Rev. George Miller
Exodus 32: 1-14
“Whose People Are They?”
Oct 9, 2011
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man named Moses. One day he did one of the most important things a man could do: he reminded God just what it meant to be God.
In the words of popular vernacular, Moses “Bossed up.”
Last year I preached a sermon about biblical women in which I used a word that offended some and empowered others.
I challenged the notion that Mary and Elizabeth were helpless, docile woman. Instead, I claimed that they were…broads.
I used the word in an affirming sense; that a broad was courageous and strong; unafraid to tell it to you like it is even if it means ruffling a few feathers.
I’ve been waiting for the moment to preach about the male equivalent of a broad, and now, it’s finally here.
The male word isn’t as colorful. When a man is seen as courageous and strong and tells it to you like it is, most will say he’s just being a man (although I’m sure some women want to call them an ignoramus).
But in the world of hip hop music, there’s a phrase that’s been circulating for a while.
When a man steps up and unapologetically stands his ground, it’s said that he is “bossing up.”
And there is a big difference between a man being an ignoramus, and a man being a boss.
You want a boss for your president, you want a boss to lead your kids soccer team to victory; you want someone who knows how to “boss up” when disaster strikes.
And that’s just what we have in Moses today.
For the last few weeks we’ve been traveling alongside the people of Israel.
We were there when the waters parted. We were there when they murmured in the wilderness. We were there when they experienced God being wild and free.
Today we come to a new part of the journey. Moses has been on the mountaintop talking with God for 40 days.
In his absence, the people become restless, and in their restlessness they have Aaron make an idol for them to worship.
The result: a hissy fit from God.
From atop the mountain God tells Moses to deal with people. “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have acted perversely.”
Did you catch the words God uses?
“Your people.” At this moment God wants to pretend as if they have no relationship.
At this moment, it’s as if God is one of those parents who have had it up to here with their kids and wants to temporarily disown them.
At this moment, God is so upset with the Israelites that he wants to be left alone to bring down some holy wrath.
Whose people are these? They’re your kids, not mine!
How many parents have ever felt this way?
At this moment, Moses is the level-headed one, taking on the role of the supportive, sensible spouse.
“O Lord,” he says, “You’re just angry; do you really want to destroy your people? If you do the Egyptians will say you were evil all along.”
“Not to mention, if you do this, you’ll violate the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Read this way, it’s comical. But notice how Moses bosses up: he finds courage and strength to speak his mind for the sake of others.
Sure, by doing so he takes the risk of ruffling God’s feathers, but Moses does so anyway; and the amazing thing is this: Moses helps God to change God’s mind.
In other words, because Moses bosses up, he shows us that God is Still Speaking.
So, who exactly is this Moses, this man who bossed up? He didn’t start that way.
Moses began his life by being saved through the cunning act of three…broads.
He grew up with a bit of an identity crises that culminated in killing an Egyptian and running away.
A glimmer Moses’ bossing up comes when he stops a group of guys from harassing some women. Then he kind of fades into the background.
He gets married, works for his father-in-law, and lives a regular life until one day…God calls him to help set God’s people free.
At first, Moses is afraid. He hides his face. He repeatedly turns down God’s offer because he thinks he’s not good enough, he thinks no one will listen, he thinks that he can’t speak so good.
But eventually he acquiesces and eventually his actions prove that God made the right choice, especially when he talks back to God.
In doing so, Moses joins the ranks of Abraham and the citizens of Nineveh who helped God change God’s mind.
But why? Why does Moses boss up when in the past he wanted to back down?
How is it that Moses is able to speak his mind when before he claimed to be slow of speech?
I can’t speak for Moses, but I can guess of at least three reasons why.
First, Moses knew the history that God had with the people. He knew about the covenant relationship that God had entered in with them through their ancestors.
He knew that the whole reason this relationship existed was because God had first called Abraham and Sarah with the promise to make a great nation from their family tree.
He knew this promise was the root of all things; he knew that when Abraham proved his devotion via his son, that God had sworn on God’s own self to multiply his descendants.
By knowing the story, Moses understood that even when the people sin and make mistakes, God will forgive them if for nothing else, because of the covenant that had been made for the sake of Abraham.
Therefore, God can be challenged to show grace and hope.
Second, Moses had an investment in making sure God kept the covenant promise.
After all, it was God who called Moses to give up the comfort of an ordinary life and bring the people this far. Out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness.
So too bad; too bad if the people were stiff-necked, too bad if they upset God; Moses had invested too much for God to disown them in a moment of anger.
Third, Moses bosses up because he knew whose these people were.
They were not his, they were not Aaron’s, and they were certainly never the Pharaoh’s.
They were children of the Lord.
This is Moses’ trump card.
So when God tries to pass parental responsibility onto him, Moses bosses up because he knows that the people belong exclusively to God.
Yes, God is worn and weary and ready to give up, but Moses says to God “These are your people. Even if they act irresponsible you have the responsibility to fulfill your promises.”
Moses does not let God pass the buck; nor does he leave God alone. And the result: God changes God’s mind.
Moses is indeed a boss. Sure, he may have started his career apologetic and unsure, but through God he grew strong enough and courageous enough to face any obstacle, even God, head-on.
So what does this mean for us today? What is a theological statement we can claim?
That there are times, for the sake of the kingdom, that we are called to boss up.
That our gift of prayer is not a luxury but a responsibility.
That when we speak to God we don’t just give praise and thanks, we challenge, we make appeals, we speak on behalf of those who feel silenced; we speak to remind God of the covenant made long ago.
We speak because if we claim that God is Still Speaking, well then it means that we are to be Still Speaking as well.
After all, isn’t that part of what it means to be in relationship with God?...
…Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man named Moses. One day he did one of the most important things a man could do: he reminded God just what it meant to be God.
In other words, Moses “Bossed up.”
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking people of faith should stand helpless and silent before God.
That’s an insult to our faith and to what our spiritual ancestors were willing to do.
Who are these people, and to whom did they belong?
They are broads like Miriam, Mary and Elizabeth; and they are bosses, like Moses, Peter and Paul.
They belonged to the Lord.
They did what they thought was right for the sake of the covenant and for the sake of God’s people.
So let us all remember that we too can boss up and still speak to God, trusting that God will continue to be “Still Speaking.”
And for that, let us say “Hallelujah” and let us say “Amen.”