The folk-Rock singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, wrote a song that became a hit, “Running on Empty.” It was an autobiographical song about life on the road. Yet, the upbeat song was composed with down-trodden lyrics that spoke of the painful memories that haunted Browne (and likely gave power to his writing). Jackson Browne could have been letting out an existential cry for a generation: “Running on empty, running blind; running into the sun but I’m running behind.”
Today’s Biblical reading is about a prince of Egypt, the Hebrew-born Moses, who took matters into his own hands, killed a military guard, and ended up “running on empty.” But since this is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God, it has a word for today; a word for spiritual exiles on the lam, maybe even spiritual exiles right here.
A Reading from Exodus chapter two, verses eleven through fifteen, then verses twenty-three and twenty-four:
Moses Flees to Midian
“11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.[a]12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.
God Hears Israel’s Groaning
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:11-15 English Standard Version [ESV]).
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever.
When our personal passions or individual gifts are not enfolded into God’s will we will sabotage the very things or people we care about most.
The words that I heard cut me to the core: “Is this about me or you?” I was a young pastor seeking to counsel a middle-aged man whose life was wedged beneath the unforgiving pain of his past failures and the unrequited promise of his future potential. I needed to move through a deeper diagnoses of the presenting spiritual symptoms afflicting him. I needed to assess the condition, make a Biblical and theological framework in which to work with him. Yet, as he spoke I found that I was having a hard time staying with him. I was not processing his story. I was not counseling. I was absorbing. I began to deal internally with questions about whether self-disclosure of my own failures would be of help or not. Yet, I felt that my own internal issues were becoming obstacles in his potential healing. I needed to stop the counseling. I realized that there were open wounds in my own life getting in the way of any productive time of spiritual healing. I had to refer him to someone who could help. But a larger question loomed, “Is this about me or you?” It was not middle-aged man’s voice that I heard.
The truth is that there are people sitting here today who are on the run. You are running from your past, running from an unhealed pain, an unreconciled relationship, or a painful memory. You are doing the Lord’s work. You are here in church, when so many in America chose not to be. You are to be commended for your faithfulness. But my prayer is that you will be rewarded by your presence here with a gift of God to help stop the bleeding inside, to bring healing to the memory, to let you stop running.
In Exodus chapter two the young Prince of Egypt, Moses, is dealing with the sense of injustice of the Hebrew people. His own identity—a Hebrew by birth, yet an Egyptian royalty by familial right—is entangled in a complex psychological drama that leaves the dark unseen pages of his mind to become a fully exposed national scandal. Moses sees injustice and uses his power, physical and authoritative, to take matters into his own hands. He kills an Egyptian military
guard and hides the corpse. His crime is found out. He is rejected by both ruling class he came from and the slaves whom he had sought to defend. He becomes a refugee. The mighty young prince is left sitting at a pool in the Midian desert, far from the courts in which he was reared, far from the arms of the nursemaid who was his mother. He is alone with himself. He is an exile.
The narrative of Moses the exile is the hope for all spiritual exiles. A spiritual exile is one who has unresolved sin and pain that causes that one to run away from themselves and others, deepening the pain and accentuating the isolation. Yet, this passage is full of hope and healing for spiritual exiles.
Our heavenly Father has an infallible and divine program for reaching, restoring, and using spiritual exiles like you and me. The steps in this divine intervention for spiritual exiles is clearly shown to us in Exodus 2:11-15 and in 23-24.
The first stage in the divine program for reaching spiritual exiles is this:
I. Let them run.
One of the most difficult things in parenting is allowing your child to learn from his own mistakes. Yet, as parents, we must. For God shows us that in His own program of sanctifying Moses, he lets him run. He doesn’t rescue him at this point. When Moses commits the act of manslaughter, at best, God lets the events go forward. Moses won no friends from the Hebrews by his actions. His actions were not as secret as he thought or had hoped. And, now, his identity as the “Most Wanted” man in Egypt was sealed. Moses had forged his own destiny, it seemed, and God was nowhere to be found. Right.
I once had a boss who seemed to delight in letting me make mistakes. I was a salesman for a large Fortune 500 chemical company. We would go into the customer’s office to make a call. I would explain the products and the “feature, functions, and benefits,” of those industrial products. When my supervisor would ride with me he would rarely speak while we were on the sales calls. But at the end of the day he would review our work for that day. I recall, particularly early in my career there, that he had to tell me that I had actually recommended the wrong product for the process. I had not studied the literature, nor I had not properly studied the needs of the customer. In this case, I had recommended something that could have harmed the customer’s equipment. “Thankfully,” he told me, “their engineer caught what the purchasing agent missed: that you sold them the wrong product.” My boss, a wiser, older salesman,went on to explain, “Mike, I had to let you run your own race, even if you failed and even if you lost an account. You will never learn the importance of relying on the tools we have given you if I intervene. I have to let you learn the hard way. I will never let you destroy your career or damage the company permanently. But I have to teach you by letting you go.”
