be — all contribute to a sense that you have a calling.  And God uses us in our current vocations to fulfill the work of His kingdom.

Joseph Campbell says, “Go where your body and soul want to go, when you have the feeling, then stay with it and don’t let anyone throw you off.”  Frederick Buechner puts it this way: “Where your deep gladness intersects with the world’s deep need — there you have a vocation, a calling.”  Paul Wilkes, in his book Beyond The Walls: Monastic Wisdom For Everyday Life, writes, “If monastic wisdom has anything at all to say to our modern world, it is that our labors, humble or vaunted, are potentially an unending source of holiness, purification, and grace.”  Monk or mechanic, farmer or factory worker, parent or grandparent, writer, educator, nurse — all can be worthy, even sacred vocations.

Then the Lord God says to Moses out of the burning bush, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  Moses is awestruck.  He hides his face.  He stands before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He experiences a spiritual moment.

One pastor who was raised and trained to think of God as a close personal friend, grew spiritually, when he first read Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy.   His understanding of God expanded with a new profound respect and reverence for the Almighty when he read of God as the “Mysterium Tremendum” (profound mystery) and the “Wholly Other.”  God is all-powerful, holy, awesome, transcendent, immeasurable, and beyond all human approaching!  Unfortunately, thinking of God simply as a close friend, a buddy, produces the shallowness and clichés that sprout out of much of the Christian talk and Christian “popular music” today.  Because of this, we neither acknowledge, nor are nurtured, by the holiness of a Wholly Other God.  Reverence must always be the response of body and soul to lofty mysteries deeply felt and only partially understood.  “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  

In hot wilderness climates, it’s actually much safer to remove shoes than one’s hat.  In present Western culture, respect is shown by removing one’s cap or hat.  In Middle Eastern cultures, the sandals are removed before entering a place of worship.  Old Testament priests often performed their duties barefooted.  “Does anyone have the foggiest idea,” wonders Annie Dillard, “what sort of power [Christians] so blithely invoke? … It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.”

Solomon in Proverbs wrote, “The fear (profound respect) of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (9:10).  We cannot really understand the grace and mercy of God unless we acknowledge the power and holiness of God.  The question for us then is, how then do we, in present society, express through gestures, posture, and actions, profound respect and reverence?  If our holy ground is wherever prayer, praise, and thanksgiving take place, how do we declare it in unmistakable and meaningful ways?

“Then the Lord says, I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt … the cry of the Israelites has come to me … I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them” (Exodus 3:7-9).  Here God reveals the meaning of the vision and declares His purpose for Israel.  The Israelites are crying out, and the Lord of the heavens and the earth hears their groanings and He acts.  God’s displeasure of oppression and His concern for justice runs through the Old Testament like a recurring theme in a symphony.  The Psalms sing of it.  The prophets decry it.  The greatest salvation act in the Old Testament — the freeing of the Hebrew people in bondage — is born out of the crimes of oppression and the yearning for the beauty and reality of justice.

Then God clarifies Moses’ call.  “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).  To this Moses replies, “Who am I? Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt?  I am nobody!”  This is excuse number one of five that Moses dreams up.  Let me ask you this, have you ever felt that way, felt like a nobody and this prevented you from responding God’s call?

Fear of the unknown, low self-esteem, lack of faith are all roots to “I am nobody.”  You feel your mailing address only reads, “Occupant.”  You feel unimportant, a wallflower at a dance.  Perhaps Moses considered other more capable Israelites who were talented in leadership and could have led the Hebrew people out of Egypt.  What about Korah?  Young Joshua?  An elder?  Was Moses still smarting from the time a Hebrew yelled at him, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”  We’re unsure who Moses would have nominated instead of himself, but we do know that Moses knew his feelings.  “I am nobody, God of my forefathers.” 

In his book Instrument of Thy Peace, Alan Paton tells of a rabbi, a cantor, and a humble synagogue janitor who are preparing for the Day of Atonement.  The rabbi beats his breast and says, “I am nothing; I am nothing!”  The cantor likewise beats his breast and says, “I am nothing; I am nothing.”  The synagogue janitor walks up and beats his breast and says, “I am nothing; I am nothing.”  Then the rabbi looks over with disgust and disdain and says to the cantor, “Look who thinks he is nothing.”

Moshe Rabinea, the Hebrews would one day call Moses.  Moses the Teacher. Moses the Lawgiver.  Moses the Leader.  Moses the Patriarch.  But few people remember the earlier days, Moses, the Excuse-Maker!  God’s promise that He would be with Moses didn’t seem to be enough.  Moses’ second excuse is just as lame.  “I am ignorant.  

What if the Hebrew Elders should ask me, ‘What is your God’s name?’ and I don’t know the name of the God I am called to serve?  I am ignorant; I don’t have the information.  I don’t know enough.”  How often do we use this excuse to dodge God’s call?  Are there Bible studies that go untaught because someone says, “I don’t know my Bible; I don’t know enough”?  Are there Sunday school classes, youth group lessons, or children’s plays that never happen because of this excuse?  Could this be the root cause for increasing biblical illiteracy not only in society but in Christian churches?

A pastor was once approached about teaching a class in New Testament Koine Greek to the laity in his congregation.  He declined with Moses’ excuse, “I am ignorant; I forgot a lot of my Greek knowledge and training.”  Later, the pastor says he wished he had said, “Yes,” to the call.  It’s easy to confuse being ignorant with being spiritually and academically lazy.  God answers Moses’ excuse by revealing His name as “I am Who I am.” I am YHWH. “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:14).  Fast-forward ahead for a glimpse of Moses’ third, fourth, and fifth excuses.

Excuse 3 is “I am not convincing.  Suppose they will not listen to my voice?” Rabbinic legend suggests that it took one full year for Moses to convince the Egyptians to release the Hebrews and then to convince the Hebrews that he was in fact their leader.  In excuse 4, Moses simply uses “I can’t talk; I’m a poor public speaker.”  “O Lord, I have never been eloquent.  I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Excuse number 5 summarizes Moses’ overall reluctance, which we all can relate to.  “I’d rather not.  O my Lord, please send someone else.”

Jill Briscoe wrote a book with a telling title, Here I Am, Send Aaron.  Today we say send my pastor, a council member, my spouse, but don’t send me.  When our self feels fearful, unimaginative, inadequate, small, or fractured, we need to listen to Paul again, “Consider your call….”  When God calls, He supplies what we need.  Vocation is found in our gifts, our temperament, our personality, our passion, our bliss, our talents, our work, and our leisure.

There is a Hasidic tale that reveals, with amazing brevity, both the universal tendency to want to be someone else and the ultimate importance of becoming one’s self:  Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’  They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”  Moses the excuse-maker becomes Moses the leader as God’s call and support becomes clear.  Our liberator is Jesus Christ who releases and frees us so we may be exactly what God intends.  Our call is simple, Go.  And when we respond to that call, God will equip us with everything we need for the task and His promise, “lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20b).


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive