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Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 738:1-4 “The Son of God, Our Christ”
- Hymn CW 157 “Glory Be to God on High”
- Hymn CW 578 “Chief of Sinners Though I Be”
- Hymn CW 575 “By Grace I’m Saved”
- Hymn CW 896 “Dear Lord, to Your True Servants Give”
June 11, 2023 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
“Unworthy Servants of a Merciful God”
1) See God’s Call to Moses
2) Recognize God’s Call to You
The theme for this week’s worship service is pretty clear, I think. In our second reading we heard Paul talk about his former way of life. He was a blasphemer and a persecutor – an enemy of the church. Yet God called him out of that life and into a new one of service and discipleship. In the Gospel lesson we saw Jesus walk up to Matthew the tax collector, an outcast of Jewish society considered a traitor to their nation. Yet Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve. Here we see Moses, a murderer rejected by his own people. And yet God calls him too. Do you see the pattern? God doesn’t call the best and most faithful to be his servants…he calls the unworthy. In mercy, God looks at us and calls us to him in spite of ourselves. Today look at the call of
Moses from the burning bush. As we see God’s call to Moses, I pray we recognize in it God’s call to us as well.
At this point in his life, Moses would not have been on the top of anyone’s list for potential leaders of Israel. While his people suffered in slavery, he was raised as an Egyptian, growing up in the wealthy palace of Pharaoh’s daughter. When he was 40 though, Moses saw an Egyptian slave driver abusing a Hebrew slave. Moses reacted quickly, killing the slave driver and trying to cover up the act. At a later occasion when Moses tried separating two quarrelling Israelites they turned on him and challenged: “Who are you? Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian?” His secret was out, and rather than gratitude for siding with them, the people saw him as an enemy.
So Moses fled. He went to the wilderness of Midian where he lived for the next 40 years. He settled down, got married, had sons, and became a shepherd. How might you describe Moses at this point? He was a political failure, a murderer, and an exile living away from his homeland and his home people. There could hardly be a less worthy servant of God, much less a leader for his people.
This encounter with a peculiar burning bush would change everything. With his father-in-law’s sheep in tow, Moses ascended Mt. Horeb to look for green pasture. In the distance he saw a bush on fire. Now, a bush on fire wouldn’t be that spectacular in the wilderness but this bush wasn’t burning up in the flames. When Moses moved closer to investigate, a
voice spoke from within the fire. “Moses! Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals. You’re on holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Can you imagine the voice of God speaking to you? As he hid his face, afraid to look at God, Moses must have thought: “I’m a dead man! God has caught up with me to punish me for the murder I committed in Egypt!”
But God hadn’t come to destroy Moses. He came to call him into service. He brought him a message of mercy. God said, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses’ response? “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” In addition to being a political failure and a murderer, Moses may have been content with life as it was. I mean, he had a wife and kids, a steady job. Cuddly sheep. Or maybe he figured he was over-the-hill and more ready to retire rather than lead. Seriously, what kind of confidence could an 80-year-old exiled shepherd instill in the Israelites? How would they react when he announced to them that he had been handpicked by God to be their leader? If you were caught in a house fire, would you want your 80-year-old neighbor to attempt your rescue, or a younger, fit firefighter dressed in all his gear? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? If we were choosing who God should call to deliver Israel we’d find some handsome young warriortype right out of the movies. Not Moses!
God called Moses. And here is a key point as we consider the Holy Ministry God brings us into, all of us. It didn’t matter who Moses was. What was important is not who he was, but who God is. God reveals his name from the burning bush in verse 14. He tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” I wonder if that didn’t take Moses by surprise. Surely he wanted a more exciting name like “Mighty one” or “Maximus.” But think about that name for a moment. When God calls himself the “I AM,” he reveals that he is a personal being who does not change. The creator with power over all things, and still that powerful. The gracious one who promised a Savior to Adam and Eve, still true to that promise. The one who heard Abraham and Sarah’s prayer for a child, and then gave them a son in their old age. And this “I AM” told Moses that he was still listening to his people. He saw their misery in Egypt and was going to act. He hears our cries and prayers too and acts in mercy for us. Even calling us into ministries to serve and honor him.
