Sunday, February 05, 2023
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“You Put The Words Right Into My Mouth”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, February 5, 2023
Reading: Exodus:4:1-17


It feels like there have been a lot of celebrity deaths lately. It’s probably just because I’m getting older, the celebrities that I have watched and listened to over the years are also getting older, and sooner or later, reaching the end.

Just over a year ago, on January 20th, 2022 the world lost the pop singer known as Meat Loaf. I grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, and nobody could sing heart-wrenching songs about young people falling in love like him, with lyrics that sang of fluttering hearts and weak knees and declarations of undying love. One of his biggest hits in the 70s was a song called, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” where he sings:

You hold me so close that my knees grow weak
But my soul is flying high above the ground
I'm trying to speak, but no matter what I do
I just can't seem to make any sound.

And then you took the words right out of my mouth
Oh, it must have been while you were kissing me
You took the words right out of my mouth…I was just about to say I love you.

He sings from the perspective of an enamoured young man, a beautiful young woman in his arms, so overcome by feelings of love but too afraid to open his heart, and say the words, and make himself vulnerable.

Love makes us feel that something powerful is about to happen, something potentially life-changing; it makes us feel so vulnerable and has this way of striking fear in our hearts, which can manifest itself by weakening our knees or silencing our tongues. Fear has this way of stopping us from something that could be the most amazing experience of our lives; this way of holding us back from doing something meaningful and life-changing, or even world-changing.

Many of our Judeo-Christian ancestors, about whom we read in the Bible – like Moses is today’s scripture passage – had experiences of knee-weakening, tongue-tying fear…not necessarily in the face of falling in love; but definitely in the face of the powerful love of God. And, let’s face it, the experience of falling in love with your soul mate can be very similar to experiencing the overwhelming love of God.

Today we’re backtracking a bit from last week in Chapter 7 when we heard about Moses trying to convince Pharaoh to release the Hebrew people from slavery and let them leave Egypt en masse. That was an intimidating prospect for Moses. But we’re backtracking a bit because even before Moses takes that step of trying to convince Pharaoh, he has to make sure the people will actually go with him! He would look like an idiot if he got through all the conversations, going back and forth with Pharaoh, all the plagues – now gnats, now locusts, now frogs, now blood, now all the firstborn are dead; and finally Pharaoh says, “GO!” And the people are like, “Nah, we’re good. We never asked to leave.”

And so, in Chapter 3 we heard a couple of weeks ago that God tells Moses to go to the elders of Israel and tell them to follow him out of slavery in Egypt and into the desert. And Moses responds, not with enthusiasm, but with questions: “Who am I that I should lead the people?” and, “Who are you?” so that I can tell them whose great idea this was. And as we heard Robert Positano read so convincingly (with that voice that probably is what the voice of God would sound like) God responded with the words, “I AM WHO I AM.”

 Not satisfied, apparently, we move into Chapter 4, where Moses continues to raise objections: “What if they do not believe me?” It’s so hard to imagine Moses being so insecure…we know the end of the story, how he led the people out of Egypt, got the 10 Commandments on top of Mount Sinai, and continued to lead them for 40 years through the desert, right up to the edge of the Promised Land (although he himself would not enter the land…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!). We think of Moses as a spiritual giant, but here he is – afraid, insecure, and focused only on his own inadequacy, even as God himself is right there speaking to him.

Now, Moses had every reason to think the Hebrew people wouldn’t want to follow him – he himself was born a Hebrew, but had been raised as a member of the Egyptian Royal household – the very people who were oppressing the Hebrews! The first time he comes amongst them, really seeing them as his own people, he kills someone – one of the Egyptian soldiers. Then he had to flee out into the desert. All this you can read in chapters 2 & 3, which I recommend.

By this point in the narrative, then, he has been out in the wilderness working as a shepherd; he has been gone altogether from Egypt for about 40 years. (You may be starting to notice that this whole “40 years in the wilderness” thing is becoming a theme). Convincing a group of people who hardly know you to leave the only life they know – even if they know it’s not a good life – is no easy feat.

So, in order to convince Moses that God will be with him to give him the power to persuade the people, God offers more of what we heard last week are called “signs and wonders.” These are miracles that are meant to convince the people that God truly is with Moses. The staff turns into a snake and back into a staff; the hand turns leprous, then turns back into a healthy hand. These are double miracles, actually – that’s how much God wants to reassure Moses.

God asks Moses to take small acts of obedience and trust: throwing his staff (which he needs for his work); picking up a snake (which could kill him). And when he takes these steps of obedience, God gives Moses concrete evidence of his supernatural power. The staff – something very common and ordinary – becomes a wonder and power when surrendered to God. In the second case – the hand that becomes leprous – God shows that leprosy – a symbol of sin and defilement and death – can be instantly cured by God. Life can be fully restored by God’s power.

Both of these miracles, we read in verse five and verse eight, are “so that they can believe.” But in verse 10 we see that it’s not really “they” who need convincing – it is Moses himself who is the problem! O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” He knows full well what God is capable of – what is stopping him is himself! He is still focused on his own abilities; or rather, he is focused on his own inadequacies. Even after what he has seen, he still thinks that it’s all up to him! He still thinks he has to be a hero; but God is calling him to be a servant.

At this point we can see clearly that it’s no longer humility and modesty; it’s not the “who am I” from Chapter 3. Now, we realize that what is really holding Moses back is cowardice and unbelief. His self-centred thought is fixed on his own limitations to the point that even when God shows him double miracles he still can’t overcome his fear in order to take that step of obedience.

