Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I Have Heard Their Cry

God found Moses. Although I know that, I forget about it. I tend to underappreciate that element of the story of the deliverance of God's people from slavery in Egypt. In Sunday's reading from Exodus, God found Moses. By making himself manifest in a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames, by speaking out, by identifying himself, by issuing a commission, and by equipping his servant, God reached out to Moses and drafted him into his plan of salvation. That has powerful implications for how we understand who God is and how God works.

God said to Moses, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey." God heard the cries of his people, and God responded. God didn't throw up his hands and say, "What do you want me to do about this?" God didn't sit back and let political developments take their place until eventually the Israelites were freed. As we retell the story of the salvation of God's people, it begins when God hears the cries of his people and responds.

Similarly, God reached out to Moses in order for this plan to be accomplished. God did not send the plagues unto Egypt without first sending a spokesman to confront Pharaoh on God's behalf. God did not simply reach down and swallow up the Egyptians. God did not bring the Israelites release as an isolated incident. Instead, God used Moses, a child of Pharaoh's house, a man with political connections, to make that salvation a reality. God did not need the help, but God uses human beings to accomplish what God has planned.

There is an interesting tension in those two principles. God reaches out, yet God uses us to do his work. God hears our cries, yet God's response involves human beings and human institutions. In the retelling of the story, we identify God as the principle actor, yet we recall those actions in partnership with us. What does that say for us and our troubles and our prayers and God's response?

I met with someone yesterday whose entire life is stuck. She is effectively homeless, jobless, and carless. She told me that she called her father and asked him for help, but his response was, "You've got to dig yourself out of this mess." She looked at me and said, "But I don't know how to dig myself out of the mess I'm in." I told her that, although I am willing to make a significant investment of time and money to help her get into an apartment or buy a vehicle, she also has to take the next step and find a job that provides a steady source of income. "But where am I going to find a job?" she asked. And I said, "I don't know." When she told me she felt like giving up, I reminded her not to let the magnitude of the challenge in front of her prevent her from taking the next step. Where do you start? What can you do today? God is with you as you take that first step, but he's not going to take it for you.

I am overcome with grief and worry at the thought of the millions of people who are in danger because of Hurricane Harvey. I sense that more homes have been lost than we can yet comprehend. I worry that, when the waters recede, the death count will rise. I am troubled by the stories of struggle that won't make it into a statistic or a headline--the people who will never be whole again in this life. What do we say to those people today? What do we offer them in a moment when the destruction spreads farther than anyone can see and the rains keep falling?

I think we start by reminding them and ourselves that God hears the cries of his people. We must cry out to God and let him hear our prayers of concern, loss, fear, and struggle. We must ask God to give us strength and hope and courage. We must ask God to help us know that our prayers are heard, that we are not alone, that God can and will take care of us even if we lose everything. If we can believe that God hears the cries of his people, we always have hope.

But we must also pray that God would break open our hearts toward the needs of others. God sees our suffering, but God does not act in isolation. God will not sweep the water away all at once. God will not rebuild the houses and schools and businesses on his own. God will not bring clean water and hot food to those who need it. But God will do all of those things and more if we say to God, "Here I am; send me." God has a plan of salvation for those in need, and that plan involves us. But who are we to go and bring that salvation to those in need? God said to Moses, "I will be with you."

As people of faith and people of love, we must see and know that the suffering of others is our own suffering. We are not whole until all people are whole. Is God working to bring about that wholeness? Absolutely. What does it look like? The outpouring of love and prayer and sympathy and money that is being sent to the victims of this tragedy. When we offer ourselves and our resources to help those in need, who shall we say has sent us? "I AM has sent me to you...the LORD, the God of [our] ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." God has heard the cries of his people, and God has commissioned us to respond on God's behalf. May our prayers and our gifts and our work be always for the glory of God and the welfare of God's people.

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