Sermon preached by pastoral intern Wasihun Gutema
Exodus 3: 1-15
The history of the Israelites in Egypt begins with Joseph and his descendants who were treated nicely at first to the extent that Joseph became the 2nd person in command to the Pharaoh. A preacher by the name Dennis Olson (2008) put it as if the Israelites had the most favored immigrant status. Yet, according to Olson (2008) this was disrupted with the coming of the new Egyptian king who saw the Jewish community as a threat. The new king thus designed different strategies (Olson, 2008) to counter this threat. The 1st was to enslave the Israelites which did not work. This was followed by a decree from Pharaoh where the killings of the Jewish boys were ordered. This is one of the harshest methods of containing population threats in history. This method did not work as the Egyptian midwives were not successful to fulfill the orders. This was followed by the order to the Egyptian people that they throw Jewish boys in to the Nile River.
The river, which was thought to be the death bath of the Israeli boys produced one of the finest leaders in history, Moses. The way God acts in history is mystery to humanity. It is difficult to comprehend and it is difficult to give a mathematical proof. Moses was a Jew and was not allowed to live but was brought up by his mother and his sister who were to throw Moses into the Nile. Yet, those who were given the task to kill were given the right to bring up a baby boy Moses.
Moses was found alive from the Nile, a river to devour lives, he was given to his mother, who was not tasked to spare but God did it. If God wants us for the highest office, no one has the power to kill us. No one has the power to take our lives, dreams and purposes. If God has a purpose in us, no sickness will abort that. However harsh situations we face, we still live. However harsh decree comes out, however the Nile is prepared to devour us, what is prepared to devour us becomes a source of life.
Moses grew in Pharaoh’s palace. He lived for 40 years. He was in a palace and he was enjoying life in the palace however we do not know of the standard of life and the standard of the palace at that time. But by any measure, it was much better than the life that ordinary Egyptian were living. It was not compared to the oppressive life style where the Jewish were living, for by any measure Moses was living in freedom although that freedom was like captivity.
There are times when we think we are free but still under bondage. Despite all the blessings in the palace, Moses was a captive in the world of freedom. He was not able to live life in fullness as his Israeli brothers and sisters were in slavery. Thus, it can be concluded that Moses was a captive in a blessed palace. He was a prisoner in a palace where his peer groups of Egyptian origin were in freedom. Is there something that captivates us as we walk with Christ? Do we feel we are under captivity even in the highest democracy on the planet?
At forty, Moses left the palace for the wilderness. Determined people will choose the life of liberty in the wilderness than captivity in the palace. Determined people will always choose darkness in hope of light other than the bright light of the oppressors. Determined people choose humility for the sake of others and for the sake of the generations ahead. Determined people flee any royal blessings in favor of a desert believing that something good will come out of it. That was what Moses was all about. He aborted a royal life at the age of forty and went to Midian, a deserted place.
A desert is a place of isolation. It is a place where we are lonely. It is a place where one sees no one. If the scripture is a guide for us, if the scripture is the unfailing word of God, isolation, loneness and desert are places where God tests those whom he calls for the highest office. Leaders in the mission of God are mostly from unknown, unrecognized and deserted places. They are also tested with fire, sorrow and challenges. For example, Abraham was tested by the highest test one cannot imagine. He did not take GRE or TOEFL to be called to the ministry. He did not seat for a graduate defense thesis. He was tested by his most loved one. Joseph was tested by a dream that took him to a solitude place. He was sold for his dream. Moses was taken to the desert from the palace. Moses was in solitude where he was tested. It was a place where he could only hear the voice of God. As he was shepherding in this solitude place where he was with his flocks only, he saw a burning bush which was on fire but unconsumed.
The Bible says God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy, 4:24). We all know that fire consumes whatever it gets. Whether it is valuable or not anything on its way is consumed but the fire that Moses saw was burning but not consuming. This fire was inflames but not consuming. Moses was not confused. He was in his right mind and it was not metal that he saw. It was a bush that can be easily consumed by fire yet not. So what is going on? If it was not consumed how come this is fire in the bush? The mind of God and how God works is mystery and as Lutherans we all know that many things have no answers. The Rev. Billy Gram said, “I do not know how a black cow eating a green grass gives white milk,” and the same is true of the mystery of God. But this burning bush which was not consumed was the same way God called many of us to his kingdom.
The fire of God was sent to me and it did not consume me but attacked impurity out of me. It consumed all things that God did not want out of my life and made me to glitter. It is Gods fire that made all of us to glitter even much more than our surroundings understand. Sometimes it is difficult for the people around us to understand how the fire of the Holy Spirit consumed us from the inside out. There was an American woman that I met in Addis Ababa. She was witnessing that she abandoned her parents and left home. When she was leaving her parents for good, her father politely requested to pray for her. She was willing and he prayed for her that fire follows where ever she goes. He even prayed that whatever she eats, drinks, sit on or sit with be a fire on her. As she tested the life she thought will be more important than the life with her parents, she started to feel that the fire her father prayed over her was following her. She finally started to hate whatever she does. She said that everything was burning her and she was not comfortable. She finally decided to go home and without any ones witness she end up with Christ. The fire that her father prayed was the fire that took all impurities out of her. It was a burning fire that consumed every unwanted thing out of her and brought her back to the bosom of God and her parents.
Moses said he was not able but the fire that did not consume the bush made him able. God has never called naturally confident and able people. God did not call people who say, “Yes, I can.” We are in a culture where we believe that not dependency on God but “Yes, I can,” is more important. Moses was not a man confident to say, “Yes, I can.” He was afraid. He was not confident in himself. He recognized that he was not able by himself. Moses was not able to stand in front of Pharaohs unless the fire of God removes Moses weaknesses. Moses was not able to communicate with someone in the palace, with someone with rich experiences in the palace but when the fire consumes our weaknesses we are able. Moses was able to speak and was able to stand by the help of the fire that consumed his inequities and inabilities. By the time the fire of God removes all his incapability, he was filled with confidence. He learned dependency on God.
Fire purifies, fire helps to bend the unbending things. We have so many unbending things. The fire of God is the one that bends anything that has been hard for us to bend it. It can be our life situation; it can be situations in our work places, it can be situations with our children or spouses. The fire of the Lord bends them and purifies them. The fire of the Lord straightens them.
God is exemplified as fire. The Holy Spirit is exemplified as fire. It came upon the disciples as a fire. This fire when it came, it made them bold, it made them to speak, it filled them with faith, it filled them with power. I do not think God is coming to us in a burning bush today but it speaks to us through the Lord Jesus Christ that consumes our sin. It comes to us through the word, the wine and bread that we share. Amen!