Walking with Moses
September 3, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana
Text: Exodus 3:1-12
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry…”
These words, passed from generation to generation around ancient desert campfires have become so imbedded in worldwide spirituality we take them for granted. After all, a God who observes, who listens, who cares sits at the spiritual foundation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and, through those religions, the vast majority of all humans. But when Moses heard those words, coming from that voice, embedded in that bush – the bush that flamed but didn’t burn – no one had heard such a voice before.
Its unlikely the ancient Israelites, burdened by slavery in Egypt, had much sense of the God of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Certainly Moses, growing up as an adopted prince in Pharaoh’s palace, didn’t. Egyptians worshiped around 1,500 distinct gods. These gods governed various aspects of the material and spiritual worlds, but had little time spare for the individual needs and concerns of humanity. Egyptians didn’t love their gods. Nor did they serve them. They appeased them, currying their favor to forestall their wrath.
As a young man, Moses becomes more aware of his Hebrew identity and the oppression of his people. After killing an Egyptian who is torturing a Hebrew, Moses flees Egypt and seeks refuge among the Midianites, nomadic traders who roamed the deserts along the northern and eastern shores of the Red Sea. Like the Egyptians, the Midianites worshipped multiple gods. Like the Egyptian gods, the Midianite gods didn’t observe humanity, didn’t listen to humanity, didn’t care.
The Egyptians and the Midianites had gods, but their gods didn’t have “a people.” The Israelites’ God had a people, but scripture suggests that most of the Israelites didn’t realize they had a God. The oppressed Hebrews don’t offer sacrifices or say prayers with the hopes of currying God’s favor. They simply cry. Cry out of their pain. Cry out of their suffering. And God hears. And God remembers his promises to his people. And God takes notice.
Put yourself in Moses’ unshod feed and hear God’s message of caring for the first time. God hears. God notices. God cares. For the Israelites God’s hearing, God’s noticing, God’s caring leads to a burning bush, a new prophet named Moses, a split Red Sea, Sinai, the Ten Commandments, a culture, a religion, a people, a promised land, a Messiah.
What does the same message of caring mean for those who are suffering right now, in this moment, today. Those who feel the rod of oppression, the weight of injustice. A woman trapped in an abusive marriage. A victim of Hurricane Harvey who cries himself to sleep in a crowded shelter. A political prisoner in a North Korean jail. A refugee crossing the Mediterranean in an overloaded boat. A child who is hungry, or a cancer patient that has just relapsed or the family that’s lost a loved one – child, spouse, parent – too early, too suddenly. An innocent inmate on death row. A young adult facing deportation to a country where they’ve never lived.
Enslaved in Egypt, the Hebrews kept alive the ancient stories – creation and flood, the saga of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph – but they were hardly righteous Jews as their descendents would understand it. They didn’t keep the law not yet given. They didn’t keep the festivals not yet established. All they did was cry out of their slavery, cry out of their oppression. God heard. God remembered. God noticed. And God called Moses to deliver his people.
God responds to suffering by calling people – ordinary, every day people who are out on ordinary days doing ordinary work – to relieve the suffering. We’ve seen this in all the stories coming out of Harvey – the Cajun navy, my friend Ian who’s in the Texas National Guard, my friend Kyle whose church has become a shelter, Eric’s cub scout pack which is collecting quarters, the woman in Lisbon who is driving a truck full of diapers down to Texas. I’ve seen this in my friend Gail.
Years ago Gail had a basic life in Massachusetts where she ran her family’s farm stand – think Catalpa’s but open year-round with a butcher and a baker and Buffy the bison. Then Gail went to Haiti, saw the suffering of the people, fell in love with the culture and heard the call of God. She kept going back – observing, listening, caring, noticing. She gathered friends in Massachusetts and shared what she’d seen and heard. Together they began helping children go to school and the children’s parents to start small businesses and buy houses. They created safe neighborhoods with access to clean drinking water and medical care. Through their efforts, resident’s of Port au Prince’s worst slum began to experience new life. God had heard their cries. God had remembered them. God noticed. And God sent Gail.
Gail doesn’t spend much time at the farm stand any more. Mostly she’s on airplanes shuttling between Haiti, Guatemala, Mississippi and Peru – the four locations where Partners in Development now works. Moses – an ordinary guy tending his flocks – became the great prophet, the bringer of Torah to his people. Gail, the small businesswoman, became an internationally recognized expert in leading the extreme poor out of poverty. God called them to bring his people out of suffering. In the process he transformed them as well.
And that’s how our God works. He hears the cry of those who suffer. It could be your cry. It could be the cry of your neighbor. It could be a cry from halfway around the world. And then God calls ordinary people out of their ordinary lives, to bring deliverance. That could be a stranger from the other side of the world sent to deliver you. It could be your neighbor. It could be you. Bushes still burn. God still speaks. And God still sends.