The actions of a hero are only understood within the context of the grand sweep of God’s story. Heroes aren’t really heroes until they move out with God to serve God’s purposes.
Our first hero is Moses – an unlikely hero on many fronts. He was born the child of slaves, a disempowered and oppressed people with little control over their lives and destinies. He was adopted into Pharaoh’s family, but likely understood himself as an outsider. Other people might have seen him as a collaborator, even though he was adopted as an infant – again with no choice or control. He had a temper and murdered an Egyptian when he saw him abusing a slave. He became a fugitive from the law and ran away to the hill country. His second career was as a shepherd. Anything in there say “hero” to you right off the bat?
A shepherd in the wilderness. Moses was fortunate in discovering the daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian. His character helped too, since he chased away the men who were bullying them and helped them water their flocks. This earned him a dinner invitation, a job and a wife. And for 40 years, approximately, he lived his second career in the wilderness.
Time in the wilderness changes people. Story after story in scripture, other literature and in religious history tells of the impact of the wilderness on the spirit of a person. For forty years Moses was away from the splendor, power systems and social stratification of Egypt. In the desert, ego is burned away. From Prince of Egypt to nomadic shepherd. Artifice is burned away – there are no power dynamics herding sheep. It is a game of survival, leading flocks all over to find scant bits of vegetation enough to keep the flocks, and their herders, alive.
And Moses is a husband and father. He and Zipporah have two sons. Moses has made a new life in the desert of Midian – until his life changes.
The Call. While minding his business, the sheep, Moses is distracted by the sight of a bush in flames without burning up. While I could tell you that in scripture flames are a common image for God – Moses didn’t know that. I burning bush that wasn’t burning up with be something to investigate, particularly in the dry climate of the desert. When he does to investigate, he is told to remove his sandals, for he is on holy ground. This is a call narrative – a story where God calls a prophet. But it is also a theophany – an appearance of God.
What is at stake? Liberation is at stake. God’s promises to God’s children: freedom, land, well-being are at stake. God is faithful to God’s people including aliens, immigrants and the oppressed. BAM. Mic drop.
“I have heard the cries of my people enslaved in Egypt, and you will go and bring them out of slavery to a land of their own.”
This isn’t just a matter of liberation as a one time event – it is God’s structure of relationship. Covenant with God is the alternative to Empire and oppression. God speaks a challenge to Egypt and Domination systems everywhere (Babylon, Persia, Rome….) It is a critique of those who want absolute power – a reminder that only God is God, and we are at our best in God’s service. Contrasts the Glory of God with the Glory of Pharaoh, who considered himself to be a god. There are three themes to this story: Liberation, Covenant, and Presence.
Back to Moses… God is calling a prophet of liberation to go to Egypt and confront a world ruled by Pharaoh.
Moses resists. Of course he resists.
Never mind that there may still be a price on his head. He fled this country – was it already 40 years ago?
Never mind that he is 80 years old (roughly) at this point.
Moses is a different person now, and his identity and very life would be at risk in Egypt.
He has every reason to fear rejection by his own people. We’ve read the Bible stories – we know that’s a real thing.
Moses apparently stumbles over words too, not helpful when speaking with those in power. Not good for a person called to be a prophet.
But of course he resists. All prophetic call narratives include resistance.
It is a given when we experience the holiness of God that we would cry like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am a person of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” God shows up, interrupting our lives with a new way to serve God and our first instincts are “Whoa. I can’t do that. I’m not good enough, holy enough, talented enough to serve God.” It is a normal reaction. Moses’ struggle is real. He isn’t ambitious, power-hungry or egocentric. He’s a shepherd. “I can’t. I’m not enough,” he says.
And God replies: Of course you’re not. I never said you were. But I AM! I will bring Israel out of Egypt – I need a human partner. I will be with you. I will be WITH you – you aren’t going alone. So GO! (‘ehyeh ‘aser ‘ehyeh= I am who I am; I will be who I am; I will be who I will be) Either first or third person imperfect or future tense…..(footnote in NRSV)
But there is another thing happening here.
God spoke to an 80 year old shepherd and told him to get moving. But not just ANY 80 year-old shepherd. One who spoke Egyptian, and knew the culture and the ruling family – one with righteous indignation and a passion for justice. Where our particular talents meet a point of need……a God opportunity, perhaps even a call.
“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 angles to make things right. No, God works through people…..”[i]
God CALLS US!
We don’t usually get a burning bush, or winged seraphim, or even a pillar of fire or cloud. We get a burning desire to make a difference, an unexpected opportunity, a nudging in our spirit….
GLOBAL MIGRATION: Special offering because…
And that’s the story. God calls Moses away from the sheep on the hillside to trust him with an urgent task: to set free people in bondage and conditions of oppression. And Moses did – he partnered with God, which made him a hero.
But there are still people who are oppressed. God is still calling heroes to partner with God to set them free. Imagine! God may seek us – call us – with this urgent task too. In the middle of our everyday lives, despite our shortcomings, regardless of our inadequacy to do what God is asking of us – God calls us. “Get moving! I have heard the cries of my people, and seen their suffering, and I need a liberator again….”