Prophets of Faith
Third Sunday of Lent
3 Lent, C: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 103; I Corinthians 10: 1-13; Luke 13:1-9
March 11, 2007
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
Generally I like to preach on the gospel reading of the day. Especially during Lent it is helpful to stay focused on the figure of Jesus on his way to the cross. Today I want to break our focus on Jesus’, and turn our attention to the other prophet of faith presented in our first lesson: Moses.
Moses is a Biblical character we all think we know well. Today we read of him having that “ah ah” moment with the burning bush. The moment when God appears and asks him to go “free God’s people from bondage and oppression.” And Moses wonders, “Who am I to do this?” Moses doesn’t think he is qualified: he has some kind of speech impediment, and is nervous about speaking to others; he doesn’t know military strategy enough to go challenge Pharaoh’s army. So why does God use him for this difficult task? Moses made a choice to leave the political intensity of the life he was born into, why would he want to go back to that now?
Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics,* helped me get some insight into what it means for God to call a “prophet of faith” to work in the world of human politics, and I want to apply this to the life of Moses, then look at how this might inform us about how we are to listen to where God is calling us to be “prophets of faith.” So let’s take a look at the story of Moses, as story most of us have familiarity with, but let me invite you to remember with me as we look for how Moses’ life was one seeking justice in a world filled with injustice.
We remember Moses as a Hebrew slave baby born in Egypt at a highly politicized time when Pharaoh felt threatened by the overpopulation of Hebrew males. An edict went out: all Hebrew boy babies were drowned in infancy. We would call this genocide. A horrific injustice to humankind.
Moses’ mother sought to protect her baby boy, so she carefully placed him in a basket and sent him down river. Pharaoh’s daughter came upon this baby in the basket, saved him from death, taking him in as her own. When she asked for a wet nurse to nurture him in infancy, Moses’ sister, Miriam, suggested his mother. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s court, but remained bonded to his Hebrew heritage. Growing up, you could say, Moses was caught in a political war between his “adopted” family and his native people. His “courtly” upbringing gave him strength and vision, even as his heart ached for justice for his Hebrew brothers and sisters.
As a young man, Moses felt the injustice of his people. One day he couldn’t take it anymore, and when a soldier of Pharaoh’s army beat a Hebrew slave, Moses lashed out and killed him. The next day, Moses sees two Hebrews fighting, and he tries to make peace between them. But the aggressor challenges Moses, asking if Moses intends to “kill him as you did the Egyptian”. This awakens Moses to the realization that his life is in danger, he may be seen as a traitor for preventing Pharaoh’s orders from being carried out. Fearing for his life, Moses flees to Midian, seeking a peaceful respite amongst the pastoral setting of sheep and herdsmen.
However, Moses sees another injustice in the countryside, and he is called to intervene: Moses comes upon Jethro’s daughters, who are being abused by a neighboring sheep-herder. Again, Moses is called to prevent this injustice and saves Jethro’s seven daughters from this abuse.
Long before Moses is sitting out in the hillsides in Midian tending sheep, he shows remarkable compassion for those who are oppressed: 1) the Hebrew slave beaten by the Egyptian 2) a Hebrew slave being beaten by another Hebrew, and 3) non-Jewish women being abused by non-Jewish men. Moses is a man who is deeply concerned for stopping injustice whenever and where ever he sees it. Is it any wonder that this is the man God calls to bring justice to the enslaved Hebrew people, who have lived so long under the oppression of Pharaoh’s power? **
The day Moses sits out in the wilderness, tending his flock on Mount Horeb, on the Mountain of God, the moment the “burning bush” grabs his attention, and “God appears”--a major shift happens in Moses life. It is a shift from the “political” to the “theological”. Here, Moses begins a new journey, a journey of deep theological significance for himself, and for the Hebrew people. It is here that Moses gets what others do not: God is present. Moses does not believe he has the ability to what God asks him to do—to free the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s bondage. But what Moses learns is that it doesn’t matter what talents or abilities Moses has, as long as Moses ‘gets it’ that God will be with him. It is God’s power that will be present, God will guide him. God’s power and presence will give Moses the ability he needs to free his people. Moses allows God to be present, Moses makes a choice for faith instead of what Wallis calls “secular cynicism.”
