Pentecost 11A, Sunday August 28th, 2011.
Freed to Follow
Exodus 3: 1-15
There is a lot in a name. Once a person knows your name they know a lot about you. Maybe this is why we are reluctant to give our name to another person sometimes, especially in this world of special media and the like. You never know how your name is going to be used or abused. That’s the thing about our names, they are personal and our name is our reputation.
Our name is precious. It is important for our name to be thought of well by most people at least. It is a painful thing to have your name dragged through the mud, whether you deserve it or not.
Well, God is going to take a big risk in this very big moment in all of the Old Testament. This moment on the mountain with Moses is right up there with the creation of human beings in Genesis 1 and 2, and the giving of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.
God is going to act on his great compassion and concern for his people by giving them the greatest gift he could ever give to his fledgling chosen people – he is going to give his personal name, and thereby really give himself to his people in the most intimate of terms. Things don’t go so well for our young leader Moses in his early 20’s. This man who was “drawn from the water” of the Nile, raised by his own mother, and yet raised undercover in the royal palace of the Pharaoh, somehow learns over time that he is not Egyptian, but one of the slave caste – a Hebrew.
He obviously identifies with these people of his and dives in at two levels. First he takes the life of an Egyptian to protect a fellow Hebrew who is being beaten to death probably. Then, when he sees two of his own Hebrew kin fighting, he tries to be their judge in the dispute. On both counts, Moses fails. The murder causes the Pharaoh to come after him and his people to disrespect him. The fighting fellow Hebrews dismiss his claim to be judge and arbiter over them. Moses, the chosen man has no authority to either judge his people of kill Egyptians.
The chosen one becomes the hunted one and has to head east across the vast deserts. In 11 words he shifts destiny, locality and status, and finally ends up sitting by a well way over on the Sinai Peninsular in Midian. Still acting without authority, he clears off some no-good shepherds trying to steal water from a Bedouin family of seven daughters at this well.
The father of the family takes in this “Egyptian” stranger and as payment, gives him one of his daughters in marriage, Zipporah – one who “tweets”. Maybe she had a twitter account!
The stranger in a strange land settled down to a life of shepherding, marriage and fatherhood of his son, Gershom, who, by his chosen name, “alien there”, is a constant reminder that his days as an Egyptian are over. He was always an alien in that place.
And now we get to that famous day when Moses the shepherd of sheep will receive the great gift of God and have his life radically altered as he “turns aside to see” this strange flaming bush that does not burn up, way up high on Mt Horeb.
God knows Moses and addresses him by name. “Moses, Moses”, God calls. It is all set up. God has got Moses where God wants Moses to be.
“Take those sandals off, Moses” says the Lord. This is a holy, special place. “Don’t come any closer either”. Surely an unholy person can not “see” God and live. Moses hides his face. God protects Moses. God’s intentions are good, not evil.
God identifies himself to Moses in the way that Moses would understand. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of your ancestors and your people in Egypt”.
This is the familiar way of knowing God, for a Hebrew man like Moses. From here on in the rest is unfamiliar and world changing….
Pharaoh’s daughter’s words come back at us from when she saw, heard and felt sorry for Moses in the ark in the Nile all those years before. God now sees and hears and feels the same for his people locked into slavery and forced service to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering….”, and,
“Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them”.
Well, that’s nice, I guess. It is nice that God cares about our suffering and bondage to various gods, but so what? What will he do about it? What can he do about our suffering, sin and slavery to idols?
Moses is the first to hear that God has a will to rescue and a plan to back it up. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites….. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Were you ever asked by your Mum or Dad or some other person to do a completely impossible task…like, travel back across hundred of kilometres of desert to the most powerful country in the world at this time; a country in which you are a known criminal, personally pursued by the top level people there and not respected by the people you do know….
….to simply tell the President of the country, who has absolute power and lives in a tradition of using that power for evil – like murdering thousands and thousands of babies by direct command, and relies on a huge ethnic minority to uphold his power and the nation’s prosperity, “Hey, Chief, let my people go”!?
• Like asking a man to talk about “feelings” for a whole hour!
• Like asking you or me to get on a plane tomorrow to Tibet to join a climbing team up Mt Everest
• Like asking a small group of Christians to evangelise a whole population of people among whom they live
• Like asking a parent to raise a perfect child who will never make mistakes or get things wrong. This Call to Moses is completely impossible for Moses. He knows it and he responds with four reasons why God is asking way too much of him.
