For many years I served with the official United Methodist groups that review candidates for Ordained Ministry. Candidates would come before us, having written theological statements, sermons, etc, and we would interview them. We would always ask them to tell us a story: What is your call? How did God call you to be a pastor? What are you called to be and do as a pastor? A common answer went something like this:
When I was in high school I was active in my church youth group. Some people in my church said they thought I was the kind of person who could be a pastor one day. I didn’t see it. At church camp when I was a senior, during one of those end of the week camp fire worship services, I felt I heard God calling me to be a pastor, but I said, “No way, you must be talking to the person sitting next to me. I’m not cut out for that.” Then I went to college and studied business and I partied. I joined a fraternity and did not go to church much. I got a good job at a bank. But it was just a job. All along in the back of my head, I would remember that call from when I was in high school, but I kept ignoring it. I got married and when we had kids we decided to go back to church.
I joined a study group at my church and I started volunteering at the afterschool program, playing basketball with some of the boys and mentoring them. I was asked to teach a class on budgeting but I was also able to talk about my values and how I live them out in business. As I talked about how I have to trust God through tough times, I heard it again: God said, “Will you trust me now, and answer my call to be a pastor.” God told me that I could be someone who could help people make the connections between their daily lives and how much God wants to be a part of their life. So I decided to put my trust in God and finally answer the call to be a pastor. I could not resist the call any longer. Here I am.
You see, all of us who are pastors, we are just people, like all of you. No better, no worse. We have just answered the call to be employed full time in our ministry. And many of us resisted that call for a long time before we finally said “Yes.” We resisted because we know we are just like you. We don’t feel special. We don’t feel good enough to be a representative of God. When we hear God asking us to do something, we say, “Are you kidding? Surely you have someone better than ME for the job.” But we are all God has. God made us, and if God calls us then we must be good enough.
Today’s story from Exodus is about the call of Moses. You will remember from last week that the baby Moses was a Hebrew baby born in Egypt. His people had gone there during a famine. They became slaves to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh became concerned that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous so he took action to kill all the boy babies. Moses’ mother and sister, along with the brave midwives Shiphrah and Puah, went around Pharaoh to spare Moses and in fact he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her own son. Much time has passed now when we pick up the story. Moses has fled Egypt and gone to live in another country, Midian, and he has taken a wife. But his people are still back in Egypt, living under the tyranny of Pharaoh.
When we pick up Moses’ story, he is herding sheep for his father-in-law. He happens to be on a mountain called Horeb, also known as Sinai, which you may recall will play an important role in the story later. This is known as the Mountain of God. Moses comes upon a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. He is amazed. Then things get really interesting because he hears the voice of God speaking to him from the bush. God says: “This is holy ground. Take off your shoes.” It was a common practice to take off your shoes when entering a holy place. Moses then also turns his face away because God is too much to behold. A mere human being cannot look right into the face of God and live.
God says to Moses: “I have seen the suffering of my people in Egypt. I hear their cries to me for help. I know their pain. I have come to help them.” That’s great, right? Then God says, “And I’m sending you to do the job. You are going to lead the people out of Egypt and into freedom.”
“Right,” Moses says, with great hesitation. “And how the heck am I just going to waltz into Pharaoh’s court and do this? He is not going to listen to me.” (Oh, and by the way, I forgot to tell you, the reason Moses left is because he had murdered an Egyptian overseer who was being cruel to a Hebrew slave. This did not score him any points with his adopted father.) Moses says: “I am not your man.”
God says: “I will be with you. It will be fine. And one day soon you will come back to this mountain to worship me with your people.”
Moses starts giving objections for the next couple of chapters in the Bible. He is not eloquent. The people won’t listen to him. But he starts with this one: “If I tell the people their God has sent me, what will I say is your name?” God responds with one of the most famous and enigmatic lines in the Old Testament. “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’ This has always been my name, and this is how I always will be known.” (Exodus 4:14)
Perhaps you have heard that one of the names for God is “The Great I AM” and you wondered where that came from. Now you know. Professor Gene Tucker offers a couple of explanations for what this might mean. First of all, it relates to the word for God in Hebrew, Yahweh. The Hebrew “Yahweh” can be translated “I am” or “I will be what I will be.” It is also possible that God is answering in the way a parent answers the question of a child who says “Where are you going?” The parent simply says: “I am going where I am going.” God says: “I am God, I am who I am. Enough said.” Tell them, “The great ‘I am’ has sent you.” What more could they need to know? (Source: Preaching Through the Christian Year A, by Fred B. Craddock et al, Trinity Press International, Philadelphia, 1992, p. 410).
After Moses goes through a series of objections, God finally wears him down, and Moses returns to Egypt. But it takes some work on God’s part to convince Moses to answer the call. It seems funny looking back. We all know Moses as a great leader. He will be the one who stands up to Pharaoh and says “let my people go.” Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God. We see Moses as a strong leader but in this story, he seems so unsure of himself.
