Sermon by: Robert Austell
download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod)Today we continue in a series on exile, noting from last week that God does not hide-out in sanctuaries made of human hands or on the clouds of Heaven. Rather, God has come after humanity-in-Exile to find us, speak to us, lay claim to us, and invite us to come home. For the rest of the summer we are looking at stories from the Bible that illustrate the God who seeks and saves, even and especially in the places of exile.
There are two exile stories in today’s text. As we look at them, remember the two application points from last week. Exile and redemption are our story, so listen to see if you hear your story in one of these. And as followers of the God who seeks and saves, we are challenged to go out into places of exile with the good and hopeful news of God’s love through Jesus Christ. Consider what that would look like for us as well.
Runaway to Exile: Moses
The first story of exile I want to look at with you is that of Moses. We only read part of his story today, but it is a fascinating one. Born to Hebrew slaves during a time in which male babies were not allowed to live, his mother hid him away in the river and he was found and raised as an Egyptian prince in Pharaoh’s household. The story picks up with him seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and Moses striking and killing the Egyptian. Later, when word gets out among the Hebrews and then reaches the Pharaoh, Moses fled for his life.
It is interesting to note the progression from a rationalized sin (killing another man) to facing the judgment of one’s peers (that the Hebrews saw him as a murderer) to really getting worried that “the matter had become known” to fleeing the consequences. This is familiar to us, right – it is more typical these days to avoid cheating off a test, not because it’s wrong in and of itself, but because one might get caught.
The deeper point, related to our theme, is that sin has consequences, one of which is often some form of exile. Like Adam before him, Moses faced immediate death as a consequence, or the delayed judgment of exile. Unlike Adam, whom God allowed exile, Moses simply ran for his life.
We saw last week that Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in exile from God and from paradise (the immediate presence of God). Moses’ sin illustrates an additional consequence of sin. There are not only vertical consequences for our relationship with God, but also horizontal consequences, affecting our human relationships with family and community. Moses fled his family and his people.
Maybe you know what it is to have to simply run away from your problems and sin. Maybe you know some folks for whom that is the case. Maybe this part of Moses’ story is your story.
Enslaved in Exile: the people of Israel
There is a second story of exile in this text. It is the story of the Hebrews. They are not in Egypt by chance or by happy choice. They came there during famine, at the mercy of their brother, Joseph, whom God spared though his brothers plotted against him. At the end of Genesis, Joseph directs his family to take his and his father’s bones back to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but his brothers and their descendants remain on in Egypt. As the number of Hebrew people grew, they became a threat to the Egyptians, who enslaved them and eventually even tried to reduce their numbers through infanticide.
In today’s text, we read of the Hebrew people crying out to God for help because of their enslavement. Was this a form of exile? Was it their fault?
I was going to include the story of Joseph today, but it was too much to squeeze into one service and sermon. But that story describes the sin of Joseph’s brothers – the sons of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. They plotted to murder their brother (reminiscent of Cain and Abel!) because they were jealous of him. At the last moment, a trading caravan passed by and they sold Joseph to make some money. Their sin of murderous rage was complicated further with their greed. Joseph’s story is a wonderful story summed up in Joseph’s words later to his brothers: “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.” (Genesis 50:20) That, too, is a story of God following one into exile at the hands of another person’s sin.
Ultimately, Joseph’s family followed him to Egypt, settled there after the famine, and never returned home, despite Joseph’s instruction at the end of Genesis to return home with his bones and those of his father, Jacob. Those who ended up enslaved in Egypt were there because of the murderous and greedy sins of their fathers and the reluctance of those fathers to relinquish a “good thing” when they thought they had it.
Maybe you know what it is to suffer because of the decisions or actions of someone who went before you – a parent or grandparent. You feel little responsibility for where you are, yet there you are all the same. Perhaps you’ve even cried out like the Hebrew people for God’s intervention and help. But will God leave Heaven and find us when we are so far from home?
