Wednesday, October 11, 2017
"Get Woke": October 1, 2017 Sermon notes by Rev. Dr. Melodie Jones Pointon
The story of Moses begins with God’s people, the Israelites, slaves in a foreign country. Over the years I’ve read commentaries that always try to soften this story, altering some of the details. Slavery at that time simply meant the lowest class of physical laborers – it wasn’t slavery like we think of it. Or, they weren’t really treated poorly, the Israelites. It’s just that they had forgotten God, and so were living for money instead of for vocation and purpose. But no. No! That’s not right! The text is very clear that the Pharoah (or King) that we are dealing with here is the sort of person who demands all boys under the age of 2 be slaughtered. Our protagonist for today, Moses, was saved from this, placed in a basket by his mother, rescued by the Pharoah’s daughter, and raised by and Israelite handmaiden (who turns out to be his mother) in Pharoah’s house. Later in the story, Moses is forced to flee the palace after he goes for a walk one day, and witnesses brutality amongst his people, the Jews. He loses his cool, retaliates, and is banished to the hills to become a shepherd. He makes an in with a priest’s family when he marries Jethro’s daughter. He leaves his old world, and his people, behind.
Our narrative text for today finds us dealing with all the same issues that I’ve just summarized. Pharoah has died, making leadership uncertain with a change in power. “When an oppressive ruler dies, everything comes unglued…” God’s people get “woke.” They groan under their slavery, and they cry out. The groan, they cry. God hears, God remembers, God looks, and God knows. This, dear friends, is a turning point for the people of Israel, for God’s people living in a horrible, desperate situation at the very bottom of the social and economic rung. Out of political chaos and unrest, God’s people get “woke,” and find their identity.
These, dear friends, are God’s people.
And God, God hears, remembers, sees, and knows God’s people.
It is out of this context that Moses re-enters the scene. It’s a story so familiar to us that modern-day horticulture embraces this story in a bush called “burning bush.” Moses, while shepherding, stumbles across a burning bush.
Or, rather, he stumbles across a burning bush that is not consumed, and angel who does not speak, and a God he cannot see who does speak. It’s almost as if God is trying to get Moses’ attention. Or, as Katherine Schifferdecker from Lutheran Seminary wonders, maybe God is trying to get someone’s attention. Maybe God has been there, in that spot, for years, for decades, and other’s have just walked by. After all, God is about to ask Moses to do something…impossible. And Moses doesn’t want to go. Moses doesn’t want to do it. Depending on who you consult, Moses makes either 5 or 8 objections to why he can’t be the one to go back to Pharoah. Not the least of which is that he’s not eloquent, or he can’t speak (likely has a stutter).
“Moses must have had misgivings about going against the people to whom he owed his life and his privileged upbringing.”
And yet…it’s not just because we know how the story ends – that Moses does go on to do the impossible, to demand the Israelites freedom, to become the instrument of liberation, to lead God’s people out of the plagues, through the Red Sea, and into the desert. It’s not just because we know all these things…
Moses does something here that God’s people haven’t done since they became slaves in a foreign land. And he does it repeatedly. Three times, in three different ways, Moses realigns his life to be a servant of God. He realigns his identity, removing the political, economic, and social structures that tell him he is no more than a slave in a foreign land whose worth is counted by his work.
God speaks, and Moses hears. “Here I am,” he says.
Moses enters into God’s presence, acknowledging God’s holiness by taking off his shoes.
And Moses hides his face, so as not to see the Holy One who speaks. This makes the final statement that Moses willingly submits himself to the God who has yet to be named.
These three actions tell us, from this pivotal story, that Moses will go. These statements say, “Here I am…”
And “…I am here.” He puts aside all those things, the politics, economics, and social forces that tell him who he is, and chooses to find his identity in God.
It is pivotal for the people of God! Over and over, throughout the rest of God’s story, we hear it repeated, “I am the God who brought you out of the land of slavery…” When David defeats Goliath, finds himself in front of the ark of the presence of the Lord, and brings God’s people into a unity they have not known since: remember…I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery.” Through the prophets…remember…I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery.
But we also learn something here about God’s story. As Terrence Fretheim points out, “Following a pattern set in God’s interdependent ways of creating the world , God chooses to work in and through that which is not God in moving toward a resolution of Israel’s suffering dilemma in Egypt. To save the people of Israel, God chooses not to act alone. Initially, God chooses to engage a human figure as an instrument of this action.”
Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson came as a part of that same series of lectures at Nebraska Wesleyan earlier this month. And I am told, that as a part of the questions asked by the students he was asked where to begin. In a system that is so obviously broken in so many different ways, with inequality and injustice surrounding us, it is easy to be overwhelmed. What is the point of entry to changing the world? Where do we begin? His answer: begin changing the world, one small injustice at a time. Change your attitude. Change your direction.
And I would add this, from our text today: change your identity. Listen for God’s voice, take off your sandals, and hide your face. You, my friends, are a child of God. Now, go out into the world and do something about it. Amen.