God Hears Those in Need
(Forging Covenant in the Wilderness: YHWH, Moses, and the Stiff-necked People)
We’re going to be spending our summer with Moses. We’ll be reading from the book of Exodus which is the second book of the Old Testament. This morning we’ll read from Exodus 3 so we’ll miss out on the very beginning of Moses’ story. What do we know about Moses? Well, he was born to Hebrew parents at a time when the Israelite people were slaves in Egypt. He shouldn’t have lived because Pharaoh commanded that all male Hebrew babies be killed. For his own protection his mother abandoned him. He was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the court of the Pharaoh, as a young man he murdered an Egyptian, he fled to Midian where he married the daughter of the priest and that’s just in the first two chapters. As we’ll find out, Moses is God’s choice to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. An odd choice? Perhaps. When we read Exodus, we can see God weaving a story together. At the end of chapter two we read: The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. That sets our scene.
This morning we will join Moses beyond the wilderness tending the flock of his father-in-law. Let’s listen for God’s story from Exodus 3.
(Read Exodus 3:1-17)
The part of this story that gets the most notice is obviously the burning bush. How could it not? This inexplicable thing, a bush in flames but not consumed draws our attention straight away. It drew Moses’ attention, too, and when he turned to see it, the voice of God spoke to him. God told Moses that he was standing on holy ground. Maybe we don’t always recognize holy ground, do we? God told Moses that God observed the misery of the Israelites and heard their cry. It turns out God intends to rescue the Israelites, to deliver them, to save them from bondage in Egypt and God plans to use Moses to lead them out. This is a surprise to Moses who was just minding his own business, doing his job, going about his day. That’s what happens sometimes, isn’t it? God comes to us when we’re minding our own business, in the midst of our day to day lives, tells us we’re standing on holy ground and calls us to do something we never expected.
In this moment, what is astonishing to me is not the burning bush. It’s not the voice of God. It’s not what God asked Moses to do. It’s not even the revelation of the divine name. Those things are all important and they are all astonishing but in this moment, those aren’t the things that hit me square in the heart. It’s what God does. It’s who God is. As it turns out, our creator God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob pays attention. Our creator God, I am who I am, I will be who I will be, listens. God remembers that God made a promise, a covenant, and God is about to make good on that promise.
Remember the text tells us that the Israelite people groaned and cried out? Have your prayers ever sounded like groans? Have you ever cried out to God? I’m confident the answer is yes and yet I think we can be reluctant to cry out and we may not be quick to groan. I think we can be reluctant to come to God with the truth of our lives especially when that truth involves grief or anger or hopelessness. Somehow we think we’re supposed to pull ourselves together. Somehow we think we have to put on a brave face or to shake it off or to hide the mess. If you look around you this morning, you’ll see people who look very put together. If you scroll through Instagram or your Facebook feed, you’ll see sunny vacations and happy faces and the edited, cleaned up version of people’s lives. You probably won’t see deep grief or righteous anger. You probably won’t see lament. You probably won’t see people crying out to God in the grip of whatever it is that is holding them captive. If you do see those things, you’re seeing something rare. We tend to want to show the world that everything is fine even when it’s not. We certainly don’t want other people to know that we don’t have it all together or that we can’t figure it out, that we are trapped or bound or captive to any manner of things: the expectations of others, addiction, grief, helplessness, hopelessness, feelings of inadequacy. I wonder if we don’t want to show that side of things to God either.
There are things in our lives and in this world that make all of us feel trapped, helpless and hopeless. There are things in our lives and in this world that make us angry. There are things from which deliverance and rescue seem very far off or very unlikely. There are stories we’d like to share and deep secrets we’d like to tell. If we’re honest with ourselves, we want these places of struggle to be known because these places of struggle matter. We want these places of struggle to be known because they are a part of who we are. We want to tell the truth about our own lives. We know this about ourselves. What we learn about God in this passage is that God pays attention, God hears, God listens. God pays attention to the captive and those pushed to the margins. God pays attention to those with no resources or hope or help. God pays attention to the lonely, the abused, the oppressed, and the depressed. God pays attention to the gay kid who has been kicked out of their home, to the woman or man trapped in an abusive relationship, to the person who just lost their fifth job and can’t find another, to the person who no matter the three jobs they are working can’t make rent, to the person who can’t afford their prescriptions, to the person with a mental illness that has fallen through the cracks of a broken system, to the sex worker, to the families separated at the border, to those who have no place to sleep but a bench in front of a church. God hears, God listens, God pays attention.
