Exodus 3:1, 4:18-20
My campus minister retired while I was in college after serving 27 years in campus ministry. Risher Brabham was a true character. All of the Wesley Foundations in South Carolina would do a joint mission trip the week after graduation in Hollywood, SC down in the Sea Islands of South Carolina to work on different houses of the mission site Rural Mission on Johns Island. We would sleep on the floor of a church and take outdoor showers that teams had previously constructed, where if you were a tall person, like me, you’d be able to look the other tall people in the eyes. You either would try to make small talk or……it was more than awkward. The Sea Islands trips were some of the best memories I made in college. One of my favorite parts would be the way that Risher woke us up. He got his kicks from waking us up morning after morning at 6 am, where in a mischievous voice he would say grinning, “The sun is rising, the coffee’s hot, the pancakes are on the griddle, it’s a beautiful day to be alive.” When we grow up, we don’t have our parents to kick us out of bed, but we still need someone to kick us around when we’re intellectually or morally or spiritually lazy. Basically we need a Jethro – a butt kicker! Risher took his job of butt kicker of the work camp very seriously!
Who is Jethro, anyway? The short answer is the father-in-law of Moses. Reuel is probably his proper name and Jethro his official title. Jethro is a priest of Midian and is recorded as living in Midian, a territory stretching along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba in what is today, northwestern Saudi Arabia. Some believe Midian is within the Sinai Peninsula. Biblical maps from antiquity show Midian in both locations. The Midianites were a nomadic Semitic tribe – they were descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah. In the previous scene prior to our passage, Moses is seen fleeing from Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian. He ran into the wilderness and met Jethro’s seven daughters, who needed Moses’ help at the watering hole because shepherds were driving them out. Moses came to their defense and upon their returning, their father asked them why they had come back so soon. They answered, an Egyptian had helped them and Jethro invited Moses to dinner. Jethro gave Moses his daughter in marriage. Then Moses tended Jethro’s sheep for 40 years.
40 years is a long time, and ironically for Moses he would spend another 40 years in the wilderness. But that’s a different sermon. It is believed that Jethro, while not an Israelite, did believe in a monotheistic religion that professed the existence of many gods, yet taught that only one was all-powerful, and only he should be worshipped. It is thought that Jethro taught Moses about the one God. Moses had been raised to believe in the Egyptian deities. An illegal Egyptian underground religion – Atonism – also taught one God. This belief was held surreptitiously by many of the Egyptian nobility, and it was very likely that Moses was exposed to this in the palace so Jethro’s ideas were familiar to him. Because of Jethro’s teaching, Moses was prepared to accept God’s charge to him when he appeared to him in the burning bush.
That’s where Exodus 3 verse 1 comes in. You have the scene where Moses sees the burning bush where God calls to Moses and says God has observed the sufferings of the people of Israel, and God wants Moses to deliver God’s people from the Egyptians by doing signs and wonders. And that’s when Moses needs a good kick in the pants because he says in Exodus 4:10-13, “10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”
One morning, Moses woke up and his father-in-law was grinning, not smiling, much like Risher. Jethro kicked Moses’ butt out of the tent and into the mission God had given him.
Jethro officially returns in the story in the second passage I read, in verse 18, “18 Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” The proper translation of the Hebrew phrase is a bit different, lech b’shalom, means “go to peace.” “Go to peace” was a push to make the best use of whatever life remains. “Go to peace” has the peacemaking sense of ‘shalom,’ the channeling of energies that brings wholeness and wellness to the world. It’s one of the most powerful acts you can do to another human being – bless them forward. Len Sweet writes, “When you’re spiritually neutered, or when you’ve become complacent, when you begin to shrink from your mission, you need a Jethro to keep you loyal to your dreams.”
You need a Jethro to kick you in the rear and get you off the couch with whatever Netflix episodes you’re obsessing over or off of the time vacuum of facebook or the latest youtube sensation and says, “What’s your favorite future?” and blesses you forward. You need a Jethro, a nagger who kicks open the doors and window of your house and finds your hidden potential, resources, and the person that you were created to be. You need a Jethro: a commanding voice that kicks it up a notch and asks, “How are you?” to which your soul responds by asking itself, “How should I be?”
Who is your Jethro? And who are you Jethroing?
I bet Johnny Manziel felt like he was being “Jethroed” at times during the game yesterday!