In our day we have seen “faith prophets” like Moses who have come to light not because they are powerful persons in and of their own right, but because they, too, have experienced a “burning bush”, presenting them with the awareness of the power of God’s presence to do justice. For instance, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop of South Africa, was a faith prophet who became God’s deliverer against South African apartheid.
Desmond Tutu said that he and his people are “prisoners of hope”. Tutu and protestors against apartheid had already been arrested weeks before for civil disobedience and put in jail for several days. When he was freed he was back at his Cathedral pulpit preaching when the S. African Security Police stormed in the Cathedral of St George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service. Jim Wallis was there. Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders to record whatever he said, threatening him with consequences for any bold prophetic utterances. Tutu stared them down and said, “YOU ARE POWERFUL, VERY POWERFUL”, but he serves a higher power greater than their political authority “But I serve a God who cannot be mocked”. “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side.” (p.348) The congregation was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power.—the people were outnumbered by these security forces, but they were filled with such spiritual excitement that they literally jumped up out of their seats and began dancing!!! Embodying the “spirit of hope”, and danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military of apartheid who were not expecting a confrontation with dancing worshipers. The police didn’t know what to do, so the backed out of the way and allowed the worshipers to dance their way to freedom. Just as Moses’ sister, Miriam—if you remember the end of the story once Moses successfully delivers his people across the Red Sea—Miriam picks up a tambourine and starts DANCING!! Tutu showed his people that they could move from a place of fear to a place of hope, if they placed their faith in God who is present to them. How can we move our people from a place of secular cynicism to a faith of hope? What are the threats in Scotts Valley that keep us tempted to succumb to secular cynicism rather than grasping the faith of hope? When I have talked with parents and even the youth of Scotts valley, I have discovered a threat to children and youth regarding the use of alcohol and drugs. Parents have been shocked when they face their child’s involvement with this—the community at large simply says: “Oh, no big deal. Everyone’s doing it. Welcome to the club.” They are succumbing to secular cynicism—we are called to respond by choosing faith! Choosing to allow God to be present, to allow God’s power to overcome this oppression of our children. We are to be faith prophets to set OUR Children free.
Bishop’s committee came together in prayer to consider what’s next for the spiritual development of St. Philip’s. The majority of us discovered that we have a passion for children and youth—and that we see our facility, our ministry, as best directed toward the concerns of children and youth. In the end we came up with 3 initiatives, but the first was written “Youth Refuge”. We don’t yet know what that looks like—internet café? Sports club hang out? Homework club? Preschool training ground for parents? Peer group counseling center? Safe haven? Music club? All of the above?—we need to research and vision, question the community, prayerfully look into our own hearts to discern what we can do, what we are willing to do. But the first step is to move our minds from a place of secular cynicism to a choice for hope—do not let the concerns of the secular world hold power over our decisions to live out of our faith that God expects something GOOD to happen here, that will benefit not only the people of St. Philip’s, but even more importantly, the people of Scotts Valley.
Lisa Sullivan’s story: afro American woman, Washington, DC, intelligent. Ph.D. Yale. Could have stayed in the “ivory tower” of higher education, but went back to DC to mobilize the African American community. Non-profit group LISTEN, Inc. Listened, encouraged, loved her people into fulfilling their potential to rise above the poverty and ghetto drug life. When challenged by those who said we need a leader like Martin Luther King to be our prophet, she said, “we are the ones we have been waiting for … we are the prophets who will move our community from cynicism to hope.”
You and I are called to be the faith prophets of hope for Scotts Valley. This Lent I challenge you to pray, talk amongst yourselves, listen to our community and see how you can move from secular cynicism to be a prophet of faith, in the name of Jesus Christ.
*God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and Left Doesn’t Get it, Jim Wallis.
**(Jewish Virtual Library, Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, NY: Wm. Morrow and Co, 1991.
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