Unqualified

Years ago, before we were married, Mariah and I went to visit Mariah’s parents for some holiday or another. And Mariah’s aunt and her cousin were also there.

One day, Mariah and I were in the living room playing Jenga. And Mariah’s cousin wanted to play, too, so we invited her into the game. And, after a few moves, she pulled on the wrong block… and the tower teetered… and the tower came crashing down.

Now, Mariah’s cousin was pretty young at the time. And she made that face—you know the one—that tells you that tears and wails are on the way. And Mariah is sweet. So she said, “Oh. No no no no no. That means you’ve won. Good job!”

And I really hope that Mariah’s cousin has learned how Jenga works since then.

Every so often, there’s this fear that crops up in the back of my head: What if I’m like Mariah’s cousin during that Jenga game? What if I don’t know the rules? What if I barely know what I’m doing? And what if everyone’s just kind of humoring me?

And, to be fair, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way some times. I’m pretty sure that fear—that I’m really just winging it and everyone else knows I’m just winging it—is just part of being an adult. And I’m absolutely sure that it’s just part of ministry.

In today’s reading, we meet Moses. You probably know most of the story.

After Abraham, after Isaac, when Jacob was old, there was a famine in the land. Jacob’s son Joseph had become a powerful man in Egypt, so Jacob and his other sons went to Egypt. And they prospered there, and the descendants of Israel became more and more like the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea, so numerous that no one could count them.

And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph and who oppressed the Israelites.

The king saw that the Israelites were numerous, and wanted to stop that, so he ordered his people: watch every Israelite birth, and if it is a boy, throw him into the river to drown. But when Moses was born, his mother hid him. And when she couldn’t hide him any more, she put him in a basket among the reeds in the river, where Pharoah’s daughter discovered him. And Pharoah’s daughter adopted him and raised him.

One day, after Moses grew up, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. So he killed the Egyptian and hid the body. But someone saw. And word got around. And Moses ran away to Midian, and settled down, and got married, and started a family.

And, meanwhile, the Israelites called out to God in their distress. And then God called Moses.

So, one say Moses is out with the sheep, and he sees this bush… that’s on fire… but it’s not being burned away by the fire… it’s just… being there… on fire. And he hears this voice say, “Moses.”

And Moses says, “Here I am.”

And the voice says, “Moses, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

And Moses thinks, “Oh no.”

And God says, “I have heard the cries of my people, Moses, and I’m sending you to go to Pharaoh, to bring my people out of Egypt.”

And Moses thinks, “Oh, God, no.”

God is offering Moses, of all people, the chance to do something amazing. God is offering Moses, of all people, the chance to be a leader in one of the formational events of Israel. For generations to come, preachers and prophets will speak of the Lord your God, who led you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And God is offering Moses, of all people, the chance to be part of that.

But Moses knows himself. Moses knows that he cannot do this. Moses knows that this is too much.

And Moses has all of the excuses: Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who shall I tell them is sending me? What if they don’t believe that you sent me? I’m not a good speaker. Please, O Lord, please, send someone else.

And I’m no Moses. But I know the feeling. And I’ll bet that you do, too.

I’m pretty sure that fear—that we’re really just winging it and everyone else knows we’re just winging it—is just part of being an adult. And I’m absolutely sure that it’s just part of ministry. And, as I like to remind folks every now and again: you are all ministers. When you were baptized, you were drafted into ministry. When you were confirmed, you said, “Well, alright then.”

And that’s hard. Because that baptism, that confirmation, that ministry makes some hard demands.

That baptism, that confirmation, that ministry demands that we protect our environment and care for those who live in poverty. 

It demands that we reject racism and sexism and ageism and nativism and homophobia and transphobia and every ideology that asks us to treat our neighbors, or our enemies, or complete strangers as anything less than the precious children of a loving God.

It demands that we forgive always, and fight for the powerless and marginalized, share what we have.

It demands that love God, and ourselves, and each other.

It demands that we be the church.

And, I’ll admit, that doesn’t sound so bad when it’s so general. And, I’ll admit, that’s really hard when it gets particular.

Because it means washing the mugs. It means giving to the folks at the Referral Center and to the guy who asks for money at the gas station. It means building houses with habitat and cleaning up alongside highways and delivering meals on wheels.

It means saying something when we hear someone make a racist comment or use the wrong the pronouns. It means calling our congresspeople and writing letters to the editor and sometimes even showing up at demonstrations.

It means having the humility to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” Even when we don’t really understand. And it means having the grace to say, “I accept your apology and I forgive you.” Even when we’re not sure that they understand.

It means putting love into action for our God through worship, for ourselves through self-care, and for others—whether they are our friends or our enemies or complete strangers—in so many different ways.

It means loving all of the particular people in all of the particular ways. And that’s hard.

Moses has his list of excuses. God has answers for all of them: I will be with you. You shall tell them I am has sent you. I will have you perform acts of wonder. I give speech to the mute, I will give speech to you. 

And if you’re still not confident enough, you have a brother who can speak well, give him the words.

I have my list of excuses. God has an answer for all of them. God is the Lord, my God, who set glory aside and became like me, and took on the cross and the grave, and rose again, and led me out of slavery to sin, and washed me in the waters of baptism, and made me new.

Surely, I can do the little bit that God asks me to do. Surely, I can have faith that the God who has done so much for me already will help me do the little bit that she’s asking me to do now.

And surely, if we are all in this together, supporting one another, we can say to God, “Here we are. And we may not be ready, but we are willing, to go wherever the world is hopeless and bring the hope of your rescue, the hope of your love.”

There are times when I’m afraid that I’m really just winging it. And there are times when I am just winging it. That’s just part of being an adult. And that’s just part of ministry. And if we take out ministry seriously, there are just going to be times like that. There are going to be times when we feel under-qualified for the work before us.

But the truth is that no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, when we are standing in front of someone who needs love, when we are standing in front of a world that needs liberation, we have the only qualifications that matter: we are called and we are here.

And we can have the confidence of knowing that when we act in love, we are with God, and God will guide us and uphold us so that we can be the church… so that we can do the work that God has called us to.

Hallelujah. Amen.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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