August 21, 2005
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Exodus 1:8- 2:10
Good Morning. Survived another week, and by golly, it looks like each of you did, too. Praise the Lord. Nice weather (for the ducks), good company (for us), food for our souls as well as our bodies – and a roof over our head, leaky as it might be. We are, indeed, a people of good fortune.
Some of you helped celebrate my birthday last Sunday. We made a big to-do of a simple life transition. A birthday. It was fun. And yet it was also a time for a little reflection on a life that is now quite definitely at least two-thirds complete. I engage in this kind of reflection pretty much semi-annually, once around birthday time and again at New Year’s. Who am I? And who do people say I am? Are they even remotely similar?
We can all ask such questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Are we getting to where we thought we were going? And who do people say we are? And who or what has helped us “keep on keeping on”? These are questions asked by the “high and mighty” as well as the “lowly and meek.” Questions asked by thoughtful people throughout the their lives.
As most of you have probably figured out by now, when I read the Lectionary readings for a Sunday I try to figure out why the compilers of the Lectionary put these particular stories together. This Sunday for instance, we have Baby Moses floating among the bulrushes; Jesus revealing himself as the Messiah with the question, “Who do people say I am?”’; and Paul writing to the Romans exhorting them to become “living sacrifices” to God through developing their God-given purpose and talents.
Most preachers would pick one of the stories and develop a sermon around that. Each of these lessons is worthy of a sermon of its own, but I’m interested in the connections. Moses – Jesus – and me, us.
We are going to hear a lot about Moses in the next few weeks – a reluctant, but powerful leader whose lapse into hubris at one point causes him to be barred from actually entering the Promised Land he had dedicated his adult life to reach. In poetry and mythology, the term “hubris” was used for those individuals esteeming themselves as equal to or greater than the gods.
Moses’ situation is described in Numbers Chapter 20. His sister Miriam has just died; the community is still wandering in the wilderness, again without water, and the people’s grumblings begin once again. The Lord instructs Moses to take his staff, strike the rock, and bring forth water. Moses follows the instructions, but in a moment of frustration takes credit for the water himself rather than giving credit to God. Seems to be a minor infraction considering all the other sins ascribed to God’s chosen ones in the Bible, but for this bit of frustration and arrogance, God refuses to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. “What?”, Moses must have asked. “Who have I been, what has been the purpose of it all?” Maybe even, “Who will people say I’ve been?”
Let’s look back eighty years to the birth of this man. A infant born to a Hebrew slave is set in a basket and floats among the bulrushes along the river’s edge. The king of Egypt had declared that all Hebrew male infants were to be slaughtered at birth. The midwives have been able to save many of the babies, but when the second order came down from Pharaoh, the killing began in earnest. One enterprising mother and her daughter thought up the idea of hiding their child along the river’s edge.
Pharaoh’s daughter comes along, finds the baby and decides to keep it for her own. She calls the child “Moses” and the rest is history.
Was Moses BORN to be Moses? We all learned in Sunday School how his unique history made his life’s work more attainable -- born of a Hebrew slave, raised by an Egyptian princess – his heart and Fear of God coming from his biological roots and his cunning, political, and survival skills coming from his training in the Egyptian court.
But God’s purpose
is only revealed after the fact. Pharaoh tried to exterminate the Hebrews and later, through
Pharaoh’s daughter, God gives them freedom and life. While Pharaoh was planning to exterminate
the Hebrews, God was preparing to emancipate them. It was the murderous edict
by Pharaoh that led to the training and preparation of the eventual human
Take a moment and think about your own life. Has a hardship in the past ever prepared you for dealing with an even greater hardship down the road? Sometimes I find myself thanking God for the first problem, so that I could survive the second.
But all this aside, I wonder what Moses really thought about his life as he gazed from the mountain, looking down at the Promised Land – knowing that he was now too old, too weak, to actually make his way any further. He wasn’t going to make it. He was about to leave this earth without setting foot in the land he so much wanted to reach. And, worse yet, it was the will of God.
The story of Moses is often compared to the story of Jesus. A paranoid king ordered the slaughter of all male infants at the time of Jesus’ birth, too. Jesus and his family flee to Egypt for safety soon after his birth – again, if not a princess, we find the Egyptians themselves protecting the child.
Jesus was a reluctant leader like Moses. His mother had to jump start his ministry during the wedding at Cana. Jesus himself wasn’t all that sure he was ready. Neither was Moses. Neither man seemed to know exactly who he was to be – or who people would later say they were.
