We’re on the threshold of Groundhog’s Day, aren't we? That great feast day in the lives of the early church. Groundhog’s Day. Isn't it? You've heard the story of the Sunday School teacher who was testing her charges on the events of Jesus life. And not having great success. She would ask about his teachings, she would ask about the miracles he performed, about the events of his life. And nothing. They sat and stared at her. Like they had never heard of such a person. Like she was speaking in a foreign tongue. She began to panic and head to the easy stuff. Christmas, what happened at Christmas? They didn't know or wouldn't tell. Tears were building in her eyes. She asked about Easter. Surely someone knew something about Easter, what happened on that great and glorious day. Silence. Until finally, one little girl raised her timid hand.
The teacher almost leapt at her in hope, “yes, Mandy, you know about Easter, don’t you?” Mandy nodded. “That was the day,” she whispered, “the morning when after the terrible day of the cross, when Jesus hung there and died, for us he died, they say.” “Yes,” teacher smiled a bright and beaming smile, “yes, that’s right. But what happened that Easter morning, Mandy.” Mandy’s brow furrowed, “The sun rose that day, after a dark night, and the stone in front of the tomb rolled away as though pushed by angels.” Tears were forming in the teachers eyes and she encouraged Mandy to finish her story. “And then,” she said, in awe and wonder, “Jesus stepped out of the tomb.” “Yes, Mandy, yes!” “And he saw his shadow and ran back inside and we had six more weeks of winter!”
Scared of a shadow. And our own shadow at that. The shadow of our inadequacies, the shadow of our failures, the shadow of our doubts and our fears. Shadows doesn't seem adequate to describe them. They are more substantial than that. More like a burden that we bear. More like a wound we carry. They are there to weigh us down, to call us up short, to remind us that those dreams we dream are way out of our reach after all. Six more weeks of winter are the least of our problems.
Exodus 3:11-12 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."
Just a taste of the whole story. Actually Moses’ shadow is much more extensive than this one verse complaint. But we would have had to read the rest of the chapter and part of the next one to get the whole sad story. Pastor Mike Slaughter in “Dare to Dream” calls them Moses’ big buts. We’ve got a dream, a God-sized dream, but our big buts get in the way.
“But Moses said to God.” In the next chapter and a bit Moses has five buts that get in the way. This is just the first. But in some ways it is the most all encompassing. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Who am I? Who do I think I am? I’m nothing, I’m nobody. The biggest but of all. Who am I? Many of us are stricken with this sense of self doubt, that no matter what we have accomplished in our lives, we just don’t have what it takes to do the task that is before us. Who am I?
Truth is sometimes this but comes from within, from our own doubts and fears. But it also often from outside, from folks around us. From enemies and friends alike. The who do you think you are crowd, the ones who have us pegged, who pigeon-hole us, who tell us that we ought not have ideas above our station, who ... Well, you get the idea. Sometimes our doubt are self-generated, other times they are planted there like bad seeds that grow into choking weeds until they become our identity. Who am I? Who did this, an enemy masquerading as a friend or a family member perhaps. An enemy who stole our sense of self, our ability to hope. Who am I?
Moses’ first but was a doozy, that’s for sure, but it wasn't his last one. The next one is in the very next verse. But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" (3:13) Moses felt like he needed an identity to bring to the people. Maybe to pass a test, maybe to be a reminder. It had been so long, four hundred years of slavery, they probably forgot. Moses needed to establish credentials, he needed his secret decoder ring, his shiny gold badge to flip out and prove he was who he said he was. “Who’s am I?” That was the question he was asking, that was the but that held him back.
Well, that one doesn't really fit us, does it? We don’t worry about names and credentials. Do we? No, we don’t. Except when we say, but I don’t know enough. I’m not spiritual enough. I am not familiar enough with God to tell anyone about a life of faith. When I know more, when I’m more familiar, then maybe, but not now. Who am I?
God deals with that in a surprising way, but that’s a story for another time. Here we are looking at Moses and his buts. But number three is found in chapter four: “Then Moses answered, "But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.'" (4:1) Ah, my favorite but of all. “What if it doesn't work?” A worst case scenario-ists dream. What if it all falls apart? What if nothing we try makes any difference? What if the problem is too big or the inertia too great, what if the change is too threatening? What if no one cares, if no one sees the advantage to freedom and prefers their slavery or their ignorance? What if it doesn't work?
God’s answer to that but is next weeks lesson, so lets move on to but number four. This one is the most reasonable but of all. “But Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (4:10) But, Lord, I don’t have what it takes. We all know that it takes special gifts to do big important jobs. If just anyone could do them, then anyone would do them. I’m just ... me. I’m not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone it, people don’t like me! By the way, there is nothing in here about a stutter, no speech impediment. Just isn't given to flowery speech, just doesn't think fast on his feet, just thinks of the witty reply an hour later after everyone has left. But not glib enough to do this job, to convince the ruler of a nation to release those who have been captive for four hundred years. I just don’t have it.
God says, who’s in charge of giving it? Who’s in charge of making sure you have what you need? Huh, me that’s who! Now get out there and do the job! Moses has one more but. It’s the whiny one. But he said, "O my Lord, please send someone else." (4:13) No more excuses, no more reasons why he can’t do it. Just a plain old “I don’t wanna!” Send somebody else. It’s too much, too scary, too painful, too lonely.
I could win all those hide and seek games if I wanted to, tucked away under the bush on the church lawn at twilight. The problem is I didn't want to. Once I got under there, I couldn't stand or sit or lie down. You had to squat and clutch the trunk of the bush to keep from toppling over and landing in the prickly branches and worse, being found. So, I held on, confident in my hiding place, watching them pass by all night long without finding me. Until I heard the cry to come in free. I had won. So, I went to move out from under the bush, but I couldn't. I had lost all the feeling in my legs, worse, it felt like my hip had popped out of joint and was now throbbing like I had been hit by a truck. After a panicked few moments where I didn't know what to do, I managed to pry my fingers off the sticky bark and fall through the prickly branches and drag my unresponsive legs out from under the bush. I lay on the cool wet grass crying in the dark, sure I was lost and alone and broken forever. I’d never walk again, spend the rest of my days in a wheelchair, or worse simply expire there on the lawn in front of the church. Send somebody else. Let me hide here in the dark, scared of my shadow, of my failure, of my pain. I don’t want to play any more.
I thought I would die there that night. Until my brother came and told me I wasn't going to die, but that I’d better get home before mom gets mad. God got mad at Moses and all his whining, but he still let his brother come and rescue him. And in the end, that’s the best way to face the shadows, holding on to a brother or a sister in the faith, and dreaming God’s dream together.