FIRST READING: Exodus (3:1-15)
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “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?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
23 Israel came into Egypt, *
and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
24 The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
he made them stronger than their enemies;
25 Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
and dealt unjustly with his servants.
26 He sent Moses his servant, *
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
45 That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws.
SECOND READING: Romans (12:9-21)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (16:21-28)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Over the past two weeks, our first readings have concluded a series of stories from the book of Genesis and have moved on to Exodus. The dramatic events of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt to a new freedom can strike us as a series of extraordinary, one-of-a-kind occurrences, with little or no connection to our own lives. And the characters in the stories can easily come across as bigger-than-life. And yet, if we look a little closer, we just might find that these stories invite us to see ourselves in these characters and to see these characters as having a lot in common with us.
Case in point: Moses. When today’s reading begins, Moses is out doing the hard and tedious and sometimes dangerous work of shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Notice that Moses himself is not a priest: he is a lay-person, simply doing his job, and not in any way a glamorous one at that. And the place to which he comes is, at this point, nothing special, no sacred shrine, just a mountain called “Horeb,” a name that means “wasteland” – not exactly a glorious setting for a world-changing work of God!
Yet it is there that God speaks to him; and, at first, Moses seems to love the message. But then, who wouldn’t? “I am the God of your ancestors. I have heard the cry of the people and have seen their misery, and I have come to deliver them from their oppression and bring them into a land of promise.” So far, so good. You can almost hear Moses cheering, “Well, it’s about time. You go and get them, God! Save those people! Bring them out of Egypt!”
But his enthusiasm dies quickly when God adds, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” “Time out! Hold on. God! I thought you said that you were going to deliver the people. How did I get into this?” And then Moses begins to offer a series of excuses, telling God why he can’t do this, why he doesn’t have the ability, why God has picked the wrong person for the job. Walter Brueggemann counts a total of eight objections that Moses makes over the next few chapters, and he lists the ways that God responds to each one. Moses thinks it’s a great idea for God to deliver the people; he just doesn’t want to be the one through whom God is going to accomplish that deliverance.
Doesn’t Moses’ response to God’s call sound a little familiar? Isn’t it the same approach that we sometimes take? We are glad to pray and ask God to take care of the problems in the world: to feed the hungry, to help those who lack adequate education, to care for those who are ill, to enable the people in our community to hear the Good News of God in Christ. But as soon as God responds, “Sure, I’ll do that. I’ll send you to them,” we quickly back off and start making excuses, just like Moses did, desperately trying to get ourselves off the hook.
The problem is that that approach didn’t work for Moses, and it’s not going to work for us either. Not only has God chosen us for these important roles in the world, but, in our baptismal promises, we ourselves have already promised before God and the church that we will do them. We have committed ourselves to the work that God has given us to do.
So where do we start? Do we just sit back passively and wait for God to give us all the directions? Here the stories of Exodus again show us that that just won’t do and provide us with an alternate approach. Even when Moses realized that he couldn’t talk his way out of the work to which God had called him, he didn’t just sit back passively and wait for God to tell him everything he had to do. Instead the two of them together, God and Moses, worked out the details of how the mission would be accomplished.
“I can’t do this,” Moses objected. “Yes, you can,” God replied, “because I will be with you.” “But the people won’t listen to me.” “I’ll give you signs to get their attention.” “But I don’t have enough information about you and the mission.” “OK, Here is my name and, with it, the assurance of my unfailing presence and support.” “But I’m not a good speaker. If the elders of Israel and I go to Pharaoh, he’s not going to listen to us” “OK, OK. Maybe there’s another way. Let’s go to Plan B: let’s forget about the elders. Instead, your brother, Aaron can go along to speak for you. Does that work for you?” And so they went, back and forth, God and Moses, working out together the strategy for accomplishing God’s deliverance of the people.
The plan for bringing about the freedom of the Israelites was not just God’s plan, it was a shared plan, a divine-human initiative, one worked out by God and Moses together. And we are fortunate that it was, because if Moses had simply accepted without question God’s initial proposal, the conversation would have stopped there. It was only Moses’ willingness to enter into a dialogue with God, and Moses’ arguing with God, that led God to make even deeper revelations about God’s self, including the revelation of the divine name.
The great task of freeing God’s people, caring for them and leading them became a divine-human undertaking. Moses and the Israelites worked with God as they together determined not only the plan for deliverance, but the future of the nation as well. That future depended, not only on God, but also on human beings talking with God, arguing with God, and working out that future together with God. It still does.
Our role as Christians is not that of people who can just sit back and wait for God to solve the problems of the world. Jesus in the gospels sent his disciples – and that now includes us – sent his disciples out to do the work along with God and in conversation with God: to take up our crosses, to undertake the work and the struggles of making the reign of God a reality in the world and in the time in which we live. God has made us, like Moses, responsible along with God for the future, for our future, for the world’s future.
As St. Augustine succinctly put it: “God without us will not, and we without God cannot.” God is ready to work in and with and through us to heal and to transform the world. God is ready and willing. Are you?