This is the one. This is the sermon where I show up and prove that I don’t know what I am doing. This is where it becomes apparent that there has been a mistake- a colossal mistake in letting me into seminary, allowing me to do an internship, slipping up by ordaining me and then giving me the pulpit on a Sunday morning when real people are expecting real help. This is the day when all that will come crashing down in a heap as a huge, preposterous misstep by the faith community; to allow Marilu Thomas, little Catholic girl and immature dreamer, to preach the gospel. I am not the only one who thinks this way. I have evidence others do, too. We think about how we don’t measure up or we go the other way and think we are a victim.
Last week, Sam Bush asked me if I would talk to the new group of fellows and tell them what I was doing at their age, the year after college. For me, that would have been 1979—which seems like a lifetime ago, because it is. It was in the last century. I was living in Aspen, Colorado with some college friends and working several jobs—answering phones at a switchboard, selling burglar alarms, cleaning hotel rooms and writing advertising copy, while partying at night. I thought I was doing well at these things—although, I answered Jimmy Buffet’s phone as “The Buffet Residence” and Jimmy told my boss to fire me. I destroyed my copy of Margaritaville that day. I sold burglar alarms by figuring out where would I enter a house without having to do too many ninja moves. I was constantly trying to figure out my future. Where was I supposed to live? What was I supposed to do? Why was I born? Was I a mistake? Horoscopes, fortune cookies, cloud formations all looked like clues to how to proceed to be a human adult person.
How did I get from there to standing in this pulpit today? That is a mystery to me—and I think is the point of our text in Exodus 3 today- the call of Moses.
There are some who might be unfamiliar with the story of Moses. Most people think that the Old Testament is full of the stories of Saints who were always faithful to God no matter what. There also persists the feeling that the God of the OT was vengeful, bloody thirsty and angry. Here we encounter a messed up Moses and a stand-by-you God that turns this on its head. Moses was an outsider everywhere he went- his parents home, the river, Pharaoh’s house, and even Midian. He names his only son Gershom—which means “exile.” At this point in the story, he is about 80 years old and is in the desert. He has a murky past but no apparent future other than wandering with the flock, which are not even his sheep. These are the folks that God likes to use—people who come with no apparent resumé for the job at hand. People who have failed to live up to their potential—the outcasts, the lack-luster performers, the late bloomers, the dark horses, the runts of the litter.
In those years after college, I had no apparent future. I was wondering what to do with my life and thinking I was missing all the signs that other people must be seeing. Was there a burning bush that I had driven by or at least a ‘sign’ that would show me definitively God’s will for my life? Shouldn’t I know the future and be heading toward it with confidence and faith? What am I meant to do? What will be my legacy on the earth? What is God’s will for me? If I had my way, God’s will for my life would include perfect decisions leading to a problem-free life. But this is believing in the God of Self. The truth is, if I had mapped out a plan for my life, I would have short changed myself compared to what has actually happened. What appeared to me to be disasters, were the very place where Christ’s grace found me.
As Luther said in The Bondage of the Will, “we are bound to the folly of taking our own fate into our hands… It is because we do not really know God that we must…construct a theology that enables us basically to place our trust in ourselves.” Luther argues that it is only the ‘down to earth’ God who can help us—not the one that is inscrutable and mysterious in heaven.
Moses is going about his daily life, without any thoughts of how he will save the world or do good things for God, when the down-to-earth God comes to him. God met Moses in the middle of his life, in the middle of the ordinary routine of shepherding, without an invitation. It is not by Moses’ merits, good works or abilities that God chose him—rather his lack of skills, qualifications and lack of willingness make him the best candidate for the job, because then it will be obvious that it is God’s power—not his—that brings the future about. Moses was not praying for this, making it his life plan or bucket list goal. It is not Moses’ will that will be done but God’s. God’s story is our story. God’s future is our future. We do not have a future independent of God’s.
Moses reaction to God’s proposal is like my reaction to being a priest, “Who am I to do such a thing?” Like Moses, we think it’s all about us and what we can do, what we think is possible or impossible, what our passions can accomplish. God’s presence events faith. God’s answer to Moses is exactly what we need to hear today and everyday, “I will be with you.” God does not promise Moses that it will be easy—he promises that He will be with him. He also doesn’t give Moses step by step instructions but says, “I will be with you.”
Then Moses asks the quintessential question of God, “Who should I say sent me?” In our translation, God replies, “I am who I am.” The scripture really is directly untranslatable, as I was told this week by Rabbi Dan Alexander down the street at Congregation Beth Israel. He said that it would be closer to “I exist because I exist” or “I continue being as I am being” but does not have an equivalent in English. God exists as much as we exist. God will continue being, no matter what we believe or don’t believe. God sticks a stake in the sand here saying that He exists beyond our ability to believe he exists.
How do you know God’s will for your life? The answer is you don’t. We can’t really know the will of God. It might not sound like it, but this is actually good news. You don’t have to worry if you are doing God’s will or not because that is God’s job.
The Big Book of AA has a very good explanation of this, “I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however it turns out, that’s God’s will for me. (419) When we look back, we will realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned. (100)” Luther said that what God has willed has been done for you here on earth. He has sent his Son to die and conquer the grave; he has baptized you and given you the sacrament of his body and blood and that is the revelation of his almighty will. (Forde, 25) “ For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” It tells us in Jeremiah 29:11.
How did I go from being fired by Jimmy Buffet to Christ Church? Only God knows. Poet John O’Donahue says that there is so much mystery in the world that we cannot fathom it. The Spirit of Christ is always at work bringing us through grace into God’s will for us. For me, the evidence of this is in the prayer the bishop led me to say when I became an Episcopal priest:
“O Lord my God. I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; yet, you have called your servant to stand in your house and to serve at your altar. To you and to your service, I devote myself, body, soul and spirit. Fill my memory with the record of your mighty works; enlighten my understanding with the light of your Holy Spirit and may all the desires of my heart and will center in what you would have me do.”
Don’t short change yourself by worrying about the future. Jesus Christ, God with us, continues to stand elusively out in front of us, beckoning us forward into a future that we cannot yet see but which God is fashioning both for us and through us.
- Exodus 3:1 - 15