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August 30, 2020 is Pentecost 13A/Proper 17A/Ordinary 23A

Exodus 3:1-15 – CALLED: Moses and the burning bush.

Jeremiah 15:15-21 – Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c – Israel came to Egypt, but they came to hate them. God’s servant Moses was sent…


Psalm 26:1-8 – I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

Romans 12:9-21 – Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Matthew 16:21-28 – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Two Sermon Series for Fall 2020

  1. Set The Oppressed Free: August 23-September 13, 2020
  2. Bread for the Wilderness: September 20-October 18, 2020

Just a reminder that we are in week 2 of a 4-week series on Exodus: Set the Oppressed Free, which will be followed by another series about being in the wilderness.

Set the Oppressed Free

Enslaved           Exodus 1:8–2:10             August 23          Moses in a basket raised by Pharaoh’s daughter

Called               Exodus 3:1-15                August 30          Moses’ theophany at the burning bush

Set Free            Exodus 12:1-14              September 6      Moses gives Passover instructions

Crossing Over    Exodus 14:19-31            September 13    Moses parts the Red Sea

Bread for the Wilderness

Complaint         Exodus 16:2-15              September 20    God provides manna/quail as people complain

Provision           Exodus 17:1-7                September 27    Moses strikes the rock and water comes out

Law                  Ex. 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20      October 4          Moses receives the Ten Commandments

Idolatry             Exodus 32:1-14              October 11        Moses finds the Israelites worshipping a calf

Glory                Exodus 33:12-23            October 18        Moses sees God’s back, not face

Set the Oppressed Free Series Week 2:


Exodus 3:1-15 – August 30, 2020

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. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 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.” 

13 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?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 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.

Exodus means “the way out.” Who is getting out of what, where? This is the master story of the Old Testament, of the Jewish people: Israelite slaves are liberated from slavery in Egypt.

Last week we learned that Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house. In the second half of chapter 2, Moses sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew and enters into the fray. Already, a passion for justice is in his bones. It doesn’t go well. When the conflict ends, Moses has killed the Egyptian, so he flees to Midian (Saudi Arabia). The priest of Midian has seven daughters. Moses encounters these daughters at the well where they have come to draw water. The well is where future husbands and wives meet in the Bible. The women are being harassed by some shepherds. Moses, ever willing to fight for truth and justice, drives them away. Their father, grateful for this Egyptian’s intervention, “gives him” one of his daughters, Zipporah. We don’t know whether she had any say in the matter. Twice now, Moses has entered into conflict for the sake of justice. I would call that character development.

When chapter 3 opens, this Sunday’s passage, Moses is tending his flocks of his father-in-law, named Reuel in Exodus 2:18, Jethro in Exodus 3:1 and Hobab in Numbers 10:29. A rose by any other name… Apparently the flocks graze quite a way out, because he ends up in the Sinai desert, at Mount Horeb (the same place where he will one day receive the Ten Commandments).

We are not told how old Moses was when he fled Egypt, but a thousand years later, drawing upon rabbinic tradition, Luke assumes he is about 40:

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. (Acts 7:23)

Up on the glowing mountain of the Lord, Moses comes across a burning bush. First, we are told it is an angel, then later we are told it is the Lord, just as Jacob wrestled with “an angel” in his dream, but later said he had struggled with “the Lord” and prevailed.

When God calls to him, Moses responds, “Here I am.” Moses is instructed to remove his shoes, because he is on holy ground. The preacher might invite his listeners at home to remove their shoes (if they haven’t already). You’re standing on holy ground. The voice announces, “I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses hides his face.

Then the Lord says, “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…” God is about freeing people from bondage, slavery and oppression. These things make God angry. God uses human agents to accomplish these divine purposes. So God’s answer to the problem is to send Moses.

Moses already has the gifts and the passion, he just doesn’t see it. He has already fought against oppression. Do you have gifts that you haven’t fully seen or acknowledged? Ask those around you. Who are the people who saw your gifts when you could not? Are you listening to your life, so that you begin to see what is hidden from your eyes?

We don’t know how old Moses is when he hears the voice of God coming from the burning bush and is commissioned to go to Pharaoh. Exodus 7:7 says, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.” This presumably wasn’t long after the burning bush incident. Luke assumes in Acts 7:30 that Moses was 80 at the burning bush. It may be wise for the preacher to read all of Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, to understand Luke’s (and others in the first century) take on the timeline.  Here is a portion, Acts 7:23-24, 29-30:

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites.  When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian… Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons… Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush…

This is story, told to be memorable, not a precise historical record. This story has Moses in Egypt until 40. Then in Midian until 80. Then freeing the slaves and living to be 120. My dear mother (may she rest in peace) used to say,

Moses spent

  • 40 years thinking he was somebody,
  • 40 years thinking he was nobody, then
  • 40 years learning what God can do with nobody. 

