For the New School Year
Here’s what happened at our house last week…
Daryl started first grade.
Amelia started the 3-year-old program at the same school.
Peter started back to work with faculty meetings.
And so did I. (The blurriness is absolutely apropos.)
Thankfully, Grandma came from England last Wednesday and is helping us through the transition. With her extra hands, a bit of coffee, and a lot of grace, we made it through week one. And I’m praying hard that this week we can start to settle into our new fall routine. Classes started for me this morning, and so far so good.
A week ago last Thursday, as I was anticipating all of this change and fighting back growing feelings of fear, I had a voicemail message from our Dean. In the message, he said that he wanted to talk to me about Faculty Institute—two days of meetings that are intended to help us get our heads in the game. I listened to the message late in the afternoon. When it was too late to call him back. But my immediate thought was that he wanted me to give a little report on my sabbatical year to the rest of the faculty. I told Peter about the Dean’s message, and he had the same thought. So my mind began to whir about what I might share and I panicked and I said to Peter, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Not because my sabbatical was bad. Not at all. It was a wonderful year. With many blessings and opportunities for growth.
But I was reluctant to report because my mind immediately went to all of the things that I did not accomplish. Unlike many of my distinguished colleagues who go on sabbatical, I didn’t translate a book of the Bible. I didn’t compile a hymnal. Or write a commentary. I didn’t defend a dissertation for a PhD. I didn’t even quite finish the This Odd House manuscript.
As Thursday evening wore on, though, I tried to pull myself together. I tried to focus on all of the things I did accomplish. I even jotted down some notes…I did get a lot of writing done. I did launch a blog. I did have several speaking engagements. I did secure a literary agent, who helped me get my proposal in front of publishers. A number of them even responded with interest. I did start a writers’ group. I did re-organize my linen closet. I did learn all of the lyrics to the Frozen soundtrack. And I did potty train Amelia—albeit with moderate success…
Then, on Friday morning, I got ahold of the Dean. And he told me what he actually wanted me to do at Faculty Institute. Give a devotion. To which I agreed. And I breathed a momentary sigh of relief. But then my mind started spinning again—what could I share with that august body of Bible scholars? “Who am I?”
Then, quite quickly, I knew.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending time once again in the book of Exodus. Chapters 3 & 4. The Call of Moses. If you happened to read my last post—Daryl’s story—you know this already.
The Call of Moses is a story many of us have known since childhood. Daryl could tell you quite a bit about the narrative. In fact, last week I asked him to recount what he could about the story. And he was able to tell me that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. That God asked Moses to go to Egypt and rescue His people. That Moses didn’t want to go, but he went anyway. That Pharaoh kept changing his mind once Moses got there. That God’s people had an “Ocean Problem.” And that God parted the water so His people could pass through. I was duly impressed.
(I didn’t bother to ask Amelia about the story. Though perhaps I should have for comic effect. Last Sunday when I picked her up after church, she proudly showed me her picture of a big fish and told me that she learned about “Jesus and the dolphin.” We have some work to do….)
Anyhow. This is what I shared with our faculty on Wednesday morning. These are the simple—but transformational—truths I wanted to underline on the pages of their hearts–and my own–as we start a new school year together. I pray they encourage you as well.
The Call of Moses starts, of course, with the burning bush. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock. And he leads the sheep to the far side of the dessert. The text doesn’t tell us exactly why. But he ends up—providentially—on the mountain of God.
He is walking along, minding his own business, tending the sheep, when he notices a strange phenomenon on the horizon. A bush. Full of flames of fire. But not consumed. It is the angel of the Lord. Moses doesn’t know that yet. But he’s curious. So he goes over to have a closer look.
God sees that He has Moses’ attention. And He calls to him. “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses says, “Here I am.”
And God says, “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then God hands Moses his calling card. “I am the God of your father. The God of Abraham. The God of Isaac. And the God of Jacob.”
And at this Moses hides his face, because he is afraid to look at God.
But then in verses 7-10 the Lord shares his heart. He reveals to Moses His motivation for this meeting. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” God says. “I have heard them crying out and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them…So now go. I am sending you.”
Scripture doesn’t give us a visual description of Moses at that point, but I imagine his eyes bugging out of his head and his jaw hitting the ground. Because for the next 29 verses, we hear his repeated protests. The infamous excuses of Moses. Four times he tells God why this is not a good plan. Four times he says to God, “But I….”
But I’m not worthy. Who am I?
But I’m not credible. What should I say to them?
But I’m not believable. What if they don’t listen to me?
But I’m not eloquent. I am slow of speech.
And then he finishes with his final pathetic plea—“Pleeeeeeease, send someone else.”
So many times. “But I…”
Then, of course, we have God’s response. After each one of Moses’ excuses, God patiently replies—until 4:14 when He understandably gets a little peeved.
He doesn’t tell Moses, though, what I am often tempted to tell my kids and my students when they doubt themselves. He doesn’t say, “No, Moses, you can do it! You can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t underestimate yourself. The sky’s the limit for you. You’re special. You’re gifted. Go, Moses!”
No. Of course not. Instead. Each time God responds by completely reorienting Moses. Turning him right around. Each time Moses says, “But I…” God says, “Behold I…”
I will be with you.
I AM WHO I AM.
I will help you speak.
God promises His presence.
God gives Moses displays of his power. Tells him to throw his staff on the ground. And it becomes a snake. Tells him to put his hand inside his cloak. And it is leprous, like snow.
And, too, God declares His purpose. “That they may believe in Me.”
I have a lot of “But I…” moments. During my sabbatical, it was but I don’t know if I can write a book. I don’t know if I have anything worthwhile to say. I don’t know if anyone will want to read. Coming back to teaching this fall, it is but I don’t know if I remember how to teach well. I don’t know if I’m up-to-date. I don’t know if I have the stamina this schedule requires. So many times. “But I…”
Maybe you identify with Moses right now. Maybe you say with him and with me, “But I…” I’m not worthy. I’m not prepared. I’m not adequate.
Or maybe you don’t identify with Moses right now. It’s also possible for us to swing to other end of the pendulum too. When we’ve been doing the same thing for so long. When we could do our jobs in our sleep. And we sometimes do. And rather than being full of self-doubt, we are full of self-reliance.
Both postures are problematic, aren’t they? With their focus on the self.
So whatever you’re facing this fall, God invites you…
To hear His call anew.
To take off your sandals. This is holy ground.
He has heard the cries of His creation. He is concerned about their suffering. And He has called you to be a part of their deliverance. That they may believe.
To that end, He invites you into a deep dependence.
And He invites you to lay aside all of your “but I’s.” And to fix your gaze on Him who is speaking to you, at this start of this new school year, “Behold I…”
Great I AM, we come barefoot and bare faced into your presence. Fraught with our own insecurities and reliance on self. Keep us dependent. Hold our gaze. Do Your work among us. Maybe we be faithful to Your call. Amen.