Today we continue in our series based on the book, We Make The Road By Walking, and we are at chapter 9 titled “Freedom!” May I ask how many of us feel truly free this morning? When you hear the word “freedom”, what is your first thought or instinct? Does your heart go, “Yes, I know what that means! I am free!!” Or does your heart twinge or pull back a little when you hear that word as you recall the things that hold you back, the things that hold you down?
Whenever we talk about freedom, it is probably helpful for us to consider these questions: Freedom from what? Freedom to be what? Or to do what? As you ponder over that, let’s look at the Bible passage for today taken from Exodus. As we read this story about Moses and how God works, I recognize that it might be familiar to many of you. So I wonder if you will indulge me by engaging in the process of picking out instances where you catch glimpses of people experiencing freedom from ____ and freedom to _____ as we go along.
Exodus 1 (New Living Translation)
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there.
6 In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. 7 But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.
8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”
11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too.
18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. “Why have you done this?” he demanded. “Why have you allowed the boys to live?”
19 “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,” the midwives replied. “They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.”
20 So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.”
Now this was the backdrop to the story of when Moses was born. He was born in Egypt to a Hebrew family during a time of oppression. So not only was he born into slavery, as a baby boy born at that time, he was also supposed to be killed at birth. But that didn’t happen. God’s plans are bigger than human plans. You know, often in the Bible, when there is a big problem, God prepares a person or persons to act as God’s partners or agents in solving the problem. In other words, God gets involved by challenging us to be involved. In this case, God was preparing Moses to be a part of that plan.
So Moses was one of the babies who was supposed to be drowned at that time, according to the command of Pharoah. But his mother came up with a creative plan to save his life. She placed him in a little raft of reeds and as his raft floated downstream, he was found by one of Pharoah’s daughters. She felt sorry for the little baby and decided to raise him as her own son. So this vulnerable slave boy was adopted into the privileged household of Pharoah. And he lived happily ever after, right? No. That was just the beginning of his story.
The good news was that Moses survived. The bad news was that Moses grew up with an identity crisis. He was Hebrew or Israelite by birth but an Egyptian by culture. Which side does he truly belong to? Which side would accept him fully? Which side would he stand up for when push comes to shove? Well, he tried to stand up for his fellow Israelites by killing the Egyptian oppressor who was beating them. But to his surprise, his fellow Israelites didn’t welcome him as a hero. Instead, they distrusted him and he went from belonging to both sides to being considered an outsider by both sides.
On top of that, he was afraid for his life because he had murdered an Egyptian. So he ran away into the desert and saw a group of girls being harassed by some male shepherds. He stood up for the girls and their father was so grateful, he welcomed him into the family, and Moses married one of the daughters he helped protect. Now finally, a place where he could feel belonged and settle down, right? Not quite.
Let me read to you what happened and remember to pick out instances where you see freedom from ____ and freedom to ______, ok?
Exodus 3:1-15 (New Living Translation)
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. 3 “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
4 When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am!” Moses replied.
5 “Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 6 I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. 9 Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. 10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”
12 God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”
13 But Moses protested, “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?’ Then what should I tell them?”
14 God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.
This is my eternal name,
my name to remember for all generations.
Wow, what an amazing story, right? “I AM.” That is God’s way of saying I AM the all-sufficient being, the all -powerful one. I AM the beginning and the end. I AM more than sufficient for you. I AM here for you. I AM here with you. I AM the way to freedom. Did you manage to catch some examples of freedom from ___ or freedom to ____ in this story?
When you think about your own life, what are some things you wish to be free from? Are there some things you wish to be free to do or to be? I’m sure there are because we are human. We have our fears, worries and insecurities. Some of us are shackled to the past, some of us fear the future. We have our hopes and dreams, but sometimes, our fear is that none of it will ever come true. If I had to sum it up, most of us probably desire freedom from fear. Some of us fear uncertainty, pain, loss or death. Some of us fear not belonging, not feeling loved, not being accepted for who we are, not being understood. Fear is something we all face, in one way or other. It was the same for Moses. When we look at the life of Moses, we see that fear was something that lurked in his life.
1) Fear of not belonging
Firstly, he had the fear of not belonging. Being both Hebrew and Egyptian, he tried to find a sense of belonging among the various communities of people. In the midst of trying to fit in, he went to the extent of killing a man. God led him through a journey of discovering himself in a foreign land and helped him realize that at the heart of everything, he belongs to God. That first and foremost, he belongs to God. When Moses approached the burning bush, the first thing God did was to call him by name. And God told him, “I am the God of your father, your ancestors…” and explained what Moses was to do because God said, “I have heard the cries of my people.”
You know, in the past year, I’ve talked to many people at FCC. And one thing that I often hear is this: “I don’t feel like I belong. I sometimes feel like the odd one out.”
Well, what I want you to know is that you are not alone. Even Moses felt like the odd one out. The fear of not belonging is something many of us share. But God says to each one of us, “No matter how odd you feel, you belong to me. You have always belonged to me. You are my people. You not only belong to me. You belong to one another. When you understand that sense of belonging, you can help others understand and experience it too. It’s not always easy but I am here with you.”