And God pays attentions to us. God pays attention to us not just when we are doing well or feeling good. God pays attention not just when we are following the path living a good life. God pays attention when we are bound and captive. God pays attention when we are hurting, grieving, struggling, when we feel alone. God pays attention when we feel helpless and hopeless. God pays attention when we don’t know how to move forward and we’re at the end of our rope. God pays attention when we are sick with grief over the state of the world. When we come to God with all of who we are, when we cry out, God hears our cries and remembers the promises God has made to us.
Crying out, groaning, bringing all of ourselves to God are all acts of faith. Expressing our doubt, our anger, our discontent are all acts of faith just as much as expressing our thanks and praise and joy are acts of faith. God hears. God listens. God pays attention. And God is with us. That is the promise. Rescue and salvation and delivery from whatever it is that holds us in bondage may not always look the way we think it ought. That’s the trick of it. We usually have ideas about the way we think things ought to be. We have ideas about when and how God will do whatever it is God promises to do. God’s promise is to be with us. The word of the Lord from Isaiah 43 tells us: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Not if…when…when things fall apart, when someone you love gets sick, when you get sick, when you are grieving, when you are angry, when the world is changing, when hate seems to be winning, when the darkness is closing in, when you have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn…I will be with you, says the Lord. You are not alone.
Many of you know about or have seen our community prayer stations out on the edge of our campus. They are the white tags tied to trellises at the corner of Sycamore and Church and along Church near the chapel. They were installed during the second week of Lent back in March. Our question to the community is: “What are you praying for? Let us pray with you.” The community has answered and has shared their prayers with us. I’ve lost count of how many tags have been collected since March. I know it’s well over 1,000. At minimum 50 are collected each week and I read them all. Now we are praying for them every week on Thursdays at noon in the chapel. I am amazed at the faith of those in our community who walk by and write their prayers. I believe it is an act of faith. I assume they are sharing their prayers because they believe something will happen. If you want to hear the cries of God’s people, read these tags. Some are crying out and some are giving thanks. They are raw and honest. The folks writing them don’t know if they’ll be read or thrown out. They don’t know if anyone will hear them. And yet, they take a moment to share with us? with God? with the community? all the things that weigh on their hearts.
I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
What are you praying for?
To keep our home. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Peace & stability for my brother with bipolar. Please pray that he takes his medicine. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Anxiety over two teen aged grandsons losing both parents – my son and daughter-in-law. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
My mother Doreen, and father, Bobby…I love them very much and they are getting older. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Pray for my uncle who is incarcerated so that he is released soon. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
My special little boy, Isaac, age 2.5, for healing & complete restoration. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
My mom. That she would find community. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
My friend who is battling cancer and his girlfriend who is fighting alongside him. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Pray for my sobriety. Nicole I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Pray that my mom will not leave my friend and I homeless. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Healing from lost love. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Learning to let go of what I can’t control. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
For immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Pray that I become a strong woman just like my mom. I have heard their cry, says the Lord.
Did you hear any of your prayers? Did anything sound familiar? I heard many familiar things: anxiety, worry, fear, need of healing, aspiration, addiction, heartache, big world problems, loneliness. I have heard their cry, says the Lord. Does God know what keeps you up at night? Have you told God your wildest dreams, your greatest hopes, your paralyzing fears? Have you uttered to God the names of those you carry on your heart? Have you shared with God your places of struggle and lament? I believe that God hears us when we pray. I believe that God is paying attention to us and to this world. I believe that the particularity of your life matters to God. I believe that what’s happening in this world matter to God. It may not always seem that way. It may not always be evident. And I can’t tell you when or how or in what way God will intervene or rescue or deliver or save you from whatever challenges you face. I can tell you that God is with you in the midst. I can tell you that God is with us in the midst. I can tell you that God is with God’s children. God is a God of covenant promise. God is a God who keeps and does not break covenant. The great I AM, the God of the burning bush, the author of the Exodus is a God who hears us and hears the cries of those in need.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Associate Pastor for Faith Formation and Congregational Care