The first sermon I ever wrote was for an Assemblies of God Fine Arts Festival. I was a junior at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., and at my small church (a small Pentecostal congregation in a mostly Catholic town) I was allowed to preach that sermon.
Being both extremely nervous -- and honored -- I considered what God would have me speak about. First, I prayed for God to speak to me and to my heart; and second, I read through large swaths of Scripture until a particular text in the Bible struck me. I remember starting from the beginning in Genesis. It wasn't until the book of Exodus that I became gripped.
It was the story of Moses that shook me. It became the topic that would inspire future ministry in my life.
I had seen the movie "The Ten Commandments," which was a blockbuster phenomenon starring Charlton Heston. Each Easter's eve I would watch this movie and, with hero worshipping awe, I'd see the strong figure of Moses emerge from obscurity to become a mighty leader of the grumbling Israelites. Heston's voice alone made me listen to each word. It didn't hurt that there was amazing action all throughout, from seas opening to a flaming swirl of fire -- and there were snakes. Young boys love snakes. As I read the text, however, I was shocked -- much like when you realize the book is better than the movie.
One scene in Moses' life involved a burning bush. He was living as a regular shepherd in a land far from his homeland -- mainly due to the shame of having committed murder in his previous life, when seeing the injustice of an overbearing slave driver of Egypt harm an Israelite.
Moses likely figured he would remain outcasted for the rest of his life with no thought of return, let alone the thought of becoming an action hero. But he followed the smoke up the mountain, and there he encountered God in the form of a flame (the same symbol we use in Methodist circles to emphasize the Holy Spirit of God), and there was a voice. The place had become holy ground, and Moses had to take off his sandals.
The movie got the sandals part right, but I was surprised in the text to see how much Moses struggled with God. God called him to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt, and yet Moses maintained that he did not know how to speak. He asked God to send someone else. Moses struggled, thinking most people would not believe God had called him to lead them. He had personal doubts, doubts about faith, and practical doubts that troubled his mind, heart and spirit. I feel him trembling before God but also before the situation. These kinds of moments in life weigh heavily on our shoulders and, just by deciding, we change as people -- our identities are forever moved from one state of being to another.
God then gave Moses a staff, which would be the epicenter of many miraculous signs of God's power. God then gave Moses the ability to speak with great power. Lastly, he gave him Aaron to be a mouthpiece, despite God's desire for Moses to stand up and have courage on his own. I always find it interesting that the God who created the universe has conversations with mortals. God knows the future and can force us to do anything, and yet our sovereignty and free will -- even in this very ancient text -- is not violated. God works with us and gives us what we need, even if we are unable to step out in faith.
The movie seemed quite a bit different. Heston's hesitations were nothing compared with this wrestling with God that we see in the Scriptures, and I feel that this is another case where the book is better than the movie.
Even with the History channel and the interest drummed up about the Bible through television this Easter season, I encourage everyone to check out the Bible for one's own self. In this case, go to Exodus 4 and soak in this Scripture. See how human this leader really is, and see how God really works with us and through us despite our weaknesses.
I know that God has great things for each of us, and sometimes the greatest adventures in life begin with a few words.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.