In the 16th chapter of Matthew, this morning, We find Jesus reflecting on his own ministry, the meaning of his own being. He had been preaching throughout the region. He’d been performing miracles, just like Moses. Born into a working class family, he begins to hear people referring to him as a prophet, even a king. Perhaps, it was time to sort it all out.
Jesus had a pretty clear idea of the meaning of his life and being when he asked his friends, “Who do people say I am?” He listens as they begin to tell him: “Some say you are John the Baptist, or the prophet Elijah, or even Jeremiah – some holy person come back from the past.”
“But who do YOU say I am?” Jesus presses. While the others are scratching their heads, Simon Peter pipes up:
“You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”
“Right on,” says Jesus. And he tells Peter, “You didn’t figure this out by just talking to people; this is a God-given insight, and for attaining this insight, you will be given the keys to heaven.”
For me, the “keys to heaven” mean more than a glorious afterlife. Maybe even more importantly, the “keys to heaven” mean to keys to heaven right here on earth – the keys to understanding, the keys to spiritual strength, the keys to a sense of purpose, keys even to a sense of serenity.
Jesus then tells his disciples not to reveal this Christ identity to anyone else. I think this is because it would be something that we each would have to figure out for ourselves.
Which brings me to the question, “Who do WE think Jesus is?” And does the answer have to be the same for each of us?
Some say Jesus is their Redeemer; other’s say he is their Big Brother or Friend. For some, he is the Comforter, the Lover, the Savior – the one who has drawn them from the waters of despair and certain destruction and given them New Life. It is somewhat ironic that Pharaoh’s daughter played the role of God in the story of Moses. But why not? God uses us all to fulfill his purposes.
Perhaps Charlie Brown can explain it better. A friend of mine from Brisbane, Australia, sent me an e-mail this week. It quoted the philosophy of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon.
Schultz asked the following questions:
Then Schulz asked:
The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care. The ones who, at some point in your life, drew you from the waters of despair, or provide you an opportunity to grow, learn, love, or laugh.
As we sit on our own personal mountain, doing our own “life reading”, the flip side is also important. Can we think of five people WE have helped in some small or larger way through THEIR life journey? Are there five people out there who know WE care about them?
If so, we are right up there with the five wealthiest philanthropists. We are doing the earthly work of God.
Paul writes to the Romans that they are to become “living sacrifices” for God. We are to use our gifts well, but, in the process, remember that these talents are gifts from God for the People of God. Hubris, remember?
Reminds me of Moses, again. It was not Moses who brought the water from the rock. It was God who brought the water from the rock using Moses as a tool for that purpose. It really wasn’t Pharaoh’s daughter who saved Moses from the slaughter, it was God who saved Moses, using Pharaoh’s daughter as the tool.
But I can still thank God for the people he has brought into my life – those people who made it richer, more interesting, more challenging, more fun. Those who saved me from despair and certain destruction.
The question in return, of course, is how have I served my God in return by offering those same gifts to others in God’s name?
We’ve taken the first step this morning. We have taken the time to come to this place to reflect upon God and God’s place in our lives. We also reflect upon our place in God’s purpose.
I don’t know too much about “life readings.” One of the guests at my birthday party last week is apparently offering counseling in “evolutionary astrology”, including “life readings.” Evolutionary astrology sounded a little scary to me, and I guess the life readings part has to do with PAST lives, not the one I’m living now.
I’m having enough trouble with this life to want to review previous ones. But the phrase “life reading”, I liked. I mentioned it to Arlene when I asked her to read the scriptures this morning. She immediately said, “Oh you mean your Soul Contract with God!” Wow. Yeah. That’s what I meant. I’m not at all sure that’s what I meant, but again I liked what the phrase meant to me.
My “soul contract with God”. What have I agreed to be, to do for God. What has God provided in return? For me, it has been a sense of purpose – even if I sometimes am unclear how that purpose will unfold.
Periodically, I think it is helpful to take a moment to “read our lives, so far.”
Who are we? Who are we becoming?
Who do people say we are?
Have we developed and used our gifts?
If we haven’t accomplished what we originally hoped, what have we accomplished instead?
Have we expressed gratitude for those who have been there for us along the way?
Do we have any idea whom we have helped in return?
And what about this “soul contract with God?” Perhaps it is time to review it. And perhaps today is a good day to pray. In Christ’s name, Amen.
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