The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
The Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
Send Someone Else
There are two things you have to know about the Old Testament. First, whenever somebody shows up to a water well, expect them to get married. Water wells were the match.com of the ancient world. Second, whenever somebody goes up a mountain, they’re about to meet God. That’s amplified today, because Moses goes up not just any old mountain, but the mountain of God.
This is what it says: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Moses turns aside from his path and sees this sight, this bush that is blazing but not consumed. And strangely, magnificently, God speaks to Moses out of the bush. God has heard the cry of his people enslaved in Egypt. God has heard the misery of God’s people, the people of Moses. God knows their suffering and their oppression at the hands of Pharaoh. And, God tells Moses, God is going to do something about it. Yes it’s about time, God is going to do something about it. God is going to deliver the Israelites and bring them into the promised land.
Imagine you’re Moses right now. This is pretty cool. You are on holy ground. You are hanging out with God. Moses is getting the sneak peek into this divine emancipation proclamation. Moses is the first one to hear that finally, finally, God is going to do something for his people that are suffering. Moses is probably thinking, “oh yeah, baby. God is going to take out the Egyptians and it’s going to be awesome.”
Except, well, there’s just one little part that God hasn’t explained yet. God says, “So come, Moses, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.” “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa,” says Moses. “Um, God, you said that you were going to do all of that. What has this got to do with me?” Moses says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Because, come on, the Egyptians have a mighty army with chariots and horses. They have a powerful king in Pharaoh. The Hebrews are just poor slaves, and compared to such a tyrant, what could Moses do? Later on in this conversation between God and Moses, Moses says it flat out, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Look, he said, “please.” Shouldn’t that help? Please send someone else. Anyone else. Just not me.
“Who am I?” says Moses. Isn’t there someone else? We all stand with Moses at the burning bush. When I first felt God tugging at my heart, calling me to be a priest, I said, “who am I that I should serve at your altar? That sounds like a good idea for somebody else. That sounds like a good idea, but not right now.” When I first felt the Holy Spirt tugging me to this church, I said to God, “who am I that I should lead this people? Shouldn’t you pick somebody wiser? Somebody older.” Who am I? You ask that question of God as well. Who am I that I should pray? Who am I that I should raise these children you have give me? Who am I that I should care for my aging parents? Who am I that I should even go to church? Who am I? Isn’t there somebody else?
It’s apparent to me that whenever God calls us to do something, we try to find a cop out. I’m just a nobody. There must be somebody who is more qualified, more eloquent, more acceptable. Who are we that God should call us?
I believe that is the wrong questions to ask. Instead of asking who we are, we should ask, “who is God?” Who is God? God reveals to Moses that he is the God of his forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God who says his name is, “I am who I am.” In other words, it’s time for Moses to stop his worrying about himself, and to start grasping who God is. The God of infinite being and mercy. It seems that God is simply saying to Moses, “I’m there for you.” I’m there for you.
Today, our church, Holy Comforter, stands before God at the burning bush. And we say, who are we? Who are we that we should allow teenage drug addicts into buildings? Who are we that we should serve needy kids in local schools? Who are we that we should be the ones to build a church?
O my Lord, please send someone else. To be honest with you, I have prayed that prayer. O my Lord, please send someone else. Surely there is a congregation that is bigger, that is wealthier, that is more suited for what God has in mind for the people of Spring. Thankfully, God has not heard my prayer. God is persistent. The bush will burn for as long as it takes for us to finally get it. To grasp the vision laid before us. To trust in this God that is there for us.
This capital campaign, this vision that God has given to us is big. It’s bigger than anything this congregation has ever done before. We want to say, “O my Lord, please have someone else do this. Please have someone else build this. Please have someone else pay for this.” But God is calling us. Us. You. Me. Just this week, Maggie and I sat down and talked about our finances. And we are praying, and discerning, how much we can give to this project. The gift we are thinking of, is worth a lot of diapers. I know these are uncomfortable conversations to have with your family. But, at its core, they are spiritual conversations. Because it’s all about priorities. This capital campaign, the burning bush – they function the same way: they ask us, do we really trust in God?
And sure, we could be complacent. We could keep on patching this place up little by little. A coat of paint here. A new pipe there. Trying to save our money. Trying to do everything in small doses.
But if I know anything about God, is that God doesn’t do small things. God didn’t say to Moses, “go to Egypt and release just one or two slaves.” Sure, that would’ve helped, but it wasn’t what God had in mind. God says to Moses, “you are going to bring the Israelites, all of them, out of slavery.” Every single one of them. Not some. Not a few. The entire nation. God doesn’t do little fixes here and there, God does wholesale renewal, conversion, and redemption.
My friends, this is the time to do something big. To respond to God’s call. To say, “Here I am! Send me!” Send us. This building project, this vision, this is not about a pretty place for us to hide in. This is about creating a launchpad, a place to be reenergized to go out into the community to preach the gospel. To liberate those who are enslaved in our suburban world. Enslaved by their work. By their addictions. By the constant pressure of having to move up the corporate ladder. The constant pressure of having to move up into the next neighborhood. The constant worrying about if today is their last day on the job. Make no mistake about it – your friends and neighbors are enslaved. Maybe you are too. Just as in the day of Moses when the Israelites were oppressed and enslaved by their Egyptian taskmasters. The only difference is that now, we’ve enslaved ourselves. We’re enslaved by our drugs, by our calendars, by our money.
This vision for Holy Comforter, I am convinced of it, is about God sending us into the world to proclaim release to the captives. To be like Moses for the people of Spring. Because God has heard the suffering of our people too long, far too long. God has seen too many teenagers commit suicide. God has seen too many kids not make into college. God has seen too many burned out and burned up by their 80 hour work weeks. God is sending us, God is laying a vision before for us to become the church that is a safe place, to become sanctuary in which the hungry are fed, where children feel at home, and where all people – regardless of history or background – are invited to meet the living God. A God who sets us free.
And my friends, I make you a guarantee. When you stretch yourself, when you put yourself out there for God, when you dream big dreams, when you listen to God’s call – something happens. Something changes. And what changes is that you come to know Jesus better. You grow closer to Jesus. Over the course of his life, Moses went from asking God to send someone else, to being the only man to ever see God’s face. That is the process of transformation into which we are invited.
This very instant, we are standing before a burning bush. God is sending us to proclaim release to the enslaved, to be an example of a courageous and beloved community. But most of all, we are standing before a burning bush and coming up close to this God who is calling to us. Calling us to come close to Jesus. To be transformed. The real work ahead of us is not in fundraising, or building design, or construction. The real work ahead of us is learning to trust in this God who is always there for us.