"Singled-Out but Not Alone"#87-27
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 1, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 3-4
I sang a solo on a karaoke machine only one time. It wasn't a good experience. I felt exposed. I was embarrassed. It was at a block party in my neighborhood. We were new to the neighborhood. We'd just moved in, and we wanted to go to this block party to meet the neighbors. I was the new pastor at the church on the corner of our block. And I wanted to meet the neighbors, most of whom had never set foot inside our church building. I wanted to make a good impression. That was my plan.
Brooks, however, didn't care about my plans. Brooks was one of the neighbors who arranged the block party, and they had fired up this karaoke machine out on somebody's front lawn, and the only people who had sung on it up to that point were little girls, belting out their best rendition of "Let it Go" from Frozen. And Brooks wanted to get some adults in on the action, so he singled me out and said, "Mike, would you sing a song on the karaoke machine? You know, get other people involved." And I told him, "No, Brooks, that's not my thing." But he persisted; he did not relent. And so I looked on my family for some kind of excuse, an alibi, an escape clause, and they of course sided with Brooks. They said, "Go on, Dad. Do it. Sing."
So I step up to the mic, and Brooks says, "What song do you want to sing?" And I said, I'm not good at making decisions in the moment, and so I said, "I don't know, whatever." And he said, "Well, you got to pick something." I said, "Okay, how about that one?" Pointing to a song that turned out to be—A) out of my vocal range, and B) really not a good act to follow Frozen. It was awful. Five years later, I'm still embarrassed just thinking about it. Five years later, my family still says, "And you should be embarrassed."
Have you ever been singled out involuntarily to do something that you didn't really want to do? I don't mean coerced into doing something wrong. I mean pressured into doing something good, but you just didn't want to do it. You were afraid of being embarrassed or being out of your element. You weren't in control of the situation. If so, you have insight into the experience of Moses—you know, the Moses—the guy who brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain from God. That guy. See, Moses was 80 years old. He was content. He wasn't looking for anything like this, but the living God singled him out involuntarily.
You got to hear this part of his story from Exodus chapters 3 and 4.
"See, Moses was a shepherd, and he was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness, to the mountain of God, to Horeb, which means wasteland. And there the messenger of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. And Moses saw that, look, the bush was on fire, but it wasn't burning up. And Moses said to himself, 'I will turn aside and see this great sight. Why, the bushes are burning up.' And the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see, and the Lord spoke to Moses from within the bush. He said, 'Moses. Moses.' And Moses answered, 'Here I am.' And He said to him, 'Don't come any closer. Take the sandals from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground. 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, because he was afraid to look at God.
"And the Lord said to him, 'I have clearly seen the misery of My people in Egypt. And I have heard them crying out in the face of their slave masters, for I know their pain. And so I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good land, a spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the place of the Canaanites. Now look, the cry of the children of Israel has come up to Me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are mistreating them, so now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.' And Moses said, 'Who am I? Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?' And the Lord said to him, 'Because I am with you, and this will be the sign that I am the One who sent you. When you bring the people out of Egypt, you all will become servants of God on this mountain.'
"And Moses said, 'Suppose I go and I say to the children of Israel, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you." And they say to me, "What is His Name?" Then what do I say?' And He said to him, 'I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the children of Israel. "I am has sent me to you." Say to them, "The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is My Name forever. The Name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation." Now go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, "The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me and has said, I have watched over you, and I have seen what's been done to you in Egypt, and I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt, into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey." The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and to say to him, "The Lord, the God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us walk a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God." But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless some mighty hand compels him, and so I will stretch out my hand and I will strike the Egyptians with all My wonders that I will work in their midst. After that, he will send you out. And I will give this people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians so that when you leave, you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in the house for articles of silver and gold and clothing, which you are to put on your sons and your daughters, and so you will plunder the Egyptians.'
"But Moses said, 'Look, they will not trust me, and they will not listen to my voice because they will say, "The Lord did not appear to you."' And the Lord said to him, 'What is that in your hand?' And he said, 'A staff.' And he said, 'Throw it on the ground.' So he threw it on the ground, and it became a snake on the ground, and Moses ran away from it. And the Lord said to him, 'Reach out your hand. Reach it out and take hold of it by the tail.' So he reached out his hand and took hold of it and it became a staff again in his hand. And he said, 'This is so that they will trust that the Lord, the God of their fathers, has appeared to you.' Again, the Lord said to him, 'Now please put your hand inside your coat.' So he put his hand inside his coat, and when he pulled it out again, it was diseased, leprous, like snow. And he said, 'Put it back in your coat.' And so he put it back, and when he pulled it out again, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. And the Lord said to him, 'And it may happen. If they do not trust the first sign and they do not listen to your voice, then they may trust the second. And if they trust neither of these two signs, you are to take some water from the river and pour it out on the ground, and the water that you take from the river will become blood on the ground.'
"But Moses said, 'Oh, my Lord, I'm not good with words. I haven't been in the past, nor from the time You started speaking to your servant. I have a slow mouth. I have a heavy tongue.' And the Lord said to him, 'Who made man's mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will be with your mouth, and I will teach you what you are to say.' But Moses said, 'Please, my Lord, I beg You, send someone else to do it.' And then the Lord started to get angry with Moses, and He said to him, 'What about your brother, Aaron, the Levite? I know he can speak well. Even now he's on his way out to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You can speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with both of your mouths, and I will teach you what you are to do. He can speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you are God to him. Now take this staff in your hand so that you can perform signs with it.'
