Five bullets

One of my favourite TV programmes ever is the West Wing, a drama about the president of the USA and his staff.  The dialogue and the intricacies of the American political system are sometimes difficult to keep up with, but I love the way episodes jump seamlessly between the sharpest wit, farcical physical humour, and the most moving depictions of serious issues tackled on the grandest of national stages and in the most ordinary of individual lives.

Expectations

In one episode I watched recently, the president’s press secretary C.J. Cregg has been getting death threats, and so is assigned a Secret Service agent.  At first she hates having the agent follow her around everywhere she goes, but over time she begins to warm to him.

During the episode, the two of them visit the shooting range which agents use to practice their marksmanship.  She challenges the agent to show her his stuff.  There’s a bit of banter back and forth, and at first she bets that he can’t hit the bull’s eye with one of his five bullets.  But he takes up the bet a little too easily, so she ups the stakes: instead, he has to get three of the five bullets through the bull’s eye.

She’s still goading him, when suddenly “BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG” – he’s fired all five rounds in quick succession.  The range falls silent, and all you can hear is click click click as the target slides slowly back from the shooting zone towards them.

As it comes gradually into sight, C.J. is astounded.  Not only has the agent succeeded in placing three bullets dead centre through the middle of the target, but he’s put the other two precisely on the edge of the bull’s eye area.

C.J. thought she had set a major challenge.  She doubted how good a shot the agent really was.  But she’d underestimated him.  She’d forgotten that he was a Secret Service agent, among the most highly trained units in the world.  Not only did he meet her challenge, he exceeded it way beyond her expectations.

Title fight

Isn’t this exactly how we treat God sometimes?  Our picture of him is small and limited.  We doubt what he can achieve, and set our expectations low.  But we’re talking about God here: the creator of the universe!  He is the kingmaker, star creator, time traveller, all powerful, magnificent God of all.  Like the Secret Service agent, God is more than capable of exceeding our every expectation.

There are few occasions when this is more powerfully demonstrated than when he orchestrated his people’s escape from slavery in Egypt.  First he chooses Moses, an under-confident, stuttering, murdering outcast, to lead the way.  Moses had so many doubts about himself, but God was patient, giving him reassurance and miraculous signs, and providing his brother as a spokesman.  And eventually Moses came around to the idea that he no longer needed to doubt himself – God was in control.  In one sense we are all like Moses, we doubt ourselves, forgetting that we are all made in the image of God and so have greatness in us.

Moses approaches Pharaoh and demands that he let God’s people go.  But Pharaoh isn’t having any of it.  And now it’s not Moses’ abilities that are now called into question – it’s the power of God himself…

So, in the red corner we have the bully Pharaoh, supported by all his worldly power, a team of advisors and sorcerers, and with back office support from a rabble of pagan gods.  And in the blue corner, there’s Moses, Aaron and God.  But as Martin Luther once said, “Of whom shall I be afraid?  One with God is a majority

By this you will know

Round 1 begins.  Moses goes out early one morning to meet Pharaoh as he bathes in the River Nile.  He insists again that the people are set free, and then declares “by this you will know I am LORD”, the river will be turned to blood, and three Egyptian gods of the Nile are silenced.  But Pharaoh will not budge.  And not only that, but his sorcerers match the miracle by their own dark arts.  Round 1 is a draw.

Round 2 is much the same.  Frogs plague the land, but Pharaoh remains stubborn, and again the sorcerers match the miracle.  Is God really up to the task?  But in Round 3 he raises the ante.  This time he sends a plague of gnats, and the sorcerers are left powerless.  And yet still Pharaoh fights on.  And God’s people continue to suffer.

And so now God really takes the fight to the Egyptians.  In Rounds 4-9 he specifically targets their land and possessions, sparing the Israelite region of Goshen.  Pagan god after pagan god is mocked as Egyptian livestock die; they suffer from horrendous boils (including the sorcerers who are no longer able to appear at court, and eventually plead with Pharaoh to let the people go); and the sun itself is blotted out.  But still Pharaoh’s heart is hard.

In a moment of supreme drama, Moses then appears before Pharaoh one final time.  Pharaoh utters the words, ‘Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.’  And the scene is set for one final, terrible plague; the death of every firstborn in the kingdom; a last resort that demonstrates beyond any doubt the power of God to bring freedom to his people, and to defeat any enemy that seeks to oppress, destroy or obstruct his good purposes.

Have no doubt

It’s easy to live our lives forgetting how powerful God is.  And that the same God who brought freedom from Egypt offers freedom in our lives, calling us favoured sons and daughters.  This means that in the playground tussles of life we can shout with every confidence: “My Dad’s stronger than your Dad”.  It gives us the security of knowing that ‘if God is for us, then who can be against us?

Of course, it doesn’t always come easy.  Back in Egypt, for God’s full power to be realised took obedience (by Moses), patience (it was way back in Exodus 2 that the people first cried out and God heard them) and endurance (as our vicar Mark Griffiths recently shared, many of us give up just before the miracle).

But when the power of God moves, it’s awesome.

Sometimes we doubt ourselves, forgetting that we’re made in God’s image, with greatness built into our DNA.  And sometimes we doubt God, forgetting that his power and control over all creation is exquisite.  But imagine living every moment knowing these things to be true.  Imagine the things we can see God doing in our lives, our families and our community.  Think for a moment – what would God nailing all five bullets look like for you?

And if you remember nothing else: have no doubt, God’s got clout.

This blog post first appeared as a sermon at the Bullbrook congregation of Warfield Church.  For more information visit www.warfield.org.uk

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