This is how stories work.

Preacher, how old were you when God called you into ministry? When was your burning bush? How was God manifested? What voices pointed the way? How do you recognize your calling? How can your listeners identify their burning bushes?

Some rabbinical sources suggest the bush was constantly burning to see if Moses’ could stay focused on the one thing before him.

Most people resist God’s call, at least at first, until the big fish comes along and swallows them up. Moses has several questions, just as we might.

Moses: Who am I to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release the slaves and dismantle his economy?
God: I will be with you.

Moses: How do I know this is the real thing?
God: Afterwards you will come back to this mountain.
Moses: Hmm. Afterwards? Okay, then, who shall I say sent me?
God: I AM WHO I AM. 

Moses: I beg your pardon?
God: Tell them I AM sent you.

Moses: Ooohhh-kay.
God: The God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has sent you.

John Ortberg says, “Show me any place in the Bible where God asked someone to do something easy.” There are rarely any guarantees. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll all meet up on this mountain afterwards. When we are called, we are asked to take a leap of faith. Count the cost.

Here is a question I like to ask congregations. Was Moses a political leader or a religious leader

People think they have these two categories all sorted out. Moses was both. When you take part in God’s grand work of liberation, you will be accused of being “too political.” This is one way of saying you are doing things that matter. You’re meddling. You are messing with the status quo. Being a part of the abolition movement was an inherently political act. To avoid it for that purpose would be to be morally irresponsible.

Dom Helder Camara said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.” You may encounter the same resistance. 96% of our congregations have some kind of feeding ministry. This makes sense: Jesus taught his disciples to feed the hungry. When you feed the hungry, you will be praised. If you start asking pesky questions about why people are hungry or about the policies that keep people hungry, you will get a different kind of response.

We are called to feed the hungry. Churches are quite involved in this work, but vital government programs like WIC (which provides food to pregnant women and new mothers living in poverty) and SNAP (a food assistance program for low-income families, formerly known as food stamps) provide a hundred times more assistance than every church in the U.S. These programs are a tiny sliver of the U.S. budget, but if they were cut, it would be devastating for the poor. Advocating for these programs is a moral mandate, but some will accuse you of being “too political.”

What if Dietrich Bonhoeffer had said, “I’m just a pastor, I really shouldn’t be weighing in on all this Nazi/Hitler stuff?” Combating evil and oppression means taking a stand. When you do, someone won’t like it. You might even end up on a cross. Bonhoeffer did. He was executed at Flossenberg weeks before its liberation. As Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the midst of evil, is evil.”

God is about liberation. Moses was about liberation. Jesus was about liberation. If you follow God’s call, your life and calling will be about liberation too. And when you do, you will find yourself liberated as well. “Those who lose their lives for my sake, and for the gospel, will find them…”

Here are some thoughts about how to recognize your calling, your burning bush. Consider making your own list of questions and providing them to the congregation to ponder and pray about:

  • What have people said about you, to you time and again? “You’re good at _____…” “You really should think about ___________…”
  • What do you love to do?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What suffering or injustice bothers you?
  • What recurring themes have resurfaced in your life over and over again?
  • What recurring dreams have you had?

Jeremiah 15 – Consuming the Word

“I ate your words, and they were a joy,” Jeremiah said. Shades of Ezekiel 3:3, where Ezekiel ate the scroll, and the words tasted like honey. The vivid imagery is that of taking the Word of God and internalizing it. This also evokes Jesus’ story earlier in the Matthew’s gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus said the wise are those who hear my words and put them to work in their lives.

If we are going to be honest, however, the Word doesn’t always taste like honey. It doesn’t always go down easily. Sometimes the Word challenges us, and our way of life.  The Word can cause some indigestion; unsettling our innards. It would do the preacher well to acknowledge this. However, in the end, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

In the empire, Christianity was classed as a mystery religion. When Paul talked about being “in Christ” and having Christ “in him” he was trying to express the mysterious indwelling presence of the Word – the risen Lord. For him it was to be possessed by Christ. “In him we live and move and have our being.” Yes, belief and faith involve assent; but it goes far deeper than that.


