Psalm 31:1-5; Exodus 4:1-5:9; Matthew 19:13-22

Late today.  Am down in Monterey helping Susan celebrate her birthday.  Out at 6:30 this morning at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, photographing surf in the rain.  Then a relaxing breakfast, and enjoying watching the clouds and rain showers scud over Monterey Bay.

Psalm 31:1-5  Our psalmist is on the run and seeks safety: “Be a rock of refuge for me,/ a strong fortress to save me.”  The image of God as both rock and refuge is striking.  As I was climbing around on the rocks this morning, seeking a place for the “perfect shot,” I spotted a small outcropping in the sandstone, under which one body could probably crouch, safe from the storm.  Rocks are solid, immovable, dense, safe.  (And they are foundations: “..and upon this rock I will build my church.”)  As we have seen in so many movies, if we can hide under a rock, we are much safer from those enemies taking shots at us.

In our modern society, we tend to think of refuge in abstract, almost comfortable terms, as e.g., “my home is my refuge from the crowds around me.”   But our psalmist is out in the wild, being pursued by his enemies.  We can almost hear him panting, out of breath from running and barely escaping the trap when he says, “take me out of the net that is hidden for me,/ for you are my refuge.”  Refuge here is not escape; it is safety. How often do I think of God as refuge from my enemies?  As a place of safety, not just retreat or escape?

Exodus 4:1-5:9:  The Moravians are carrying us through Exodus at a pretty rapid clip.  So much has happened already: Moses murders the Egyptian overseer, escapes, gets married, encounters the burning bush and for the first time in the Bible, God identifies himself directly, “I AM WHO I AM.”  And 400 years after Joseph, God is at last ready to bring his chosen people back up out of Egypt.  And Moses is the human whom God will use to accomplish this apparently impossible task.

What makes this story so believable is that Moses is completely human; we know exactly how he feels.  His severe self-doubt is completely understandable: “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (4:1). As we complete this Right Here Right Now study, I am filled with exactly the same self-doubt.  What if I say something, but people don’t believe me, or worse: what if they think I’m simply addled?  Moses has an advantage here because God demonstrates the power with which he is equipping Moses.  While I am not expecting God to turn my walking stick into a snake, I at least can know that it’s OK to question God as to his intentions.

Even after those dramatic demos, Moses still resists the Call: “…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (4:10).  But God will have none of that and promises, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (4:12).  There’s the part where I tend to go awry.  I always think I know what to say, and unlike Moses, who was unwilling to speak, I am usually unwilling to shut up.  Once again, our role is to abandon ourselves to God and let him speak through us.

As God promised, Pharaoh’s heart is hard and Moses, out of fear, does not actually say what God intended.  Instead he  asks Pharaoh for a three-day vacation for the Hebrews to “celebrate a festival to[God] in the wilderness.”  That doesn’t move Pharaoh, so he says, “a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” (5:3)  Again, Pharaoh is unmoved.  Moses’ feeble attempts to not actually say what God intends him to say only makes life more miserable for all of them.  The lesson is obvious: when God calls and then sends us, we are to be bold and not make wimp-out excuses–as difficult as that may be to do.  Rather than letting God speak through Moses, Moses tries to control the situation because he is afraid of the possible consequences.  Boy, do I see myself here.

Matthew 19:13-22  Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler (RYR) is surely the operating definition of missed opportunity–and one of the great “could have beens” in the NT.  It is also the operating definition of most of us.  Like the RYR, I am much more secure in the tangible present, and what I have, than I am in taking a risk by abandoning all that.  The RYR lacked the imagination to envision what might have been–that the riches he may have encountered by abandoning his “here and now” riches could have been infinitely greater.

This encounter between Jesus and the RYR always bugged me when I was younger.  I always though Jesus was being pretty unreasonable.  Why not just accept the RYR “as is.”  Surely, he would come to see life with Jesus as superior and willingly give up his riches later on.  Why did he have to abandon all that first as a condition of following Jesus? But as I grow older and live in a post-cancer reality, I finally see what Jesus was getting at.  The quest for security and keeping what I have is no longer as intense.  “Stuff” and social position no longer really matter very much.  Moreover, I can see that it is in the Kingdom where the real treasures lay.

 

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