Sermon 08-30-2020: “Who Am I That I Should Go?”

August 31, 2020

Exodus 3:1-14, 4:10-15

When I was a senior in high school, we had the equivalent of a beauty pageant: the “Miss Henderson” Pageant. “Henderson” was my high school in Chamblee, Georgia. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a middle school. But… my high school has a claim to fame: It is the only high school in America that graduated not one but two future astronauts. So… Go Cougars! Anyway, at the Miss Henderson pageant were three parts: beauty, talent, and an interview with the judges. And I’ll never forget one of my classmates, named Kim, competed in the pageant… and of course she was wonderful in the first two parts of the pageant… Talented, beautiful… and she was also a good public speaker. She surely had high hopes going in to the question-and-answer portion of the show that she might win… until the judges asked her the following question: “What would you like your legacy to be?” 

What would you like your legacy to be?

And bless her heart, she had a completely understandable deer-in-the-headlights moment—one with which I am nothing but sympathetic. And if this gets back to her that I’m talking about her, I think the question was unfair. Because I don’t think I knew quite what the word “legacy” meant back then. We didn’t use it as much as we use it now. And it was clear that Kim didn’t know what the word “legacy” meant, either.

And she apologized and then walked off. And I hate to think that her legacy is to be remembered as the young woman who didn’t know what the word “legacy” meant in the Miss Henderson pageant!

Well, I hope and believe that Kim has gone on to conquer the world in her own way and to be very successful at whatever she set her mind to… And I feel confident that she’s in the process of creating a wonderful legacy for her children, her family, her friends.

But let’s face it… I am sure that this event, at the time, represented a major setback for her in her young life. 

And I think that Moses, the hero of today’s scripture, can relate to what Kim went through! 

Remember: the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, grew to fear and mistrust the growing, prosperous group of people known as the Hebrews, who lived in an Egyptian province called Goshen. They were becoming too powerful. So Pharaoh enslaved them. At one point, he issued an edict that all newborn male Hebrew children should be immediately killed. So his parents, intent on saving his life, floated him in a basket down the Nile, where—against all odds—he was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted the child as her own. Moses’ own mother became his nursemaid. 

So things were going really well for Moses. He was raised as a member of the world’s most powerful Royal Family, with all its wealth and privileges. If there were some kind of Egyptian equivalent of an American high school, Moses would surely have been voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” As a young man, he had everything going for him!

But then one day he witnessed an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews… and that made his blood boil… So, taking the law into his own hands, he murdered the Egyptian… in cold blood. He buried his body in the sand. But word got around and soon, the king of Egypt wanted Moses dead. And so he fled to a place called Midian… got married and had kids… and for the next 40 years kept a very low profile, working for his father-in-law, Jethro, tending sheep that didn’t even belong to him.

What would his classmates say about Moses’ “legacy” now? From “most likely to succeed” to “least likely to be of any use to God.” I mean, if God is going to call someone to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, then surely God would rule out anyone who had broken the sixth commandment… I mean, that’s kind of a biggie! Not to mention, the last time Moses was in Egypt, he was a “wanted” man… murder in the first degree. 

But for some reason, God likes to call people and use people who seem—from the world’s point of view—pretty useless.

Shall we review a few cases—how about the few that God himself lists in verse 6, when he says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Consider Abraham: God promises that through him and his wife Sarah, they will miraculously conceive and give birth to a son. But then the years pass, and they worry that it’s not going to happen. So they say, “I know what we’ll do! Abraham will sleep with Sarah’s young handmaiden Hagar… have a child by her.” To say the least, that plan did not work out well. Abraham seemed very unlikely to succeed!

Or what about Isaac? He knew that his pregnant wife, Rebekah, had a vision about Jacob being the son through whom God’s promise would pass, but Isaac resisted God’s will; because Esau was his favorite, and he showed favoritism… which drove a wedge in the family… which nearly got Jacob killed… which drove Jacob away from the Promised Land, away form his destiny, for 20 long years. Isaac seemed very unlikely to succeed!

Or what about Jacob? I’ve preached on him recently. What more needs to be said? A scoundrel, a cheater, a liar… Greedy, covetous… And then, even as an old man, he repeats the mistake of his father, Isaac—shows favoritism toward his son Joseph… which kindles the anger of his other sons and nearly gets Joseph killed! Jacob seemed very unlikely to succeed.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: badly flawed, sinful men, called by God, used by God, blessed by God, favored by God… not because they deserved to be; not because they proved themselves to be more “righteous” than anyone else; not because they were less sinful than anyone else; not because they proved themselves more “faithful” than anyone else… but because of God’s grace alone… Yes, by all means, in spite of themselves, they succeeded in the mission that God gave them, but only because God gave them what they needed to succeed in their mission!