Gene Tucker gives us some insight here. He says there is a pattern in the Old Testament with people who are called to be leaders for God. So many of them resist. They all seem to have a sense of “unworthiness or inadequacy.” It happens with Gideon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Tucker writes that “The resistance to the call is related to the experience of the Holy” (421). It’s not that they are especially timid or shy. Anyone feels unworthy to act on behalf of God. (Ibid.) Think about it. You find yourself in the presence of God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and God says, “I have chosen you to carry out my task on earth. I see something that needs to be done. I want to do this thing so I am going to have YOU do it for me.”
Really? Only the most arrogant and self-centered person is going to feel worthy enough to act for God, and God is not going to choose someone who is arrogant and self-centered. God is going to choose someone who is humble and who puts their trust in God. But somebody who is humble is going to think, “I am not worthy.”
Tucker reminds us that even though God is the one who makes the promise to free the people, a human being is needed to carry out the will of God. The person can “continue to question, resist or choose to obey the will of God” (ibid, p. 421). This is the free will of the human. We are not God’s puppets. We get to choose.
Moses chooses to say “Yes” to God. Moses answers the call to be a worker in God’s scheme to free the people from the tyranny of Pharaoh. Moses has his doubts about his ability. He is not sure the people will respond to his leadership. He feels ill equipped. He feels humbled as he stands before God. But he is faithful. He puts his trust in God and he commits to become a worker for God.
We call this finding one’s call, or vocation, and saying “yes” to that call. Your call as a follower of Jesus may or may not be identical to your job for employment. For a pastor such as those I told you about at the beginning of today’s message, the call, or vocation to be a pastor is also one’s employment.
Other people may have a job for pay, such as working in a factory, or being a teacher in a school. The way you respond to God’s call in your life can still get lived out in your daily life, but it is not so obvious as someone whose job is to work in full time ministry.
Let me give you an example. I’ll talk about someone I will call Sandy. Sandy started out working as a teacher. Sandy loves kids. She is a natural teacher: in school, Sunday School, or after school tutoring, you name it. She relates to kids and makes learning fun. Somewhere along the way, Sandy stopped teaching. She worked in a medical office. Then she thought about being a massage therapist. She became part of a study group in her church, a group where the members really dig deep with one another. They commit to having a daily prayer practice so they can listen to God. They write a spiritual autobiography and share with one another. Then they go through some exercises in order to try to discern what their call is.
Sandy comes to class one night, the night they are going to talk about call and says: “I have had an epiphany (a sign from God). I am a teacher. It’s the thing I was put on this earth to do. Teaching is the thing I do best. I don’t know why I ever quit. I love children and I’m a great teacher. I can show my compassion as a Jesus follower when I teach. I can live out my values when I teach. I am going back to teaching.”
The members of her class said: “Thank goodness, you finally figured that out! We had been wondering how long it was going to take you to see that was what God was calling you to do. Of course you are a teacher! We see it in you every day.”
Teaching was Sandy’s vocation. She was born to teach. She was given the gifts to teach. God blessed her to be a teacher. And she was finally in a position to hear God’s call and to say “yes.”
So how about you? What is your call? What are your particular gifts and why did God put you on this earth? Some of us are called to be pastors, or teachers. Some of us are called to be prophets who speak the truth to power. Others are filled with empathy and meant to sit with the sick and be the healing presence of God for them. Still others have the strength of clear thinking and organization, you help groups of people take good ideas and put them into action to make the world a better place. Some people have the strength of positivity, which helps you always look for another way to do things or to look for the best in people. Others have the strength of learning. You are able to take in new ideas. These are all things that can be used to serve God in some way. Our call or vocation, again may or may not be related to what we do for pay. We may live out our call at work or during our leisure time.
When God called Moses, God identified that Moses could be a good leader. He could lead. He could stand up to Pharaoh and he could convince the Hebrew people to follow him. Moses may not have seen this strength in himself until God pointed it out, but God said to Moses, “You have what it takes, and when you need help, I will send others to help you.”
If I asked your best friend what strength you have, what would your friend say? That strength is what God has given you, and that is the strength you can use in living out your call. We all have a calling. God calls us to be something or do something to make this world more of what God created it to be. We can change the world. So I urge you to claim your call if you have not already. Take some time today or this week. Talk to someone you trust about what your call is. Or write it down on a piece of paper. I believe God put me on this earth because…. And finish the sentence. God is calling you. Ask God to reveal that calling to you. And when you hear that calling, be bold, and answer God. Say “Yes.”
To help you in discerning your calling, identify what your strength is – tell one other person near you, and write it on a piece of paper and put it up here.