"Making Excuses"
Scripture – Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, July 26, 2015

A college student stopped by the office of the campus chaplain to see if he had a few minutes to chat. The chaplain invited him to sit down, then asked, "What's on your mind?"

The student said, "After my summer internship in South Africa, I think God is calling me to give my life to working with the poor."

The chaplain, the school's religious expert, the theological scholar who sometimes feels he must burst the balloon of lay people who get a little carried away with their faith said, "I can understand how you experienced a religious high on your internship, but you don't have a lot of gifts for working with the poor. You are a philosophy major! You're going to Soweto to talk about Socrates? I know you may be feeling some guilt after that stuff with what's-her-name during your freshmen year, but you don't need to go all the way to South Africa to get over that."

The student replied, "All I know is that I felt God's presence when I was with those children. I felt something more profound than anything I've ever known."

The chaplain continued to be less than encouraging and, by the time the student left, the fire had faded from his eyes. The next day the chaplain was kicking himself. After reflecting on their conversation, the chaplain said, "I wish I had said, 'Go for it! Trust your intuition. Ignore all the reasons you should not do it. Go with what God has given you and make the best of it!"1

This morning our focus is on the familiar story of Moses being called by God to liberate the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. However, we discover that Moses, unlike this enthusiastic college student, was not the least bit excited to hear God's call. The college student was ready to drop everything, walk away from a secure existence, venture into a desperate situation and do what he could.

Moses, on the other hand, wanted no part of God's plan. He had settled into a comfortable lifestyle and had become as risk averse as...most of us.

Moses had the unique opportunity to grow up in Pharaoh's household – an opulent existence if ever there was one. However, when he became an adult, he could not ignore the wide gulf between the way he lived and the inhumane conditions under which his people were forced to labor. It began to eat at his soul.

Then, one day, while he was watching his people toil under the harsh Egyptian taskmasters, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew unmercifully, and Moses exploded with rage. He pounced on the Egyptian and beat him to death. He quickly buried the man in the sand and hoped no one had seen what he had done. However, the next day word was already spreading and Moses knew it was only a matter of time before the news reached Pharaoh. So Moses fled and settled in the distant land of Midian. In time, he married and settled into a life of contentment, tending the sheep of his father-in-law.

The biblical account says that one day while watching the sheep on a mountain a bush burst into flames; and though it blazed, it was not consumed. Whether it was "a miraculous fire, a figment of Moses' fiery imagination or the pious invention of a later time"2 is impossible to say.

However, something unsettling happened to Moses. He discerned God's voice calling him to embark on a dangerous mission. But before we skip to what God wanted Moses to do, hear what the passage tells us about God. In verses seven and eight, God says, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry...I know their sufferings and I have come to deliver them."

The story reveals God as a loving Creator who is deeply troubled by injustice. God refuses to remain neutral to pain and suffering. As parents know how painful it can be when their son is mistreated or their daughter is in distress, God grieves when any of God's children suffer, and burns with anger when people are victims of injustice.

However, God does not merely stew in the celestial courts; God responds. How? By calling on humans to do what is right. God commands Moses to leave his comfortable existence and return to a risky setting to see if he can pull off the impossible. God challenges Moses to walk away from safety; walk away from predictability; walk away from security and put his life on the line by confronting the most powerful ruler in the world.

Is it any wonder that Moses does not respond, "Yes, sir! I'm your man!" Instead, he begins back-pedaling and glancing around for a graceful exit. Moses says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring my fellow people out of Egypt?" That response turns out to be the first in a string of excuses Moses tosses out to God in hopes of worming his way out of this job.

God promptly replies to his first excuse, "I will be with you." God assures Moses that we are not alone when we embark on difficult missions – God is with us.

However, God's response does not ease his anxiety. Perhaps Moses was hoping for something more along the line of a thousand warriors backing him up. So, Moses tries another approach. He says, "If the people ask me 'What is the name of the One who sent you?' what shall I say to them?" God replies with the enigmatic response: "Tell the people that I AM has sent you."

No surprise that God's opaque response fails to clinch the deal. So Moses concocts more reasons why he is not the person God wants for this assignment.

Although today's passage ended with verse 15, the story of this encounter continues through the remainder of chapter three and most of chapter four. Had we read the entire episode, we would discover that Moses continues to manufacture more excuses. After God tells Moses the divine name and gives specific instructions for what he should do, Moses tries a third time to weasel out of the assignment. He says to God, "But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, 'The Lord did not appear to you.'"

God rebuffs that excuse, so Moses tries a fourth time, saying "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent. I'm no speaker. I will not know what to say." And when that excuse fails to persuade God to pursue another candidate, Moses finally pleads: "Please send someone else!"

Surely we can identify with Moses. We slip into our comfortable lifestyle and put out of our minds those people for whom daily existence is a struggle. We focus on the inconveniences of our lives and minimize the hardships of others. And on those occasions when we encounter human suffering, we engineer excuses to explain why we are not the best choice for doing something about it. There is someone else with more knowledge, someone else with more experience, someone else with more resources, someone else with more whatever.

What would happen if we dropped our defenses and allowed this text to get under our skin? What would happen if we wholeheartedly believed what this passage says about what God expects of us?