"So Moses went, and he returned to Jethro, his father-in-law, and he said to him, 'Let me go back to my brothers in Egypt and see if any of them are still living.' And Jethro said, 'Go in peace.' Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, 'Go back to Egypt, because all the people who are seeking your life are dead.' So Moses took his wife and his sons, and he set them on a donkey, and he started back to return to the land of Egypt. And he took with him in his hand the staff of God.
"And the Lord said to him, 'When you return to Egypt, see that you perform in the face of Pharaoh all the signs that I have put in your hand to do, but I will make Pharaoh's heart stubborn, and he will not send you out. So you say to Pharaoh, "This is what the Lord says, 'My firstborn son is Israel, and I said to you, send out My son so that he may serve Me, but you refused. And so I will kill your firstborn son."'
"Now the Lord had said to Aaron, Moses' brother, 'Go out and meet Moses in the wilderness.' So he went out and met Moses at the mountain of God, and he kissed him, and Moses told Aaron, all that the Lord had said him to say, and about all the signs He had commanded him to do. And Moses and Aaron went, and they assembled the elders of the sons of Israel. And Aaron spoke to them all that the Lord had said to Moses and Moses performed in the eyes of all the people the signs, and the people trusted. They trusted. They listened that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had seen their misery, and they bowed down and worshiped.
The Word of the Lord from Exodus chapters 3 and 4 excerpts.
I recently heard a man say, "I'm basically just one of seven-billion ants trying to stay busy until we die. That's what's happening. We're just trying to stay busy." I thought about what he said, and it's cynical, but I think he meant it as an expression of humility, and I appreciate that. I need more humility in my life and a little less self-assigned importance. But then I thought about it some more, about this creed, this view, that that's what we are, like ants trying to stay busy till we die. And as I thought about it, I couldn't decide whether this view would produce humility or irreverence and ingratitude. And whichever is the case, this much I know, that this kind of worldview would let us hide. It would let us hide. It's not new. Many ancient religions saw humanity like this—that the individual human being would dissolve into the crowd, the masses, the ants, who scurry around and build pyramids and such. And as long as the people on the top, the priests, the kings, the celebrities, as long as they did what would appease the gods, then things would be okay.
In contrast to this is the faith of ancient Israel, inspired as it is by this account of Moses that we're listening to. The faith of ancient Israel is different. It is a faith that would ultimately single out every human being in the presence of their Creator. God told Moses to bring the people out of Egypt back here to this mountain, and you also, like Moses, like Pharaoh, you must stand before God, your Creator, and give an answer. Because God wants to deal with us not as the masses, but as individuals, as sons and daughters.
God said, "Israel is my firstborn son," implying in the first place that there's more children to come. And in the second place, God loves Israel. And God has singled Israel out for a mission to make everybody sons and daughters of God. You read the story and Israel fails in this mission. But the God who created and saved Israel wouldn't let Israel hide, and He will not let you hide. He won't let you be lost in the crowd. He loves you too much for that. So God sent His Son to set things right. God sent Jesus so that Israel, all those singled out, will never stand alone. Jesus became Israel's stand-in, their Substitute, their replacement. He took with Him to the cross Israel and all his failures. He took you and all of yours. He singled you out to die with Him so that you might live in Him. The crucified and risen Jesus is the voice in your burning bush moment, and He says to you, "Go, I am sending you. I have singled you out for this. But you are not alone. I am with you."
Maybe you're trying to hide. I know what that's like. I was trying to hide when my neighbor Brooks singled me out to sing at the block party. I was trying to hide from God in one of my earliest burning bush moments with Jesus. I think I was in junior high, and I remember coming back from a church service, and it hit me that if this stuff about Jesus is true—there is no halfway in option. It's either all or nothing. And I think about the stuff that would keep me from being all in, and might keep you from being all in with Jesus, and I don't think it's a lack of evidence for the truth about who He is.
The things that keep us from being all in with Jesus are not too different from the things behind my initial excuses to Brooks about singing karaoke. "I don't like being uncomfortable. I'm afraid of being embarrassed. I want to be in control."
I've gotten to know Brooks over the last five years. I recently asked him about this memory, about how embarrassed I was that he asked me to sing. And I asked him if he remembered it, and he said he had forgotten all about it until just now, me mentioning it to him. This thing that still embarrasses me, he hadn't given it a second thought. See, this is what Brooks does. He loves bringing people together. He loves bringing neighbors together. He says, "I want to live in a neighborhood where people know each other." And he brings us together even though it's sometimes uncomfortable, because we don't really know each other, even though we live next to each other. Because it's easier just to hide in our rooms, behind our screens. But Brooks, he brings us together. He says, "I want my neighbors to know each other so that they'll look out for each other."
Brooks is a brother in Christ, and he has a clear sense of God's calling on his life. I admire that in him. He helps me see that I am singled out for this, but I'm not alone, and neither are you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org. It includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
No Reflections for March 1, 2020
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" by Bernard of Clairvaux, Paul Gerhardt, Hans Leo Hassler, arranged and performed by Nathan Drake (reawakenhymns.com) Used by permission.
"On My Heart Imprint Your Image" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)