2) Fear of not being enough (his own inadequacy)
The second fear Moses experienced was the fear of not being enough, the fear of his own inadequacy. God told him, “The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” How did Moses respond to that? His first response was a protest — “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”
Have you ever felt like that before? Perhaps God is leading you to do something or you sense the Holy Spirit prodding you but your first response is a protest. “Who am I to do this thing? Who am I to lead?” What was God’s response to Moses’ protest of inadequacy? God simply said, “I will be with you.” That is the same thing God is saying to us. Every time you fear not being enough in any situation, remember that God says, “I am with you.” The all-sufficient one promises to be with us. The question is how much do we trust God? Or do we allow our fears and inadequacies to take precedence and overwhelm us?
3) Fear of his own calling and potential
The third fear that Moses had was the fear of his own calling and potential. Even when God promised to be with him, he continued to protest. He asked God, “What do I tell people when they ask who sent me?” Basically he was asking God, “Where does my authority come from?” God answered, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you to them.” I AM. The all-sufficient one, the all-powerful one. The beginning and the end. “I am more than sufficient for you. I am here for you. I am here with you. I am the way to freedom.”
I just wanted to bring your attention to the contrast between Moses’ response to God and the response of the Hebrew midwives. During the time when the Bible was written, women were seldom named unless they played a very significant role. Being a woman, I was very excited when God brought this contrast to mind as I was preparing this sermon over the past week. These midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, were commanded to kill all the Israelite baby boys. But they didn’t obey that command. They knew exactly where their authority to act came from. Their authority didn’t come from Pharoah, who was the ruler of the land. Their authority came from God, and they disobeyed the order of the Pharoah at the risk of their own lives. They acted courageously because they knew their authority came from someone higher. And they did what they knew was right even at the risk of death.
I wonder if you have ever feared death before? I think about the Hebrew midwives and I realize that like them, we can be free from the fear of death if we knew the one who has power over life and death. This is a lesson I have been learning recently through the life and death of a dear friend. I met her when I was living in Japan. She’s Filipino and I worked closely with her and her husband in music related ministries. I also babysat for them when their kids were younger. I’ve always enjoyed her bubbly personality but it was in the face of death, that she taught me the most precious lessons about living and dying well.
About a year ago, she found out that she had cancer and the treatment plan seemed to be working. But about 3 months ago, the doctor told her the cancer had returned aggressively and she didn’t have long to live. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if she would make it to her birthday on 21 September. Throughout this entire period, my friend, Bola showed such faith in our God who is the great I AM. Her joyful spirit and the peace that I witnessed in her and her family as they accepted and worked with the situation moved me deeply. She trusted that God was the one who gives her life and her every breath, so they planned to have a final concert on her birthday. She used to be a professional singer and has a marvelous voice, and her wish was to share her joy and peace in God with others. Even though the doctor wasn’t sure she would survive till then, she trusted the one who has true authority over life and death. Well, amazingly, she stayed alive till her birthday and she managed to do the concert, which was packed to overflowing. She even managed to live on for a while more to see her youngest daughter turn 18. And she passed away just a few days ago.
What moved me most about her story wasn’t that she survived beyond the doctor’s predictions (even though that is amazing). What moved me most was her complete lack of fear. She showed me what freedom from fear looked like in real life. Freedom from fear to faith. Her freedom to faith…to trust…to believe…to cling onto God, the great I AM. I’m sure she had her moments of fear. I’m sure her family had their own fears of losing someone they loved dearly. The fear of pain and loss is very real to all of us. But they reminded me, in a very stark and powerful way, how God and God alone, is able to free us from all our fears. And in place of fear, we can experience true freedom, joy and peace.
I’ve asked you a lot of questions but do you know what my biggest fear is? Someone once asked me that question and I said, “My biggest fear is to live with regrets.” My biggest fear is to look back at my life on my deathbed and regret that I didn’t do what God was calling me to – the call to make a difference by helping to mend the brokenhearted, especially those who are struggling with faith and sexuality. That’s the reason I answered God’s call to come to FCC and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing today. At the same time, I am very aware that it’s not so much about my own plans and response. It’s always more about how God’s plans are taking shape and whether we choose to take up God’s offer to be a part of these plans. If I didn’t take up God’s offer, I’m sure God would have raised someone else up. God’s plans cannot be thwarted. Just like in the case of Moses and the midwives, God’s plan for the Israelites continued to progress regardless of external opposition and Moses’ self-doubt and protests.
What about you? What is your biggest fear? What would you regret not doing or experiencing? What is God leading you to do with your life? How does God want you to experience freedom in your life? Now it is your turn to fill in the blanks. Freedom from ___? Freedom to be or do ______? The other question we need to consider is: how can we help others experience freedom in their lives? What role can we play in helping others become free from slavery, poverty, discrimination, emotional pain and spiritual despair? What is God calling us as a church to be free from? And what does God want us to be free to do or to become?
Like the midwives, will we play a similar role in helping to usher or bring others into life? Will you trust that your authority is from someone higher? When God calls or leads you to participate in God’s plan, will you trust in the one who is called the great I AM?