When I arrived at my assignment for the Jesuit Volunteers International, which is kind of like a Christian Peace Corps, I had no clue what was going to happen. I only knew I was WAY in over my head.
My assignment was at a high school that was also a trade school, and in our first staff meeting, out on this tiny little island in Micronesia called Ponapei,
the principal of the school and the director, who was a Catholic priest, sat us all down to hand out our assignments.
And I, was given high school math.
Really, I said.
High school math?
Outside of the math I did for my computer science classes, and a summer statistics course, math was pretty much absent from my college career.
“I don’t know if you know this,” I said, “but I studied political science and Latin American studies. My senior year, I spent a lot of time taking graduate-level religion courses. And literature courses in Spanish.”
“And in my volunteer hours, I taught English as a Second Language. Are you sure you don’t want me teaching history or English?”
“We didn’t hire you because you’re a good teacher,” the priest said.
“I mean, sure, we can add a freshman English class to your schedule. We’ll give Earl the upper level math classes. But you can teach geometry.”
“And between us, It honestly doesn’t matter what you teach,” he said.
“You can learn math. You can learn how to teach.”
“We can’t teach you the rest…”
What I learned later is that the Jesuit Volunteers, and other organizations like it, tend to bring on volunteers for less obvious qualities.
People may end up teaching English, or raising bees, or digging irrigation ditches, or building health clinics.
But learning how to do those is something you can do with the help of local folks, and books, and the internet.
What you CAN’T learn on the internet is persistence, and faith, and the ability to work in cross-cultural settings.
These organizations learned that when you’re on an isolated island in the Pacific or a village in the mountains of Peru where you don’t speak the language and don’t get the culture,
the LEAST of your concerns is how well you teach high school geometry.
Adaptability, persistence, and a sense of humor are what matter most.
So that brings us to Moses…
God and Moses had a conversation not unlike the one I had with my supervisors in Micronesia.
Except for Moses, the task was of course, much larger.
God appears in a burning bush and tells Moses, I’ve chosen you to lead your people to freedom.
And Moses says, “Are you sure? Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring my people out of Egypt”
My education is in Egyptian studies.
And in shepherding. I’m a great shepherd. I have large flocks in Midian.
And I’m a dad and a husband and a brother.
Are you sure you don’t want me working with sheep?
God says, “Don’t worry. I will be with you.”
God doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, Moses, I’ll give you the tools you’ll need. God just says, “I’ll be with you.”
And then over the course of chapters 3 and 4, Moses gives 5 excuses for why he shouldn’t be the one to lead his people to freedom.
1) I’m not good enough
2) I don’t know what to say to people
3) People won’t believe me anyway
4) I’m not good at public speaking and
5) I’m just not qualified.
God, of course, shuts them all down and choose Moses anyway.
And there is a sermon you’ve probably heard many times, in many ways, where preachers talk about how God chooses the most unlikely heroes, people who are humble and lacking in some way, and God uses them anyway.
I read one just this week.
To give you an idea. It says, “God so often chooses the most unlikely candidates to fulfill God’s work and mission,” it reads. “God sees past the man or woman standing before God and sees eternity. God sees our potential for good and how our broken vessels can fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for our own and/or someone else’s life.”
People love to preach about how God chooses people who are complex and broken.
And about how people like Moses were the last person anyone should have chosen to lead a movement for liberation.
Moses would have agreed.
But was Moses really that unqualified?
Let’s think about it for a moment.
What resources DID he have?
1) Moses had access to the inner circle of Pharaoh.
2) Knowledge of Egyptian culture (he grew up there)
3) Can pass as an Egyptian – He can pass as Egyptian – wife thinks he’s Egyptian.
4) An adoptive mother who loves him and picked him up out of the reeds
5) Hebrew heritage.
6) Bicultural – he’s somewhere in-between. He speaks Egyptian language but also knew his biological family and knew about Hebrew culture as well.
7) Courage –
He had a sense of justice and was willing to fight for it.
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. 16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18 When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.”
8) Street cred, if you will – he’d shown his passion and loyalty for the oppressed Hebrew slaves. When he saw an Egyptian abusing two Hebrew slaves, he killed the Egyptian. Of course, we don’t want to condone that kind of behavior, but to some of his people, it was valuable that he took their side – his loyalty was a resource he could draw upon.
9) He also had 2 intelligent, loyal older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, both of whom chose to help him.
10) He was also an older man by the time God calls him. The bible says he was 80 years old. Even if he wasn’t quite that old, it’s tough to tell when people live to 120, but certainly, he wasn’t a teenager or young man in his 20’s. He’d lived a little, and his life experiences were absolutely a resource to him.
I would argue that Moses was EXACTLY the man for the job. Not an unlikely hero. Certainly, he was imperfect, but he was also someone with all of the tools he needed to do the job.
And God saw that in him.
Moses focuses on all the reasons he’s bad for the job. God focuses on why he’s the right person to do it.
It’s easy for us to fall into that trap ourselves – to talk about our unworthiness, especially when someone asks us to step into service or leadership.
When the nominating committee calls people to ask them to serve on a team or on the Council, that’s almost always the first response.
“Oh – I’m not the one you want.”
“I wouldn’t know what I’m doing.”
“I don’t know how to do any of that.”
“I’m not a leader.”
“I’m a terrible speaker.”
“You really don’t want my opinion on Council.”
It’s easy to think about excuses for why we’re NOT the right person for the job.
It takes a little more time to think about what we have to offer.
To think about what resources we DO have.
When I say “resources,” I don’t just mean money, time, things, and specific skills we learned in school.
Those are easy to think about.
When I was in that meeting in Micronesia, I thought about my training in political science and ESL. And I thought, shouldn’t I be teaching history or English?
But what I didn’t consider is that because math wasn’t my primary area of study, and because I wasn’t an expert in that field, I may be an even BETTER teacher of math, because I’ll relate better to my students who struggle with that material.
In addition, I had persistence and a desire to build community. Those were assets in my isolated environment.
So what else do we have to offer?
Think back on your host of life experiences. Not just classes you’ve taken, but places you’ve been, places you’ve volunteered, experiences you’ve had, hobbies you’ve taken on, people you’ve met.
After church today, we’re going to have a “meeting of the minds” to gather the resources we have to fight child hunger.
And the ones that will come to mind first are people we know in the state house, or public schools or organizations we’re connected to, and money we have to offer. And those are important to note.
But let’s think beyond that too.
Did we grow up wealthy like Moses?
Maybe we can speak to people who are wealthy, because we understand the unique burdens of wealth.
What about those of us who grew up poor? Do you know what it feels like to be hungry or desperate for work?
Maybe we who have been there have unique insights to offer in terms of what needs WE had in those circumstances that other people might not think about.
Do you have a title like Doctor or Reverend or Representative or Neighborhood Association Member that might open doors and get you meetings not available to other people in our community?
What skill might you have picked up in other disciplines? Do you have time management skills?
Experience organizing groups?
What about artistic skills?
Do you know how to make fliers? Maybe you enjoy painting. That’s an asset too.
Are you a dog-walker? One of the easiest way to network and get to know our neighbors is by walking a dog.
Are you on social media? Do you know how to make a web site?
Are you a good listener?
Someone who could listen to the needs of our hungry neighbors?
We may not see it now, but we, like Moses, are not unexpected heroes. We are exactly who God needs to do this work.