WHAT WE WILL SEE
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Exodus 3:1-12; Romans 12: 9-21
The story we heard did not start with Moses herding sheep beyond the wilderness.
In fact, it didn’t even start with Moses,
And it didn’t start with the story of Moses’ mother hiding him in a floating basket.
But it did start a little bit before that-
It started in a suffering so horrible that while it is certainly IMAGINABLE to me-
It remains impossible for me to comprehend on an emotional level.
You see, this story starts in the very worst suffering that we can imagine and produce.
It starts in slavery
That’s where the story began, and it continued uninterrupted, in that same monstrous manner, for several long decades.
Maybe it was longer than that,
Nobody really knows.
But this I do know: the story begins again
Every time human beings inflict evil on other human beings
And it begins again every place
Where human beings live in the presence of misery
And the absence of hope.
In fact, I think it also begins
When any of us find ourselves on the slippery slope
When we begin to slide away from hope
And into discouragement.
It starts in those times and in those places, and it can go a long time before there is a change in the plot- because the truth is, sometimes God is pretty hard to find for long, long periods of time.
In the days when sailors really were sailors- when they depended on the wind to get them across the oceans- it was well known that there were certain parts of the ocean in which ships were often subjected to something called the doldrums.
It was a name given when there was no wind, for periods of time, and sailors whiled the time away carving and singing shanties while they waited for the wind to blow again.
It could be boring- and if it lasted long enough, it could be worse.
And really, there are times in our life when we’d just as soon have God be busy somewhere else. But when we need God, we want God to be close. And if God’s NOT close, things can get worse in a hurry.
So it was for God’s very own people.
They were more than in trouble-
Their existence was miserable,
Their lives were in jeopardy.
But really, it’s hard to understand how bad that REALLY is.
Unless you’ve been there.
I met someone once,
I think she was there.
One daughter was dead,
And the other wasn’t speaking to her-
She feared for her life-
And if that wasn’t bad enough,
She was watching the news on TV.
So when I found her,
She was beside herself.
“Everybody hates everybody,”
She told me.
“They’re killing each other.
What’s wrong with us?”
As she burst into tears, I thought perhaps that was the most reasonable response I could expect from any sane person.
I visited a young man in jail one time- I’m pretty sure he deserved to be there-
But he had taken up reading the Psalms, and discovered that lots and lots of them deal with wanting to hear some answer from God to their suffering.
That was a comforting discovery for him to make.
Because really, he wanted to hear from God.
He didn’t really want to know that lots of people wanted to hear from God.
So Israel was suffering.
They were living in misery.
Their tricks, such as hiding babies in baskets,
Only served to PROLONG their misery.
So what did they do?
They cried out.
The Hebrew word is used for the outcry of a human being in great distress.
They did not suffer silently.
They cried out loud.
And most likely, they weren’t crying intentionally.
Their cries were spontaneous, they were cries from the gut
And from the heart.
So one day, while Moses was tending sheep beyond the wilderness
God found him.
Now, that vignette-
It involves a burning bush
And holy ground
And a great deal of astonishment
It’s about one things:
And God hears
When we suffer.
I can’t explain WHY we suffer,
Not can I explain why God SEEMS to take so long sometimes.
But I can say don’t give up,
Until you get an answer,
Because God sees and hears.
Listen- there is one story after another in our Bible
Of people who a suffered
And their suffering persisted
While they endured
God answered their cries
Because God’s not blind after all
And God’s not deaf after all.
Ask Naomi and then ask the widow of Zarephath.
Ask Naaman the leper from Aram
Ask the poor who suffered under the unrighteous Kings of Israel
Ask Nehemiah who mourned and prayed and fasted in the presence of the Lord.
They cried out
And God finally answered.
Now- when God saw
When God HEARD-
God went looking for Moses
And God gave Moses something to do
Other than herding sheep.
God sent Moses,
And God went with him.
But what about now?
Turn in your pew
And look at someone sitting near you-
And THAT person-
Well, they’re looking at the person that God is sending now.
Now I’m here to tell you, sometimes God sends us to change the world.
Sometimes we have to really put ourselves out on a limb to do what God wants.
Because the Pharaohs of our time are just as stubborn and just as nasty as the Pharaohs of Moses’ time.
But in the meantime, we’re sent to do something that’s every bit as important.
Paul told the Romans what that thing is: We’re sent to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.
We’re sent to help the ones who are crying out
To hold on while they cry.
We’re the ones that hold each other
While we hold onto hope.
We’re the ones,
And there’s nobody better,
Because we know how slippery that slope is
Because we’ve slipped on it ourselves,
More than once.
Let’s be honest:
There’s hard stuff in Paul’s instructions.
After all, what fun is vengeance
If we leave it to God?
So set those verses aside- verse 14,
And verse 17 & 18 & 19 & 20.
But just far enough
So you can read the other verses.
Okay now. Even those are hard.
But hard doesn’t mean impossible. No-
Hard means, it takes practice.
So- if your love for your neighbor can’t be genuine,
You’re not off the hook.
Fake it until you make it.
It’s not really faking- it’s practice.
Because sometimes when we hide our gloom
We hide it so well we can’t find it again when we’re ready.
And then look at the other tasks- love one another. Show each other honor. Contribute to the needs of your fellow saints. Extend hospitality.
Those things are about helping each other.
You’re not in it alone, and neither is the person sitting behind you.
There’s a phrase that Bob Carter, pastor at Petersburg, told the Presbytery Council last year- it was something he learned in search and rescue work: if you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.
This work of being Christians- of learning how to rejoice in hope while we wait for God, of learning to be patient in our suffering, of persevering in prayer- well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say nobody knows more than me how hard those things are.
I’ve learned one thing: when folk help each other, sometimes it gets easier. But I’ll let you in on a secret: we only have to hold on until God takes over.
That’s our job: hold onto hope
Until hope comes home.
Because then we’ll see our hearts changed from the inside out
And we’ll see the world turned upside down
We’ll hear folk praising God
Because our cries were heard
And our misery was seen
And God brought us out of Egypt
And God still does that,
Al the time.
We’ll see. Oh yes we will.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.