If you’re in Christ, why do you think you’re any less able and equipped to answer God’s call and fulfill the mission that God has for you?

I’ll tell you: Because you’re just like Moses. He heard those three names—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and thought, “Who am I compared to them?” And that’s likely what you think, too!

If you have your Bible, and you should, look at chapter 4, verses 10 through 15. Look at verse 10: “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 

Bible scholars think that Moses probably stuttered or had some other kind of speech impediment—which apparently was pretty obvious to everyone. So Moses brings this problem to God’s attention—as if this God hadn’t considered it before. “Oh, you’re right, Moses. I forgot that you stuttered! Okay… I’ll send somebody else, then… who doesn’t stutter.” 

Is that what God says? 

No! Verse 11: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” In other words, God is saying, “I gave you your mouth, your tongue, your larynx. I made you the way that you are! I know exactly how well or poorly you’re able to use this gift of speech that I gave you. Don’t you think I have the power to overcome whatever shortcomings you think you have? Don’t you think it will bring me glory when I do overcome those shortcomings and enable you to succeed?” Then in verse 12: “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 

After all, as God is having this conversation with Moses, there’s a bush in front of him… that’s on fire… that’s not being consumed by the flames. By all means, apart from God’s intervention, if things were just going to work in a natural way, then that bush would become an ash heap. But things aren’t working in a natural way; they’re working in a supernatural way. So God is preventing the bush from burning up. 

If, in God’s hands, something as destructive as fire doesn’t have the power to destroy a bush, then a speech impediment won’t stand in the way of God’s accomplishing powerful and miraculous things through Moses!

But does Moses understand this yet? No! Look at verse 13: “ But he [Moses] said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Please send someone else. 

Well, you have to admire Moses’ honesty, right?

But Moses isn’t so different from us! Of course there are all these other, better qualified people for whatever task or mission that God is calling me to do or accomplish! 

I’m hardly exaggerating when I say the following: according to the Bible, being unqualified to perform whatever task or mission God is calling us to do… is a prerequisite for being called by God. Let me repeat that: according to the Bible, being unqualified to do what God calls us to do… is a prerequisite for being called by God.

John Lennox is a retired mathematician and emeritus professor at Oxford University. For years, by virtue of the chair that he held at Oxford, he was literally considered the world’s greatest mathematician. 

And he’s also… a brother in Christ. A great Christian apologist. In one of his books, he describes visiting Russia not long after the Berlin Wall fell, when the Cold War was coming to an end, and shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed entirely. In Russia, Lennox met with a Christian, a Russian dissident, who spent years in a Siberian labor camp “for the crime of teaching children from the Bible.” He writes the following:

He described to me that he had seen things that no man should ever have to see. I listened, thinking how little I really knew about life, and wondering how I would have fared under his circumstances. As if he had read my thoughts, he suddenly said: “You couldn’t cope with that, could you?” Embarrassed, I stumbled out something like: “No, I am sure you are right.” He then grinned and said: “Nor could I! I was a man who fainted at the sight of his own blood, let alone that of others. But what I discovered in the camp was this: God does not help us to face theoretical situations but real ones. Like you, I couldn’t imagine how one could cope in the Gulag. But once there I found that God met me, exactly as Jesus had promised his disciples when he was preparing them for victimization and persecution.

I love that! Lennox was feeling inadequate, thinking to himself, “I’m not like him. I’m not as faithful as he is. I couldn’t endure the suffering that this man endured on account of his faith.” And the Russian was like, “Neither could I!” Prior to the time that God called him to go through what he went through, to endure what he endured, to suffer what he suffered, he was completely unprepared for it… Unqualified for it… 

He might have prayed, “Please, Lord, send someone else to do this!”But God was like, “Why? You’re just the man for the job!”

My point is, the apprehension that Moses gave voice to is the apprehension that all of us feel when God calls us to do something.

Let’s look again at Moses’ plea in chapter 4, verse 13: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 

When God calls us to do something for him, to endure something for him, to suffer something for him, to go through some difficult trial for him, to do something scary and intimidating for him, guess what he always does? 

He always sends Someone Else!

Because… God always sends… Himself. Poor Moses did not understand this. God was trying to tell him! Verse 11: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ [God] said, ‘But I will be with you.’”

