Exodus 3 &4
Moses has been born when a king was declaring, “kill all the male Hebrew babies;” the infant hidden by his resourceful mother in the bullrushes of the Nile river, adopted by one of the king’s own daughters, and raised in a household of the ruling class became a man between 2 peoples.
At some level his Hebrew identity endured. Moses' "hebrewness" broke out into the open in rage when one day he saw Hebrew construction workers being whipped by their boss pushing them beyond the limits of their capacity. Moses promptly, if not intentionally, killed siad boss, forcing him to flee Egypt, to leave behind the peoples he lived between, Hebrew and Egyptian.
Scroll forward a bit and we find Moses married into a Midianite family, shepherding his father in law’s sheep. On this day, a new day …. 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.
Put yourself on that mountain.
Close your eyes. Set aside the seeing for a moment.
What do you hear?
Grazing, shuffling sheep
Perhaps a hawk's wing or call
"Moses, Moses!" God called to him out of the bush,
And he said, "Here I am."
Then God said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which 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, for he was afraid.
Moses says: I am here.
God says: I am God.
…. the LORD said, “I have heard my people’s cry …..and I have come down to deliver them….. and to bring them up out of that land to a land flowing with milk and honey
The cry of the Israelites has now come to me…..
This story began when GOD heard. It continues as Moses is compelled by what he hears and sees, and perhaps by a readiness to hear that is trying to bubble up in him.
So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
This story began when GOD heard.
But it almost ended with Moses’ answer! "Who am I?"
I’m nobody, I disappeared from Egypt; my escape clause is only good if I’m out of sight, out of mind.
(touch finger to nose) Not ME, God!
[But] God 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."
Then the question and answer session begins.
God tries to light the fire in Moses’ heart while Moses keeps clicking back questions.
Who am I?
Who are You?
What if they don’t believe me (remember, I’m safely nobody)
What if they ask me who you are (remember, I don’t know who you are!)
What if I can’t find the right words?
It reminds me of a stuck lighter.
Click. Click. Click…..will this thing ever light or won’t it?
Who are you, who am I, listening to this story today?
-Nobody (not me)?
-or somebody with their heart ready to be set flame?
Like Peter in Matthew’s story this morning, Moses tries to throw up a shield he can hide behind. Do you remember how Jesus answered Peter?
…you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things…..if you want to save your life you must lose it, for me sake.
Jesus' words must have terrified Peter.
What do you think Moses was afraid of?
What about you?
Are you firing back empty clicks or open to God’s igniting flame?
We see the flickers in such unexpected places.
One of our United Methodist Pastors, Rev Cecil Williams, eulogized Robin Williams 2 weeks ago.  Since then the stories just keep coming. These are from Facebook.
Tina Pasquinzo we in SF knew what a great guy he was, he would always stop at a school car wash, ask the students what school are they from, what are they raising money for? then would pull out his wallet and tell the kids, "Sorry I don't have time to get my car washed but this is all the money I have in my wallet, good luck and study hard" or when he found out a neighborhood public school needed audio equipment for their run down auditorium, he quietly funded a top of the line sound system.
Lindsay Rogers I met robin Williams a few years back after a tragic accident where I almost lost my life due to a drunk driver, I had a torn aerota and a fractured skull along with many other injuries and health problems, well I am still suffering 3 years later and it's hard for me to get out of the house and one of my friends knew how much I loved robin Williams and said Lindsay I have a suprise for you, I wasn't feeling well but they came and kidnapped me.. We didn't have enough money to go and see the show but the gentleman told us that we might have a chance of catching him after his show, so while waiting for the show to end I was talking to one of the security guards who was asking me about my scars and couldn't believe my story and how lucky I was to have made it thru, anyways he goes excuse me I'll be right back.. A few minuets later a lady came out and said mister robin Williams would love to meet you, me and all of my friends look around like me? So I got to go in the building and meet him!! He was such a great guy, he said tell me more about your story he sat down we talked and he said don't ever be ashamed of your scars they are battle wounds and shows how strong you are, they turn into stars and you will shine so bright. I'll never forget that. ……. He kept in contact with me to see how my health was, so this hit close to home with me when I found out about his death. God bless you robin Williams.
Anthony Murcia I met Robin Williams when I was a security guard at Metreon in San Francisco. I was escorting a homeless man out of the building and the homeless man told me, "all I want it a chance to work here." I told him look there are a few things you need to do first. Get cleaned up, shave, and find something decent to wear and I will put you in contact with HR. Then I heard a voice say, "is that true?" I turned around and it was Robin Williams. I was amazed and star struck. I said, "yes it is, if goes up there like that they won't take him serious." The next day the man came back and all cleaned up with a nice suit. I prepped him for HR and walked him up there. I never confirmed if Robin helped him but I am sure he did. A few weeks went by and I was working and heard, "hey Tony." I turned around and it was Robin. Robin said, "that was a nice thing you did, thank you." From that point on we carried conversation not as a fan to actor but as friends. He always used my name. I eventually moved on from that job and didn't see him anymore but it was an experience I will remember for
The rest of my life. If I can help a homeless person I will. Robin told me, "it's not how Much you give or what you give they just want to feel like someone still cares." Great man, makes you feel comfortable, and he was just one of the guys. Thank you Robin Williams.
Maybe Robin Wiliams had a heart aflame that lost its source of air.
Certainly he's now in the care of a God who heard and saw the tenderness in his life.
Pastor Steve Garnaas Holmes reflected this week:
…….And God goes about God's passionate work:
to deliver, to set us free from oppression, from fear, from death,
from all that holds back our love from its freedom.