Jethros bless you to go to what God is calling you to do so that you can receive peace in your life – everyone needs someone that’s wild and crazy about them – and cares enough about them to wake and shake them up to dream big and live large. A Jethro is a blesser, not a flatterer, and Risher was not at all a flatterer. He would rather give you honest criticism than empty praise. He was not the most “religious” man even though he was a pastor, but he took seriously the calls of Jesus, and in the words of Micah 6:8, “To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” He inspired all of us to be and live better. He was the one that introduced me to social justice as a life, not just a concept. Risher was the first one to do Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week even when it wasn’t cool. Risher founded the oldest CROP Walk in South Carolina, which raises 75% for the world’s hunger needs and 25% to go to fight local hunger. And there’s one right here in Gainesville. He’s also the one that invited me on a trip to Nicaragua my freshman year – my first international mission trip, frankly the first mission trip that I had ever been on – and pushed me to apply for a summer mission internship for two summers at the Cooperative Ministry, which was a clothing bank, food assistance, car assistance, counseling center for the homeless in Columbia. The first summer I worked in the clothing warehouse part-time and led a summer camp part-time and the second summer I wrote grants and coordinated the largest school supply drive in Columbia. My commitment to social justice is in direct response to Risher’s pushing and his legacy.
A Cheyenne Native American song says, “Only the stones stay on earth forever.” We all end up in the same box – we all must die someday – we only have a short time to fulfill the mission that God has called us to. To leave our legacy. To do the things that we were created to do. “Jethro pushes you out the door with these questions haunting your every step: Will you look back on your life and see a succession of sorrows, missteps, and missed moments? Or will you look back on your life with a sense of satisfaction and joy?”
Risher died from multiple battles with cancer the August that I returned as the campus minister of Winthrop Wesley. Man, I wish I had had more time with him. His daughter at the funeral said that she was glad I was at Winthrop Wesley because she knew I would understand her father’s legacy and life’s work. Fr. David Valtierra, the Catholic priest assigned to do campus ministry, at his retirement party due to his losing battle with cancer, was a part of the Winthrop community and shared in ministry with Risher for over 30 years and also indeed was a butt kicker. I have to admit I was a little afraid of him as a student, and I was a little afraid of him as a campus minister, because you had the sense that he could see inside your soul. Fr. was formidable. It was the day of Winthrop’s Potato Drop ironically, and during his retirement speech, he looked me right in the eye, and called me Risher’s spiritual daughter. You don’t understand what high praise that was! And what a moment of blessing. He was blessing me forward.
Jethros function as reminders that no matter what the world says or thinks – that we are called to a purpose by God and God ‘breathes into us’ the second wind of hope and purpose and puts our mind back on our mission.
My Dad coached my two brothers’ little league baseball team, and he was a DEFINITE Jethro for the team. He wasn’t afraid to give them a good kick in the pants, he was honest and not a flatterer, and he cared about each one of them. Northcutt Motors, the blue team, Dad’s team played in the championship against Sara Lee, the red team. I don’t know why I remember the names and the colors. Dad wanted to get them psyched up for the game so he came up with an idea. He had memorized the rule book, as he is want to do, so he knew it wasn’t against the rules. He set up a boom box. Note for the youngsters in the audience, we have one of these in the prayer room. These are ancient relics that play tapes and the radio, I don’t even think CD’s existed back then. He played this song…..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgSMxY6asoE Eye of the Tiger
I have no recollection if they won the game. You’ll have to ask my brother on fall retreat that one. But I definitely know that it sure pumped the team up. Big time.
It was just the kick in the pants that they needed to play their best.
Remember, your Jethro blesses you forward – forward, not backwards. Your Jethro believes in YOU. Your Jethro believes you will complete your mission, in fact he or she has no doubt about that. Your Jethro is one of God’s angels sent to help us handle the “dark night” of the soul and the “dry well” of the spirit.
Katy Perry experienced her own dark night of the soul after her divorce from Russell Brand. He broke the news to her via text message, and she’s not heard from him since. She says she has been to therapy since her last album, which influenced her new music to be that much more self-empowering and that much more “her.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CevxZvSJLk8 – Katy Perry’s “Roar”
Jethro’s help us find our “roars.” Jethros don’t seek out those people that need a good butt kicking for butt kicking’s sake. A Jethro seeks to inspire and bless. Just as bruised apples make the best pies – bruised and broken people, like you and me and even Katy Perry, make the best blessers and blessings.
I don’t know what Katy’s therapist said, but a Jethro will push you out the door while telling you, “Trust God. The way will open.” Trust God. The way may be hard, but I’ll be there to both cheer you on and give you a reality check. Trust God. Because when you trust God, God will give you the words to say like he gave to Moses, God will give you the inspiration you need for the journey, like the Eye of the Tiger, and God will give you the shoulder to cry on and the ability to do the healing you need.
Holy and Gracious God, we come to you seeking your will and seeking your guidance. May we let the Jethros break through to us, may we hear what the Jethros have to say, may we trust that they’re blessing us forward. Your grace doesn’t leave us where we are down in the mire and muck, your grace lifts us out of the pit of despair and realizing that your grace is meant for us inspires us to live life to the fullest, abundant life, and pushes us forward that we may grow in you more deeply. We thank you that you love us so much that you sent your son to die for us and you left your Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in all that we do. We pray now as you taught your disciples to pray, saying…