September 8, 2019

“Missing Pieces”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 56.4-8

Exodus 4.1-16

September 8, 2019

A long time ago, I was told that I would be good at selling make-up. Now, if you know me, you might laugh at this, because I rarely wear make-up and I am a terrible salesperson. As a Girl Scout I spent many Saturdays awkwardly standing outside of stores, looking down at my feet and mumbling about Thin Mints and Samoas. I’m convinced the only reason I sold any cookies was out of pity for the small girl standing in the cold. I didn’t know how to tell the woman who sold make-up no, so she talked me into going to a training. I listened, but then said that I couldn’t sell because I simply didn’t have time. She excitedly told me this didn’t take time at all! I then said that I just didn’t know how to run a business, and she had an answer for that! I came up with excuse after excuse, but finally I had to be firm and clear, that this was not the job for me. The person who was trying to convince me was very good at selling make-up – and she should have been encouraged, rather than me trying to find reasons to sneak out of it.

We all are not talented in the same ways. Life is trial and error of finding our gifts and finding how our gifts can work together. We not only hone in on our own gifts, but recognize how to not try to do it all, and create space for others to help us. Sometimes we think it is easier to do something ourselves, but we really benefit when we can work together. We have to find the missing person with the gift that compliments whatever we are doing.

Moses, in our story this morning, tries to say no to God – but he’s not selling make-up – his task is far more important and God will not take no for an answer. In fact, God has a response for every “but” that Moses utters.

Previously God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and called him to work with God’s people. God asks Moses to be a spokesperson for the Israelites – the communication link between God and the people. Moses has many concerns about this appointed role. Part of me wonders how much of his questions are real, and how much is he trying to find a way out of an uncomfortable role that comes with a great weight? He first wonders if anyone will believe that God is speaking through him. This is a legitimate concern. Sometimes when people in our day and age say they are speaking God’s words; I pause and wonder about that – especially depending on what the message is they are portraying. How can we ever be sure? Is he most concerned that the Israelites won’t believe, or are there some doubts in Moses’ mind?[1] God has that covered, and offers a sign – for the shepherd’s crook to turn into a snake. Perhaps this is to convince Moses as well as the people. God also invites him to put his hand in his coat, which comes out with a skin disease, and then reappears without the disease. These are interesting ways to show God’s presence. Snakes and skin diseases are not often associated with God’s presence.

Well, Moses still has reservations and is a little insecure about this new job title. He tells God that he cannot speak because he has a “slow mouth and a thick tongue.” This might have been a speech impediment or perhaps he was tongue-tied, where he couldn’t move his tongue well because it was attached to the bottom of his mouth. It might be that he had an intellectual disability and had difficulty formulating his thoughts into sentences. Whatever the true diagnosis, I wonder if this is the heart of his concerns. He is anxious and worried – maybe worried he isn’t good enough to do this huge task God has put before him.

God listens, and God responds. Just as God has done throughout the conversation. Just as God continues to do. Now, the scripture tells us that God is frustrated, but that is understandable. The Creator of the universe is saying, “You will do this – you have this!” and is being doubted. The One who gave us tongues to speak, ears to hear, the ability to do these things – is the One who is calling. Often, when God calls us, we see our shortcomings, but God sees our abilities, and uses what we see as discouraging disabilities in a way that is a gift.

God reassures Moses and offers that Aaron help out. Why didn’t God just appear to Aaron? Maybe Aaron wouldn’t have believed God. Perhaps Aaron was afraid of water and never would have parted the Red Sea. Maybe Aaron didn’t have the same adventurous spirit and wouldn’t have taken the risks Moses did. They worked together, and that was what God had planned.

God gives each of us gifts: to speak, to play music, to pray, to listen, to be a caregiver, to teach, to cook food for people in need. We each have our strengths, and we can bring them together to work together for God’s realm.

In Isaiah God talks about a house of prayer for all people, with different gifts, different cultures, and different experiences. This house of prayer, this gathering place, does not belong to us. Just as the communion table is not a Presbyterian table, this church is not our church – and we do not set the rules for who is welcome.[2] The Isaiah passage answers the question: “Who is included?” Last week we talked about the importance of belonging, that “Inclusion means you are welcomed when you are present, and belonging means you are missed when you are not present.” The Isaiah passage mentions eunuchs and foreigners explicitly. These are people who would have been considered outsiders, who would be welcomed, who would belong.

This passage is the beginning of what is called Third Isaiah. It is thought that the book of Isaiah was written by three people (at least) and divided up by different times, and this is the final part, where the exiles return. The Israelites had been driven from their homes, going into unfamiliar lands. Now they are returning, and so much is happening. Their lives have been changed. Their homeland is surely different. They have met other people and lived in different cultures – their lives have changed. Now, their identities are being challenged. Who they welcome is no longer just other Israelites, but the strangers. This is very key to Hebrew scriptures, because the Israelites themselves were strangers in a strange land and can relate to those who were outsiders. I imagine in many ways we all have felt like an outsider at some point in our lives, and can relate on some level.

On Wednesday we started a book study on a book called Ugly by Robert Hoge. We talked about times when we felt excluded – what feelings came up, and how we responded. God helps us shape the response to feeling excluded. We can feel angry, and act in that manner. We can isolate ourselves and be unhappy. Or maybe, we look for others who are also feeling excluded. Maybe we hang out on the margins and welcome those who also feel excluded, still open to dialogue to those who, most likely, don’t see the exclusion happening.

I invite you today to think about the ways you are strong in gifts, and some growing areas. I have some puzzle pieces up here – and I invite you to come forward. The green part is something you are good at, and the pink area is something that we could use help with.

 

 

None of us are all green or all pink. And my guess is if we look, we will see pinks and greens that fit together – that one person has a gift someone else does not. On Thursday night we had an assessment by Rev. Frank Everett from Hope Partnership. This was a night of affirmations for the many gifts of the church. It was uplifting to hear it all. One of the ten questions asked in the assessment was “What are some of the gifts you (individuals) have that are not shared with the church?” There was a long pause, and one person said that there are many outlets for using one’s gifts in the church, and that if one’s gifts aren’t used, it is because of one’s own reluctance to use them. There are no missing pieces, except for those who have not yet found this community. Afterwards, I also heard a team of gifts who worked together – one providing food, one providing decorations. This is our puzzle pieces at work. We have been gifted many gifts, and we have opportunities to use those gifts together. For that, we give thanks to God. Amen.

 

[1] Walter Houston, “Exodus” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 71.

[2] David Maxwell, “Isaiah 56.4-8” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 342.