Rev. Sandy Johnson
September 17, 2017
Defining moments. Those moments when your life changes. When the path you are going down splits and a new path develops or is illuminated.
“A defining moment is a point in your life when you’re urged to make a pivotal decision, or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you. Not only do these moments define us, but they have a transformative effect on our perceptions and behaviors. Moments that are truly defining, will force you to ask “why,” often challenge your beliefs/norms, and force you to behave differently.”
I have had many defining moments in my life. When the process server came to my door at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night with divorce papers. That was defining! When I was at lunch with my Emmaus girlfriends and the phone rang. It was my stepmother, calling to say they had taken my father to the hospital after he had had a massive heart attack. The birth of each of my children was a defining moment, as was graduating college, and moving to Nevada. When we look back on our lives we can see how moments in time changed the trajectory of our lives.
Sometimes defining moments are like burning bushes. Sometimes they are like Holy Spirit whispers. Sometimes we don’t recognize the moment as defining until later when we can see how things perfectly were put into place, through good times and bad. Throughout my life I can see how one moment defined my future. Whether it was a positive moment like the birth of a child, or moment which caused great suffering, all of us experience these defining moments and it is up to us whether we grow or wilt as a result.
Moses experienced a few defining moments in his life, didn’t he? Here he was, living with his adopted family, as royalty in Egypt; he was a prince. Well educated, well known, and as a member of the royal household, he had privileges most of us could only imagine. The best of everything was at his fingertips!
Then something happened. Defining moment #1. Moses left the castle and witnessed the Hebrew slaves, working under horrific conditions and he identifies, perhaps for the first time, that these slaves are, in fact, Hebrew, same as himself. A paradigm shifts as Moses sees the slave being abused before his eyes. This slave was one of his own, not “the other” that should be treated poorly and as a piece of property. This Hebrew slave was his brother.
He was moved to action and when he believed no one was watching, he killed the Egyptian that had been beating the man. Exodus 2:12 says he hid the Egyptian in the sand, trying to cover up his sin and avoid being found out. It almost worked, except that one of his fellow Hebrews saw what he did. The next day when Moses was out watching the laborers, he witnessed two slaves fighting and tried to intervene. He was outed when one of the men said, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Rut-Ro! He was in big trouble now. It didn’t take long for Pharaoh to hear of the killing and he sought to destroy Moses. Moses was a traitor and a threat to the royal household. So, Moses high-tailed it out of Egypt and found his way to the land of Midian. Moses came upon a well. He may have stopped to draw some water to quench his thirst and rest a while. While he was there some women came to the well to water their father’s flock. What may be the first known episode of bullying, some shepherds came and drove the women away. Compassionate Moses stepped in and defended their right to use the well and drove the shepherds away.
I see a theme developing here, do you see it? Where Moses is the defender of the downtrodden, the beaten, the abused. Twice, “he was angered by injustice, and he was compelled to rectify it. Moses had compassion for those who were picked on, harassed, or oppressed, and he had the courage to act in protecting those who were being mistreated.” Way to go, Moses!
When the women returned home, their father asked how they finished their chores so quickly. When they told dad about the help they’d received from this stranger, their father sent them to collect the man they believed to be an Egyptian, and brought him home. Not only did he join their household, he married Zipporah and settled down to work as a shepherd with his newfound family. “Within just a month or so, Moses had gone from being a prince in Egypt, to a fugitive from the law, and finally a married nomadic shepherd among the Midianites.” Moses defining moment in Egypt led him to a whole new life, a new career, and a new family. And for the next forty years, all was well.
“Moses’ forty years in the wilderness with the Midianites, is in some ways a metaphor for events in our own lives – periods when things are not going well, when we experience downward mobility, or when we feel like abject failures.” Some of us this morning will remember times of great success, living the life, only to have it taken away and we are left feeling like a complete and utter failure.
We all have our own stories of times in the wilderness, “seasons in which life was very, very hard. Abraham knew many trials, not least of which were the years when he and his wife Sarah struggled with infertility. David had to live in caves and among the Philistines for years when King Saul sought to kill him. David is said to have written many of his most powerful psalms during such times. Elijah the prophet, facing hardship as Jezebel tried to kill him, actually fled to the same wilderness where Moses had settled and there waited to hear from God.
“While it wasn’t God who forced Moses to the wilderness as a fugitive, God did use Moses’ season in the wilderness to prepare him to lead the children of Israel once they left Egypt. As for our own wilderness experiences, they might be the result of a bad economy, illness or loss, harmful decisions made by others, or decisions we’ve made ourselves; they are seldom God’s will or work. Nevertheless, God uses our seasons in the wilderness, if we allow him to, in order to prepare and shape our hearts, minds and character for his good purposes.”
