Moses – Murderer, Fugitive…Prophet?

“Will all the world’s oceans wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, instead my hands
Will stain the seas scarlet,
Turning the green waters red.”
— Macbeth, Act 2 scene 2

William Shakespeare had a remarkable gift for translating mere concepts into emotional realities.  In the above scene, Macbeth is suffering from the guilt of killing his king in order to take over the throne.  We all understand the intellectual concept of guilt; these words of Macbeth help bring the experience to life. 

Sometimes we forget that before he became a hero and the greatest prophet and priest of ancient Israel, Moses himself personally experienced this kind of guilt (Exodus 2:11-15). He had committed murder.  He had hidden the evidence.  He was on the run from the king.  We can only imagine his thoughts and feelings as he ran from the luxury of his adoptive royal family and off into the desert.  What will he do now?  Will he ever see his friends and family again? What must God think of him — the same God who had rescued him as a baby — now that he is a man?  Moses’ guilt and shame cannot be underestimated.  

In that moment, Moses could have never foreseen what God had in store for him. He knew he was a murderer and fugitive, but he could not have known he would one day be God’s prophet and lead the Hebrews to freedom. He could not have known just how true it is that God reveals redemption through broken people.

One of the fundamental revelations in the Bible about God is that God shows mercy to sinners. God is so often remembered only for the portrayals as wrathful, but anyone familiar with the Bible will remember that God has mercy even on the world’s first murderer, Cain, by offering him protection. God has mercy on Abraham, who is lauded for his faith but still made many mistakes. God will have mercy on Moses, though he cannot see how. And in the 21st century we sometimes take for granted God’s supreme act of mercy, when he destroyed sin and death on Jesus’ cross.

But God’s mercy does not spare us the hard lessons, as God shapes us through our failures. Surely Moses had been shaped by God’s mercy toward him when he asks God to extend the same mercy to the impatient Hebrews. And of course we don’t always enjoy that shaping. Jesus referred to it with the metaphor of a plant being pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Ouch. But we know that failure is one of life’s best teachers, so it stands to reason that God would utilize our failures to help us mature.

In those painful moments, it’s crucial to remember that God’s plans for us are far greater than we can imagine. Sitting by that well in Midian, looking down at his guilty, murderous hands, being chosen by God to lead the Hebrews to freedom was probably as far from Moses’ mind as the east is from the west. But this is also the distance from which God is willing to remove our sins from us (Ps. 103:12). So putting our faith into action as we work through our guilt and shame can sometimes be as simple (though not easy) as gritting our teeth and remembering what God has done for us in the past, including the distant past through people like Moses.

For reflection:
1) Can you recall a time when guilt was weighing you down? Did you work through it? How?
2) Guilt for wrong actions can often transform into a sense of shame, which says, “There is something wrong with me.” Are you wrestling with self-messages of shame? Are any of those messages undeserved?
3) God never appears in today’s passage, just as God doesn’t appear in 2:1-10. Does it encourage you to know that sometimes God may not be obviously present, and nevertheless working behind the scenes?
4) We often feel paralyzed by our own guilt — has it ever occurred to you that God’s will is in no way disabled by our guilt?
5) Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians believe that sin itself has been put to death (2 Cor. 5:21). While we still live repentant lives, how does this once-for-all act of Jesus change how we think about guilt?

Many blessings,
MM

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Moses: Faith in Action

Have you ever played the game “Would You Rather?” Just in case you haven’t, it’s basically a conversation starter where a person is presented two options and has to choose which one they’d “rather” do (or eat, or take part in, etc.) The options are usually good fodder for middle school campfires, especially if they’re silly or disgusting. But the idea is elemental — what would you do in the face of a dilemma? Before Moses was even born, two Hebrew midwives were presented with a great dilemma: Would you rather disobey God or the most powerful person in the world?

Shiphrah and Puah (noteworthy that they are remembered by name) are credited with perhaps the first ever recorded moment of civil disobedience. The king of Egypt commanded that they kill newborn boys, forcing them to either disobey him or God, who is the only creator and destroyer of life, and who had created a covenant with their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They chose the latter, of course, and ultimately saved newborn Moses’s life.

