Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Meantime: Hints of Vocation

Our lectionary texts this week (as we continue to run a couple of Sundays behind everyone else--but that's okay!) are Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21, and Matthew 16:21-28. You may read them here.

In the Meantime: Throughout our Exodus series in worship, I plan to use the blog space to fill in the gaps in the Exodus story, highlighting the texts we will not be covering in worship that fall in between the ones we will be spending focused time with. So, today we will cover the ground between Moses' birth and his encounter with a burning bush: the growing-up years found in Exodus 2:10-25.

The Burning Bush encounter of Moses with God is one of the most well-known accounts in scripture (thank you, Charlton Heston); what is lesser known, however, is what led Moses to be out in the far corner of the wilderness in the first place.

Moses, you see, was a pretty mixed-up guy: born a lowly Hebrew, rescued by a princess, initially raised by his own people but then sent to live in an Egyptian palace. As a young adult, Moses has feet in a couple of worlds but a true home nowhere...a fact that is confounded his worlds collide in a violent way. Seeing an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew, he is filled with rage at the injustice and secretly kills the Egyptian when he believes no one is looking. Yet when he tries to interact with the Hebrews after this, they call him out on his crime rather than embracing him--what he had done was not as hidden as he had believed. His adopted grandfather, Pharaoh, remembered Moses was really a Hebrew and not an Egyptian and prepared to kill Moses for his crime; so Moses fled, as fast as he could, to the desert land of Midian. There he marries and has a child, settling down for a life in oblivion as a stranger in a foreign land, hoping no one finds out he's there.

While Moses is trying to hide, however, God is seeking to reveal. The end of Exodus 2 brings out God as a major player in the story of Exodus for the first time: God hears the cries of the Israelites just as Moses had, and God determines that it's time to act. God takes notice of the people God had promised to love and preserve--their suffering will be hidden no more.

In the intersection of the story of Moses' violent retribution and God's hearing of the people's cries, what we get a full-blown picture of in Exodus 3 begins to take shape in fits and starts: Moses' vocation. In his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC, Frederich Buechner beautifully defined this idea of a vocation, or one's particular calling from God:

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either… The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

I don't know that fighting the oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians was Moses' "deep gladness", but in these intervening verses it is shown to be a deep passion that bubbles up over his Egyptian upbringing to remind him of who he deeply is. God's hearing of the Israelites' cries reveals a deep hunger: for liberation from bondage, for freedom from oppression. As God calls to Moses from the bush, God will call Moses to the intersection of these things: his burning desire for justice, and his people's loud cries for help. Here, in his young adult years of growing up, Moses is beginning to discover his calling; and though he tries to flee from it, to live a life unnoticed, it pursues him even to the far reaches of the desert, and he finds he cannot evade its pursuit but, rather, must turn aside to look.

That turning is what we will spend time with on Sunday...I look forward to the encounter we will share together, and the ways it may call us to consider our own deep passions and the world's deep hunger, and the ways these things intersect.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Here's a bit from "Easter Oratorio" (music by Paul Spicer, the text is by NT Wright) that struck me as I was reading Wright's "Surprised by Hope" recently. It juxtaposes the moment of the Israelites being between the army and the sea with the meeting between Jesus and Thomas after the resurrection.

Evangelist: Now Thomas, called ‘Didymus’, one of the Twelve, was not
with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to

Disciples: We have seen the Lord!
Evangelist: But he said to them,
Thomas: Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and put my
finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side,
I shall not believe.

Chorus: The sea is too deep
he heaven’s too high
I cannot swim
I cannot fly;
I must stay here
I must stay here
Here where I know
How I can know
Here where I know
What I can know.

Evangelist: And after eight days, the disciples were again indoors, and
Thomas was with them. Jesus came again, although the doors
were shut, and stood in the midst, and said,

Jesus: Peace be with you.
Evangelist: Then he said to Thomas,
Jesus: Come here with your finger, and inspect my hands; come here
with your hand, and put it into my side. Do not be faithless, but

Aria (tenor): The sea has parted. Pharaoh’s hosts −
Despair, and doubt, and fear, and pride −
No longer frighten us. We must
Cross over to the other side.
The heaven bows down. With wounded hands
Our exiled God, our Lord of shame
Before us, living, breathing, stands;
The Word is near, and calls our name.
New knowing for the doubting mind,
New seeing out of blindness grows;
New trusting may the sceptic find
New hope through that which faith now knows.

Evangelist: Thomas, in reply, said,

Thomas: My Lord, and my God!

Evangelist: Jesus said to him,
Jesus: Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are
those who have not seen, and yet believe.

Chorale: O Lord, when we have doubted
Your mighty power to save;
When we have feared, and questioned
Your victory o’er the grave;
Forgive us for our blindness,
And open now our eyes,
To see in faith and wonder
Our Lord and God arise!