That is a hard way to learn, isn’t it? Yet, you and I know that he is right. We know that almost intuitively because, in this world we live in, we see that this is the way things work. That is because this is our Father’s world. And our Lord will not allow you to fall completely away from Him if you are His. He will not allow you to permanently destroy His work and prevent His will. But, in His divine wisdom, God allows us, like Moses, to run.
Some of you are running today. You are running from your own sin or the sin that someone else committed against you. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save those who were lost—to seek and save those who were on the lam; running from God, “running on empty, running blind…” Yet, sometimes He won’t save us until we go through the entire program of healing spiritual exiles.
And this leads us to the second stage in the divine program for reaching spiritual exiles:
II. Leave them alone.
The Bible shows that Moses ends up in the Midian back forty. Midian was settled by Abraham’s fourth son of six by the woman he married after Sarah died: Keturah. According to Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian and these boys, including Midian, settled in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, part of modern Saudi Arabia. The Midianites had a mixed spiritual legacy. These nomadic people who came from another of Abraham’s mixed marriages would become not only enemies of Israel, but also poor, nomadic, backwards neighbors to more advanced, cosmopolitan Egyptian empire. And this is where Moses would be seemingly left alone by God.
In my Bible is written words that I heard Dr. D. James Kennedy preach on a Sunday night when I was his intern and Mae and I served at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church:
“Moses thought he was a somebody. He had to learn that he was a nobody. Only then could he see that God uses nobodies.”
The truth is, of course, that Moses was not ever really alone. He was right where God wanted him. St. John of the Cross, a middle ages Spanish mystic, wrote a powerful travelogue of his own spiritual journey called, “the Dark Night of the Soul.” St. John of the Cross talks about how dark the night was. Yet, he says that the stars can be seen all the clearer on dark nights. The dark night of his soul, a time when he felt like a spiritual exile, alone and even abandoned by God, became a time that led to extraordinary spiritual growth. I suspect it was something like hoot-camp, “I would never want to go through it again, but I would never trade it for anything.”
Midian made Moses. Midian would bring him a wife, a wise counselor, his father-in-law, Jethro, and, of course, a burning bush that would turn the world upside down.
So before you curse the darkness that you feel yourself in at this stage of your life, just recall Moses. Remember that God is leading you to a place of loneliness so that you can hear His voice, learn His ways, and follow His call. Sometimes God leads us to Midian to learn the promise of Jesus, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The third stage in the divine program for reaching spiritual exiles is this:
III. Lead them to the well.
This part of Moses story ends with him sitting at the well. Moses is waiting, waiting on God. At the well he has no identity issues: Am I a Hebrew? Am I an Egyptian? Am I a savior or a killer? At the well, alone with God, he is just Moses, a child of a heavenly father. And what else? In verses 23-24 we see that God’s burden for the Hebrews was much deeper than anything Moses ever had. Moses would be used to lead the Hebrew children to freedom, and to a nation promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Moses would not lead out of his own strength, but out of God’s vision for His people.
Today—this sermon—may be your time at the well. Here you learn that God has been up to something with you. You are not alone after all. You are in the midst of a program of healing you in order to use you to bring about God’s greater glory on this earth, for your family, your community, or just as a person designed to be the person God wants you to become.
Unresolved pain can sabotage our future and leave us as refugees, on the run from God and even ourselves. But God’s divine program of reaches spiritual refugees, by letting us run, leaving us alone, and, finally, leading us to the well.
Over the years I have experienced God’s healing in many ways. I am not fully healed and I sometimes I teeter between leading God’s people to the Promised Land and weeping at the well. But I can say this, that our Lord Jesus Christ met me at the well, revealed Himself to me, and with St. Paul I say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”
You have been led by God to this moment to receive the healing of your soul, the healing of your emotions, the freedom of your identity that says, “I am what I am, and God’s grace was not in vain. I am forgiven. I am renewed. I am a Christian.” No more running on empty, no more running blind, you are running towards the Son, leaving the old life behind.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 See, e.g., Jennifer R. Henretty and Heidi M. Levitt, “The Role of Therapist Self-disclosure in Psychotherapy: A Qualitative Review,” Clinical Psychology Review 30, no. 1 (2010).
 “The personal quest of the pastoral counselor has a parallel impact upon the quest of those who seek his or her counsel. The essay presents the view that faith must be established in the life of the pastoral counselor in at least four areas: in community, in the use of one’s spiritual gifts, in the love of mercy and the doing of justice, and in communion with God.” See E. Wayne Hill, “Integrity in Pastoral Counseling,” Journal of Religion and Health 37, no. 2 (July 01, 1998): 105, accessed April 09, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/27511228?ref=search-gateway:275db07d1d3daee271b8bca960e46365.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), I Corinthians 15:10.