We know that Moses spent the first forty years of his life learning “the Egyptian language, culture, philosophy and religion; he learned economics, construction, leadership, and doubtless many other important skills. But during the next forty years of his life, during his time in the wilderness, he learned things that may have been even more important: humility, perseverance, self-discipline, faith, character, and how to listen for the voice of God. All these qualities would enable him to forge the children of Israel into a new nation and then help them survive in the wilderness.”
God will use wilderness times in our lives to shape and mold us, if we’ll let him. We must fight the urge to lash out to God in anger and frustration. We have a choice to make whether we will turn toward God in crises, or away. God has the infinite ability to take our wilderness experiences and make them into a beautiful new future.
When I was finally able to follow God’s call to ministry, it had been more than twelve years in my own wilderness. But I was able to look back and see how I was being beautifully formed, through my own wilderness times which helped shape me and provide experiences that I would use as your pastor, leading this congregation. I was being perfectly prepared for the assignment that God had for me.
Defining moments. Let’s look at Moses’ second defining moment. The burning bush! Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Moses’ life as a shepherd but we do know that he worked for his father-in-law and lived a nomadic life tending to their flocks. During this time, we know from Exodus 2:23-25 that
“The king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
Enter, a burning bush! Today we would expect to receive a flaming a text message, a tweet or an Instagram. But back in Moses’ time those things weren’t available, so God reached out to Moses through a bush, that was lit on fire and burning to beat the band. Funny thing, this bush wasn’t smoking, it wasn’t burning up, it was just burning, like a gigantic torch, calling Moses’ attention to it. “Hey, come here Moses, I need to talk to you!”
It worked, Moses noticed the bush and came over to check it out. As soon as Moses approached God tells him to take off his shoes, that he is standing on holy ground. God had heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt and decided to use Moses to bring them relief. Now, God could have opened the gates of Egypt and let the Israelites out himself, sort of like he did with Peter when he was in prison and he sent an angel to remove the shackles, open the doors and lead Peter past the guards to freedom.
But this time God appeared in person. Sometimes God intervenes on his own, by acts that can only be attributed to God. Then there are times when God speaks to us and sends us to do God’s job. “Once more God reveals something about himself to Moses, similar to what we read at the end of Exodus 2: God has “seen” the oppression of slaves in Egypt; God has “heard” their cries of injustice; and God “knows” their pain. I believe the same is true whenever God’s people are oppressed or hurting today. God continues to be concerned for those who are marginalized. He is concerned about the people who are teased, picked on, abused, and hurt. He sees, he hears, and he knows our pain.
“Notice how, having seen, heard, and known the pain of the Israelites, God responded. He did not send a legion of angels to liberate the Israelite slaves form Egypt. No, God showed up in a burning bush to an eighty-year-old shepherd! And not just any eighty-year-old shepherd. He found a shepherd who was fluent in the Egyptian language, who had been an insider when it came to Egyptian power and rule, and who knew philosophy, religion, law, governance, and leadership. God called an eight-year-old shepherd who had once felt such indignation at the oppression of the Israelites that he killed a man to stop it. God didn’t send an angel; he sent a person. God said to Moses, “Get going! I’m sending you!” We’re not meant to miss this: God sometimes chooses, calls and uses the most unlikely people to do his work in the world.
“This is such an important point that I want to make sure we get it. God’s usual way of working in the world to alleviate suffering, injustice, and pain is not to intervene miraculously, suspending the laws of nature, violating the principle of human freedom, or sending angels to make things right. (although that’s nice when he does!) No, God works through people. He works through us! God sees, hears and knows the suffering of others. God expects his people to do the same. And God’s response is to call us to step up as instruments of aid.”
My question to us all this morning is, when given defining moments, what will you do? Most of us won’t receive a burning text from the Lord, but we all are nudged by the Holy Spirit to be the hands and feet of Christ. And like Moses, we may not respond positively the first time. If we continued reading through Exodus, we see in chapter 4 that Moses made excuses and objections, begging God to send someone else. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?!
God calls and our answer is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” When we take our defining moments, listen for God’s call, and say “Yes, here I am,” we embark on what is likely the most exciting journey of our lives. To be used by God to bring love and grace to others, is pretty remarkable. And we are all called to do just that. Don’t let these moments define you in anything but a Godly, affirming and loving way. Our response should be, “Here I am, Lord send me!” Say it with me, “Here I am, Lord send me!”
Let us pray: Holy God, Precious Jesus, Spirit of us all. Give us the courage to embrace the defining moments in our lives and see them as opportunities to serve you in this world. Take away the objections and the arguments and hear us shout, “Here I am, Lord send me!” Amen.
 https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/08/03/how-to-define-your-defining-moments/#79d4eec125d0 Accessed September 16, 2017.
 Exodus 2:14
 Hamilton, Adam. “Moses, In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet.” Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2017. Page 50
 Ibid, 52
 Ibid, 53
 Ibid, 53-54
 Ibid, 54
 Acts 12:5-11
 Ibid, 59
 Ibid, 69