Paul is beginning his summation. Those who believe preachers should never offer advice, or suggest to people how they might to respond to the word, should read Paul’s letters more carefully. As Wally Taylor, Mark Allen Powell and my other New Testament teachers said, Paul always begins with the indicative and then moves to the imperative. Indicative: This is what God has done in Christ. Imperative: Therefore… husbands, love your wives… outdo one another in showing honor… Show hospitality to strangers. Watch for the word “therefore…”

Paul has been addressing the unity that Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Jews, and Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians all have in Christ. They are to love one another with mutual affection. They are to outdo one another in honoring the other.

These are words to be heeded at a time when various sects in various religious traditions – Christianity included – paint one another with a broad brush of misunderstanding and caricature. Interfaith relationships, ecumenical relationships, and relationships with agnostic and atheistic groups ought to be tempered by these words; as should congregational relationships.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Matthew 16:21-28 – Set Your Mind on the Divine

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

This week we begin a new section of the Matthew’s gospel. Matthew separates these sections with our first few words, “From this time on…”

Last week Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus praised him, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven…”

This week the worm turns. Jesus orders Peter to fall into line, and even calls him Satan. I almost wish both of these were read on the same Sunday. Peter is saint and sinner all wrapped up into one. He will confess and also deny Jesus.

Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in 16:23 – Πέτρῳ, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου – could be paraphrased, “Peter, get back in line! I’m leading; you’re following!” This fits with, “…take up their cross and follow me…” And, I suppose that is what Jesus says to us all, “Get back in line!” As congregational leaders it always behooves us in the midst of our leading to make sure that we are also following.

Jesus calls Peter a “stumbling block” – σκάνδαλον; skandalon; scandal.  Jesus also uses this term again in 18:6  – “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!” Woe to those that trip up people endeavoring to follow Jesus.

He also critiques Peter for setting his mind on earthly things, not heavenly things. Jesus’ followers are encouraged not to set their mind on earthly possessions, what you will eat, drink or wear, but rather to seek first the reign of God.

Then comes the Matthew’s “theology of the cross” – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This summer the clash between those who are demanding police reform, and those who aren’t has been highly politicized. Preachers are sometimes afraid to touch these hot potatoes. While we never want to push our own political agendas, there are some matters that touch the moral bedrock of who we are as Christians. We must speak. As Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the midst of evil, is evil.” Being afraid to speak because we might lose members, or because we are afraid of losing our salaries is hardly worthy of Bonhoeffer who died in a concentration camp. And it’s hardly denying ourselves and taking our cross into the world. If you have ever wondered how we would have behaved as pastors in Nazi Germany, how we respond now might give us a clue. Who are we if we remain silent before the most critical moral issues of our day?

As Luther said, a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is. We pull back the curtain on both the law (the human condition) and the gospel (God’s response in Christ and claim on the future).

A “Theology of glory” is also sometimes a philosophy about the cross. The cross becomes an idea about theology – perhaps substitutionary atonement or a vicarious satisfaction transaction – in which one “believes”; believes to be true. But it doesn’t really involve or affect the “believer”; We don’t have to put our lives on the line. Following Christ is unnecessary. One can sit in an easy chair and believe theologies, or creeds or facts about God.

The danger, as Bonhoeffer pointed out, is “cheap grace” – grace that costs us nothing. However, the text (and I would argue even all Pauline theology) suggests that following Jesus – active faithfulness, fidelity, and allegiance – will indeed cost us something. It will cost us our very lives and way of living.

The cross is laid on every Christian…

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time-death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.

Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

And the death of the old man – the old Adam – is a continual death; a death that affects us and causes us to continually realign our lives; to get back in line.  This is what Luther meant in his Small Catechism:

What does Baptism mean for daily living?

It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.

St. Paul writes in Romans 6: We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

What does this “newness of life” look like? This is what Matthew is describing; it is where Matthew’s gospel heads…

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…

It’s about discipleship: faithfulness, allegiance, and following. It is about a way of thinking – as Paul says in Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” – but it is a way of thinking that cannot be separated from a way of doing and being. As Paul says in Acts 24:14, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors…” Discipleship is an active way of thinking and being.

The pericope concludes, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

The more we cling desperately to life, the more it slips through our fingers. The ship may be safer in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.

This applies to both individuals and congregations; for, as did Peter, we always follow Jesus with others; never alone.  As we journey together through in this post-modern death of Christendom era, many congregations are trying to “save their lives”.  Our Lord tells us that such an effort is a fool’s quest. It’s only as congregations lose their lives for Jesus sake that they will find life. The paradox of faith, belief, and following is that resurrection and newness only come through death.


I’m deeply grateful to Don Carlson for his work researching the texts. If you would like to learn more about the context of Paul’s letters, consider participating in our of our trips In Search of Paul.