One can only wonder what it would have felt like for Shiphrah and Puah in the moment. How much thought did they put into their decision? Did they fully grasp the potential consequences? Whatever their process, the fact is that they chose the hard right instead of the easy wrong. The question is: what would each of us do in their situation?

A popular assumption about God is that God sits far off observing human beings and occasionally “intervenes.” It’s a pervasive assumption which even our prayers often reflect. And to be sure, there are plenty of stories in scripture when God imposes supernatural power into the natural world to enact God’s will. But we should be careful not to let those stories eclipse the more frequent narratives in which God’s will is fulfilled through the obedient actions of ordinary people. During the earliest months of Moses’ life, four ordinary women acted in faith, and through them God set the stage for freedom for his covenant people.

For reflection:
1) Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma? What was it like? What did you choose to do, and why?
2) When we face an ethical dilemma, what are the intrinsic fears that drive our ultimate decision? What can we do to overcome our fears and choose based on truth and wisdom?
3) The midwives were rewarded by God for their obedience. Do you believe God rewards obedience today? Do God’s rewards need to fit our criteria of “reward?”
4) How is God calling you to “faith in action”?

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent — Rethink

There is a sentiment in our culture that I find pretty fascinating, and it’s wrapped up in a brief little expression: “You do you.” (Or maybe, “Just do you.”) On one hand, I get it. We want to give people the space they need to live the way they need to live. And that personal freedom is a hallmark of American life. But “You do you” seems too general, too all-inclusive. It doesn’t leave room for wise discernment. And the irony is that most people who advocate for a “You do you” society can actually have some pretty strong opinions about just what “you do.”
Take a look at this recent Diet Coke ad for an example of “Just do you.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEpuN7tRFRU

I’m not the only person who thinks that there needs to be room for wise discernment. This parody of the Diet Coke ad suggests that there probably should be limits on our personal freedoms:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI8AcL_LKME

Both the ad and its parody are trying to navigate the question of when we should or shouldn’t care about or comment on other people’s lives. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus addresses this balance with one of his best metaphors: the ol’ plank-in-the-eye. People love to quote the first three words of this passage: “Do not judge.” And they’re right to quote it. There are times when it is simply wrong to pass judgment on someone. And it is probably always wrong to presume to pass ultimate judgment on someone. But did Jesus mean “Just do you, whatever that is”?

Whenever I’ve heard people cite Jesus’ command, “Do not judge,” I have never heard them follow up with his command at the end of the passage, in verse 5: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s [or sister’s] eye.” The truth is that while we are forbidden to do what only God can do and “judge” someone, we are also forbidden to notice a speck in someone’s eye and ignore it like it doesn’t matter. To be hyper-aware of others’ sins or to ignore them are both off track. Jesus is calling us to repent of these easy paths and instead exercise “sound judgment” (Prov. 3:21). There are times when it is more loving to address the smudge on someone’s face. But the point is in how we should do it.

If we want to do good for someone, to “remove their speck,” we will be more Christ-like when we begin with the grateful attitude of a recipient of mercy. That is, when we remember that the source of our goodness is God. And because of God’s goodness in Christ, we are given mercy, sinners though we are. To identify ourselves this way is not “negative” or “shaming.” It’s just true. Acknowledging it can enable us to humbly “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and earn a hearing with our sisters or brothers, because they know that while they may have a speck, we have had a plank in ours. So there’s no “judgment.” But there is help. And hope.

For reflection:
– Can you think of ways a “just do you” sentiment could be bad for a person, or even for a community?
– Can you think of any examples from world news in which someone is casting judgment without dealing with the plank in their eye? What is the “speck” they seem to be noticing? What is the “plank” they’re ignoring?
– Why do you think Jesus uses the comparison of “speck” and “plank?”
– Take a look at all of Matthew chapters 5 through 7 — in what other practices does Jesus accuse people of hypocrisy?
– Do you have a plank in your eye that you have been ignoring? What can you do to address it?

