Fearful and Faithful Leaders

Narrative Lectionary Year 2

Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15

October 4, 2015


Hang on, folks. This is an epic story and you just might get car sick from how much ground we have to cover from last week to this week.

Last week it was Jacob wrestling with God. Fast forward to Jacob as an old man and his sons have sold Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, into slavery. Joseph, who you’d think was a gonner instead rose to power alongside the pharaoh in Egypt. Then a drought drives Joseph’s family to seek refuge in Egypt, where they are foreigners.

Fast forward again to several generations later when Joseph’s favor and influence is no longer remembered. And because they are Israelites and are seen as foreigners with no connection to anyone “who matters”, the new pharaoh is afraid of them and makes them his slaves, forcing them to build storage containers for the profit of the pharoah.

So, the first part of our story today tells of these deteriorating conditions for the Israelites in Egypt and then skips ahead to the call story of Moses to free the Israelits from Egypt and what follows is the attempt of the pharoah to control the immigrants through violence and he is ultimately defeated not by Moses but by God’s work through Moses.

This is the story of the Exodus – God’s freeing of imprisoned, abused, oppressed people and is one of the biggest stories in all of scripture. It is one of the most important stories of all time and it seems to be re-lived in our time again and again.

Compared to this story, we are not oppressed people. Certainly, we’ve had our hard times or experienced discrimination or hatred or violence or loss. But we’ve not fled for our lives. We’ve not been forced to work against our will with the threat of our lives or of giving up the life of a son or daughter. We’ve not wondered where water or food will come from to the point of our own death.

Today, we watch as Syrian families, families just like yours and mine, have suffered from drought, lost their livilihoods and have risen up in protest of a fearful and deaf government that has only cracked down harder in their fear of the scarcity in their midst.

A wanna-be pharoah here, a fearful Donald Trump, said earlier this week, “I hear we want to take in 200,000 Syrians. And they could be – listen, they could be Isis [Islamic State]…I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”

The US has pledged to take 10,000 refugees – people fleeing from war and starvation – from Syria next year in the face of a crisis that has seen half a million people cross the Mediterranean into Europe in this year, with the largest number from Syria, where 250,000 people have been killed in a civil war. The US has allowed a mere 1,500 Syrians to re-settle since the start of the conflict four years ago.

This is an exodus, people. This is a story unfolding on our watch. People crashing through the waters like the epic story of old. An oppressive and fearful government cracks down on their people, sending them running for their lives. And then these desperate human beings continue to face scrutiny and further violence from fearful governments in other countries. And in order to make it ok, we hide behind red tape, we hide behind fear. We instead call them potential terrorists, or drug lords. We call them unwanted. We call them someone else’s problem. We call them not our problem.

Moses is afraid. He is terrified. He responds quickly to God who calls out to him from the burning bush, “Here I am.” It’s his most confident statement in his back and forth with God. God comments on his foot ware, so Moses removes his shoes and hides his face in his hands. He is afraid and he hasn’t even heard what God is calling him to do yet. Do you remember what God says? My people are in misery. I have heard their cry. I am going to free them from their oppressors, from that awful Syrian government and I’m going to bring them to a good and broad land, from sea to shining sea, a land flowing with milk and honey, with water and food, with opportunity, to the country of the Germans and the Italians and the Iraqis, Saudi Arabians, and the Turks, and even to the Americans.

You like my paraphrase? Do you even know how close Syria is to the Red Sea?

Moses says, “yah, but who am I?”

God, instead of giving Moses a self-esteem pep talk reminds Moses of who God is and what God does: ”I will be with you,” says God. Isn’t that enough?

And Moses says, “right, but who are you, anyway? What kind of God are you?”

And then, God says, “I am who I am.” And, because that’s just a little confusing, “…God self-identifies with the God of the ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, indicating that this God is no newcomer, but One who has been following the Israelite descendants through their fortunes and misfortunes for centuries, though they did not know it[1].

Now, lest you think Moses then skips off into the sunset to set the Israelite people free, there is quite a bit more back and forth between God and Moses with Moses what-iffing all over the place and making a pretty ironically eloquent case for not being able to speak well, even imploring for God to pick someone else, to send someone else, which then gets Moses’ brother Aaron roped into the call as someone who can speak to the masses from what Moses says to him.

Does this not sound like how God speaks to you and calls you into the hard thing in your life? “Are you sure God, this seems ridiculous,” you might say. And God persists. In our relationships. In our jobs. In our roles as neighbor and friend, as wife or husband. As sister or brother. “Really God?” And God says, “Really. I mean it.”

Yes, but what about Syrian refugees? What about oppression and war? What about hunger and thirst that just isn’t a mild inconvenience but life or death? Certainly God doesn’t have us in mind. After all, we’re no Moses.

Or are we? I know I find my head in my hands an awful lot, feeling overwhelmed, forgetting who God is, forgetting who I am. I am often fearful, which can squeeze out faith in a heart beat. In an instant. Just last week, before we began our “Strive for Five” strategy to ask you to give $5 or $5 more per week, I talked to Larry Strenge, our person in the Synod office who works with mission churches. And he mentioned that our SWMN synod usually gives to us each year but hadn’t yet this year. So he said to me, “You can count on $2000 this year from the synod.” I literally hung up the phone and went to our vision table meeting and told them of this gift coming our way and wondered if we could use that gift to some how encourage you to give more to River of Hope. Because, there are days when I am more fearful than I am faithful and I am convinced that River of Hope will live or die by my hand. After all, the statistics on mission churches surviving are not in our favor.

Luckily, the Vision table leaders read scripture and pray and has greater vision together than I do all on my own and Sara Pollmann wonders out loud, “what if we asked River of Hope their ideas for how we can go out into the community to transform lives through Jesus Christ?” Oh. We could use that money to serve. Neat-o. In that moment, my heart broke open and I was reminded of who God is, what God does, God is who God is and that also points to who I am and who you are. Because sometimes I can be a nervous jerk. Like Donald Trump or Moses. I’m in good company.
Spoiler alert: Moses does listen to God and with God’s help, the Israelites are brought to freedom. It’s not a smooth path. It takes a while. It involves all kinds of folks doing all kinds of things. I am here to tell you that small actions matter. That what you can do matters.

In the words of Mr. Rogers, in the event of a tragedy, always look for the helpers – the ones running toward the tragedy.

Like this newly wed couple who live in the town of Killis in Turkey, right across the border from Syria and a major entry point for Syrian refugees. Instead of throwing a wedding reception and dinner for their family and friends, the couple instead partnered with a local agency and fed 4000 refugees. The newlyweds had this to say about their decision: “It’s like sharing a dinner with your friends and family who have this kind of thing on a daily basis – or sharing something with people who don’t even have the most basic things.”

Like Emma Kraft and Ellie Hauser raising money to feed hungry kids around the world. It wasn’t too long after they led our congregation in this effort that they also donated lengths of their hair for kids who have cancer.

Like Sandy Tracy who is helping to train pastors to host a caring conversations event, which helps people grapple with tough topics we’d rather not talk about in ways that are compassionate and seek God’s justice, not our own.

Or like you, paying attention, sending money or volunteering or helping out someone in need or having tough conversations in your daily life.

Feeding people. Listening to people. Showing up. Taking a risk. These small things are huge in the face of fear.

Because of our identity in God, and because we know God will eventually not just point to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob but to Jesus – well then, we know the Syrians are our brothers and sisters. We know we are called to be fearful and faithful Moses who eventually does something. Despite his best efforts to get out of it.

What are you afraid of that God calling you to do?

Because whatever it is, God is with you.

Thanks be to God.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2560