My Dog Ate My Homework ~ July 29, 2018 ~ Exodus 3:16-18
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, amen.
We are in Exodus chapter 3 this morning. God is speaking to Moses, and he says:
“Now go and call together all the elders of Israel. Tell them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – has appeared to me. He told me, “I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey – the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.”’
“The elders of Israel will accept your message. Then you and the elders must go to the king of Egypt [Pharaoh] and tell him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God.”
God is about to do something big. After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, he’s about to set the Israelites free. Four hundred years. Think about that. Four hundred years ago it was 1618. To put that in perspective, slavery in this land, what has come to be known as the United States of America, started in 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln finally got the United States Congress to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and without a doubt, the darkest and ugliest chapter in American history came to a close. Two-hundred-forty-one years slavery existed in this land. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. At long last, God has instructed Moses to lead his people to freedom.
But, before we talk about that, this is just how my mind works. Does anybody else wonder why? Why slavery to begin with? And if so, that aside, why 400 years? Could God not have made his point in a different way?
In another way, other than slavery? And if it has to be slavery, how about after 10 years, or 100 years, or 150 years, or 241 years? Why 400 years? There’s no real explanation in Scripture that I’ve ever found. It doesn’t mention the why, it just mentions it as a fact.
It made me think of Noah, the story of Noah and the flood. This may be a little bit of a rabbit trail, or a Pastor Adam trail, but it made sense to me. It made me think – in chapter 6 of Genesis, verse 5, we read this:
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing…”
How long? How long was it from the time the earth was totally wicked until God decided he needed to fix it and told Noah to build a boat? A year? A hundred years? A thousand years? I don’t know. Again, the Bible doesn’t say. He just said it was a wicked place. Why were the Israelites slaves for 400 years? The Bible doesn’t say.
What that silence says to me is, number one, we live in a fallen world. I guess that should go without saying. In both those instances the world was totally wicked, somebody had to be enslaved for 400 years. Obviously in this fallen world, some rotten things are going to happen. Like slavery. It still happens. Did you know that? I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was researching for this message. Experts estimate that there are upwards of 40 million people, all over the world, still in slavery today in 2018. I had no idea. The nation where you are most likely to be enslaved? Ironically, the vast West African nation of Mauritania.
In Mauritania, three times they have tried to outlaw slavery within it’s borders, three times they have failed. It is estimated that 4% of Mauritania’s population is enslaved. That’s one out of every 25 people. Meaning they are working in mines, or whatever it is they are forced to do they cannot just leave, freely. That is not an option. Is it not a fallen world?
If you think that blows your mind, how about this one: Just as unbelievable, the fact is that there are estimated 60,000 people in slavery in construction work, factory work, sex work, domestic work and agricultural labor here in the United States. Sixty thousand people enslaved in the United States of America. Why? Because we live in a fallen world. In this fallen world, God gave everyone – every one of us – free will, choice, and sometimes people choose evil over good.
Sixty thousand enslaved in different working trades, there are untold millions more people enslaved to alcohol, sex, money, drugs. Yeah, we live in a fallen world. That’s the first thing that jumped off the page to me when we talked about God having to destroy how wicked the earth was, or the fact that Israel had to be released from 400 years of slavery.
The other thing that jumped off the page for me – I couldn’t help but notice here – God says:
“I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. I have promised to rescue you from your oppression…”
The other thing that jumped off the page to me is God will rescue you. He will send help. He had Noah save humanity, he had Moses save the Israelites, he had Jesus save you and me. I don’t know how long you will have to walk through whatever your valley of the shadow of death is. I don’t know that, whatever struggle you happen to be in. It seems to vary. Noah was 500 years old when he had his sons, and we don’t know how long after that it was that the earth got so evil, so bad, that God needed to have him build a boat. I don’t know why Israel had to be enslaved for 400 years. I don’t know why some people struggle for a short time, while others struggle for a very long time. I don’t know.
What I do know is God’s word says he will send help. He will rescue you. And sometimes that help is you. We know the story of Moses (I hope). Most of us are familiar with it, right? In chapter 3, God appears to Moses and says:
“Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
And Moses says, “Yes, I’m on it!” right? No. Moses protests. He says, God:
“Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”
God says, “I will be with you.” Go. Moses says, “But, but but…
“If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What should I tell them?”
God says, “I am who I am. Tell them Yahweh, the God of your ancestors… has sent me to you. Now go…” and that was our reading this morning. “Go and call them all together and tell them. The time has come.”
But Moses continues to protest. He doesn’t want to do this! Chapter 4:
“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you?’
Then the Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
And Moses was holding his shepherd’s staff.
“A shepherd’s staff…” “Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord says. So Moses threw down the staff and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back.
The Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff…”
“Perform this sign,” the Lord told him, “Then they will believe…”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now, put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand inside his cloak and when he took it out again, his hand was white as snow with a severe skin disease. “Now put your hand back into your cloak…”
Moses puts his hand back in, he takes it out,
…it was as healthy as the rest of his body.
God says to Moses:
“If they do not believe you and are not convinced by the first miraculous sign, they will be convinced by the second sign. And if they don’t believe you or listen to you even after these two signs, then take some water from the Nile River and pour it out on the dry ground. When you do, the water from the Nile will turn to blood on the ground.”
