September 27, 2020

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“A Reluctant Prophet”                                                                                    Exodus 3:10-20, 4:10-13

In his book Moses: In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet, Adam Hamilton writes, “We’re not meant to miss that God sometimes chooses, calls, and uses the most unlikely of people to do his work in the world. This is such an important point to make sure we get. God’s usual way of working in the world to alleviate suffering, injustice, and pain is not to intervene miraculously, suspending the laws of nature, violating the principle of human freedom, or sending angels to make things right. No, God works through people. God sees, hears, and knows the suffering of others. God expects his people to do the same. And God’s response is to call us to step up as instruments of his aid.”

We may grow weary of a global pandemic, children suffering from hunger and malnutrition, or natural disasters like fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes, that are part of this world and ask, “Does God care?” God’s response is to say to all people who are paying attention, “So, now go. I am sending you…” (v. 10).

“As Moses stood before the burning bush he was eighty years old. He hadn’t been to Egypt in forty years. During that period, he had likely buried within himself the concern he had once felt for his own people. He had tried to block from his mind the thoughts of what he saw in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were being oppressed by the Egyptians. God knew that deep down inside, Moses still remembered and was still concerned for the people to whom he had been born. But now, standing before the bush and hearing God tell him, “So, now go. I am sending you…” Moses responded as most of us would—he began making excuses” (Hamilton, Adam. Moses (p. 60). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.).

The confrontation between God and Moses at the burning bush is often described as an issue of obedience. God makes clear commands and a reluctant Moses refuses to obey. Moses’ questions are viewed as an attempt to evade the responsibility that God has placed upon him. In the end God gets angry and Moses is finally forced to surrender and do what he is told to do.

This is one possible interpretation of these events found in Exodus 3 and 4, but what if Moses’ questions are honest doubts that he has been struggling to understand for years? What if he is just plain confused? Forty years have gone by since he fled from Egypt. Now he is 80-years old and God comes to him and says, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (3:10). In response, Moses raises five questions with God that may sound like excuses: 1. Who am I? (3:10) 2. Who are you, or What’s your name? (3:13) 3. What if they do not believe me? (4:1) 4. What if I cannot speak? (4:10) 5. Lord, can you please send someone else? (4:13)

Let’s look at the very first question that Moses raises with God. Who am I? “Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Was Moses an Egyptian? If so he knew that in Egypt he was a failure, a political refugee and a traitor wanted for murder. He knew he now had no influence in the palace, with the royal family or in any position of power. How could God use him to lead Israel out of Egypt? It made no sense to him.

Or was Moses an Israelite? If so the Hebrews had already rejected him as a Hebrew family member 40 years earlier when he tried to win their support. Why would they follow him after all these years? To Pharaoh he would simply be another slave and a slave who was wanted for murder. Slaves had no power to challenge the might of Egypt.

Or was Moses a Midianite? If so, after these 40 years he would only be a foreign shepherd whom the Egyptians culturally despised as an abomination. Midianites were of no importance to the Israelites and carried no political leverage with the Egyptians. It would make no sense for God to send him back to Egypt as a Midianite. Lord, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Moses genuinely asks out of confusion about who he really is. His question is really, “Who am I?” Moses at age 80 is a man of three different cultural backgrounds and he didn’t see how to integrate them into a whole and stable identity. Is he royalty? Is he a slave? Or is he just an outsider?

The problem with cultural pressure is that it forces people into either or choices. For Moses, he could be either an Egyptian or a Hebrew or a Midianite. His desire was to be a Hebrew. But he could not see himself being who he really wanted to be while living in Midian. And more importantly, he could not visualize who he really had become: A man who was a mixture of three ethnically different cultures that could not be split apart into distinct identities.

Neil Rendall says, “These same pressures confront us in the multiethnic world of the United States. There is the “White” population that has assimilated for the most part into one ethnic culture and they feel they are the ‘Real Americans.’ The “White” community for the most part chose to cut most of their ties to their immigrant past and have only vague memories of what once identified them as English, French, German, Swedish etc. Then there are “Whites” who still have some ties to their ethnic cultures overseas like the Italians, Irish, Polish or Jews.

Somehow those ties make other “Whites” uncomfortable. African Americans are seen as different from the “White” community. This difference often creates deep racial tensions in our society. But if a “Black” identifies too strongly with the “White” world, he or she is seen as ‘Black’ on the outside but ‘White’ on the inside. Those in the Latino community who are seen as becoming too “white” are described as “agringiado”—a Spanish word derived from the root word gringo, meaning you have become “White.”

Many in “White” society look with fear at the growing ethnic diversity of our country. Sadly, it can communicate to new immigrants in all their different shades of color and language, “If you want to be an ‘American,’ give up your foreign attachments like language. Leave your home country behind. Assimilate, assimilate! Learn English and be real Americans,” Rendall writes.

But is it really true that to be an American you have to reject and deny your English, Dutch, Latino, or Korean heritage? Is retaining your Italian, Pakistani or Chinese identity refusing to be a true American? What if you really are both cultures or like Moses a product of three or more cultures?

Did God make a mistake with Moses or today with people who are part of several different ethnic groups or cultures within those groups? Can there be freedom to be who God created us to be or must people choose one part of themselves and reject the rest of their background?” (Neil Rendall, Moses a Tri-Cultural Man: Exodus Bible Studies, updated © 2013 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA)

Before Halloween we used to ask the other kids, “What are you going to be?” Cathy from Poland, Ohio submitted a Halloween story to Readers Digest: I opened the door on Halloween to find a superhero in our midst. Admiring the mask and colorful outfit, I asked, “Are you Spiderman?” Thinking I had lost it, the little guy answered, “I’m just a kid. This is a costume!” Moses stood at God’s doorway and said, “I’m no Liberator. I’m just an eighty-year old sheep-herder. Can’t you send someone else?” Because Moses was reluctant to commit himself to God’s call doesn’t mean we have to be reluctant to follow God into a multicultural world to serve people with the love and grace of Jesus. But it will require our time, energy and commitment, which we are reluctant to part with.

Michaela O’Donnell Long at Fuller Seminary ( recently wrote: “I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of time has sort of gone out the window for me in 2020. Like so many of you, I’ve spent way less time doing certain things and way more doing others. Less time in my car, less time with colleagues and casual friends, more time at home, more time with family and close friends. I’ve spent way less time worrying about small stuff like dirty dishes or vacation plans and way more time lamenting and praying and hoping for what God might be up to in the world. In 2020, my husband and I have talked so much more about how we manage God’s precious gift of time. What do we say “no” to? Who do we say “yes” to? What do we really want our lives to look like?” That's a great question.

If you, like Moses, and like many of us, are “a reluctant prophet,” maybe the most important thing to ask is whether we are using God’s precious gift of time to do things that really matter. God’s burning bush message to us is no different than God’s message to Moses: “So now, go. I am sending you…” Amen.