Exodus 3:1-15

Just Picking Raspberries

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Exodus 3:1-15

Just Picking Raspberries

Richard Niell Donovan

Like many elderly people, Moses felt that he had earned a quiet retirement. He had been faithful to his family, and had worked hard as a shepherd. He was an old man. He had put in his time. Now it was time for the younger men to take over.

Moses had long since abandoned whatever hopes he had of being a great leader. Yes, he had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace. Yes, he had seen how power works. Yes, he had become familiar with the glories of Pharaoh’s court. But that had been long ago––before he had killed the Egyptian. Ever since that fateful day, he had wandered in the wilderness with his sheep.

Then, into Moses’ quiet life, God sent a burning bush. At first, it appeared quite ordinary, but then Moses noticed that the bush was not consumed by the fire. That got his attention. Then God spoke to him, telling of his concern for the Hebrew slaves. Moses was delighted. Finally, God had heard the cry of his people, and had decided to do something. Moses had been hoping for something like this ever since he had killed the Egyptian so many years earlier.

But then God dropped the other shoe. “Come,” he said, “and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people out of Egypt.” Moses didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was God serious? Me! An eighty-year-old shepherd! A has-been who hasn’t even been to the city for forty years!

Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? I couldn’t possibly do something like that! Pharaoh would have me killed before I got the words out of my mouth! I may be eighty years old, but I’m not ready to die––not yet! Besides that, I have been a shepherd out here in the sticks so long that I don’t even remember how to dress for Pharaoh’s court. Styles have changed. Pick someone younger, Lord!”

But God answered only, “I will be with you.”

Then Moses said, “Who are you? If they ask me what your name is, what shall I tell them?”

God answered, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Then Moses said, “What if they don’t believe me? What proof can I offer than I am not just kind of religious nut?”

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In answer to this question, God had Moses throw his rod onto the ground, and it turned into a serpent. He then had Moses put his hand in his shirt, and it came out leprous. Then he had Moses pour water on the dry ground, and it turned into blood. Those should be adequate signs that Moses truly represented someone with a lot of power.

Then Moses said, “I am not eloquent. You want me to stir up the Hebrews and intimidate Pharaoh, but I-I-I s-s-s-stutter. How can I do the job that you want?

God answered, “Who made man’s mouth?” It was a good point. If God can make a mouth, he can help a person to speak well.

Finally, Moses made his last objection. “Oh, Lord, please send someone else.” When he finally ran out of reasons, he stated the real reason. He just didn’t want to go. He sounds like a young man who just received his draft notice. “I have a thousand reasons for staying home, but the real reason is that I just don’t want to go.”

That made God pretty angry. What did God have to do to convince Moses? He was a hard man to reach. God had appeared to him in a burning bush, and Moses had responded as if he were talking to an encyclopedia salesman.

Moses was like a spiritual bull in a china closet. He had blundered ahead with his own agenda, completely ignoring that it was God himself who had come to give him a message.

God had to tell Moses, “Don’t come close. Take your sandals off of your feet, for the place you are standing on is holy ground.” Moses was such a clod.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had Moses in mind when she wrote her poem, “Aurora Leigh.” She said:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God;

And only he who sees takes off his shoes––

The rest sit ’round and pluck raspberries.”

Moses was plucking raspberries. He saw the burning bush. He heard God talking to him. He heard God demanding leadership from him. He heard God demanding that Moses be obedient. He walked up the flaming bush, admired it, and picked a raspberry.

Actually, Moses is my kind of guy. I run from God all the time, and I find it comforting that God dealt so patiently with Moses. When I was a student and began preaching at a little rural church, I said, “God, I’m no good at this. I hate it. Get someone else.” At one point, I quit seminary in a crisis of faith. Even after I became an Army chaplain, which was something that I coveted and enjoyed, I periodically said, “Lord, deliver me from doing pushups in the wet grass at six-fifteen in the morning.”

Even here I complain. Even in this lovely little California town. Even in this beautiful congregation among you beautiful people. I was delighted to come here. However, even here I sometimes say, “Lord, why do I have to put up with?”––you can fill in the blank. I say, “Lord, I just don’t have the patience for ministry.”

Aren’t you a bit like Moses too! Don’t you ever say, “Why me? Why should I teach that class or lead that meeting? Send the minister?”

Or we talk to God and say, “Who are you? Who are you to ask so much of me?”

Or we are afraid that nobody will believe us. We are afraid of what our family or friends will do if we glorify God in our daily lives. We don’t care if people think that we are crazy about football, but please don’t let them think that we are religious fanatics.

And, besides, I have so few abilities. There are lots of people who could do a better job. Lord, ask one of them.

Ask me to do something, Lord, anything — and I can give you five good reasons why I can’t do it. But try again next year and maybe I’ll be in better shape. In the meantime, don’t remind me of all the people who need me to share my faith and my bread with them.

Ask me to help someone in need, and I, like Moses, can think of five good reasons why I can’t. I have my own responsibilities to take care of, you know. I’ve got house payments, car payments, college payments, Christmas bills, and — well, I have to put a little bit away for this summer’s vacation. You name it, Lord, and I’ve got at least five good reasons for not doing it.

“Yes, I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.

Real service is what I desire.

I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord.

But don’t ask me to sing in the choir.

I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord.

I like to see things come to pass.

But don’t ask me to teach girls and boys, dear Lord.

I’d rather stay in my class.

I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord.

I’ll yearn for the Kingdom to thrive.

I’ll give you my nickels and dimes, dear Lord.

But please don’t ask me to tithe.

Yes, I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.

I’ll say what you want me to say.

But I’m busy now with myself, dear Lord.

I’ll help you––some other day.”

There is a bit of Moses in each of us, isn’t there. But we need to remember that Moses’ objections were not the end of the story. As much as Moses complained, he also went. As much as he questioned, he also obeyed. Soon he was nose-to-nose with Pharaoh. Soon he was leading Israel out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land.

As we are like Moses in his complaints and questions, let us also be like Moses in his obedience. After we have given God all our excuses, let’s hitch up our britches and get moving. After we have annoyed our wife (or husband) and bored our friends with our complaints, let’s just do it.

Because the Lord is leading us out of our slavery into the Promised Land. He is leading us out of our fears into a place where we will be safe and secure. He is leading us away from all the lies and compromises that have enslaved us and tripped us––and he leads us into a place where we can stand tall and walk free. He is leading us out of darkness and into the light. Heed his call––obey the Father––and you will become an heir to the Kingdom of God.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan