Exodus 3: 1-15: 4:1-5, 10-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-26
“Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” These were among the last words spoken to Moses by one of his people before he fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian overseer. These words would haunt Moses for years, 25 years in fact, and no doubt prickled his conscience that day he approached Holy Ground, where he saw a burning bush, a burning bush that was not consumed by the flame. And from that bush Moses heard his name called, he listened to God speak. “I have seen the misery of my people … go to Pharaoh to release my people.”
25 years earlier, Moses too had seen the misery of God’s people. He witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave. Outraged, Moses killed the Egyptian on the spot and buried the body in the sand. The next day he went out again, and tried to resolve a fight between two Hebrew slaves. But they had seen Moses murder the Egyptian. This Moses, one of the their own, yet raised in privilege in Pharaoh’s courts.
This Moses, spared the fate of the harsh life of slavery. Did his ears ever hear the jeers and taunts of the slave masters. Did he ever experience the sting of the overseer’s whip? And now you suddenly appear to defend us? Is this the kind of leader we need? “Will you kill me too, Moses, just like you did that Egyptian?” the slave asked, and “hide my body in the sand?” “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”
After killing that slave master and being taunted by Hebrew slaves, Moses fled east to the land of Midian—the land where his ancestor Joseph was taken into slavery. There Moses ended up marrying a daughter of a Midian priest and settled down to a Shepard’s life. But that pain didn’t go away. He named his firs-born Gershom, which means, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.” Moses didn’t belong in Pharaoh’s palace, nor did he belong in Midian as a Shepard. After 50 years he still didn’t know where he belonged. Who he was. Until he reached Holy Ground. For Moses went on to play a significant role in the salvation history of Israel. And he underwent a prolonged test of character to become ready to be the leader God was molding him to be. Moses would finally discover his calling, in the presence of the burning bush, on Holy Ground.
There on Holy Ground, Moses would receive his calling. “Moses! Moses!” God summoned him. “I Have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters, and I have come to deliver them… So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
God knew that Moses murdered an Egyptian and was a persona non grata. God knew what his kinsfolk thought of him. God saw him, an alien in Egypt, an alien in Midian, yet God placed his confidence in Moses to send him straight back to Pharaoh’s house to deliver the Hebrew people out of slavery?
Holy Ground, alive with God, reveals Moses’ true identity. It reveals our true identity. It tells us who we really are. It gives us our true spiritual purpose in life, to ease the suffering of others and deliver the vulnerable and needy from their oppression. Holy Ground opens our hearts to expose our fears so we can face them and overcome the terror that blocks us from living out our true calling.
Holy Ground revealed five fears that Moses, like us, must work through in order to answer our calling from God. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” This task is too great, too overwhelming for me. I’m not good enough for your plans, God. Send someone else!
God didn’t go into specifics what Moses should do and how he should pull it off. God was unimpressed with Pharaoh’s power or Moses’ lack of power. God cuts through the drama with a simple: “I will be with you.” On Holy Ground, we ask who are to confront the powers of the world? The Greed, the racism, those with better resources and power. We get stuck in fear. “I will be with you” is what we need to hear to carry out the ministry of peace, holiness and justice.
Moses give voice to our second fear: “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?”
In whose name and authority do we act? Not our own. Our power comes from the God of Jesus.
God responds with a mysterious title that eludes precise translation: Yahweh: “I am who I am” “I will be who I will be” “I create what I create.” It is a name that links the God of the past throughout the book of Genesis, back to the God Abram and Sarai, to the God of the present to the God of the future, who in Jesus describes the suffering the Son of Man would undergo at the hands of the elders. Holy Ground teaches us that the God who is with us is a God who liberates, a God who leads, a God who lay down his life in Jesus and gives us the same authority to heal and proclaim the Good News. Look at the marchers from Charlottesville VA, on their way to Washington DC, to stand against white supremacy. They should arrive in DC by September 6. Holy Ground energizes us because God walks at our side.
Moses delineates a third fear that paralyzing our spiritual progress:
“But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The Lord did not appear to you?” The fear of failure and rejection keeps many of us from carrying out the ministry God has placed in our hearts.
Now God didn’t answer Moses’ question directly. He instead transforms Moses’ staff into a snake, a symbol of divine presence and power in the ancient world. The snake then becomes a staff again.
Isn’t this what we want. That the work of our hands would somehow be suffused with the presence of God. That the work of our lives make a positive impact. That is how God will be known through us. By the good we do. By standing against evil. By helping people in distress. That is how God desires to be known through us and prove that God has appeared to us in our prayers and our deeds.
Still Moses persists and gives rise to a fourth fear we suffer from. “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now, I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” The irony here is that Moses doesn’t have any problem communicating to God his fear. He is doing a perfectly fin job telling God all the stumbling blocks, why he can’t fulfill his work. If he can talk with God about all this why can’t he talk with mere mortals. God replies, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them seeing or blind” Is it not I, the Lord, now go, I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” When we are on Holy Ground we learn over time how to speak as the Holy Spirit will give us speech, in times of trial. A coalition of Evangelical leaders, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood including prominent members on President Trump’s council, issued the “Nashville Statement” this past Tuesday, which among its 14 points condemned homosexuality and transgenderism and reaffirmed traditional marriage and gender roles. This document was rebutted point by point by a congregation in Denver, calling the document the “Denver Statement” there has also been a statement from Chicago as well. During a week of horrific destruction in Texas due to Hurricane Harvey, the need to speak out for peace, justice and righteousness is as urgent as ever.
Finally, we come to Moses’ last pitch. He has no more questions, but issues this desperate statement out of fear: “Send someone else!” We feel the danger. The burden of oppression seems too heavy. Let someone else do it! We are tempted to go away, to give in, and to hide.
Holy Ground helps us engage this struggle. Will we give into temptation, drop the cross, or will we follow the road of discipleship, stand in the danger to protect others, to be a leader out of oppression and slavery? Will we pick ourselves up and go to face pharaoh, or to face the defiant crowds of Charlottesville?
The scriptures call us to be disciples in the journey to freedom. Here at church we have this Holy Ground where we will struggle with our identity, despite our misgivings. Will we follow God’s call to stand up to the pharaohs, to help those in slavery, the economic slavery, slavery of mistaken faith or beliefs, to lead them forth to a better future?
Here on this Holy Ground, we come face to face with our hopes and fears our trials and triumphs, our failures and our success, our past and our unfolding future. So, we stand on the Holy Ground today, the burning bush blazing in our heart; we hear God say, I have seen the suffering of my people. The people sitting next to us. The people out on the streets. I have seen the oppression of the taskmasters of the world. So come, I will send you to lead my people out of their oppression.
Is that old call stirring? The old vision awakening? In the midst of the turmoil around us? Who will go? The flame is burning and it says, let the people of God overcome their fears and respond, “Lord, I will go. Send me.” Amen.