You have to love the story of the call of Moses. Remember that it begins with Moses seeing a bush that is burning but not consumed. He’s curious so he goes to look closer. When he does, God speaks to him and says, I know that my people are suffering in slavery in Egypt, so I’m sending you to tell Pharaoh to let them go. Simple, direct, to the point. Moses, being the great hero we all know he is, answers, who, me?, you want me to march up to Pharaoh and tell him to let a bunch of his slaves go free? Are you out of your mind? Do you not remember that Pharaoh knows that I killed an Egyptian and that I had to flee for my life? Now you want me to go back and demand that he let my people go? I don’t think so.
I’m paraphrasing just a little, but that’s pretty much what he says. But God responds, don’t sweat it. I’ll be with you. In fact, on your way to the promised land you and the people will worship me on this very mountain. (The burning bush is on Mt. Sinai.) Then Moses says to God, what if the Israelites ask me your name? God says, tell them it’s “I am who I am.” Or something like that. God goes on to give Moses instructions on how to proceed and to give him a preview of what’s going to happen.
But Moses still isn’t convinced that he’s the man for the job. He asks God, what if the people think I’m just pulling their leg? Why would they believe that all this is coming from you? God says, watch this. That stick in your hand, throw it on the ground. Moses does, and it turns into a snake! God tells him to pick it up by the tail. Moses does, and it turns back into a stick! God shows him another amazing something, and tells him about a third sign he can show the people.
But Moses still doesn’t want to go. I’m not a good speaker, he says. I have this raspy, thin little voice. I sound kinda like a frog. I’m really not the person you want going to talk to Pharaoh. God replies, who do you think created speaking in the first place? It’ll be ok. Moses responds, and here I quote directly, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”
We know that Moses does go to Egypt, does confront Pharaoh, and after seven disasters which fall upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh is finally convinced to let the people go. And we know that after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses does finally get the people to the doorstep of the promised land.
But what a slow start! We don’t know why God picked Moses for this difficult assignment. Other than the fact that he had grown up in Egypt, he seems a very unlikely candidate for the job. Pharaoh wants to kill him. He obviously does not want to go. But for some reason God decides that Moses is the guy.
For that matter, why does God choose Abraham and Sarah to be the beginning of the chosen people? We first pick up Abraham, who at the time is named Abram, in the genealogy which follows the tower of Babel story. There is nothing remarkable noted about him in this list. He simply seems to be the oldest son of Terah. The only other note of any interest at this point is that we are told that Sarah, whose name at this point is Sarai, is barren.
Then, suddenly, from out of the blue, maybe literally, God speaks to Abram and says, go to the promised land, and you will have many descendants and through you everybody everywhere will be blessed. That’s the short version, but that’s what God says. Then the story says, “So Abram went.” Just like that. No conversation, no discussion, no argument about going. But also absolutely no explanation about why God chooses Abram and Sarai. None whatsoever. Yet they are chosen for the incredibly important task of being the start of the chosen people. They are the hinge upon which the entire rest of the biblical story rests. But we don’t know why God picks them.
A few weeks ago we looked at the story of the call of the prophet Isaiah. He’s in the temple in Jerusalem and he has a vision of God and heavenly creatures with six wings…and then it gets weird. God says, I need somebody to take my message to the people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the people Moses rescued from Egypt. I need somebody to call my people back to faithfulness. Who might that be?
And Isaiah volunteers. All we know about his qualifications is that he has visions. Is he a good public speaker? Will he command people’s attention, or will they think he’s just another somebody who thinks he’s important and thinks he has a word from God. Does he have theological training? A degree from an accredited institution? Not that we know of. In fact the prophets all seem to come from outside the religious establishment of the day. Curious… We don’t know why God picks Isaiah.
Another such curious story is found in Luke’s gospel. He says there’s this woman who lives in Nazareth who’s engaged to a man named Joseph. With no more introduction than that, Luke says she gets a visit from an angel, telling her she is going to have a son who “will be called the Son of the Most High” and that God will give him the throne of David. Excuse me? “Son of the Most High”? The throne of David? Who is this woman? Well, her name is Mary, and she’s a virgin. And that’s all we know about her. We don’t know anything about her ancestry. We don’t know how old she is or if she and Joseph met on Match.com. We don’t know if she is the most virtuous, most lovely, most personable engaged woman in all Israel, of if she has a temper and likes to go bar hopping. Ok, maybe not. But we don’t know. We just know that her name is Mary and she’s a virgin. Period. We don’t know why God picks Mary.
Today’s story tells us how David is picked to be king of Israel. There’s already a king, Saul, but he’s not getting the job done, and God decides it’s time to pick his successor. So God sends the prophet Samuel to the house of a man named Jesse, who lives in O little town of Bethlehem.
God has to sneak him in, because Samuel is well known, and wherever he goes people wonder what he’s up to. So God tells him to say that he’s just in town to make a sacrifice. Nice cover story. And he gets away with it and shows up at Jesse’s house. That’s when the fun begins. In that day, for any important task, one would always look to the oldest son. The oldest always has certain rights and privileges. So Samuel spies Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and says, this must be the guy. This has to be the one God has chosen.
But God says, yeah, he’s the oldest, and he’s tall, but he’s not my guy. So next in line is Abinadab. Nope. Then Shammah. Nope. Seven of Jesse’s sons get a look see, but none of them make the cut. Samuel has to say to Jesse, sorry, God doesn’t want any of them. Is that it? Well, Jesse says, there’s one more, but he’s the youngest. We have him out tending the sheep, because that’s a job that doesn’t require, you know, much of anything.
So they bring in this kid named David. And God says, yep, that’s my boy, Samuel. Anoint him right here and now. And Samuel does. The rest, as they say, is history. And all that we know about David at this point is that he’s the youngest son, and therefore the least likely to be chosen for something important, like being king, and that he’s handsome. No mention about him being a natural born leader or being intelligent or being in any way king-like. We don’t know why God chooses him. Hopefully not because he’s handsome.
I hope you’re picking up a theme here. And there are plenty of other examples in the Bible and in the history of the church, from the apostle Paul to St. Francis to Mother Teresa. So often, God’s selections of people to do important things are mysterious, very, very mysterious. We just don’t know why God chooses certain people.
I suspect that at some time or other, when it comes to some call of God, all of us have said, I can’t do that. I don’t have the qualifications. I’m too old. Abram was seventy-five when God called him, by the way. I’m too young. I have too much else to do. I don’t know how. I suspect all of us have said I don’t like to – fill in the blank – speak in front of people, lead a group, teach, pack things, sort things, go places.
I suspect that at some time or other, all of us have been in Moses’ shoes. We’ve all had our list of excuses why we can’t do something God may be calling us to do. If all those Bible stories tell us anything, they tell us that so very often, it’s the unlikely person, perhaps like us, who is chosen by God to take care of some of God’s business. Who’s going to be king? Surely Eliab. If not Eliab, surely Abinadab. If not Abinadab, surely Shammah. David? David, the youngest, the shepherd boy, is going to be king? Surely not.
Surely. And just as surely, God still has work to be done, for us in Jesus’ name, today. And we may want to play noses – you know the routine?, whoever is the last to touch their nose and say “not it” has to do whatever – but God may have other ideas. God may want us. Who’s going to be king? Amen.