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Pentecost 13 Proper 17 September 3, 2017

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Last Sunday, our opening reading was the beginning of the life of Moses. We remember that the Pharaoh had ordered that all the Hebrew baby boys should be killed. Because of the courage of his mother and sister, and because of the compassion and courage of the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses is brought up in the palace of the king and when he comes of age, the princess adopts him as her son.

 

Even though he has grown up with all the advantages of a noble upbringing, Moses still identifies himself as a Hebrew. One day, he goes out into the city. He sees his fellow Hebrews doing forced labor,  and he comes upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. The next day, he goes out and sees two Hebrews fighting with each other. He tells the one who is at fault that he should not fight with his fellow Hebrew. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman wisely notes that Moses is encouraging solidarity among the Hebrew slaves.

 

The Pharaoh soon hears that Moses has killed an Egyptian and sets out to kill Moses. Moses flees to Midian. He sits down by a well. As we remember, in the desert, the well is the town center, a place of refreshment and a place to meet people. The seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian, come to draw water. Some shepherds come and drive the young women away from the well. Moses comes to their defense and waters their flock. The young women go home, leaving Moses at the well.Their father, Reuel, asks them how they have gotten home so early, and they tell him that an Egyptian helped them to get rid of the shepherds and then watered their entire flock for them. This tells us that Moses, although he identifies himself as a Hebrew, still carries enough signs of being a part of the Egyptian royal court that these young women see him as an Egyptian.

 

Reuel senses that this is an extraordinary young man. He has rescued Reuel’s daughters. Reuel sends his daughters back to the well to invite Moses to break bread with them. Eventually, Moses marries Reuel’s daughter Zipporah and she has a son. Moses names him Gershom, saying, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.” In Hebrew. “ger’ means alien. Moses knows what it is to be different, to be an alien in a foreign land, even though he was raised in the king’s house. In defending his fellow Hebrew, in encouraging his Hebrew brothers to support each other instead of fighting, and in driving the shepherds away from the young women, he shows his commitment to justice and his willingness to fight for those who are vulnerable.

Here is this young man. Moses, a Hebrew raised in the palace of the King of Egypt, who has had to run for his life and is now living in Midian under the protection of Reuel, the priest of that place. Incidentally, the name Reuel means “friend of God.” (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, p 54.)

In our reading for today, time has gone by, and Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Scholars tell us that Jethro is another name for Reuel. (Brueggemann, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 711.) Moses is doing his work, and he sees this most amazing thing—a bush that is engulfed in flames but is not burning up. It is there, glowing.

Moses goes toward this amazing incandescent shrub burning with the luminous presence of God. And God calls his name. Moses answers in the words so many of our biblical heroes and heroines use: “Here I am.” As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Moses is fully present in this moment. He is not rushing to the next task, He is not thinking of what he has done yesterday or what he has to do tomorrow or next week. He is there, in that moment. God tells him to take his sandals off, for this is holy ground. And God tells Moses who God is. And Moses is afraid.

God tells Moses that God has noticed the suffering of God’s people in Egypt, and he has chosen Moses to lead the people to freedom. And God says that most crucial thing, that God will be with Moses throughout the journey to freedom. Moses has many questions, and God keeps saying to him in various ways, that God is giving Moses this ministry, and God will guide him every step of the way.

The story of Moses speaks to us this Sunday for many reasons. First, it is a miracle that he survived beyond infancy. Secondly, even though he had a royal upbringing, he had compassion on those who were suffering oppression. He defended the Hebrew man who was being beaten; he encouraged his Hebrew brothers to work together instead of fighting, and he defended the daughters of Reuel who were being harassed by the shepherds. He had to run for his life, but he made a new life for himself with the protection of Reuel. He was just going about his daily work when God chose him to lead his people from slavery to freedom. He was present to that moment and he said Yes to God’s call, even though he was wondering how in the world he would be able to lead these people to the promised land. As we know, because we have read the rest of the story, leading those people was no picnic. But they got there.

In our epistle for today, Paul is reminding us of the qualities of a Christian community, and, as we know, the main quality is love. “Love one another with mutual affection…rejoice in hope…persevere in prayer.”  And Jesus calls us to take up our cross. Someone has said that our lives are intended to be cross-shaped. We reach up to God and we reach out to others with God’s love.

As we reflect on the ministry of Moses leading the people to freedom and the ministry of our Lord leading us to freedom from everything that would imprison us, and the love of God that is at the center of everything, I thank God this day for the many ministries that people in this community do in order to help both people and animals to move from slavery to freedom, from suffering to peace and joy. I also thank God for Reuel, the priest of Midian, who nurtured and protected Moses, the liberator of God’s people, and for his namesake, the Rev. Dr. Reuel Keith, beloved priest and scholar and founder of the Virginia Theological Seminary.  Amen.

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