Exodus 3:1-15 | Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c | Romans 12:9-21 | Matthew 16:21-28
“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’”
What are some things that bring you comfort? A familiar song? Your favorite meal? The voice of a dear friend? Something that I find quite comforting is fire… especially drawing close to a hot woodstove on a cold, gloomy day. The feel of the heat, the smell of the woodsmoke, the site of the dancing flames, I love all of it. To me, fire brings comfort.
But I know it can also be dangerous… unpredictable… unsafe, so to speak. This same object can be both the source of delight, as well as a cause of destruction. And what sometimes brings us comfort can also disrupt everything.
In today’s Old Testament reading from the book of Exodus, we heard about Moses’ lifechanging encounter with the Living God. Many years and troubles have passed for Moses since our reading last week: Having been spared as an infant from the fear-driven violence and cruel bloodshed of Pharaoh, the Israelite Moses ends up being raised in the palace of Egypt’s king: the adopted son of a princess.
As an adult, Moses becomes troubled by the oppression of his people, and one day he takes matters into his own hands, and murders an Egyptian man who was beating an Israelite slave. When his crime becomes known, Moses flees out into the dessert… to the land of Midian… where he tries to start his life over again: he gets married, and begins working in the family business, shepherding. And here we find him today: miles away from his past and from his suffering people, tending sheep on Mt. Horeb, or Sinai, in the wilderness. And here, God finds him too… and disrupts everything.
Out of the midst of the burning bush, the Living God calls out to Moses with words of both grave dis-comfort, and ultimate security. In this surprising exchange God is taking action to change the course of the story: for Moses, for Israel, and most dramatically for Pharaoh, challenging his brutal reign and prideful claim to power, and bringing to light God’s character of compassion and rescuing love.
Our text today dwells on Moses: God disrupts his new life, and calls Moses to go back to the land he fled from, to confront the most powerful leader of the most powerful empire of his day, and demand Pharaoh let his slaves… let God’s people, go. What God gives to Moses, out of the blue, is an overwhelming, and dangerous mission.
A scholar, Brevard Childs, sums up the effect this call had on Moses: “What began as just another day doing the same old thing, turned out to be an absolutely new experience for Moses. The old life of shepherding was ended; the new life of deliverer was beginning… The initiative is shifted from Moses to God. The ordinary experiences emerge as extraordinary. The old has been transformed into the new.” Suddenly Moses’ life is being taken up by God and drawn into His redemptive purposes and work in the world… that God’s mercy, and justice, and holy love might shine out into the darkness.
Are there moments in our own lives when things like this happen to us? Not God’s voice speaking to us from within a burning bush, but much more subtle moments when out of nowhere we are confronted with our own calling? When we know within our bones we are being urged to take action… to take part in something true and good, but also frightening? Those times when the Living God seems to be disrupting our comfortable stories in order to bring His New Life into our world?
As God’s people, Christians have been called to a distinctive, some might say disruptive form of life: set free from the grips of sin, in order to share in God’s holy love. In our reading from Romans today we can catch a glimpse of what that kind of life looks like, as St. Paul unpacks what it means to live for Christ; to be a living sacrifice. Some of it sounds wonderful: “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Some of it sounds daunting: “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Live in harmony with one another; associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” And some of it sounds dangerous: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… never avenge yourselves… if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”
Isn’t this going a bit too far? Isn’t this a little extreme? I mean, the world we know doesn’t work this way… blessing our enemies… refusing revenge… isn’t that a recipe for disaster? Won’t that lead to people taking advantage of us? How can we keep ourselves safe when God’s calling us to live so differently… to embrace the way of peace in an often hostile world?
In this we can hear echoes of Moses’ concerns about facing Pharaoh: feeling uncertain, inadequate, afraid and vulnerable. And here God’s words of comfort come to us as well… speaking to us in our distress as we seek to follow Him. Whatever Moses may face before Pharaoh… whatever we might face on our road… this is the comfort God offers us all: “I will be with you.” “I will be with you.” The comfort we have comes from trusting that the Living God is with us.
John Sailhamer, another Old Testament scholar makes a noteworthy point: “God responds to Moses’ question not by building up Moses’ confidence in himself but by the reassurance that he would be with him in carrying out his task.” Where today we might expect someone to encourage Moses to think more positively… to dig deep down and find the inner strength to face his challenges, God doesn’t leave Moses to lean on his own power, but to find the comfort and strength he needs by leaning on the LORD. The point isn’t that Moses is up for the task, but that the LORD almighty is.
The scholar John Goldingay makes this point even more strongly: “Moses is not being commissioned on the basis of his experience in the palace, his initiative, or his leadership potential… What counts is God’s “I will be with you.” This is not merely a promise that he will feel God is with him but a promise that God will be with him actively whether he feels it or not.”
The Living God, the LORD, Yahweh, the One who truly IS, invites Moses… invites Israel… invites us to trust Him. Even as He calls us to go where we’re frightened to go.
Last week we heard how Peter boldly confessed his faith in Jesus, proclaiming that He was the Messiah; God’s chosen Saviour. But today we heard how, moments later, Peter tries to disrupt Jesus’ mission… to dissuade his Master from taking the road of suffering to the cross.
No doubt, Peter thought he was helping… trying to offer support and comfort. But he was ultimately undermining God’s greatest act of salvation, not only for Israel, but for our entire world, trapped and burdened by the weight of evil and sin.
Jesus does not take the bait, and after calling Peter out, Christ turns to His disciples to make clear to them their calling: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The road of discipleship… of the Christian life… is not traveled by playing it safe, but by trusting the LORD. By following the Living God, and His Son who was sent to save us. Who promises again and again that He will be with us always.
Christ’s call is disruptive: it leads us to the cross, and to the dismantling of sins grip on us, both inside and out. Dying to all that is not of God in us. But it is precisely in following Christ to the cross that we find New Life in Him: freed by His sacrifice, forgiven by His blood, and filled with His Spirit to walk with Him in holiness. Though the Living God can be disruptive, unpredictable, even dangerous… He is also the source of our deepest comfort, freedom, and life.
In sending Moses back to Egypt, as frightening as that may have been, God disrupted the power of Pharaoh and brought new life to His people. In sending Jesus the Son of God to take our place on the cross, God disrupted the powers of evil, to set us all free from sin. And now, in sending the Church out into the world, through the power of His Spirit, the Living God is at work in us disrupting the darkness through His holy love: Changing the stories of those who find in Him eternal life. And wherever we are called to go, He promises to be right there with us. May that promise be our comfort, now and forever. Amen.
 Childs, B. S. (2004). The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. (P. Ackroyd, J. Barr, B. W. Anderson, & J. L. Mays, Eds.) (p. 72). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Parids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 245.
 Goldingay, J. (2010). Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone (p. 19). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.