Date: November 10, 2019
Festival: Proper 27, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Exodus 3:1-15
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #548 Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We all know Moses as one who is highly revered for his faithfulness to God and for his bravery as Israel’s deliverer and mediator. But Moses, and his life, was not all that glamorous as we often make him out to be. Let’s consider his story.
His story as a Prince of Egypt begins when he’s observing the work of the Hebrew slaves and the heavy burdens placed upon them. He observed one slave in particular, whom an Egyptian taskmaster was beating. Moses, furious, looks around him, making sure no on sees what he’s about to do. Judging there aren’t any witnesses, Moses kills the Egyptian, possibly with a stone, maybe with his bare hands—whatever was available to him.
But there was a witness. Just the following day, Moses attempts to stop a dispute between two Hebrew slaves. The one who was in the wrong says, “Who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian” [2:14]? Oh no! He was seen! Moses becomes afraid, knowing he will have to be killed just as he killed the Egyptian, even if he is a prince! Even princes are not above the law! Sure, he was defending an innocent slave, but murder is still murder. Moses would have to pay the consequences.
Suddenly, Moses is an outlaw, and he runs for his life—all the way to the country of Midian, about 1,553 miles. I did the math and this would be like walking from Union, Missouri to the town of Springfield in northern Maine! And it is here at Midian where Moses comes to the defence of the seven daughters of the priest of Midian. To express his gratitude, the priest gives Moses his daughter, Zipporah, as his wife, welcoming him into his family.
Moses stayed in Midian for 40 years. This is where we pick up Moses’ story in our Old Testament reading for today. Moses is out shepherding his flock. He would actually be around 80-years-old, and it is at this age in which he was attending to his shepherding duties at Mt. Sinai when suddenly, the angel of Yahweh appears to him as a burning bush! Yet it’s not being consumed—it’s not turning to ash. How strange. Imagine that—you’re simply going about your daily farming duties and suddenly something catches on fire and it’s not turning to ash.
To make this even weirder, the bush begins to talk, “Moses. … Moses!” Perhaps startled that a shrubbery is talking, Moses says the only thing he probably can say, “Here I am!” [long pause]
“Here I am” is the only response we humans can give in reverential awe to a God who speaks to us—especially through a talking shrubbery that’s burning but not being consumed, something we’d probably expect to see in a fantasy novel. Yet this was a real event. This was no mage playing a trick. This was no hallucination. This was the Living God coming to His human creature, Moses.
The words, “Here I am,” tell the story of God coming to His human creatures throughout all of Scripture. When God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, he responded, “Here I am!” [Genesis 22]. And God sent him to sacrifice his only son, only to find out God would provide a ram for the sacrifice. God would not require of humanity what He was going to provide Himself.
God also called Jacob, who responded, “Here I am!” And God sent him to return to the land of Canaan, the land He first promised to his father Abraham [Genesis 31:10-13 ff.].
After many years of God’s people being in the Promised Land, God calls Samuel three times before he realises who it is, responding, “Here I am!” He then calls Samuel to be a priest, and Samuel would eventually anoint Saul as the first king of Israel, and then David to be king after Saul’s failure [1 Samuel 3:1-10; chapters 10 & 16].
Many dynasties later, God calls the prophet Isaiah, who responds, “Here I am! Send me!” [Isaiah 6:8]. And God calls him to proclaim judgement against Israel and the nations as well as prophesying the Suffering Servant who is to come for the redemption of Israel and all nations.
“Here I am!” These are words I believe all parents wish to hear. When a parent calls their child, they wish to hear, “Here I am,” ready for service. It’s a good desire; every parent desires their children to obey the Fourth Commandment by respecting and honouring them. I remember a time when my father scolded me for dishonouring my mother.
Whenever my mom would call me, I’d respond, “What?!” My father got sick of my dishonour and said, “Don’t disrespect your mother that way! When your mother calls you, you say ‘Yes?’ or, ‘Yes, ma’am?” not ‘What!'” I didn’t really understand at the time until much later, but out of fear and reverence for my father, I obeyed. Whenever my mother calls me, I respond, “Yes?”—that is, “Here I am.”
Not all God’s children respond in such a way, do they? Take Jonah, for example. He didn’t say, “Here I am!” Instead, he ran. And we know how well that turned out for him.
Even Moses did not respond as the Father desires. Moses says, “Here I am,” and after instructing Moses to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground, God tells Moses His purpose for speaking to him: He has seen the afflictions of His people in Egypt and He has heard their cries; He knows of their suffering and He is going to deliver them and bring them into a prosperous land; and He is going to accomplish this promise by using Moses as His deliverer.
Now, Moses at first responds, “Here I am,” but to this call to service, he then says, “Who am I?” Perhaps remembering the slave who said, “Who are you,” he says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” Who knows what Moses must’ve been thinking? We can only speculate: “But I’m a murderer! Who am I to deliver Your people from Egypt?” “I’m an old man! Who am I to travel afar once again, deliver Your people, only to travel even farther to Canaan?”
