Sermon

 

 

 

The Rector’s sermon for February 18, 2018  

                                                                                                                                       


A Lenten Preaching Series:  THY WILL BE DONE


2 of 9:  God’s Will and My Inadequacy


 

Today is the second sermon in our Lenten preaching series entitled Thy Will Be Done.  The theme for today is God’s Will and My Inadequacy, and the key verse is from the book of Exodus:  “But [Moses] said, ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

 

God’s Will and My Inadequacy.  Where should we begin?  Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  Abraham and Sarah laughed at God.  Moses murdered a man.  King David had an affair.  Solomon worshipped false gods.  Jonah refused to obey and ran away from the work of the Lord.  Peter denied the Lord.  Thomas doubted the promise and the testimony of others.  Paul persecuted Christians.  The list goes on and on.   But God strengthened all of them in their weakness, and was able to use them according to his good and gracious will.

 

One in particular who stands out in the inadequacy department would be Moses.  If I told you that you were going to meet Moses today, you might expect some great and powerful figure, a leader full of authority and self-confidence, maybe even a legend in his own time.  But you’d be wrong.  He was just a tired old man who sometimes stuttered.  And if this Moses could speak to you from the mountain where he died, he would tell you an incredible story of a God who works with and blesses inadequate people.  This is what he might say:

 

 “Growing up in Pharaoh’s house, I thought poor speaking was the worst of my troubles.  But you know the story.  I wasn’t Egyptian royalty; I was actually a Hebrew slave, rescued through river water, saved by a basket, my own personal Noah’s Ark!  That was so long ago… But I don’t need to bore you with all the details.  You know about the murder, and the escape from Egypt.  You know about the parting of the Red Sea and the pillar of fire and smoke.  You’ve heard of the Tablets of Stone and the Golden Calf…”

 

 “But I want to tell you something about me, before the funeral, before I am finally laid to rest…I have seen and done so much, you could get the idea that I am something of a hero.  But looking back at the whole story, I simply feel…inadequate…  You know some of the details.  You know that I ran away from Egypt after killing the Egyptian.  I certainly didn’t want to go back to Egypt!  I didn’t want to be the leader of God’s people, those stiff-necked people I learned to love so dearly.  I certainly never set out to be the mouthpiece of the Almighty!  Me!!  With my lack of speaking ability!  Talk about the wrong decision on God’s part!  And I told him so, too.  Imagine…I told the Great I AM that I wasn’t a good choice!  I wasn’t a good leader!  I couldn’t bring on the weighty words of God with my poor speaking!”

 

 “There at the burning bush I told God all these things and I told him I wasn’t up for the job.  But he didn’t listen to me:  ‘Please, Lord, I can’t do this; send someone else.’  It wasn’t that I didn’twant to go (though I didn’t want to go back);  it wasn’t that I was afraid (though, honestly, I was afraid).  Mostly, I just felt…well, not up for the job.  I wasn’t brave enough or smart enough or holy enough!  Why would the Pharaoh listen to me?”

 

 “But in the end, my own inadequacy didn’t matter…not to God.  God had already decided to use me, and I wasn’t alone.  He gave me Aaron and Miriam to share the burden of leadership.  God put his staff in my hand to work his miracles at His Word!  And he sent me with my inadequacies, my inability to speak well and my murderous ways to do his bidding!  I didn’t look like a hero, leaving sheep behind to call on Pharaoh.  Pharaoh didn’t believe me;  the people of Israel didn’t believe me; I didn’t believe me, either!  But the Great I Am is greater than the gods of Egypt.  The Great I AM is greater than my inadequacy.  The Great I AM will accomplish his purpose, even when his people are weak and doubting, confused and rebellious, incompetent and afraid…like me.”

 

I learned firsthand that God can use inadequate people to do his saving work.  The plagues took on the gods of Egypt …one by one; those miracles came by God’s holy word, through my poor voice!  The lamb’s blood covered over our houses, and the Angel of Death passed over, just as God promised.  The armies of Egypt were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea….  I saw it all happen.  I was part of it all.  But never was I in control.  It wasn’t about me.  It was never about me.  If only I had remembered that truth!”

 

 “You see, at the burning bush I was focused on me; that’s why I asked God to send someone else.  And God was not pleased—I was focusing on my weakness instead of His promise.  But the longer I led this beautiful and stubborn people, the more confidence I gained.  I became their leader.  I spoke for God.  I even saw the glory of the I AM…and my face shone with the reflection.  I learned dependence on God in my weakness; but I forgot dependence on God in my strength.”