No matter your struggles, your gifts, your hopes,
there is this great energy of deliverance moving in this world,
already at work to set you free, you and all who hope,
who suffer, who are oppressed, who long for freedom,
for peace, for the arms of the One who Hears.
And you, what burning bush have you seen?
What work are you doing, what energy are you following?
How have you taken up your cross and followed
the One who knows our pain, the one who hears,
the One who delivers
Its been said that “The church doesn’t have a mission, God’s mission has a church.”
The Christian walk doesn’t start with projects or principles, it starts with being present. “I am here,” so that we can hear God, “I am God…..so come”
Try this listening practice this week. Just as Moses says: I am here, and God says: I am your God, Say to God, "Here I am," (just that, nothing more than "here I am), and listen for God's response, "I am your God."
The Christian walk doesn’t end with fear or excuses.
It journeys into wilderness and comes out more alive than when it went it.
“So come” all you who are not nobodies,
all you somebodies with hearts ready to be set aflame.
Are you ready to hear?
Are you ready to see?
Are you ready for heart aflame and a bold purpose to your life?
 ? -Steve Garnaas Holmes, Unfolding Light 8-30-14
In 2011, when Journalist James Foley was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to
Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.
“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home. She responded that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students.
She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?
He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley later wrote.
In 2012, the 40 year old Catholic was abducted again, this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State and which has chosen an ends justify the means approach to creating a warped vision of the Ummah, or Islamic community.
On Tuesday of this week, James Foley was killed.
The man who killed him, said that Foley’s murder was payback for U.S. airstrikes that have helped drive ISIS from strategic cities and infrastructure in northern Iraq.
Journalist Daniel Burke writes, The man in orange, kneeling. The man in black, wielding a knife. One asked God to cross the “cosmic reach of the universe” and soothe his family. The other claimed to kill in the "name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful." …..the contrast between the two religious paths - one led a journalist to cover conflicts, the other a jihadist to create them - is jarring. 
Martin Marty, one of our most insightful living religious historians, observed,
"It's story versus story…and the more you are threatened, the more dramatic and deep the story is going to be."
In our stories, faith easily becomes an excuse for human goals.
ISIS has bombed revered religious sites, murdered hundreds and tortured and enslaved many others – all in the name of building an Islamic state. (Burke)
But faith can also be the reality check that provokes acts of kindness and campassion that reknit broken bonds.
Foley's friends and family say his faith inspired a very different moral course. He organized fundraisers for slain journalists, taught convicts in Chicago to read, and risked his life to tell the stories of people living under the brutal rule of dictators. He was the kind of guy who always offered half his sandwick or cigarette, one friend recalled. The source of his unselfishness was clear, said Foley’s friends. "Jim's faith was something we all agreed not to discuss publicly while he was held in Syria,”
said Max Fisher, “but it was the wellspring of his generosity."
It’s a paradox of modern life - most of human history, actually –
that saints and sinners alike draw from …. religious waters. (Burke)
"It's story versus story," as Marty put it, "and you get rid of the bad ones by telling good ones."
Exodus 1: 8-2:10 is just such a “story vs. story.”
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
There's been a change in political leadership. With change is the danger or forgetting, forgetting lessons learned, forgetting friendships forged, forgetting what brought hope and life in the past.
He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."
The king is conflicted, afraid they’ll fight us and afraid they’ll leave.
What do the Egyptians need these Israelites for anyway?
Are they a reminder that the ones who were here first are superior?
Is it because we, oops-the Egyptians, need someone to exercise power over?
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.
Are the Israelites needed to drive the economic engine but with their power
firmly kept in check? It looks like defensive action, although no assault has taken place. What choice does the king have?
So far this story reminds me of the run up to WWII in Europe.
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread,
so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
Is this story starting to sound like the one playing out in the streets with yong black men?
The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,
and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."
But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."
The story's words so far have been oppress, dread, ruthless, imposed, bitter, kill.
The words start to change when two new characters come on the scene. Its a pivotal moment. They herd the king but did not obey. To whom do the midwives owe the truth? With clarity in this moment comes salvation. They owe the truth to the one who give life, not the one who oppresses it.
So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."
“Story vs. story.”
One is a story of imploding control.
One a story of expansive hope.
Both contain an element of fear.
Not only, who is feared, but also the quality of fear.
The king fears his neighbors with a dread that surfaces his own lack of security.
The midwives fear God with an awe that inspires.
It looks like a clear cut case of the power of life vs the power of death. I would love to hear Carl Jung's take on the story. There is an element of archetypal male/female power. The male cannot give birth, but that doesn't mean that death is what male power is meant to be about, its archetypal purpose is to protect and sustain. But this king mistakes his power.
The power of the midwives was assisting life and and assisting death, two movements of the Spirit through such similar portals into what is unknown before crossing.
The king tries to force them into a warped choice of life or death.
Friends, we are kings or midwives to each other.
We are able to protect and sustain each other.
We are able to accompany and assist each other on our life journeys and passages.
We are able to the defensive fear that threatens life or the awesome hope that bears life.
It was the king’s choice.
It was the midwives’ choice.
It is our choice.
What story do you want to be part of?
The midwives fit Pat Farrell’s description of “Weeds of Hope”
……in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Hope makes us attentive to signs of the in-breaking of the Reign of God. Jesus describes that coming reign in the parable of the mustard seed…. Though it can also be cultivated, mustard is an invasive plant, essentially a weed…. We can, indeed, live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the movement of God’s Spirit. Our hope is in the absolutely uncontainable power of God. We who pledge our lives to a radical following of Jesus can expect to be seen as pesky weeds that need to be fenced in. If the weeds of God’s Reign are stomped out in one place they will crop up in another. ( 2012 LCWR Assembly Address)
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist