Old Testament: 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.”
The Response: 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: Matthew (16:21-28)
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
Churches have to deal, at least at times, with shortages: shortages of money, shortages of time, shortages of volunteers. But one shortage that they never seem to have is a shortage of people who want to give their opinion on what “somebody” in the church should be doing – not themselves of course, but somebody else, or maybe just the generic “they.” (Many people refuse to accept the fact that they are somebody.) That attitude, of course, is not limited just to churches, but somehow it seems to manifest itself frequently in that context.
There is, of course, good biblical precedent for that approach. Just look at the story of the call of the prophet Jeremiah. And a prime example is the account, part of which we heard this morning, of God’s self-revelation to Moses in chapters 3 and 4 of Exodus.
When the story begins, Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep. At Horeb, he encounters the burning bush, from which God speaks to him. After Moses’ initial shock and fear, he would have been thrilled with God’s message: “7Then 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, 8and 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.” God has observed, heard, known, and come down to deliver the people.
You can almost hear Moses cheering, “Great! You go for it, God. These people have suffered for far too long. It’s time for them to be set free.” I think we can picture Moses receiving God’s announcement with great enthusiasm.
But that enthusiasm quickly disappears when God continues, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” “Whoa! Wait a minute! Time out, God! I thought you said that you were going to deliver the people.” “I am, but I’m going to do it through you.” “Wait a minute. Unh, unh. No way. You’ve got the wrong person! Sure, maybe somebody should do it, but I’m not that somebody!”
For the rest of chapters 3 and 4, we have a fascinating exchange. God first tells Moses to go to Pharaoh to present God’s demands; but Moses counters that he is not able to do the job. God comes back, promising to be with him, but Moses protests that the people will want to know the name of the God who sent him; so God reveals the sacred name.
Moses still will not accept God’s call, so God presents a Plan B: “Alright then, if you’re not willing to do it alone, take the elders with you.” Moses comes back again, insisting that the people still won’t believe him; so God gives him signs to perform.
Moses then protests that he is a terrible speaker, and so it would be a huge mistake to have him address Pharaoh, even if the elders are with him. God again counters: “OK. Then how about if we scrap Plan A and Plan B and go to Plan C? Forget about you speaking to the Pharaoh. And forget about taking the elders along. What if you were to take your brother Aaron with you and let him do the talking?”
And so it goes, back and forth. The plan to set the slaves free is not God’s invention alone. It is a shared, divine-human creation. God and Moses work out the plan and its details together.
Terence Fretheim, in his Exodus commentary (Interpretation series, pp. 52-3), observes: “This dialogue is theologically significant. The recognition of holiness (3:6) does not lead to passivity in the presence of God… It is Moses’ persistence that occasions a greater fullness in the divine revelation. Human questions find an openness in God and lead to fuller knowledge. God thus reveals himself, not simply at the divine initiative, but in interaction with a questioning human party. Simple deference or passivity in the presence of God would close down the revelatory possibilities.”
Among the many insights that Exodus presents to us – insights into God, ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the web of relationships that bind all of us together — is the insistence that each of us is somebody. That realization means that, when we are convinced that “Somebody ought to do this or that,” we need to be open to the possibility that that “somebody” might just be us.
A second vital message is that God doesn’t simply present us with pre-packaged programs, ready for us simply to follow the instructions. Our role is to engage with God in an ongoing dialogue, listening attentively, but also remembering that God is listening to us. The work of God is still a divine-human endeavor.
A third reminder emerges as the story proceeds and as more and more people are brought into leadership roles in accomplishing the great work of deliverance. We are all in this together, and we need one another in our sometimes difficult journey from here to there.
It is into that great work of setting-free all of God’s people that we are called today, because each of us is somebody. Together with one another and as individuals, we need to remain engaged with God in working out the ways in which we accomplish God’s work in the world. And we need to work with one another and incorporate more and more people into discerning the ways that we can best accomplish what needs to be done.
As Michael Walzer (Exodus and Revolution) observed: “What the Exodus taught: first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt. Second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land. And third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”