Sunday, August 31, 2014

“Playing with Fire” (Exodus 3:1-15)

“If God gives you something you can do,
why in God's name wouldn't you do it?”
(Stephen King)

One of the “truths” about life is that we do not always do what we are told to do.  Awhile back my two-year old granddaughter and I were preparing for a fire in our fire pit.  Over and over again I told my granddaughter that it was hot and not to touch anything.  Like any good two-year old she dutifully repeated, “Hot!”  Even after we got the fire started I reiterated that the fire pit was hot and do not touch because it was hot.  The granddaughter was given the instructions over and over, and Grandpa felt that the message had sunk in.

Then it happened.  Removing the cover with the prod, setting it on the ground, the granddaughter proceeded to grab the handle . . . the hot handle.  She did not grab it for too long . . . well, because it was hot.  She immediately released it, got that look of horror on her face, and looked around at all the adults around the fire pit to see how she should react.  Seeing the concern on all the faces of the adults she decided it was an appropriate reaction to start crying.  After all, it was hot.

Well, luckily for the granddaughter, she barely touched the cover before she realized it was hot.  We put her had under the spigot and its cold water.  The damage was practically nothing . . . no blisters . . . nothing.  Just having the bejeepers scared out of her and a few tears.  She was fine, but she learned that playing with fire could get one burned.  A week later she again helped Grandpa prepare the fire pit, but this time . . . without any prompting from Grandpa . . . she was the one pointing out that it was “hot”.

Our reading this morning deals with “fire”.  As we continue our story from the past couple of weeks, we now see that the baby Moses has grown up and now is basically an alien in a foreign land being a shepherd for his father-in-law.  Yes, the baby Moses has grown up . . . in the span of his life up to this point he has killed a man . . . become a fugitive . . . run off to a foreign land, gotten married, and had a kid.  He is a shepherd for his father-in-law.  He is well-established, life goes on, and one day he is out tending the flock when he stumbles upon a peculiar sight . . . a burning bush.

Not only a burning bush . . . but a burning bush that talks. “Moses, Moses!” said the bush.  A burning bush that talks and knows his name.  To say the least this caught Moses’ attention.  When the bush reveals that it is God, it really grabs Moses attention who takes a worshipful pose before the bush.  The bush, God, calls out to him and gives to him a task . . . “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way that the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Now understand, God asks Moses . . . Moses the spared child of God’s people . . . Moses the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter . . . Moses the one who killed another man . . . Moses the one who flees retribution for his actions . . . Moses who exiles himself in a foreign land away from Egypt and his people . . . Moses who is pretty content with his life as a shepherd, husband, and father . . . God asks Moses to return to Egypt, free God’s people, and lead them into a new life.  Moses knows all of this and his reaction is one that we all would probably have, “Why me, Lord?”

In the mind of Moses he does not imagine himself of the quality of the individual that God would call to take on such a huge task as freeing an oppressed people from a powerful oppressor . . . after all, Moses had not quite led a heroic life up to this point . . . and, he was only one person.  Andrew van der Bijl is a Christian missionary who is famous for his exploits of smuggling Bibles to communist countries during the height of the Cold War.  This feat earned him the nickname, “God’s smuggler”.  Brother Andrew, as he is affectionately known, says this about God’s call upon a person’s life: “God does not choose people because of their ability, but because of their availability.” 

Though Moses is thinking, “Why me?”  God is thinking, “Why not you?  What else do you have to do?”

This story is a story of calling . . . God calling one out to serve the will and purpose of God . . . God calling one out to meet the needs and serve others.  Calling is a part of who God created each of us to be . . . calling is fulfilling that relationship between God and others . . . it is not so much about “us” as individuals, but “us” as the family of God.  Author Gilbert Meilaender writes: “The point of the calling was, quite simply, that it was appointed by God to serve neighbors.  If along the way some self-fulfillment came as well, there was nothing wrong with that, but it was hardly the point of the calling.”

In the end, there was no argument that Moses could use that would deter God from calling Moses forth to serve the people . . . to bring freedom to the people . . . to restore the relationship within the family.

We all have been called by God.  We have been called to “play with fire” by God.  True, playing with fire can burn a person; yet, at the same time, stepping into the fire can bring cleansing and purification and new life.  From out of the fire there is always hope for something new and better.  God calls Moses to step into the fire . . . to come and play.  It will not be easy.  There will be the potential for great harm.  Potential for great disaster.  God calls us to try.  As author Stephen King says, “If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?”

Understand that God is not going to call all of us out to do great tasks like Moses . . . God is not going to call us out to free an oppressed people; but, God is going to call us out to serve God and others.  The key is in listening . . . listening for the voice of God.  Sometimes God is going to use some pretty flamboyant ways to get us to listen . . . like talking burning bushes.  Other times God is going to whisper softly . . . almost so softly that we mistake it for the breeze; but, God is going to “call” us.  We just need to listen.

I think that a lot of us hear the voice of God in our lives, but we don’t always recognize it as the voice of God.  For example, how many of us have a friend or family member that we suddenly get worried and concerned about . . . something is bugging us.  Do we just sit there and brood over the feeling or do we act out on that feeling?  Do we go and see how that person is doing . . . see it there is something we can do?  That is the voice of God issuing a “call”.

There are bigger things that spark responses and feelings within us . . . wars, poverty, discrimination, disease, conflicts, problems in our communities, elder issues, and much more.  Things that prick at our hearts and minds.  That is the voice of God calling us out to serve others and God.  How will we respond?  Will we answer the call and see where the Spirit leads us in this calling . . . are we going to speak out?  Are we going to “do” something to quell the feelings we are feeling?  Are we going to play with fire?

One of the things that I love about my granddaughter is her appreciation for fires.  She loves the beauty of the fire.  She loves having her family sitting around the fire with her.  She loves the laughter and the love that is surrounding that fire pit . . . but, she also knows the danger of the fire.  She understands that if one plays with the fire one could get hurt.  She has come to understand, as much as any two-year old can, that there is power within the fire when it is used as it is intended to be use.

So it is with the “call” of God.  There is power in the “call” of God upon our lives.  Yes, there is always the potential that something could go wrong, that someone could get hurt; but, if it is approached with respect and a desire to please and do God’s will . . . well, it will turn out as God wants it to be.  After all, it is God’s will.  And, if it is God’s will, why in the world would we not do it?  Amen.

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