“So you want me to send someone else, Moses? Okay, I will. I’ll send Myself… because I’m going with you. So even if you don’t feel up to the task, do you think that maybe the two of us, working together, can somehow manage to be successful… in doing this thing that I’m calling you to do? Yeah, I think we can… I think somehow it will work out.

Moses said, “Send someone else!” God said, “I will…. I’m the Someone Else that I’m sending. I’m going with you.”

Listen: Don’t you think I know that God is calling some of you… right now… to endure some difficult trials? Some of you have got problems in your family, problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems with your parents… And you’re just barely hanging on… and no one else can even see it, because you keep it hidden. But I know you’re hurting

Or maybe God is calling some of you to endure difficult trials related to your finances, your career, your health… or the health of someone that you love. And you’re thinking, “I can’t do this, God! What you’re asking me to do… I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not resourceful enough, I’m not faithful enough, I’m not righteous enough, I’m not good enough. Lord, if you expect me to be successful in dealing with this crisis… well, I’m afraid you’ve bet on the wrong horse. Please send someone else into this storm I’m facing! Because I don’t have what it takes.”

And you’re right: the message of today’s scripture is, “You don’t… but God does!” Let him show you! Let God show out for you! Because if you’ll keep trusting in him, it’s going to be glorious to see what God is going to do for you! Because he is with you, and he’s going with you!

One final point: You and I don’t encounter many burning bushes in our lives. That’s not typically the way God speaks to us today. It was very unusual in Moses’ day, too. That’s why the burning bush got his attention in the first place! He had never seen anything like it before. 

So we don’t encounter God and hear him speak to us very much through burning bushes. In a way, we have something even better because it’s always close at hand. And it’s even in our pockets with our smartphones. We have God’s Word. We encounter God through it. And we hear him speak to us through it. Right?

And like Moses, we hear God send us on a mission. Right? It’s called the Great Commission. We find one version of it in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” 

And we even have a promise from God, which is identical to the promise that God gave to Moses, that he will go with us: Jesus Christ, who is God, tells us in verse 20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Have you ever noticed how United Methodists are divided over nearly everything these days? We argue about everything. 

But you know what even United Methodists can agree about: the conviction that this Great Commission applies to every single one of us Christians! None of us is exempt from answering God’s call to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. It is our most important task.

And in spite of our many theological differences, we United Methodists also have this in common: We are mostly terrible at answering this call to make disciples. 

It’s true! You know it is! Our failed denominational strategy for at least the past 50 years is the mistaken belief that if people just see how nice we are—and they see all the good works that we do, and they see how much we care about them and about the world—then… then… we will melt their hearts and of course they’ll want to sacrifice sleeping in on Sunday—perhaps the only day of the week that they’re able to—and they’ll want to come to church, where maybe they’ll hear the gospel preached, and maybe they’ll believe in Jesus and be saved.

Brothers and sisters, this strategy does not work! And the results speak for themselves.

Many of you saw Schindler’s List. Remember the end of the movie. Just as the war was ending and the concentration camp was being liberated, Jewish workers from the camp express gratitude to Schindler for all the lives that he saved. They present him with a list of the hundreds of people he saved from destruction under the Nazis.

Yet, is Schindler happy or satisfied about it? No! He breaks down in tears… sobs uncontrollably… as he thinks of the hundreds of more lives he could have saved, if he had only done this… or that.

Brothers and sisters, is that going to be us on Judgment Day, when God calls us and our church to account for our failure to be witnesses for his Son Jesus and to make disciples? 

To say the least, the mission that Jesus gave us—to save people from eternal separation from God, in hell—is even greater than saving lives on this side of eternity. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28.

No wonder so many modern-day Christians deny the doctrine that Jesus is the only way to salvation, or deny the doctrine of Final Judgment and hell, or affirm that somehow, despite the words of Jesus himself, all religions lead to God. We do this, I think, because it’s easier to live with ourselves; it’s easier on our consciences; it helps us live with our failure to answer God’s call to share the gospel and witness and make disciples.

What will our legacy be? Lord, let it be this: that when you called us to fulfill his Great Commission, we answered your call… that we’ll meet people in heaven who are there because of our witness… that we did everything we could to save the lost!

Eddie Fox and George Morris, two well-known United Methodist evangelists, wrote the following in their book Faith-Sharing:

The United Methodist Church shows tremendous proficiency and commitment when it comes to doing the deed of the gospel. We do the compassionate deed from the best of motives, and we do that deed with skill and commitment. However, we are reluctant to name the Name in whom we do the deed.

We are reluctant to name the Name in whom we do the deed. By all means, let’s do the deed of the gospel… but we must also name the Name.

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

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