For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Moses recorded in Exodus 3, 14, 16, 34 & Deuteronomy 34. Preached on July 16, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson,
A week ago Friday, we celebrated my Dad’s 88th birthday. As many of you know—he’s had a challenging health year. We are grateful for your prayers and happy to report that he’s just about back to normal. As we always do, we asked my dad for his words of wisdom on his birthday. During Covid, when we all needed a little levity, he raised his glass and said, “wine, women and song!” But this year, he said,
1. Always be honest and truthful
2. Always give thanks to the Lord your God
3. Never give up
This got me thinking about life lessons from Moses. His story is so long—with parts in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—we usually hear just a snippet at a time, but what do we learn about living in a harsh world from the span of his whole life? There are more lessons than we can name in one Sunday of course—but I would like to talk about six. I invite you to identify one or two lessons as your spiritual growth challenge for this week:
1. No one survives or succeeds alone – Moses should not have survived childhood—all the Hebrew males were to be killed. But the midwives did not obey Pharoah, Moses’ mother did not obey Pharoah, and the Pharoah’s own daughter did not obey him either. Moses’s older sister Miriam watched over her brother and told the Pharaoh’s daughter she would find a woman to nurse the baby. Miriam brought Moses back to his own mother until it was time to be adopted by Pharoah’s daughter. All these women acted in defiance of death, doing what was right in the face of injustice. Without all of these women exercising the small power they did have, Moses never would have survived.
As an adult, Moses also does not succeed as a solo act. When God calls Moses out of the burning bush, Moses protests not once, not twice but 5 times! He says, “who am I to do this, they won’t believe me, and I can’t speak well, and please send someone else.” You can argue with God, but I can tell you, you are going to lose. God has answers. God sends his brother Aaron with Moses who will be his spokesperson and help speak to the people on Moses’ behalf.
Miriam leads the people in praising God with her tambourine—the first time music is recorded in the Bible. God always surrounds us with people who have gifts and skills that we do not, so that we can succeed together in doing what God calls us to do.
Without everyone doing their part, sharing their gifts—from when he is a baby into his adult leadership—there is no Moses. The same is true for us—when everyone is sharing their gifts and doing their part, our families, our work place and St. Luke’s grows and succeeds—everyone’s gifts and service and talents are needed to make the whole work.
2. God is life and breath – When Moses asks what he should say when people ask, what is this God’s name who is sending him to free the Israelites from the Egyptians, God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”
God is life itself, God is breath, God is existence itself, infused in every bit of creation whether visibly aflame or not. This is not a name, so much as it is a fact of reality. Moses, you, and I—all of us—have been unconsciously breathing in and out the presence of God since the moment we were born.
A friend of mine just returned from Alaska and she told me that although not many people get to see it because of the weather and cloud cover, she got to see the top of Mount Denali. She said, it was a profound experience of “being right-sized”—then she described what she meant: “I am not piece of crap, I am not the most important person. I am part of this immense creation and a part in history—I felt right-sized.”
This is what God is doing with Moses before the burning bush—Moses feels like an inadequate piece of crap, and God is helping him to feel right-sized. God is actively giving you breath and life as a gift each new day. What is the burning bush, or the Denali reminder that helps you with right-sized humble gratitude for life, for God?
3. God can make a way where we can see no way – No doubt the Israelites thought Moses was a little off his rocker when they were heading straight for the Red or Reed Sea with the Egyptians on their tails. Sure, they had just witnessed 10 plagues, but what are frogs and locusts next to a mighty body of water with a whole nation to get across it with no boats and no bridge? But just like Jesus could calm a storm, God could whip one up that forced the waters aside. Moses held up his staff as God instructed, and a way was made across the sea on dry land.
Sometimes when we cannot see a way forward, God has a miracle waiting in the wings hoping we have the right-sized humility to ask for help. We have seen this at St. Luke’s with our capital campaign. It was suggested that we modify our half a million dollar goal, but the committee said, “no, this is our plan for our future mission!” and we not only met our goal, we exceeded it! A way was made where some couldn’t see a way! And we rejoice.
This month, a family here was on the verge of loosing their housing, but through some very generous donations by members to my pastor’s discretionary fund, this crisis was averted, they are getting help and financial coaching. A way was made where they couldn’t see a way! And we rejoice.
If God can do all this, and make a path through the sea, then God can help you through whatever obstacle you face.
4. Spending Time with God Shows – It is no accident that as soon as the Israelites were free, Moses went up on the Mountain to talk with God and came down with the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments outline our relationship with God, so I can quote my dad here—always give thanks to the Lord your God and make this relationship the primary one of your life. The next seven commandments define our relationship with others.
Living faithfully with these kinds of rules and responsibilities happens more easily when we love the Lord our God first and foremost. Moses did not just receive the Ten Commandments, he embodied them, loving God first and foremost. The people could see the difference in Moses when he spent time with God— the light of God’s presence shined through his face. We mean it literally in our baptismal service when we say, “let your light so shine before others that may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” We do not have to try to shine God’s love, it happens naturally when we spend time with God in conversation and prayer. Moses demonstrates that when we spend time with God, God shows for others.
5. Trust is a daily habit – Life was not always easy in the desert, and God did provide for the Israelites. But the people complained to Moses anyway and thought life was better back in bondage in Egypt. There will always be people who are not willing to sacrifice to participate in the new thing that God is doing—even if it means freedom, new life, and new opportunity. This is another reason why the first 3 Commandments are about our relationship with God—because trusting God is a daily practice.
When God provided quail at night and manna in the morning to eat —they could only collect enough for one day unless it was for the Sabbath. If the Israelites hoarded it and tried to save some for the next day, it stunk and got worms. They had to trust that God would provide more manna the next morning, and more quail the next evening. Thus, Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day, our daily bread.” Trusting God for what we need is something we practice every day, that God can and will provide us for our daily needs—not just physical needs—but spiritual, emotional, or relational needs. Ask God for what you need and watch for the ways God provides for you.
6. Entrust the future to God and a new generation – Moses was so reluctant when God first called him—but look what God did through him over 40 years of leadership! Like my dad says, Moses never gave up on God, and God never gave up on him. Moses persevered into the greatest leader that formed the nation of Israel and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land. But then it was time to let go. Moses could see the Promised land, but he could not enter it.
It was time to pass the baton to the next generation—to Joshua and Caleb to lead them into the phase of their life.
In his speech, Moses’ tells them to trust that God will go before them, to not be afraid, to be strong and courageous because God will not abandon or forsake them, just like God stayed with them through the previous 40 years.
This speech of Moses always reminds of my mom when she died—she knew that her first great grandchild was on the way, but she did not live to see her born. She knew my oldest, Daniel was about to graduate high school, but she did not live to witness that either. As a great Mom and Nana, she entrusted the future to the next generation. I never would have guessed then, that Daniel would be working for me now.
I wonder how much my mom—angel wings and all—might have to do with getting me to learn from Daniel, the next generation right now! But I try to do it weekly as my spiritual growth challenge because this is urgently needed for us to grow as the church today. I learn from Daniel on how to use the website, social media, and the new digital sign in ways that appeal to younger generations. And there’s so much more I learn all the time.
And what about you? Where is God calling you to grow spiritually this week? And if there is a place where you feel stuck, have questions, or want to grow more, I hope you will call or text me or one of your spiritual friends in the pew next to you. Because that brings us back to lesson #1—God does not call us alone, but surrounds us with each other, to learn and grow together, and that’s what makes us a community where spirits come alive!