Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17
(sermon note: 10-03 sermon note)
After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
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.’ 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? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a teenage boy who went into a confessional booth one day. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have been with a girl of…how should I say this…questionable morals.” The priest asked, “Is that you, little Joey Pagano?” “Yes, Father, it is.” “And who was the girl you were with?” “I can’t tell you, Father. I don’t want to ruin her reputation.” “Well, Joey, I’m sure to find out her name sooner or later so you may as well tell me now. Was it Tina Minetti?” “I cannot say.” “Was it Teresa Mazzarelli?” “I’ll never tell.” “Was it Nina Capelli?” “I’m sorry, but I cannot name her.” “Was it Cathy Piriano?” “My lips are sealed.” “Was it Rosa DiAngelo, then?” “Please, Father! I cannot tell you.” The priest sighed in frustration. “You’re very tight lipped, and I admire that. But you’ve sinned and have to atone. You cannot be an altar boy for the next 4 months. Now go home and behave yourself.” Joey walked back to his pew, and his friend Franco slid over and whispered, “What’d you get?” “Four months vacation and five good leads…”
Probably not the best comparison between a teenage boy looking to score and Moses simply seeking authority lead the Israelites out of slavery! But hey, they both sought out important names to help guide their future actions. The names of those five girls and the name of God ultimately determined the fates of both Joey and Moses. And who says names aren’t that important?! Of course, they’re important! They give form and function to all things. They’re what distinguish things from other things and make them truly unique. A name is what makes all things special. It’s no wonder why God entrusted Adam with the responsibility of naming all the creatures of this world. The names not only made the creatures distinguishable but also made them special, particularly special to Adam. Adam could no longer treat the creatures of this world without care and concern. He was invested in them once he named them. God knows the power of names and how they place value on things. Just like any decent parent does. Many a-parent has spent plenty of time agonizing over just the right name for their child. I know my wife and I went through several lists before finalizing the names we chose. It helped that we wanted names beginning with ‘s’ and ‘j’ to undergird the bond we created, her name beginning with a ‘j’ and mine beginning with a ‘s.’ Names have meaning and give meaning. It’s no wonder that some cultures refuse to name their child until several days after birth to make sure the baby is strong and healthy and thus worthy to receive a name. I suppose the thinking is that a nameless child is more easily grieved over than a named child. I tend to believe all children have names, whether their parents give them one or not, simply because all children are special and names reflect this. But to each his own…
God’s name is just as important, if not more, than the names we give each other. Moses knew this and sought it from God to help reinforce the amazing task of leading the Israelites out of slavery. “Oh yeah, Moses? Who is your God and how strong is He? Is He going to help carry out such an unrealistic feat of leading thousands out of slavery?” God’s response is an elusive response at best: “I am who I am.” Well, yeaaaah, we all are who we are, God, you’re no different than us! Maybe that’s what God was trying to convey, God is us and we are God, or at least like God created in the image of God. Maybe God is suggesting that He is an unfolding reality. After all, that expression, “I am,” is a verb which means God is an action, not a static title. Maybe God was having a bad day and simply gave Moses a snarky response! Well, I don’t suppose the last one holds any weight but the other two explanations certainly do. God is us and an unfolding reality. God is the enslaved Israelites and Moses. And God is the non-enslaved Israelites too, the unfolding reality. Recall how Jesus’ disciples wanted to know who he was and he invited them to come and see. He invited them into an unfolding reality of who God is instead of giving them a static title. God is both us and an unfolding reality.
For the sake of impressing Moses, God chose to take on the form of burning bush, itself an unfolding reality except not necessarily an explainable reality. That bush should have been disintegrated but it wasn’t. How was that possible? God was and is more than an explainable unfolding reality. God is unexplainable, unknowable, unimaginable. And yet God is us. Perhaps the key to explaining, knowing, and imagining God is in better explaining, knowing, and imagining ourselves. We think the mystery of God is out there somewhere, waiting to be solved, when in actuality it lies within you and me. Want to know God? Know yourself! Okay, okay, we’re getting out there this morning but the name of God is truly a magical name…
Along with that unfolding reality of God’s name is something else that needs to be noted. Since beginning our new year’s lectionary a month ago, our readings have had us reflect on some essential characters from the biblical narrative. We looked at God in his creation, then Abraham and his son, Isaac, and then Isaac’s son, Jacob. It’s fitting that we would jump to Moses, another key figure in the biblical narrative. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before him, Moses felt he, too, was unfit to be a servant of God in leading God’s people. But God chooses just the right people each and every time. We see this over and over again throughout Scripture, God chose unlikely people to carry out extraordinary tasks. God likes to choose unlikely people! It’s the unlikely people who allow God to walk alongside them in carrying out their tasks. In our reading, Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God simply responded, “I will be with you.” It doesn’t matter who Moses was, God was with him and that’s all he needed to fulfill his task.
That’s all that any of us needs to fulfill whatever it is God tasks us with in this life! All we need is him! We all fall short but we can all rise to whatever challenge with the help of God on our side! Recall the words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” (6:10) We all fall short but we all can find great strength in him. Recall Jesus’ words, “for mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) If only Moses had the wisdom of Paul and Jesus, perhaps he wouldn’t have grumbled so much. Even David was assured of the mighty power of God as he sang about in his 62nd psalm, “once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God. (vs. 11) God strengthened Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses alike. God was and is an unfolding reality for them and for us. Let us rejoice in his mighty power and awesome name. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.