Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Leadership: Pharaoh verses Moses
August 30, 2020
I have a lot of problems with how Christians are often portrayed. I suspect most of you do too. So often we are portrayed as a bunch of mindless fools…. as a herd of idiotic sheep blindly following their master.
Of course there is a somewhat legitimate basis for this. While it is not the most frequent command spoken by Jesus in the scriptures, it is the first one spoken to his disciples: Follow me! Sheep. Servants. Even slaves of the master. That’s what disciples of Jesus are called to be. Which is one reason, among many, that I am often drawn to the Hebrew scriptures. There it is clearer that God also called and raised up people to be leaders, not just followers.
Today’s scripture reading is the story of God calling Moses. God called Moses to liberate people who were held captive to a system that oppressed and enslaved them. It was Moses’ voice that called the people out, a voice that reflected God’s desire for God’s people to be liberated. And God may have stood by Moses every step of the way, but it was Moses who had to tell the most powerful man on earth to release his entire work-force. It was Moses who put his neck on the line…who spoke truth to power…..who stood up for what was right and good and moral and just. Can you imagine how much courage that took?
But courage wasn’t Moses only gift. Moses was also a great leader.
As we approach the day when we as a nation will elect who we want to lead our country for the next four years it seems like a very appropriate time to think about leadership….what makes for a good leader? In this part of Exodus we have two very different and contrasting styles of leadership. We’ve got Pharaoh and we’ve got Moses.
Pharaoh, the strong man, the dictator, the one whom people saw as a god…Pharaoh controlled the people with his chariots and whips. Such leadership is, of course, incredibly effective and efficient when the goal is building pyramids. And the pyramids are a remarkable engineering achievement. Built to honor and glorify the great leaders of Ancient Egypt those pyramids are nothing to sneeze at. It takes a pharaoh’s style of leadership to build a great pyramid, or a 13,000 mile wall, or a giant colosseum. And all of them very impressive. But if the goal is building community or a better society, that’s probably not what you want.
Over and against Pharaoh you have Moses…Moses, a man who had seen the suffering of his people and who was able to somehow persuade them that another life was possible. Which it seems to me is even more remarkable than him standing up to Pharaoh and saying, “Let my people go.”
And once again, as is often the case, the Bible seems to leave out the most important part. How, exactly did Moses do that!? Having spent their whole lives enslaved….knowing no other life…understanding all too well the power of Pharaoh, his generals and their armies….how was Moses able to convince those people to follow him out of their bondage.
Did he use an organizing model….meet with people one-to-one….listen to their concerns and hopes…and then, like a real leader does, did he create for them a shared vision of what was possible? Did he offer a collective vision, giving them a pathway to a better future? Were there meetings beside the fleshpots at night where Moses helped the people organize and plan, where hope was birthed and where the people were taught that things could change.
And what makes this even more remarkable is that these people had not only spent their lives oppressed and in bondage, but they had also gone through one plague after another: water to blood, frogs, lice, attacks by wild animals, diseased livestock, boils, hail and fire, locusts, darkness and the death of children.
While the version of the story we have in our bibles emphasizes how these things impacted pharaoh….or didn’t….this year we have learned all too well that it is NOT Pharaoh who is impacted by plagues. It is always the poor and the ones most oppressed who are hurt the most by such events.
I mean I don’t know about you but to me it really does feel like we’ve been hit with one plague after another this year and many of them parallel those plagues of ancient Egypt: the contamination of the earth, police brutality, diseased animals, one hurricane after another, fires, and an uncontained pandemic. And while most of us are able to safely shelter at home we are very aware of the fact that it is a privilege for us to be able to do so while immigrant farm workers, those deemed essential workers whose jobs are to take care of our needs and the poor are not only living on the edge economically but they are literally risking their lives for their loved ones and the likes of us.
But nothing touched Pharaoh until he faced the death of his son and THEN, FINALLY, he let the people go only to change his mind just a few hours later. Even that…even that only penetrated his heart for only a moment before he re-claimed his power. Pharaoh really was a hard-hearted man.
But in that brief moment when Pharaoh relented the people went. Moses had prepared and persuaded them. They were ready. Something had been born in them….a spark of hope that maybe….just maybe…..they could have a life that was different from the one they had been assigned at birth. They could imagine the possibility of it.
And they started to trust the man who was telling them that their God would be with them….that God had heard the cries of his people….seen their misery. And Moses told them stories, stories they had forgotten long ago, stories about a promised land and how God had chosen them to be his chosen ones. And as he told the stories the elders started to remember and the young ones listened with a glint of wonder in their eyes.
I know. The Bible doesn’t say all that. But I don’t know how else it could have happened….that a people so oppressed, so beaten down, so controlled by fear, would take the risk and go…..just leave behind all that they knew, not even knowing where they were headed but trusting that it had to be better than where they were….into the chill of night…..running….running with their children in their arms….maybe enough food for one meal in a sack….imaging that this might well end in their death. Yet and still they went.
Pharaoh’s shackles of fear had been broken by hope so they were free to GO! And they did. They headed off into the darkness and there, right there in the heart of the darkness they saw the light of hope shining as bright as a pillar of fire.
So, a lot of us are thinking about leadership these days. This is a sermon about the power of hope over and against the power of fear.
And I think I’ll leave it right there. Let those with ears hear.