Going into chapter 4, we hear Moses give more excuses, “But they won’t listen to me!” “But I’m not good at public speaking!” “Please send someone else! Anybody, so long as it’s not me!” [moderate pause]
There’s a modern proverb that meets Moses’ situation and many of ours: God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called. Perhaps some of you can relate to Moses, then. “Who am I, God, that I should be a teacher?” “Who am I that I should be an engineer?” “Who am I that I should be in business?” “Who am I that I should be a doctor or nurse?” “Who am I that I should be at this university or apply to this college?” “Who am I that I should be a husband and father?” “Who am I that I should be a wife and mother?”
I’m right there with you. I myself wonder many times, “Who am I that I should be a pastor?” And all of us have at one point wondered, “Who am I that God should love me and forgive me?”
But what does God say to Moses? “I will be with you.” Time and time again, God proves to Moses He will be with him. God does not list any qualifications upon Moses; instead, He calls him and consistently proves to Moses He will be with him, if we were to continue reading the text.
We know the rest of the story. Eventually, Moses finally realises he cannot resist God’s will and he goes where God sends him. God was with Moses as He used him to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery. Certainly, then, God is with you and me through our callings—or vocations—today, because it is God Himself who calls us into these vocations. It is not God’s calling that is questionable. Rather, it is our response that can become questionable. We need only to respond as obedient children, “Here I am!” … and trust in Him… [long pause]
“Here I am.” [short pause] Sometimes, these words are uttered with eagerness and willingness like Isaiah; other times, they are said with reluctance like Moses; and there are other times when they’re not uttered at all and instead one runs from God like Jonah did…
But Jesus did not hesitate or run.
Jesus doesn’t utter the exact words, “Here I am,” but His person and work culminate the story of these words. So then, let’s consider His story.
Jesus was born in the flesh in the humble manger as a human baby. Before He left His throne, He willingly said to His Father, “Here I am! Send me!”
When He began His ministry in Galilee and ministered to His human creatures, He said, “Here I am for you,” and He went, touching lepers, healing the diseased, and raising the dead.
In the Upper Room, Jesus prayed His famous High Priestly Prayer [John 17], praying first for Himself that He would fulfil His mission, then He prays for His disciples, then He prays for you and me. In this prayer, Jesus said to His Father, “Here I am! Send Me!”
When Judas betrayed Jesus and the chief priests and Pharisees came to arrest Him, asking whom Jesus of Nazareth is, He says these words, “I am He,” that is, “Here I am” [John 18:4-8].
The high priest puts Jesus on trial, questioning Him if He truly is the one who brought up His disciples and spread the teachings He is accused of. Jesus admits to His supposed guilt [John 18:19-21]. Before His prosecutors, He says, “Here I am.”
Pilate asks Jesus what He has done. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world” [v. 36]. — “Here I am.”
Pilate responds, “So, You are a king?” And Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” [v. 37]. — “Here I am.”
After being tortured with the cat of nine tails, ripping out bone and muscle from His body, Jesus once again stands before Pontius Pilate with muscle and bone exposed, who says, “Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You?” [19:10]. Jesus says, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given to you from above” [v. 11]. — “Here I am.”
Finally, Jesus carries His cross to Mt. Calvary, upon which He is nailed, completely naked with blood pouring down His body and upon the earth like a beaten and cut lamb upon an altar, and after hours of agony, He says, “It is finished.” That is, “Here I am. It is finished.” And He dies. [long pause]
Moses, as great and faithful as a man of God he was, gives all sorts of excuses and eventually submits to God’s will and delivers the Hebrews from slavery out of Egypt. Moses prophesied that one greater than him shall come. Jesus is that one greater than Moses. Jesus’ story, then, is greater than the story of Moses.
Mankind is in slavery to sin. We rebelled against God and thus became enslaved to the taskmaster, the Devil. Yet unlike Moses, Jesus did not hesitate. Jesus did not make excuses. Jesus—from the boundless ends of eternity—said to the Father, “Here I am! Send Me!” And so, He was sent as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Moses—Immanuel, God with us. In Jesus, God the Son came to His human creatures, born as a helpless baby and died as a helpless man on the cross. [short pause]
Yet the story does not end with Jesus’ death. The story continues three days after His death when He appears to Mary Magdalene and the disciples with words and a presence that say, “Here I am! Here I am, resurrected for you. Here I am, risen from death, having paid the price for your slavery to sin and the Devil. Here I am to deliver you into everlasting life, the eternal land of promise.”
How do you know this resurrected Jesus comes to you today? You are baptised into Christ. In your Baptism, Jesus’ resurrection story continues in you, where He says to you personally, “Here I am. I am yours. You are Mine.” He has said this in other words, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
That is, “Here I am. I am with you always, now and forevermore.”
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Great Deliverer. Amen.