In 1894 one English teacher noted on a teenager’s report card, “A conspicuous lack of success.” That student was Winston Churchill. In 1902, the poetry editor of Atlantic Monthly returned a stack of poems with this note, “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.” The poet was Robert Frost. In 1905, the University of Bern turned down a doctoral dissertation as “irrelevant and fanciful.” That writer was Albert Einstein. One baseball player set the major league record for strikeouts with 1316. That same player set a record for five consecutive strikeouts in a World Series game. The holder of both records is Babe Ruth. Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in producing a storage battery. When asked if he ever became discouraged working so long without results, Edison replied, “No, I now know 50,000 things that won’t work.”
How well do, or how well have, you handled personal failure in your life? I believe each of us have failed at something in our life many times. The issue for us is not whether we fail, but how we handle our failures. Our focus today is on one man who initially failed miserably in his calling. But received the second chance he never expected and became a powerful testimony to how God can work through our lives if we allow him to. His name is Moses.
The Exodus is a true-story metaphor for every person who journeys from a place of slavery to sin to the new life of the Promised Land. It helps us to reflect and learn from our past struggles so we can daily learn how to faithfully lean upon God and follow God’s guidance and not our own. This journey of faith is not easy. It’s filled with ups and downs. Yet our God who frees us, also leads us and teaches us new things every step of the way.
The Exodus story began with a horrific announcement; the new Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph! This is big – and tragic news. Here was the leader of this powerful nation who had forgotten how years before, an Israelite had saved the Egyptians through his divine-inspired dream interpretations and built Egypt into the nation he now leads.
Imagine our next president not knowing the story of George Washington! Because Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph, his inner fear of the Israelite people caused him to turn them into slaves and to persecute them and even attempt to control their population by infanticide. Amazing what fear can do isn’t it?
So, God prepares a way out of the slavery, bondage and persecution for his covenant people. Moses is a miracle baby. He grows up in the palace of Pharaoh. He is a potential heir to the throne, yet his heart remains faithful to his true people. And one day he attempts to bring about their freedom his way: by his power and he kills an Egyptian guard who was beating an Israelite slave. He is quickly found out and flees to the desolate desert region of Midian where he marries and becomes a shepherd. Talk about downsizing! I don’t think Moses ever forgot his failure in Egypt.
What Moses didn’t know then was that God had not given up on him, even though Moses had given up on himself. The reason the story of the burning bush is the fifth most important Instant Replay Bible story is that this story is not about Moses; it is about God. For at just the right time – 40 years later, God visited Moses in person – in the flames within an ordinary bush on an ordinary day, along an ordinary mountainside while Moses led an ordinary flock of sheep. At that moment the ordinary became extraordinary because God was present.
Up to this point in the Biblical narrative, we have discovered God as creator, moral judge, covenant maker – and keeper. Now we will be introduced to several more attributes of God as well through this single story and those that will follow – God is our redeemer.
As Moses wanders closer to a flaming bush that doesn’t burn up, a voice speaks and tells him to remove his sandals because where he now stands was once ordinary but is now is Holy Ground because of God’s presence there. The voice identifies himself as God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses bows in shame, afraid to look into the flames. Being in God’s presence reminds him of his past failures and mistakes. Perhaps he readies himself for judgment for failing God all those years ago.
There may be some of us here today that feel the same way now. We just might think that our past failures have hardened God’s heart towards us But Moses receives the most incredible announcement that any human had received up to that point in history: God’s heart is broken for his people and he wants to rescue them from their pain, suffering and bondage and to bring them to a place of blessing.
This is still the heart of God today – broken hearted over our bondage and slavery to sin. God wants to free us to live abundant and eternal life in him through faith in Jesus. And on that day God wanted Moses to lead the liberation of God’s people.
Unfortunately, Moses’ response was anything but grateful. So, at times, is our response too. Moses tries any and every excuse to avoid answering God’s call. And so do we. With every “I can’t” excuse Moses gives, God offers a “yes you can, I will be there with you all the way” response. He still tells us the same thing as well.
Finally, Moses offers one final excuse – I can’t speak well. So, God responds with having his brother Aaron become Moses’ voice. God’s plan is that he would help and teach them both what to do. And the good news for us today is that God still does that for us as well. God still helps and teaches us every day what to do – if we are willing to listen and respond to God.
The burning bush is a place of reconciliation, a place of transformation, and a place of consecration for Moses. In that meeting with God that day, Moses is forgiven, he is given a new understanding of God and then Moses is empowered to do God’s work – God’s way.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate Holy Communion together, may today be our burning bush reminder that God can take each one of us and our failures and forgive us, transform us and consecrates us to serve Him and others in God’s name. The issue for us to remember again and again is not whether we fail, but whether we will allow God to help us handle our failures for God’s glory. Come and remember what Jesus has done – and continues to do for us all!