 

 “It was just after Miriam died.  We had been wandering in the wilderness for years and years.  And the people still grumbled.  They still lacked trust.  They still blamed me for their hard and fearful hearts.  So the Lord told me to speak to a rock, that the people and their cattle could drink and live.  I no longer had Miriam’s help, but I didn’t need her anymore.  I had been leading God’s people and doing God’s work.  So I told Aaron to assemble everyone together.  I took the same staff God gave me at the burning bush, the same staff that worked miracles in Egypt—I took my powerful staff in my powerful hands and I put myself on the same level as God!  ‘You hard-hearted, stiff-necked people!’  I yelled in righteous anger. ‘Your grumbling has offended our honor, God’s and mine.  But we will bring forth water from this hard rock, as we did before!’  And though God had commanded me to speak to the rock with my weak speaking voice, I chose to take that powerful staff and strike the rock twice, to show who was in charge.  Oh, the people got their water.  But I, who was saved through water, was also condemned through water.  I forgot the most important lesson of being God’s servant:  it’s not about me.  It was never about me.  If only I had remembered that…”

 

 “Since I made Moses as important as God, I’m stuck on this mountain while Joshua prepared the people for their final march home to the Promised Land.  From here I can see the Land of Promise—right there—just over the ridge.  But I won’t actually get there.  We buried many people in the wilderness, and God himself will bury me here, on this mount.  And I will have to wait for the Promise of the Lord to be fulfilled to me.  Being barred from the Promised Land might seem like a steep price to pay for hitting one lousy rock.  It sometimes feels that way to me.  But my sin wasn’t simple disobedience.  I made myself as important as God.  I stopped depending on His Word.  I thought I could do it on my own.”

 

 “He should have buried me right then and there, at the Rock of Testing.  But I’m glad he didn’t.  I get another chance to learn that, whether I feel powerful or inadequate, it’s not about me.  After we buried Aaron, and I was on my own, the people became impatient yet again.  This time the Lord sent poisonous snakes; their bite burned, and people died.  But when they returned to the Lord and confessed their sin, I prayed for them—it was always my honor to pray for them—and God gave a way for the people to be saved.  This time I wasn’t supposed to speak.  This time I had no need of the staff.  This time it wasn’t about me, at all.  Instead, I was told to take some metal and shape a snake just like the ones biting and killing God’s people, and put that bronze snake up on a pole.”

 

 “I have to admit shaping a serpent seemed kind of strange at the time.  I mean, I saw the finger of God write the commandments: you shall have no other gods, no graven images.  And the same God who told me to pulverize a golden model of a herd animal was now asking me to shape a bronze model of a snake?  A snake of all things!  Can you believe it?  We know all about the Snake, the Tempter, the Enemy who got us kicked out of the Land of Promise in the first place.  A snake taught us idolatry to begin with.”

 

 “But the bronze snake on a pole wasn’t supposed to be worshipped; it wasn’t an idol.  Instead, the snake because a symbol of sin, our sin.  The bronze serpent was a sign of the punishment and death our sins deserved.  That twisted shape, lifted up before God, became sin for us; our constant grumbling, our failure to trust, our stubborn rejection, our hard hearts, strung up on a tree.  And anyone who looked at that curse lifted up in the wildernesses saw the promise of God, and lived.”

 

 “From here I can see the Promised Land, still a ways off.  In the distance, I can hear the people begin their journey home.  The Lord will come again, soon, to plant my old body in the warm, fertile ground. While I wait for the Lord to come, that bronze serpent is a comfort.  It’s a reminder that God is going to keep leading this people without me.  God will fulfill his promises, in his way and in His own time.  And when the people sin, when they rebel, when they grumble and turn away, God Himself will provide a way, a means of forgiveness… a sign of God’s anger poured out and satisfied, lifted high on a pole.  …. And all who look upon it will live forever!

 

Let us pray:

            Heavenly Father, we sometimes fall into despair and think that we cannot do anything right.  We beat ourselves up and put ourselves down for our faults and failings.  Help us to remember that we are made new through Jesus and with you by our side there is nothing we cannot do by your mercy and favor, according to your good and gracious will.  Jesus, Son of God, cover us with your holiness that we might live for you.  Amen.