What else do you need, Moses? But Moses still ain’t buying it. He pleaded with the Lord:
“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”
I’m shy. I can’t speak to other folks. The Lord replies:
“Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I? Now go!”
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”
He did not want to do this.
The Lord became angry with Moses. “All right,” he said. “What about your brother?”
And he sent Aaron as his spokesperson.
I find it interesting. You find it interesting or funny or ironic that we want God to bless us. We want God to rescue us. We want God to help us out of whatever jam it is we’re in. But we never think of ourselves as being the blessing. Me, Lord? But I’m an ex-con! I’m a recovering addict! I didn’t finish high school! I failed in my marriage! I failed with my kids! Me?
Well, the Bible says in Romans 5:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Lots of people boil this down to, you know, when we run into tough times, it just builds us up. It forms us. And it does! The challenges that we go through and survive are a big part of who we are and what we have to offer. But Lord, I’ve really done some very bad things! I’ve made some pretty poor decisions!
We need to stop sounding like Moses. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old, right? He was 100 years old when he had his first kid! Isaac was a daydreamer, always had his head in the clouds. Jacob was a liar. David was an adulterer and a murderer! Moses killed a guy too, remember? That’s how he ended up in the desert in the first place!
Is it not true that the best AA sponsor is someone recovering from alcohol addiction? Is it not true that the best drug counselor is someone in recovery, a former addict? Is it not true that the best rape counselor is a woman who has survived that and has come through on the other side? This is what Romans 8 means:
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Now lots of people turn this into, God turns everything bad into good. Not necessarily. That’s close. It does not mean that God made you a drug addict so that you would be a great drug counselor. That’s not what it’s saying. It’s saying that if I love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength, and I trust him completely, he can use the problems and the trials that I have endured – even if they were my own fault – he can use them for good if I will let him.
God calls. We use that phrase all the time, right? God calls, God called me, God calls. A call requires an answer. God called Moses. He knew what Moses had done, right? He’s God! And because he’s God, he knew the potential that was in Moses. After all, God was the one that created him. So, when God calls you, answer him. Please. You may feel unprepared, you may feel unqualified, you may feel unworthy. God disagrees. He’s the one that called you, remember? How do you explain that? Did he make a mistake? Does he not know who you are or what you’ve done? You were planned for! He knew you were coming. Psalm 139:
You, God, saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
God has a plan for you from before you were conceived. That’s why abortion is so horrific. Because it’s one way that Satan works to disrupt God’s plan. Abortion makes certain that the next Abraham, the next Deborah, the next Moses, the next Esther, the next David, or the next Mozart, or the next Abraham Lincoln, or the next Harriet Tubman will never get an opportunity to answer God’s call.
Now, everyone’s call is not always going to be as spectacular as leading 2 million people out of slavery. Most calls are not. But God does have a plan for each one of us. And it’s different! Some of you may be called to be a father, or a grandfather. Someday! Some of you may be called to be a mother, or a wife, or a husband, or a good friend. Some of you are called to be a prayer warrior! Maybe some of you are called to serve those in our community in need at Sparrow ministry on Saturday mornings. Maybe some of you were called – I know some of you were called – to help pour into the young people all last week at Vacation Bible School! Maybe some of you are called to join us for Sewing Smiles where you can sew clothing and freedom bags for our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Maybe some of you were called even to come with us to Haiti next year, and to help them continue to rebuild their church and their school wiped out by the hurricane.
Or, maybe God hasn’t dialed you yet. I don’t know. Abraham was 100, remember?
Or, maybe he called and you didn’t pick up. That’s ok. He’ll call back. Or, you can call him. That’s called prayer. When you do hear from him, just a word of advice from your friendly pastor. Don’t say, “but I’m not (fill in the blank)!” “But I’ve done (fill in the blank)!” He doesn’t want to hear it. Talk to the hand. Talk to the nail-scarred hand. I don’t wanna hear it.
We need to stop with the excuses. They’re not effective on God. And believe me, they are obviously about as effective on God as “My dog ate my homework” was on Mrs. Michael’s third grade class at Brimfield Elementary.
Did any teacher ever fall for that? “My dog ate my homework!”
Forget the excuses. They don’t work. God doesn’t want to hear them. And don’t worry, don’t be afraid. He will give you what you need. Moses had a stick. God used it. He’ll give you what you need. He needed a spokesperson, he said, “Take your brother Aaron.” (Although from what I remember from the story, Aaron didn’t do much of the talking anyway, but nonetheless…)
God will give you courage. God will give you support. God will give you friends. God will give you what you need to answer the call he has called you to fulfill. I’m telling you, if we were as creative about how to do something as we are when it comes to avoiding something, we could do great things for God. Answer the call. Let God do something amazing to you, with you, through you. He knows you. He knows everything that you’ve done. He created you. And he did so with such potential, potential you may not even be aware you have yet. Until you say, not “My dog ate my homework,” but “Yes, here I am, Lord. Send me.”
I do not know why the Israelites had to be in slavery for 400 years. I do not know why you are going through what you are going through right now in your life, and I do not know how long it will last. I do know God has not forgotten you, God will rescue you, God will send you help. And sometimes, that help is you. Answer the call, and let him use you powerfully. Would you stand and pray with me, please?