God’s Two-fold Redemption
Today’s text is also the story of God’s reaching out to those in exile, whether from personal sin that separates from family and society or from generational sin of which we are unwitting heirs. Interestingly, the redemption of Moses and the redemption of Israel are woven together in this one story.
Moses fled Egypt and finally stopped running in the land of Midian, where he remained for 40 years, according to tradition. We later read in Exodus that he was 80 when he returned to Pharaoh with the Lord’s message, “Let my people go.” Moses had not only fled into exile, but as verse 15 tells us, he settled there. Though the word only means that he made a home there, I think the double-meaning in English applies to us. How many of us have “settled” for exile rather than seeking the blessing of being right with God and others? At any rate, this is the story of God coming into exile to redeem a sinful son, and that’s exactly what God did.
You probably know the story of the burning bush. Moses, now 40 years into exile, was out tending his father-in-law’s flocks and came upon a bush that was burning, yet not being consumed. There, Exodus 3 tells us, the physical presence of the Lord (angel of the Lord) spoke directly to Moses, even calling out his name. God indicated that Moses was standing on holy ground and proceeded to call him to service, in effect restoring him to service of God. Note, too, Moses instinctive reaction – perhaps because of the glory of God, but perhaps because it had been his posture toward God for 40 years – he “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)
So that’s the first example in this text of God going into exile to bring a child back home. God went and got Moses, the murderer and exile, and not only brought him into a holy encounter with God, but called him to obedience and service.
The second account of God’s going into exile is precisely what He does through Moses for the Hebrew people. They are enslaved in Egypt and calling out for God’s help. Does God quietly call from the Promised Land for them to find there way back home? No, God goes and calls a Deliverer, empowers him for the task at hand, and sends him into the heart of Exile – into the Pharaoh’s court – to bring God’s people out of slavery and home to the Land of Promise. Again, God’s story is one of coming to get us when we are lost and far from home, really regardless of what put us there.
Far from Home
So here is what all that means for you and me. It’s the same two applications as last week (and indeed every week), but fine-tuned a bit with the details of today’s text.
First, each of us experiences exile in some way because each of us has sinned and come short of God’s glory and perfection. In addition to that, each of us is heir to the sin that has gone before us – that is, human and generational sin. We see both these types of sin in today’s text, as well as the separating, exiling, and enslaving consequences of that sin. The great Good News is that we are not left to our own devices to escape slavery, find our way home, and climb back up into the good graces of God. The Bible assures us (and experience confirms) this to be impossible as well as very discouraging. The great Good News is that God has come after us – God has come after you! God does not hide out in holy places awaiting your discovery, but comes to where you are. God comes into the darkness; God comes into the depression; God comes into the sorrow and the pain; God wades right into the sin and shame. And where God is, as demonstrated with the burning bush, that is a holy place and a holy, inviting moment. We can still look the other way or hide our face. But God is in those places, speaking! Do you understand the amazing grace of that? It is not when and where you are at your best that you encounter God, but when and where you are at your very worst. And God says, “Come, believe, follow me; come home to me.”
Second, as those who gather in the church building every week, it becomes so easy to forget the character of God described in these texts and believe God only exists here in this holy place waiting for folks to find Him. But God is not hiding out here; God is out there with those in exile. God is on the move. God’s heart is for the nations and for those who are far from home. Jesus said that he came to “seek and save the lost” and we must recapture an understanding of God that is not static and stale, but vibrant and on the move. It is important to do so to share joyfully in what God is doing all around us. Otherwise, we run the risk of turning the church into a place of exile from the world. That is why I push so hard for us to look outside our walls. That is why it is so important for us to get up and get out, to meet and love our neighbors, and to see what God is doing around us. If we can really grasp that and run after the God who is on the move to those in exile, we will not only meet God ourselves, as He heals and holds us, but we will share in what God is doing, even as Moses did as he responded to God’s call to serve. We have another searchlight opportunity this Thursday night with VBS at Brighton Place – come join us!
God is on the move: that is why you and I have been found and are here today. God is on the move; we cannot stay still! Amen.