It probably won’t surprise you to learn this, but I was always the shy kid.
I did not like to stand up in front of the class. I did not like to introduce myself to strangers. I did not like to go to things if I wasn’t explicitly invited. I did not like to interrupt. I did not like to be the center of attention.
And, to be honest, those sorts of things still aren’t my thing.
There are people who get stressed or anxious or overwhelmed and need people, and they’re called extroverts, and I am not one of them.
When I get stressed or anxious or overwhelmed, I need solitude. I shut the world out and retreat into reading something or writing something or analyzing something or creating something by myself. Because, deep down, I am an introvert.
And that’s not a bad thing; anymore than being an extrovert is a bad thing. It’s just a thing. It’s just who I am. And I learned to be a professional extrovert, and stand in front of the crowd, and introduce myself to strangers, and show up at things, and interrupt, and be the center of attention…
…There’s this story about David Bowie: the singer, the actor, the rockstar, the space oddity, Ziggy Stardust.
This kid—this kid who was shy and withdrawn; this kid who hadn’t yet been told he was on the autism spectrum—was at a special screening of the movie Labyrinth. And David Bowie was there. He was in the movie. He played the goblin king. And he was there to meet these kids who had come to the screening.
All the kids got to meet David Bowie. But this kid—because he was shy and withdrawn—was put in a separate room. And he and David Bowie got to talk, alone, for half-an-hour.
And the goblin king told this kid:
I have this invisible mask. It’s magic. You see, I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people.
And he took his invisible mask off, and gave it to the kid, and made a new one for himself. And as their time together came to an end, he said, “I’m always afraid as well. But this is how you can feel brave in the world.”
And I’m not on the autism spectrum. And I never got to meet David Bowie. But I guess what I’m saying is that I also have a mask. And sometimes I have it on and sometimes I don’t. But I always have it with me, and because I always have it with me, I can stand in front of the crowd, and introduce myself to strangers, and show up to things, and interrupt, and be the center of attention.
There are people who make it easy to believe that some people are born pastors or politicians or prophets or pundits or whatever. Moses is not one of them.
But, in our reading today, Moses is having one of those moments… one of those moments that we all have, sooner or later… one of those moments where God says, “It’s you. You’re the one who has to do this.”
You see, there was a famine in the land of Canaan. And Jacob and his family went to Egypt and lived there. And Jacob’s children had children, who had children, who had children. And generations passed and the descendants of Jacob—the Israelites—were exceedingly numerous.
And the Egyptians got nervous. And because the Egyptians were nervous, they pressed the Israelites into slavery.
Moses is an Israelite. He killed an Egyptian, and ran away from Egypt, and settled in the land of Midian, and got married, and had a kid, and made a life.
And now… Now he’s tending this flock, and they’re walking through the countryside, and there’s this bush that’s on fire, and the voice of God is crying out to him, “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am.”
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I have observed the misery of my people under the Egyptians. And I am sending you to Pharaoh, to bring my people out of Egypt to a land of milk and honey.”
And there’s this long pause… and Moses starts listing the reasons that God should not send him to talk to Pharaoh, to bring the Israelites out of Egypt to a land of milk and honey.
“Look. I am not a good speaker. I don’t like to stand up in front of the crowd, or introduce myself to strangers, or go to thing if I’m not explicitly invited, or interrupt, or be the center of attention. I’m just… I’m just this guy. Surely there’s someone else—someone who’s better—who could do this.”
But every time Moses opens his mouth to point out a problem, God has a solution. God has a mask for Moses: God will teach Moses what to say, and God will give Moses signs to show, and God will send Moses’ brother Aaron to be his spokesman. Those things won’t take the fear away; but they’ll make it a bit better. And Moses will be able to face Pharaoh, and the people, and the whole world.
So Moses is going to go Pharaoh, to bring the Israelites out of Egypt to a land of milk and honey. Not because he was born to be a pastor or a politician or a prophet or a pundit or whatever. But because, in that moment, God called to him.
I’ve heard it a few times lately. I’ll be sitting in a meeting, or talking to some folks during fellowship time, or even visiting someone… and someone will say, “We need to grow this church.”
And I want to be clear here: I want this congregation to grow…
…I’ve seen the numbers and I’ve done the math. I have a spreadsheet with the worship attendance for every Sunday since 1997. I know how many baptisms and confirmations and new members we’ve had over the last few years. I know the trends. I know the stories. I know the truth.
But I don’t want this congregation to grow because I remember a better time. I want this congregation to grow because I believe in this congregation; because I believe that we embody aspects of the gospel that no other church in this town embodies; and because I believe that there are a lot of people out there who are hungry for what’s in here.
I believe that there are people in this community who want to be part of a faithful community that welcomes and celebrates all people, that stands up for justice and righteousness, that takes the Bible and our tradition seriously, and that is open to all of the ways that God is still speaking.
I want this congregation to grow because I believe that there are people who need this congregation… and because I want this congregation to be here for them.
But I also know that we are not called simply to grow a congregation. We are called to grow nothing less than the kingdom of God. We are called to invite people to Christ and his table and his community.
And I have faith that if this congregation is a faithful consulate of the kingdom of God—embodying the gospel as Christ calls us to embody it—then this congregation will grow as the kingdom grows. And that is a good thing. And it is a better thing because it won’t just be this organization getting bigger, but the body of Christ getting stronger.
But here’s the thing…
Whether we are looking at the growth of the kingdom or the growth of this congregation, that can only happen if we are willing to stand up… if we are willing to be seen… if we are willing to speak.
And believe me, I know that’s hard. I know that’s scary. And I know that because I was always the shy kid. I did not like to stand up in front of the class. I did not like to introduce myself to strangers. I did not like to go to things if I wasn’t explicitly invited. I did not like to interrupt. I did not like to be the center of attention.
And, to be honest, those sorts of things still aren’t my thing. But God called me. God is still calling me. And I am sure that God will keep calling me to preach the gospel. I am sure that God will keep calling me to tell everyone that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are loved and worthy of love. And I am sure that God will keep calling me to invite people into this kingdom—into this community—that is wild and dangerous and full of grace.
And I have faith that God has called, and is calling, and will call you to do the same thing.
The truth is that what God is calling us to do right now is hard and scary. But it is nothing compared to what God called Moses to do.
We are not walking into Pharaoh’s court and telling him to let our people go. We are not walking up to Pharaoh’s throne and saying, “Nice kingdom you’ve got here; it would be a shame if anything happened to it.” We are not putting our very lives on the line for the sake of the oppressed.
And I’m not saying that God never calls us to those kinds of things. But I am saying that, right now, today, in this moment, God is simply calling us to embody the gospel, and tell the truth, and invite people to love.
And if Moses could not find a reason to not go to Pharaoh… then there is no reason that we cannot follow the call that God has placed on our hearts.
But, just in case that sounds too hard and too scary, I have a present for you. There is a mask. It’s invisible and it’s magic. It is the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And it’s always with you; you don’t even need to put it on; it’s always there.
And when the work in front of you is too hard and too scary, you can remember that it is there. And it might not take the fear away, but it will make it feel a bit better. And then you can be brave enough to be the church…
…to stand up and be seen and speak out…
…to embody the gospel and tell the truth and invite people to love…
…to grow the kingdom, and, by growing this kingdom, to grow this congregation…
…to be a faithful people.