The Rev. Tom Bates
July 9, 2017
5th Sunday of Pentecost
LINK TO PDF VERSION
Three weeks ago, I introduced you to the Kerygma Program titled Exodus, Gateway to the Bible, that we are studying between services. I told you that we were using Exodus as a means of deciding what we believe about God and our relationship with God – Exodus because it is so rich in theology. In lesson 1, we learned that it is important to state what we believe about God, human nature, sin, salvation, obedient living, the world and the future. We do that in the creeds and in confession and we talked a little about what we believe about God, the Father almighty, miracles and about the church. I talked about the idea that God gave us the church as a gift to help and support us.
Last week we studied the Passover. The Passover has served to this day both to commemorate that event in Exodus and to express hope for deliverance in the present and in the future. The Lord’s Supper or Holy Eucharist recalls Passover and interprets Christ’s death as God’s new saving act.
Today, I thought that I would talk to you about Moses who was an unlikely leader and how he was called by God, how he and others responded to God, how we might know if we are called by God and how to respond. And we still could be called by God. Age is not important to God, as we will see. Moses was old, but Jeremiah and Gideon were teenagers. I will talk about this as presented in our Kerygma Resource Book.
There is a pattern to the story of Moses ‘call that appears elsewhere in Scripture. Three elements appear in the examples of Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The three elements are: the commissioning by God, the objection to the job God has in mind and God’s response to that objection.
1. The first element to appear is the commission. The experience begins when God makes known the choice of a certain person to carry out a special task.
In Exodus, God tells Moses “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
God spoke in a similar way to Gideon: “Go in this strength (might) of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” (Judges 6:14)
And to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
And to Ezekiel: “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are imprudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘thus says the Lord God’”. (Ezekiel 2:3-4)
2. The second element that usually appears is the objection. God never explains why a particular person is chosen. In fact, the choice typically doesn’t make sense to the person chosen, so the typical response is not, “Yes, Lord!” It’s an objection.
Moses said: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?””
Gideon said: “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Jeremiah said; “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
Ezekiel had been so affected by the vision he had experienced that he had fainted, and could barely stand. He doesn’t say anything, but God anticipates the usual response: “But you mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house.”
Not all that are called by God object. Noah did not object so of course, there was no divine rejoinder. God gave Noah detailed instructions on how to build the arch and Noah “did everything that God commanded.”
And Isaiah’s response was “I will go. Send me.” Of course, a winged creature had just touched a burning coal to Isaiah’s lips which might have had something to do with his lack of objection.
Two exceptions that come to mind are Noah and Samuel, but there are others.
To our Kerygma author, one of the most remarkable things about the call experience is the difference between divine wisdom and human judgments about ability. God chose Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment. Gideon and Ezekiel were teenagers who could scarcely expect their elders to listen to them.
3. According to our Kerygma Resource Book, the third thing that occurs is the Divine Rejoinder. The person being called naturally asks about qualifications – Who am I? – But the rejoinder by God that follows in the cases of Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah is that God will be with them. :”I will be with you”, to Moses. “But I will be with you” to Gideon. “Do not say that I am only a boy; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you”, to Jeremiah.
I find it interesting that God finds a way to use the chosen person, in spite of what his qualifications seem to be. Ezekiel’s call included a warning that his work would not be easy, but that God would give him the strength he would need to do it: In Ezekiel, chapter 3, we find: “See I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
Our Kerygma author, Donald E. Gowan, says God makes two things clear: The person called really has no choice in the matter. The person will do what God has decided. But God will be the one called to make possible what would be impossible without God’s help.
Do the three elements that Gowan says always appear in being called apply to clergy and prophets? I’ve already said that the call of Samuel and Isaiah, the prophets, were exceptions. The call of most clergy, that I’m familiar with, was not a call to anything specific other than to be a priest, or to love Jesus which they interpreted as becoming a minister. In my own case, I thought I was called to the priesthood and still do to some extent, so rejection is hard to take because, in my case, I feared I was not being obedient to God by not pursuing it. And yet, I could have become an Anglican priest and been the rector in Deming and chose not to. In my case, there was no specific commissioning, no objection on my part and no response from God to my non-objection. I think that I can afford to be philosophical in my old age. In the words of Rowan Williams: “If we don’t succeed in the way we wanted, so be it. God is still God.”
I’d like for you to imagine this scenario. It didn’t happen, but say I’m on my knees and asking God what message do you have for the people of Good Shepherd. And suppose God said to me, “Ï want you to convince them to spend time with me in Bible Study.” I, of course, object. I’m not very convincing I say. Why not Father Paul or Pastor Sarah? God responds that I’m not the most likely person for the job, but He’ll be with me and give me the right words. What do you think would be the result? God would make it happen and we would have the entire congregation doing Bible Study, I suspect.
In closing, I invite you to spend time with God in Bible Study, either with us between services or on your own. This is holy time and time well spent and in my mind, I know it would please God! Amen.