Exodus 3: 1 – 15 The Promise to Be Present September 6, 2020

The Promise to Be Present

Exodus 3: 1 – 15

 (preached on September 6, 2020)

A while back, as I was reading my morning paper, a headline caught my eye.  The headline read, “Backing Up Is Hard to Do.” It was above an article about a very strange adventure at sea.  It started off the coast of Oregon, when a fisherman named Jim Peterson began to have trouble with the transmission on his boat.  The reverse gear of the boat seized up on him.  But after some pushing and pulling, he managed to get the boat into reverse.

Peterson’s troubles were far from over, though.  His boat was now stuck in reverse.  It wouldn’t shift into any other gear!  Peterson may be a fisherman, but apparently he’s not a patient man.  After considering his options, he decided not to wait for help from the Coast Guard.  Instead, he opened up the throttle and drove the boat all the way back to his home port, in reverse.  You can imagine how long that took when you realize that his boat is a somewhat elderly 60 ft wooden trawler.  At top speed she goes only about seven nautical miles an hour.  Plowing through the waves, stern first, the trip took about thirty-nine hours.  Fortunately, Peterson made it.  He was greeted by a big celebration, and a lot of curiosity.  It seems it was the first time anyone had heard of such a turnaround (Westfield Evening News, August 22, 2005).

In the Bible, people make turnarounds all the time.  They change course and head in a new direction.  These turnarounds don’t involve boats of course.  These turnarounds are people turning away from the life they’ve been living, changing their lives, and following God’s ways.  Take Moses for example.  As our passage from Exodus begins, Moses has been looking after the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro.  Suddenly he sees a bush that’s on fire: burning, but not burning up.  It’s amazing – he’s never seen or heard of such a thing – and he stops and listens.  “Moses!  Moses!  I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Maybe you remember the story of Moses from your Sunday School days.  Maybe you even can picture in your mind’s eye the mysterious, miraculous burning bush, on fire, but not consumed.  Maybe you can picture Moses, shepherd’s staff in hand, caught in the middle of a work day, standing in awe at the presence of the living God.  Maybe you’re not surprised that Moses would be overcome by a powerful sense of reverence, close to fear, a feeling that took his breath away.  A feeling that made him hide his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Moses must have been very surprised to hear God call him by name, from a burning bush.  But he must have been even more surprised to hear that God has plans for him. God says, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh, to bring my people out of Egypt.”  Who, me?  Says Moses.  What’s so special about me?  He’s been living a quiet life, keeping a low profile, taking care of sheep in Midian.  So he could be thinking, What? Expose myself to the danger I’m trying to avoid with my quiet, simple life?  Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and put my neck on the line?

Moses is facing an enormous challenge.  He’s scared.  He’s not so different from you and me, when we’re confronted with a challenge.  Even when it’s a smaller challenge than what God’s asking of Moses, it can stop us in our tracks.  Think about a teacher facing a group of eighth graders, trying to teach math in a classroom where they’re all wearing masks.  Trying to keep kids six feet apart.  Or teaching remotely, trying to keep their attention when her face is just a square on a screen on their kitchen table at home.

Standing barefoot at the burning bush, Moses doesn’t feel equal to the task God is calling him to do.  He says, “Who, me?  You’re asking me to do this?”  He can’t believe he has what it takes.  He’s suffering from a shortage of self-confidence.

God doesn’t have a problem with Moses’ shortage of self confidence.  As soon as Moses asks, “Who, me?” God says, “I will be with you.  Moses will not be alone.  God has promised to be present with Moses as he makes his way to Egypt, as he confronts Pharaoh, as he leads his people to freedom.  Through those fearful days, God will be with him.

If you’re a careful listener, you might have noticed that God says, “I will be with you.”  God doesn’t say, “I will do it for you.”  God will be with Moses as he carries out his mission, but it is Moses who will carry it out.

All of us suffer at times from a shortage of self-confidence.  We worry that we don’t have what it takes.  We think we’re all alone.  We lose sight of God’s promise to be present.

In the early days of World War II, feelings of fear and doubt filled the heart of a woman named Gladys Aylward.  Aylward was a missionary teaching orphans in China.  The Japanese had invaded the city where she worked, and she knew she had to bring the children across the mountains to safety.  But she had doubts about her ability to handle the crisis.

In great fear and trepidation, Aylward began the journey.  It was terrifying to lead the group through the war-torn city.  She was about to give up when one of the teenagers in the group reminded her of the story of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom, on the land between the parted waters of the Red Sea.

Aylward cried in desperation, “But I am not Moses!”

The girl replied, “Of course not.  But God is still God!”

The God who called Moses is a God who will be with you and me, who will walk with us through difficult times, who will help us up when we fall.  God will not do it for us, but God will give us what we need.

We might feel God’s presence in the still, small voice within, reminding us that we are not alone.  We might find that the right words come to us, at just the right time.  Or we might simply feel wisdom and courage rising up from deep within, giving us strength. Because God has promised to be present.  In a hundred different ways, God will be with us, making possible things we can only begin to imagine.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 14