1. Who am I? asks Moses of God. Moses is saying he is nobody and incapable of such an impossible task. So really he says, “I am nobody”. “I can’t do this”. This is not surprising, given that he has already tried to help his people and he did not succeed in protecting one of them or bringing peace to two of them, before he was ejected from the country all those years ago. 2. The he asks the other obvious question of this crazy God: “Well, who are you? In other words, “How do I know you can do this impossible thing, anyway?”, or “What have you got that would show me that you have any authority and power to do this silly thing you’re asking of me?” 3. And for all of us who don’t like fighting with others or being made to look silly, Moses voices this question, What if I believe you but they don’t? To this objection God gives Moses a sign of his authority that will be at work through his words and deeds. Moses doesn’t need his own authority and power; he has God’s authority and power to get the job done. 4. Later on Moses also acknowledges his own shortcomings and uses that as a reason why he cannot do this. “I lack word skills”, he says. Maybe he stutters or just does not know the words he reckons he needs to know to match an Egyptian royal court. 5. Moses also does the old “transference of the problem onto someone else” trick by just saying, “Send someone else!”
We have to pause here. Can you hear your own voice saying these things to God?
“I am a nobody”
I can’t do it”
I can’t trust you, God.
I don’t know if you can do this
I know my weaknesses and they are too many and great to do this
Please send someone else to do this
For anyone who is now or ever has had these kind of conversations with God, hear him speak into our doubt and lack of faith as he did for Moses….
“Who am I?” “I am nobody” “I have no authority”
God says “I will be with you”
“Well, who are you?”
I just AM
What if they don’t believe me?
Not your concern, Moses. You don’t have to convince them, I will by my own ways – my authority and power.
“I lack skills and understanding” I speak. I will give you the words and understanding you need on a daily basis as you go – not in advance. I will also help you with those – I will give you colleagues and friends (Aaron, your brother, for instance……)
“Send someone else” No, you are my person for this calling. I will get you the help you need in the community and I will give you my power and ability to fulfil this calling. You’re my chosen one for this.
You have to feel for Moses. God has him all set up. The burning bush; all the reasons why not covered. All his doubts taken care of. Moses really can only go one way – God’s way. He has been “shoulder tapped” by God and given quite amazing promises by God.
God is giving Moses his own authority and power to fulfil his humanly impossible task of setting people free from hard labour to idolatry and slavery. God is assuring Moses that his own intentions are very good – to rescue people from the fear of the world and the fear of “the gods” in which they now live.
But the greatest gift that Moses is receiving is not just for him. It is for all who follow in the faith of Moses.
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:
‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers— the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
Yes, there is a lot in a name and a whole new world in this name!
“I AM”, or “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”.
This is the holy name of God to be remembered for all time – and used by all who live by faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of the Bible.
This is God’s personal name, never uttered before this day on the mountain to a shoeless shepherd of sheep who will become the great shepherd of Israel – all by God’s authority and power, not his.
This name would become a name treated with the utmost respect and only used by certain people in certain ways on certain occasions under strict conditions in the worship of God’s people.
It is the name that reveals God’s character but also veils him too. God is. God is willing to be known and can be known, and yet God is God – God just is – beyond, and yet up close and personal.
This is name by which God’s people will have personal access to him in Moses day and beyond. They can pray to the God whom they know and are known by – personally. When they gather in worship, God promises to be personally present by his name. He will bless them with what would become the blessing he gives to Aaron (which we still use today) and he will hear their cries, their prayers, the requests and act – all by this name.
So, you think you can’t do what you know God is asking you to do?
So, you think you don’t have enough understanding of the bible or the church or spirituality or the words people use or the skills set to live in your vocation or do the ministry God is calling you to do?
Listen to “I AM”
I AM the Good Shepherd. I AM the gate for the sheep to come in to God’s presence I AM the bread of life – I will sustain you with my own body – the bread of life I AM the way of life, the truth of life and the life within you.
I AM the resurrection and the life.
Friends, we don’t need what we think we need to be his people and fulfil our mission. Our only authority and power for living out our calling as God’s holy people in an unholy world is his name.
We are baptised into his name – which is revealed to us through Jesus as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are sealed with his name and powered by his name – the name of Jesus, “I AM”.
We are promised by his name – “I will be with you”. “I am with you”
You think your nobody – I am with you
You think your useless – I am with you
You getting a bit slack – I am with you
You trying to palm of your calling on to others – I am with you
You think you don’t know enough – I am with you
You think you can’t do what I want – I am with you.