A devotion I read long ago noted how God calls himself the “I AM” not the “I WOULD BE if only you would…” In other words the name “I AM” emphasizes that God is absolutely independent. God saves us as we are, sinners and all. God works with us and in us and through us as we are, not only after we’ve come to some special level of holiness. Think about Moses. God knew all about him. He knew of his past arrogance. He knew of his rash act of murder. He knew of his doubts and fears. But that didn’t stop God from using that lumpy imperfect piece of clay named Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. This account of the burning bush doesn’t speak only to God’s power – it’s also about his mercy. Moses didn’t deserve the honor to be called as Israel’s leader. He hadn’t earned it or proven himself. And he wouldn’t be a perfect leader. But God called him anyway. God calls unholy sinners into his holy ministry.
You probably recognize that Moses isn’t alone in that. Paul didn’t deserve it. Matthew didn’t deserve it. Neither do we. We are a group of grumblers, no better than Israel in the desert. How much have you grumbled already this morning? We are blessed to gather for worship, but how many of us grumbled that it has to be so early? God has given us a beautiful place to worship, but don’t we complain that it’s too dark, or hot, or stuffy? Last night at supper we may have bowed our heads to thank God for our evening meal but then we turned up our noses at having to eat our vegetables. If you’ve ever gone on a trip with someone who is constantly complaining about the food, the weather, the hotel rooms…you can begin to understand how God must feel at our constant griping. No wonder Paul called himself God’s example of patience!
But in his wisdom, God chooses the foolish things of the world, the weak and the imperfect, to carry out his perfect will. The simple fact is that God’s plan is for imperfect people like us to share the good news of our perfect Savior with each other and ourselves. Some of us do it publicly, as called pastors and teachers, but we’re all called to it. It’s kind of the irony of what we call the Holy Ministry. That ministry is holy not because we are who are carrying it out, but because he is. Because the work is. So murderous Paul, traitorous Matthew, weak Moses, and all of us are candidates for the Holy Ministry. We all have a part in the work that God gives to his Church. From the pastor to the oldest member to the newest convert. From the quietest grandma to the loudest child.
Do you recognize your call into ministry as you look at Moses’ call into his? True, there was no burning bush outside the church tonight. And I am certainly not the voice of God himself. But I did read it. And I am preaching about it. Make no mistake, God has called you into his service. He called you by name at your baptism as he put his name onto your heart. He calls you in his Word and Sacrament, as he reassures us of our place in his heaven and our place in his plan.
When your pastor or elder or another church leader comes to you and asks for your help with a ministry here, do you recognize God’s calling in that request? Do you see how that work is not just a job to fill but an opportunity to do what God wants? I attended a conference on member ministry a few months ago and relearned something I knew once but had forgotten. That in a church there is simply no such thing as a volunteer. A volunteer is defined as a person who does something by their own choice. But we don’t really have a choice. Maybe in how we serve, but not in serving itself. God has called you into it. The same we he called me into it among you publicly at a voters meeting sometime last year.
Will you be perfect in how you serve? Nope. Neither will I. But look back at our list this morning. Moses – murdered, failed political leader, exile. Paul – murderous pharisee and persecutor of Christians. Matthew – hated tax collector and traitor to his people. God called them. And through them led his people out of Egypt through the desert. Through them gave us some of the most important books of the Bible. Through them, brought countless souls to salvation.
So these next weeks as we look at the Holy Ministry, recognize that we’re talking not about pastoral ministry, at least not that alone. We’re talking about all of us. We all are forgiven sinners, serving a gracious God. Not holy in ourselves, but called by a holy God into a holy purpose. So fellow sinners, look at this call to Moses, and remember that our merciful God has called you too. Called you out of sin and into service. And as you discover more about God’s purpose for your life, know that the unchanging “I AM” makes and keeps his promises. The God who told Moses “I will be with you” also promised to be with us “to the very end of the age.” Christians, may God bless us as we answer his call, here in our church and out there in our lives. Amen.