Please Lord, Be With My Mouth
Called upon to be the mouthpiece of God and liberator of his people, Moses was reluctant. You see, his speaking ability was not great. Yet God assured Moses not once but twice, that I, God, “will be with your mouth,” and teach you what to say and do.
Interesting phrase, “I will be with your mouth.” It occurs to me that many, many people have asked God to be with their mouth. In school, when contemplating talking to the girl or boy we liked, or the cool kids whose approval we sought, didn’t many of us utter some variation of a prayer: “Please help me to say something cool, or at least not stupid.”
Or, if we are the sort who is prone to anger, blurting out something we regret later, we say that little prayer, too: “help me not to say something hurtful or insensitive. Or something that will get me in trouble.” “Lord, be with my mouth.”
And there are the times we have to have a frank conversation with someone, maybe someone we care about a lot: “Lord, be with my mouth. Help me to say the right things.”
And underneath all our pleas is the ever-present concern that maybe I don’t know the right things to say or I won’t say it well. So, you see, I may need a little help.
Ever been there?
Albert Frederick Arthur George, known to those close to him as “Bertie,” was next in line to become the King of England as England was on the verge of war in 1939, but he was intensely reluctant to ascend to this role. You see, he had a crippling speech impediment, a stutter, and a King was expected to give speeches – and over radio, speeches to millions; speeches that could rally Britain’s troops against Hitler. No, this was not going to work, thought Albert. As a king, he would be nothing but a fraud, unable to deliver what would be expected of him.
As a God-fearing person, one wonders how many times, Albert prayed that God would be with his mouth.
Enter a speech therapist named Lionel Logue, who begins working with Bertie and making some progress. In the scene I’m about to show you, it has been discovered by Bertie that Lionel is lacking in credentials as speech therapist. But in this scene in Westminster Abbey, we learn that neither one of these men is a fraud.
Oh yes, Bertie, you have a voice! And let the record show King George went on to be “a bloody good king.” He delivered heartfelt speeches that were an inspiration to millions of British troops. But you see, it wasn’t simply because he learned to speak more fluently; he learned that he had contributions to make that were needed, contributions that came out of his whole person. So, you see, his voice was not merely about the words that he spoke. His voice came from his moral center, his integrity, his courage.
On to an earlier version of King George. Moses referred to himself as a “slow of tongue.” Actually, the most literal translation of “slow of tongue” in our text today is “uncircumcised mouth.” I think we’re all grateful it got translated as “slow of tongue.” Old Testament scholars believe this probably means Moses had a speech impediment, and perhaps stuttered.
Is this the sort of person you would want in a verbal confrontation with one of the most powerful people on earth? A fugitive, wanted for murder, who happened to have a speech impediment?
Apparently, God did, and God’s task for Moses was nothing less than to rally his people from beneath the boot of an oppressive dictator!
The thought that God would appoint him – Moses! – to speak words that would dismantle Pharaoh’s slave empire had to sound absurd to Moses. Understandably, Moses had one question after another.
“But who am I that I should do this?” “Who will I say sent me?”
“What if they don’t believe me?”
And through it all, God said, “You will go on my authority. I will be with you. I will equip you.”
And Moses, getting to the heart of his own insecurities, finally said, “But…I have never been eloquent. In fact, I’ve got issues with my speaking ability.”
Then God said, “I’m the one who made you and gave speech to you; I will be with your mouth and give you the words to say,” Even then, Moses said, “sorry, you’ve got the wrong one.” Well, history says differently. Moses did indeed lead his people to freedom.
Have you ever felt for some reason that you have something that disqualifies you from speaking up or stepping up – something about your past, a weakness perhaps? Keep paying attention.
There are three things I would like to highlight in this wonderful story:
- God chooses to do God’s work through people like you and me and Moses, as flawed as we may So, we learn in this story that we do not act alone in this world. And even though we are not given such a daunting task as Moses, each one of us are called, sent and accompanied. That means we are not alone, but God is with us in a partnership of sorts. God is with our mouth; He will help you and speak through you. Often in ways you may not perceive. And even in spite of dumb things you say and do. And I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of them!
Being called, sent and accompanied by God is important because life can be pretty discouraging. It’s easy to feel that you can’t get the job done sometimes. Think about Moses. For quite a while, his own people were skeptical of Moses because whenever Moses made his demands of Pharaoh, Pharaoh became more oppressive with the Hebrew slaves. So, his own people said to Moses, “will you shut up? You’re only making Pharaoh mad and then he takes it out on us!” It took a while to get through to Pharaoh.
- Despite Moses’ speech impediment, God knew Moses had other gifts required of a leader, like courage and faithfulness, the gift of seeing injustice around him and then seeking The gifts of spiritual openness and innate curiosity. Moses may not have had a gifted tongue, but he had a strong voice. Do you see the difference?
How often do we focus on what our weaknesses or liabilities are and overlook where we are strong and gifted – where our voice comes from? It is probably the case that you underestimate that voice.
- Our shortcomings can be the occasion for others to step up and use their For instance, Moses’ impediment and reluctance was so serious that God grudgingly conceded that Moses would need a spokesman: enter Aaron, his smooth-talking brother. God worked out a system with them. If Moses was God’s mouthpiece, Aaron would be Moses’ mouthpiece when facing Pharaoh. I guess it worked, didn’t it?
It’s also worth pointing out that a weakness can be a bridge to strength. For instance, our vulnerabilities can connect us more meaningfully with others, giving resonance and humanity to our voice. And permission for others to be vulnerable, too.
When everything is said and done, though, this story is about a person who saw what others didn’t see: a burning bush. He saw something ordinary was on fire with a mysterious and transcendent power. Perhaps Moses’ biggest strength was his curiosity about finding God in everyday life, and his openness to entering into dialogue with that transcendent voice. It was this voice, God’s voice, that gave Moses the power to claim his own.
So, too, are we called to see in the ordinary places, spaces and people of our lives, that if we’re paying a attention, there is a luminance there, and a voice. A luminance that reminds us where we live our lives is sacred ground because God is there. A voice that reminds that God is at work, we are called, we have a voice.
This is our work, you and me at Mt Carmel: daring to believe our lives are filled with burning bushes, a God who speaks, a God who gives you voice.
“Please, Lord, be with my mouth.” Amen.