In the 19th century, there were thousands of men, women and children throughout the South, who were held as slaves. Many Christians defended slavery and made excuses for not dismantling this grave injustice. However, those who were held captive by this evil institution and refused to give up hope, "believed that God heard their cries and would one day deliver them. They believed that God took sides against the system of slavery and that God stood on their side and would act in history to set them free."3

God takes sides. God takes sides when people are treated unjustly. And God expects us to take sides. God works through people, sometimes calling us to daring actions to alleviate suffering and to promote justice.

God called Moses to do something momentous – to liberate a whole people from the chains that shackled them to their oppressors. It's hardly any wonder that Moses concocted multiple excuses to reject God's call. What he was being called to do was on too grand a scale. Moses did not see himself as a mighty leader and eloquent orator who could confront Pharaoh and triumph.

Pharaoh held all the cards. Wealth. Education. Experience as a leader. Personal body guards. He had an army, for goodness sakes!

Moses knows this and is intimidated by Pharaoh's advantages. Of course, Moses searches for excuses to extricate himself from God's plan. He is a bright man; bright enough to know that going up against Pharaoh is practically a guarantee that he would not live to an old age.

Yet. Yet, Moses has one thing Pharaoh does not have. He has God on his side. That is not to say that God constructs a protective bubble around Moses that will keep him from harm. Like every human being, Moses is vulnerable to the actions of others. But Moses knows in his core, that he is on the side of what is right and true and good. And knowing that he is in sync with God, gives Moses the courage to attempt something titanic.

How do you respond when God pricks your conscience regarding human suffering? Are you more like the Moses who hatched one excuse after another or the Moses who threw his lot in with God, determined to do what is right?

A Presbyterian minister took his youth on a mission trip, and since it was a two-day drive, they spent one night on the road. They made arrangements to stay in the homes of members of a church that was located near the halfway point.

The pastor stayed in a large home in an expensive neighborhood, and before going to sleep, the couple who was hosting him provided a snack and they all sat around the table chatting. During the conversation, the husband and wife said their daughter had gone on a mission trip to Mexico two years earlier. Since it was a great distance, the youth had to fly.

Their daughter took an enormous suitcase bulging with all of the things she thought were essential – several sets of beautiful clothes, plenty of cosmetics and many pairs of shoes. They said their daughter practically emptied her closet because she wanted to be prepared for whatever situation arose.

However, their daughter was totally unprepared for the extreme poverty she encountered. Her field of vision had been so limited. It had rarely ventured beyond her mirror, except perhaps to her close circle of friends. Mexico opened her eyes to grinding poverty and the absence of so many things she took for granted. She was stunned to discover how most people on our planet live.

When she returned home and stepped off the plane, the clothes she had on, her sandals and the tooth brush in her pocket were all she had. She had given away all the rest of her clothes, her cosmetics, her shoes, her money, even her suitcase.

She returned from Mexico a different person. Her priorities had changed because her field of vision had broadened. She is now focused on a future that involves some kind of significant service to people who are hurting.4

God urges us to set aside our excuses and to muster the courage to live our faith by shedding light in the dark places of our world.

Think about how you sound to God when you are concocting your excuses. Think about how fabulous you will feel when you accept God's next assignment.


  1. William Willimon, "All I Know Is..." in Pulpit Resource, January - March, 2005, p.44.
  2. Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984), p.25.
  3. Priscilla Pope-Levison, "Theological Themes" in Lectionary Homiletics, August – September, 2005, p.39.
  4. George Anderson, Lectionary Homiletics, November, 1995, p.25.


Prayers of the People ~ Rev. Jill Getty

Eternal God, You are the one who spoke to Moses thousands of years ago and You are the one who still speaks to us today – the God of every nation, people, race and language – the One who has created all in Your image from the beginning of time.

We give you thanks and praise that it has always been your mission to use us for the sake of good works in Your world – to bring people who are in dark and foreboding places into the light.

We thank You for the story in the Bible about how you called Moses to bring the oppressed Israelites out of slavery to deliver them into freedom and a new way of life.

God, it has been a long time since that great deliverance of the Hebrew people, but we believe that You are always on the side of those who are oppressed.

We believe that You desire deliverance of all people – whether it is from evil tyrannical governments, the evil of human slavery, the oppression of poverty, the abuse of power from overzealous authority figures, or the self-abuse we heap on ourselves through various addictions and self-sabotaging behaviors and attitudes.

Just as You sent Moses to the Hebrews when they cried out in their slavery, You have called us to be a people who stand for those who cry out without any means of help.

Yet, dear Lord, we are more like Moses than we wish.

We are thankful for the stories of Moses' fear as we relate to that fear on many levels.

Moses was afraid of his past just as some of us are.
Moses was afraid of the present just as some of us are.
Moses was afraid of the future just as some of us are.

Yet, You dear God, did not allow Moses to stay in his fear. You called him while he was afraid and you called him to come out of his fear – to do an enormous task carried him through the last 40 years of his life.

We are like Moses – in need of deliverance while thirsting for meaning and not able to move our feet.

We are like Moses – we would rather forget the oppression of others so we can stay comfortable where we are.

We are like Moses – we would rather act like we do not know You or Your name than to admit You have been calling our names and laying tasks on our hearts.