Story – we were slaves – not only do we understand God as the one who is faithful and who redeems, but we understand ourselves as those who are faithful because we are redeemed.
For the last couple of weeks we have been reading the beginning of the story of Moses – the story that represents ground zero of the self-understanding of the people who we call
But let’s start a few verses earlier and notice first what this story is all about: that
Israel – remember the word itself means the one who wrestles with God – Israel is in Egypt because they are on the run from famine – you remember the story of Joseph, and how he is sold into slavery in Egypt but ends up as Pharaoh’s right hand man, then in a complicated sort of turn-around when the whole region is gripped in a dreadful famine Joseph arranges for his entire family to join him in
And then we get to this remarkable short preamble to the story of Moses’ leadership. The people of
‘Don’t you see?’, says this young woman in
Yes, you might say, but these were the chosen people. These were the ones God had made a promise to. Of course God is going to look after them. But here’s the point. The promise God made to Abraham, and to Isaac and Jacob is the same promise God has been making, over and over, whenever God gets the chance. Whenever anyone will listen. It’s the same promise God extends to absolutely everyone, that God makes absolutely explicit, in the form of his Son. God’s chosen people includes everyone Jesus came to give God’s message of love to – everyone who is made in God’s image. Whether or not they are Jewish. Whether or not they are Christian. Whether or not they even know it.
The people God has compassion for are the people who need God’s compassion. Simple as that.
Then along comes Moses. Now we don’t know much about Moses’ early life, but we do know he was lucky – being brought up in Pharaoh’s own household Moses is a good example of someone who even though he belongs to a despised minority manages to make the transition into the privileged world of the dominant culture. Like the refugee who ends up as managing director of BHP. Moses doesn’t seem to fancy himself as an activist, or as a rebel leader. But he’s clearly a person who is prepared to stand up for the weak and the oppressed – already he’s got himself into trouble by killing an Egyptian who was beating up a Hebrew slave, and on the run from Pharaoh, out in the bush, Moses meets his future wife when he rescues her from a band of outlaw shepherds. The burning bush that Moses sees out in the desert – now that of course would be a remarkable sight but you know I don’t think it’s that significant – in fact I think there are probably burning bushes all over the place, or whatever the equivalent is in the world we live in – I think God is always trying to get our attention and the thing about Moses is that he is attentive enough, he’s curious enough and he’s prepared to step outside his own comfort zone – so Moses turns aside for a look.
And Moses, quite reasonably it seems to me, objects to what God has in mind. Partly it’s the same objections it seems everyone who is called by God always comes up with – why me? I really haven’t got what you’re looking for, God. Not much of a public speaker, you know. And God does with this what God always does – not by promising that all of a sudden you’ll be a fantastic speaker and everyone will listen – but by saying, ‘I will be with you’. That’s should be enough. But actually these aren’t really the main objections – because Moses, who isn’t thick, knows that God is inviting him into a fairly high-risk enterprise. ‘You want me to go to Pharaoh and tell him what? And Moses wants to sort out a few things first, to get a few assurances – who are you anyway? Who are you to tell me that being a Christian means I have to turn into a bleeding-heart do-gooder? And God, who apparently can’t resist being enigmatic, says, ‘Who am I? Who I’ve always been. Same one I was when Abraham second-guessed me all the way to Canaan, when I didn’t require the sacrifice of Isaac, when I wrestled with Jacob until he found out who he really was’ God grounds both his demands and his promises – the present and the future – in the history of God’s compassion. I’m the one you’ve always known, deep down, was with you. I companion you, I’m with you through thick and thin – oh, and by the way, when you least expect it I’m going to call you to be more than you ever dreamed possible you could be. My promises are going to come true through you and because of you.
Is all this reassuring, or is it just a bit disturbing? If we’re honest, maybe both. Here’s the reassuring bit – that God is for us, and God acts in solidarity with us, that the fundamental nature of God is to enter into our world and our reality in order to transform our lives. And the disturbing bit is this – that the flesh and blood God needs to act in this world is ours. In Jesus as in Moses, God comes down into the world in order to deliver God’s people – in other words in Jesus, as in Moses, God’s Word is incarnate, God’s promises take on human form. As they do in you and in me, whenever we are prepared to turn aside to see the burning bushes in our own wilderness, for example at Baxter or at Port Hedland. Whenever we are prepared to listen to the cries of God’s suffering people in detention centres and displaced persons’ camps – and hear God saying to us, ‘I just need you to slip in and have a word to Pharaoh’.