I’m not one to criticize or blame Moses or any of the others for this, are you? Quite often, when God calls us to do something it takes us out of our comfort zone and requires us to trust in God, and fear is the most common and natural response. But God often calls people to things that take us out of our comfort zone; that stretch us beyond our natural skills and abilities, and that make us feel vulnerable – and we don’t like feeling vulnerable.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, which has been wildly popular for over 35 years, tells a great story about a man named Edwin who, despite being a gifted artist as a youth, allowed his fear to prevent him from pursuing a career in the arts, opting instead to follow his family footsteps into finance. His father bought him a seat on the stock exchange for his twenty-first birthday, and he was a trader from then on. By his mid-thirties he had become very wealthy – and totally miserable. Surrounding himself with artists and works of art, he became like a child with his nose pressed to the candy store window. A generous man, he presented an aspiring artist with a year’s worth of living expenses so she could pursue her dreams. Yet he would not make that same gift to himself. Fear kept Edwin locked into a life that was unhappy and unfulfilled. At every step of the way, he chose safety over vulnerability… and nobody will ever know what beauty God wanted to bring into the world when he gave Edwin the gift of art; and who will ever know what the world has lost because of Edwin’s fear.

Vulnerable is the sweet spot when it comes to our faith. Rarely can we do something that makes an impact for the kingdom of God without making ourselves vulnerable, without making ourselves completely dependent on God for success, because when we only do things that fit our own interests and skills, most often we’re doing it for our own sense of fulfillment, or our own safety and security, or our own personal glory, and not really in service of God and others. Vulnerability requires us to turn to God in faith and humility, and those are the two big requirements on our part for being used by God for his purposes and his glory.

And what the Bible makes clear time after time after time is that whenever God calls someone to do something, God equips them with everything they need to do it. Every time! If God is calling you to do something to serve him, to glorify him, God will equip you to do it…every time! Moses’ inadequacy was not a barrier for God to use him to fulfill his purpose of freeing the Israelites from slavery. In fact, the inadequacy of Moses’ resources, which made the task he was called to seem futile, actually draws attention to the power and centrality of God. The theme of the sufficiency of the weak for God is constantly played upon in the Bible.

As we continue reading, in verse 13 we see that Moses stops making excuses. First it was, “the people won’t believe me.” God gave him sufficient ways to convince the people. Then it was, “I’m not eloquent.” God says, “I will put the words into your mouth.” But then, in verse 13, the plain truth of the matter comes out: “I don’t want to do it; pick somebody else to do it!”

Then we’re told that God becomes angry, and somehow that feels like bad news for Moses. “God’s anger burned against Moses.” Myself, I have experienced a lot of God’s love and compassion and mercy in my life, and I don’t ever want to know what it feels like for God’s anger to burn against me. Except that, when you read this, it somehow seems like God’s anger kind of feels like love and compassion and mercy: God’s anger burns against Moses, and yet he still reasons with Moses. Moses is not off the hook, but God is willing to work with his fear, work with his lack of skills, and work with his lack of faith. It’s at this point when God promises Moses that he will not have to do this task by himself, allowing Moses to bring his brother Aaron alongside him.

Even the insufficiency of Moses’ faith was not a barrier for God. In this instance, Moses’ lack of faith served to bring his brother Aaron into the story, and eventually their sister Miriam as well. In a way, all of their gifts served to complement one another, which is how God always works in the church and in our lives as well. Our human nature tilts us toward autonomy, isolation and self-sufficiency, but faith requires us to be dependent on God and one another as we put ourselves out there for the service of God’s kingdom.

God sometimes chooses people to do things who are not the natural choice, someone who is going to have to trust in him every step of the way. God could have chosen Aaron as the leader in the first place, since Aaron was the one who already had leadership skills…but he chose Moses.

Finally, in verse 17, God says, “Take this staff, with which you will perform the signs.” When I first read this, I wasn’t sure if this was his own staff or a new staff, but in this week’s Bible study someone pointed out that in verse 20 we read: “So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt, and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.” The ordinary shepherd’s staff has been replaced by the staff of the Lord, as a symbol and constant reminder to Moses of God’s presence and power. God gives Moses everything that he needs, including this reminder and reassurance of God’s own presence with him. Unlike human love – like the Meat Loaf song – that can scare us into silence, God’s love put the words right into Moses’ mouth.

What is God calling you to do? Is there something you feel drawn to do in service of God and the church, but it terrifies you? Maybe you’ll fail? Maybe you’ll look foolish? Maybe it makes you feel vulnerable? It may be that you need to take a step in that direction, trusting that if God is calling you, then God will provide everything that you need in order to accomplish it.

As followers of Jesus, as God’s people, we are all called to service. God doesn’t call us to be heroes, but to be servants working together for the glory of God. Just as Moses was called and equipped by God to serve; just as Jesus is a Servant King, so we are called to follow in their footsteps as servants of God, leading people into LIFE! What step of faithful obedience is God calling you to? It might be frightening, but you can trust that God will equip you for whatever you do in service of God and to His glory.

And furthermore: who is your Aaron? Because if God is calling you to do something, you can be sure that God will bring you together with other faithful people to work towards a common purpose, as your gifts and skills all complement one another, which is how the Body of Christ is meant to work.

Falling in love is one of the greatest experiences of life, but as Meat Loaf sang about, it makes us very vulnerable. It can “take the words right out of your mouth.” God puts the words right into your mouth. God gives you what you need to serve Him. God is not calling you to be a hero – God wants to be your hero, your saviour, your provider, your strength, and your guide. He gives you everything you need, and you will never walk alone on the journey. Amen.