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent — Repent

Wednesday March 6, 2019 was known as “Ash Wednesday.” It is the official beginning of the season of Lent (from the word meaning “spring”) which is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (not counting Sundays). Lent is a season during which Jesus’ people recognize their mortality, their need for God’s grace and mercy, and prepare themselves to fully embrace Jesus’ gift — his own life for our sake (1 Peter 2:21-24). Since that time, Christians have been able to look back in the assuring knowledge that the cross would not have the final say, but sin and death themselves were defeated, and Christ’s victory was sealed in Jesus’ resurrection, which inaugurates God’s new creation and the inbreaking Kingdom of God.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This Lent, UPPC will engage in a teaching series called “Re:Lent,” a chance to contemplate the process and meaning of repentance. The word “repent” essentially means a change of disposition. Some might say a “change of heart” or “change of mind,” but more holistically it means both…and more.

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were in the middle of working their trade — fishing. This was likely a trade they had been handed down not only for generations, but even for centuries. But when Jesus called them to follow him, they “left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:9-20).

What a powerful image for us to recall today, when Jesus calls us to follow him. It is a call, in essence, to change. And hey, everybody loves change, right? Wrong. Change is hard, everyone knows that. But change is what it takes to experience abundant life in Christ. What needs to change?

There are three myths that we tend to believe, and ways we can “repent” or “change our dispositions” toward them.
Myth 1) “You are in control of your life.” Yeeeah, no. Sure, you might get to choose what kind of breakfast cereal to buy. But look a little deeper. All it takes in the Seattle area is a dusting of snow for the whole Puget Sound to panic, realizing how little control we really have over, well, anything.
Repent with Surrender. When the Israelites had to survive only on God’s daily gift of manna, they learned how to surrender control and trust God completely. While we are called to be responsible and wise, when it comes to ultimate control, give it to the only One who has it.
Myth 2) “Your life is all about you.” This one is sneaky. Who else is my life about?! But anyone who has felt the joy of blessing someone else knows there’s a lot more to life than living it for oneself.
Repent with Service. Jesus said it, and it proves to be true generation after generation: anyone who loses their life for Jesus’ sake will save it (Luke 9:24).
Myth 3) You’ll live forever. Okay, no one really believes that, but we often live like we do, right? But while no one likes to dwell on it, the truth is that mortal death will come to us all.
Repent with Resurrection. Actively remember Jesus’ resurrection and promise that one day all who have given him their lives will live eternally in God’s new creation. And live like you believe it, that is, turn away from all that leads to death and turn toward God, who alone gives life. Repent.

For reflection:
1) When you think of the word “repent,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?
2) Which of the three “myths” is the trickiest for you?
3) Jesus is calling you to follow him — what “nets” do you need to leave behind?

The Prophet’s Dream

Acts 2:14-21

Jesus’ community has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. Where else do people of all generations and walks of life gather for a common purpose? And not to consume goods or experiences either, but really the opposite. To give. To create.  Not even for their own sake, but for the sake of the Master.  This radical, purposeful community defined by God’s presence and work in the world — this was the dream of the prophets.

The counter-cultural purpose of Jesus’ community reflects its counter-intuitive nature: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.21).  It cannot be earned with moral behavior.  It cannot be acquired through transcendental enlightenment.  This is the grace and mercy Jesus showed Peter around that fateful campfire, when he forgave him his denials and restored his belonging and purpose in Christ’s community.  This is the same Peter who preached in Acts 2 on the prophetic dream of Christ’s community.

The problem is that one dream can be co-opted by secular, cultural “dreams” of community and contentment.  But if dreams are by nature creative and unique, like the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we must be open and responsive to God the Holy Spirit. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be swept into the habit of dreaming the same materialistic and self-aggrandizing dream as the bulk of our population. “When the whole population dreams the same dream, empire is triumphant.”*

We are called to be animated by a different narrative, and our experience of Jesus’ community will be only be what we make it.  God’s grace is unconditional.  Our choice to respond in gracious and merciful community?  Well that’s up to us.

For reflection:

  1. Describe the prophet Joel’s “dream” in your own words.
  2. Do you see his dream anywhere in the world today?
  3. Many people would respond positively to Joel’s vision — what makes the Christian response unique?
  4. If our community is “up to us,” what is one thing you can do this week to move one step closer to experiencing the community that Joel describes?
  5. Do you see any opportunities at UPPC to either find this community or to create it?

***JOIN US to explore Group Life together! 

Sundays in May  |  9:15-10:15  |  Gym.

Blessings,

MM

 

 


*Walsh, Brian J., Sylvia C. Keesmaat.  Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.  (IVP, 2004).