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Becoming the People of God - Who is the Lord?

Surveying the Landscape

We are in part three of our fall sermon series, Becoming the People of God - From Slavery to Freedom.

I am. I am the God of your Father.

Last week we left off in our story in Exodus with Moses’ emerging awareness, both of himself and of God. After discovering that part of his material wealth and comfort came as a result of the oppression of others, especially in this case, the oppression of his own people, the Hebrews. Moses acts impulsively and without mercy and executes a form of justice in an attempt to protect those who are being oppressed, However, the Hebrew people don’t welcome Moses as savior, and Pharaoh tries to kill him. Out of fear, and to protect his life, Moses flees to the desert. For Moses the desert is as much a metaphor as it is a literal place, a desert of senses, of spirit, and of faith. Like Moses, we first encounter God in the deserts of our life, allowing us to understand and develop our faith in God. As Moses approaches, God informs Moses that the ground and space on which he stands is consecrated, it is set apart, just like God.

5“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

As much as God is differentiated, God is also known, personal, and near. God reminds Moses that he knows God.

6Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:6)

I am.

I am the God of your father, of your ancestors.

Your story and my story are linked. I’m the one you have heard about.

7The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. (Exodus 3:7)

Then this differentiated, consecrated God says, “Like you Moses, I am concerned about my people. I have a personal stake in this story. I have seen... I have heard...”

8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:8;10)

You would think that at this command to go, and to go under God’s command and inferred power of God would have been music to Moses’ ears. Yes!

God cares as much as I do, and

God is sending me! Yes!

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

I will be with you.

Fives times Moses questions whether he is the right person to go. “Who am I that I should go?” And I love what the Lord says in response. The character of God is reveal in God’s response to Moses, it’s not through power or might, but it’s my presence that will be with you. (ref. Zephaniah 4:6)

12And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)

“It’s my presence,” the Lord says.

I’m stuck right there. Yes, God will reveal God’s power over creation through the plagues against Egypt. Yes, God will eventually defeat the power of Empire, but right here and now, as Moses offers legitimate objection after objection, God endures. As Moses rejects God’s invitation, God continues by making the same case.

I will be with you.

I will be with you.

I will be with you.

I will be with you.

I will be with you.

13But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” 14Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses (Exodus 4:13-14)

Then one of my favorite parts of this exchange happens. Moses has given up on complaints, excuses, and reasons why he can’t go, Moses flat out refuses. Then the text says that the Lord’s anger burned against Moses. Whoah! The anger of God against Moses, what’s going to happen? Is God going to rebuke Moses, punish Moses, or even kill him? Nope. Watch this,

14 “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you.

I wasn’t expecting that. God continues to come towards Moses, not with punishment, or judgement, but with mercy. There’s something here for all of us to consider. We all live within a story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and the world in which we live. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are kind, and merciful, but sometimes the stories we tell are harsh and unrelenting. Pay attention to the story that you have accepted about yourself and the story that you tell about yourself. Make sure it’s the story that God is telling about you.

In Moses’ story, he disqualified himself. “I’m not activist any longer. I’m no longer a prince of Egypt. I’m a husband, a father, a farmer. While, I may be concerned about the liberation of my people, God, you will have to sign someone else. I had my shot, but I missed the mark. I sinned. Out fear, and self-protection, I fled and created this second chance, and I’m content.” Send someone else.

While Moses’ perspective about himself was grounded in reality and the truth of his situation, it was also incomplete. Catch this: God comes towards Moses with mercy. God says, Moses you are a person who is seen by me, your strengths, along with your  flaws. You are someone whose life I have watched for years. You are someone who has developed the ability to see, and to notice. I think you can do it, are you willing to trust me?

That’s the question that God asks of us, “I see you, I know you, are you willing to trust me?”

As you consider it, Moses was someone who had inside knowledge of Egypt having been raised as a prince of Egypt. Moses knew the culture, spoke the language, understood the political dynamics. God is partnering with Moses precisely because of who Moses is and God continues to partner with us in the same way today. This exchange in the desert challenges Moses’ identity and empowers Moses to challenge Pharaoh’s identity, and even, the identity of the nation of Egypt.

Who is the Lord?

Moses makes his way back to Egypt to confront the powers.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’ ” (Exodus 5:1)

Moses starts with a simple request, let the people of Israel take a three-day retreat to rest and worship their God. In the first exchange between Moses (acting as God’s representative) and Pharaoh, God reveals that rest and worship are active and vital components of our lives. God is already saying that there is more to life than what we produce. Moses is declaring to Pharaoh that the Creator God legitimates and authorizes a socioeconomic political system that values rest and worship.

Pharaoh answers truthfully,

2Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

In the clearest response in Scripture, Pharaoh tells the truth. “I do not know the Lord, so why should I listen to God?” Aside from our personal access to this Biblical story, why would we come to a conclusion different than that of Pharaoh's? The only way we answer differently is through faith. Faith that results in trust or trust that defines our faith.

Both take courage.

Here’s a way in: How we we live is a reflection of our faith, or our lack thereof. If how we approach our lives doesn’t reflect what we believe, what God has said or promised, then our faith is lacking. It needs development, it needs work. It can feel a little harsh to put it so plainly, but that’s the reality. As we continue in our study of the people as they exit Egypt, we will see this trust develop, be tested, falter, and eventually mature.

Pharaoh’s Liberation is Tied up in Israel’s Liberation

Pharaoh’s reply reveals the god and the system that he serves is one of endless production and accumulation. In Pharaoh’s world there aren’t enough good things, so Pharaoh lets his fear rule his worldview.

4But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” (Exodus 5:4)

But a world where we believe there isn’t enough forces us into a system of hoarding in order to protect what we have or what we think we have.

5Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.” (Exodus 5:5)

What Pharaoh fails to see is if there’s no rest for those who labor then there’s also no rest for him.

6That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 7“You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. 8But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. (Exodus 5:6-8)

Pharaoh’s liberation is tied up with Israel’s. But this isn’t obvious. If Pharaoh chooses liberation–giving up the very wealth and comfort he is so keen on keeping, he believes he will lose everything, so he chooses to tighten his grip through oppression and subjection hoping to protect what he think he has.

In a lot of ways, we are just like Pharaoh having believed the lie of empire and accepted a world of scarcity instead of a world generosity and enough. We are holding on for dear life to what we think we have, afraid that if we loosen our grip we will lose everything. But as someone wise once said, “You only get to keep what you are willing to freely give away.”

What are you holding tightly in your grip?


 
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