Third Sunday in Lent March 12, 2023
1 Corinthians 10:1-3
157, 40, 143, 151:1-3,7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and gracious God, You want all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Magnify the power of the Gospel in the hearts of all Your people that Your Church may spread the good news of salvation. Protect, encourage, and bless all who proclaim the saving cross that Christ, being lifted up, may draw all people to Himself, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, who calls upon us to serve, dear fellow redeemed:
We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” What exactly is God’s kingdom? On a personal level, it is God’s rule in our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create faith, to inform faith, and then to motivate faith, so that we live our lives according to His good and gracious will. By extension God’s kingdom involves His rule among all believers—His holy Christian Church. In addition, we can say that God’s kingdom involves His rule in and over this world.
God can and does exercise His power directly, as when He created the world and when He “makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) But God has chosen to do much of His kingdom work indirectly through us. He calls upon us in numerous ways to carry on that work in various settings. Some of those calls are formal, as when a congregation extends divine calls to various individuals to serve as pastors or teachers. Many of God’s calls, however, are what might be termed “common” calls, which God extends to all believers in various ways. When you marry, you are called by God to be a faithful spouse. When God gifts you with children, you are called by God to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) When you enter a particular vocation, you are called by God to do a good job. God works through our multiple callings to bring His blessings into our lives and the lives of others, while carrying out His overall kingdom work.
Our text this morning provides an excellent example of how this works. Let us, therefore, consider the fact that GOD’S CALLS COME! They come upon occasion in unusual places, at unexpected times, but always to advance His Kingdom!
Yes, GOD’S CALLS COME upon occasion in unusual places! That was true for Moses. Moses’ call to lead Israel out of Egypt came in the middle of a desert region in a mountain range called “Horeb.” Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep, as he had for forty years. It was early summer. Moses was driving the sheep up into the plateaus of the higher elevations where grass and water would be more readily available. As he was “tending the flock…the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” What first attracted Moses’ attention was a rather common sight. Lightning often struck the tall acacia bushes which stood out in Horeb’s barren landscape. What kept Moses’ attention, however, was that “the bush was not consumed.” Generally, the little bit of foliage on the acacia bushes quickly burned and the fire died out. This fire kept on burning and beckoning!
Moses told himself, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn (up).” The LORD “called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’” Moses, quite astonished, answered, “Here I am.” God then instructed him, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” God then identified Himself, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses, overcome with fear, “hid his face” unwilling to look upon God. Indeed, God’s call came to Moses in a very unusual place!
Yes, GOD’S CALLS COME also at unexpected times! Moses was eighty years old when God extended to him this most unexpected call to lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses had once anticipated God’s call. At age forty, Moses assumed he had God’s call when he did not. At that time, as a rising star within the Egyptian political system—the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he had taken upon himself to rescue some Israelites being abused by an Egyptian taskmaster. He did so, however, in a totally ungodly manner. He murdered the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. When he later attempted to settle a dispute between two Israelite men, their contemptuous response to his efforts revealed that Moses’ secret misdeed was known. He fled Egypt and left behind any aspirations of leadership.
Now, after forty years of herding sheep in the wilderness of Sinai, when his fierce pride had been replaced by a deep sense of humility, and when he knew the wilderness through which he would lead God’s people like the back of his hand, Moses was finally properly prepared for God’s call. Yes, he would ask, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) He would plead inability—“I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) He would suggest that God send someone else (Exodus 4:13), but God knew that Moses was now ready to fulfill his role in His kingdom! My dear friends, God’s call came to Moses at a most unexpected time!
Yes, GOD’S CALLS COME, but always to advance His kingdom! When God identified Himself as the God of Moses’ fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He was tying Himself to Israel’s past and future. God promised Abraham that “all the families of the earth” would be blessed through one of his descendants—Jesus, the world’s Savior (Genesis 12:3). God promised the patriarchs the land of Palestine to provide them a place to preserve the promise of the Savior on behalf of all people. God, however, did not want the children of Israel to be absorbed by the heathen population living in that land. He, therefore, arranged through a devastating seven-year famine to remove His people from Palestine and allow them to grow into a great nation in Egypt.
Now God was calling Moses to advance His kingdom work by fulfilling His promise to the fathers. Moses would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, despite its great power, after inflicting ten devastating plagues and decimating Egypt’s military forces. Moses would lead the people to the very edge of the Promised Land where, under the leadership of Joshua, they would conquer that land. They would then undertake a whole new era of God’s kingdom work on this earth. My dear friends, God’s call indeed came to Moses in order to advance His kingdom!
Yes, GOD’S CALLS COME! Is that still true for you and me today? Indeed, it is! We are all called in numerous ways to serve in God’s kingdom and to help that kingdom advance in our world today. Those calls may be formal calls into the preaching and teaching ministry. But beyond that we all receive numerous common calls to serve. As members of families, we all have calls from God to be faithful husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters—so that God’s kingdom will come within our homes and reveal His power through our individual and collective lives. All who are employed have calls to fulfill our vocations with faithfulness, for it is through those vocations that God’s everyday blessings are bestowed upon those living around us. All are called upon by God to be good citizens of our country, for thereby God promotes peace and freedom.
But we all have common call areas, which are directly related to our spiritual lives and the ministries entrusted to us here in our congregations and within our Church of the Lutheran Confession. God calls us into His service through these ministries to advance His kingdom within our communities and together with fellow believers throughout our nation and world. It is important that we recognize these calls, for our participation or non-participation in fulfilling them will have a direct impact upon our congregations and its ministry for years to come.
How ought we view the future of our congregations? Humanly speaking the world asks, “What future?” They might well conclude: “Your congregations are dying! Most of you are older and your prospects for growth are nil!” But the world does not take the presence or call of the Holy Spirit into account. Moses was alone in the wilderness and had just turned eighty years old, when God called him to serve. The world would have given Moses no chance to succeed, but God’s Spirit was with him. God enabled Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt to the border of the Promised Land. My dear friends, God has called us to bring the gospel to the members of our families, to our friends and neighbors, and to all those living within our communities. Let us pray mightily for God’s guidance and our success in reaching out to others. The people living around us today have no less need for the gospel than people of previous generations. God loves them no less than others and has called us to share the message of that love! What more can we do to fulfill our individual and collective ministries? Pray earnestly to your Savior God, seek God’s guidance for our ministry, and know that He will be with us to bless our efforts!
My dear friends, Moses had nothing but a staff and the help of one other person—his brother, Aaron. We and all that we have are the Lord’s! Yes, our Savior God would have us count costs and plan as well as we can for the future, but let us always remember the grace, the power, and the presence of God. He will most certainly enable us to accomplish that which He has called us to do! He alone is in control of our futures! Moses was called to confront the ruler of the most powerful nation on earth at that time and deliver God’s people from his powerful hands. This Moses did with fear and trembling as enabled by His powerful God. That same God is present with us today! Let us seek by prayer a proper understanding of His will and then seek with faithfulness to fulfill our callings. Let us do so confident that He will always use our efforts to advance His kingdom! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.