Rev. Linda A. Crowder
1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “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.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord,[b] 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, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.Exodus 3:1-15
Let’s slow ourselves down for a minute and think about something. Here’s the question: how does God communicate with you? Just mull on that now, and maybe later as you have time. There are probably a lot of answers to that question. Anybody want to offer one? How do you know God is there, that he cares about you, or what he wants you to do? There isn’t a wrong answer.
I want to share something today. God talked to me once. It isn’t really that unusual. Studies show that people who have had what might be seen as “out of the ordinary” experiences of God often have never told anyone about them. So, I’m going to tell you. One Sunday, thirty or so years ago, I was kneeling in a pew after Communion in St. Andrew’s Church in Irvine, California. So far, not unusual. I was there every Sunday. Now, there’s a little background that you might need to know. I had just decided that ordination was not the path that my life should take. Because, you know, who am I to do such a thing? I’m a math major, and a computer whiz, and all that. What does that have to do with church? No, I’ll go take care of my little kiddo, and maybe adopt another, and have a happy life. Computer professionals will always be in a great demand. I could make a lot of money if I ever decide to go back to work. So, yeah, that’s it. Anyway, I’m the treasurer of the congregation, and I just taught a well-received class about faith formation. So, you know, I’m good. I’ve got other things to do.
Back to Sunday morning at St. Andrew’s. I wasn’t actively thinking any of these thoughts. I was just in “contemplative hyperspace” as Charles once described my prayerful, meditative state. And I heard (although nobody else did) a gentle, but insistent voice say, “Don’t give up.” Even though I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular at the time, I knew exactly what I wasn’t supposed to give up on. So, I didn’t and here we are! Who knew?
Of course, I’m reminded of this story this week, because our Old Testament lesson is about God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush. Because, of course, God talked to Moses. And their conversation was extensive and important. And it went on for a long time through a long journey through the desert on the way to the promised land. But first, I want to remember someone else who had some important conversations with God.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curse you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” God said to Abram, later to be know as Abraham. A promise of land and descendants. And Abram obeyed God, traveled to Canaan, and saw the land, but without the descendants he was hardly able to take possession of it. So because of famines, and difference of opinion with his nephew, Lot, and other circumstances, Abraham led the life of a nomad, eventually by a great miracle in his old, old age producing Isaac, the child of the promise. The child who would make possible the fulfilling of the covenant that there would be descendants who would eventually occupy Canaan.
And then inexplicably, God spoke to Abraham again, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori’ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” And Abraham obeyed. Here I am. As you wish. Of course, we know that God did intervene to save Isaac, so we can’t say that he was sacrificed – actually we can say he was bound. But the point is, Abraham did what he was told, without question. In spite of the confusing circumstances.
And now, more than four hundred years later, we meet Moses, an outcast, living in the desert, tending sheep. He’s in exile because he’s a murderer, and neither his own Hebrew people nor his adopted Egyptian people want anything to do with him. He’s an unlikely leader, to say the least. But God appears to him. Moses can see the angel – that is the messenger – of the Lord and the bush that burns and is not reduced to ashes. Naturally, this gets his attention, and he turns towards it. And the Lord speaks, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Here I am. I’m at your service. This sounds familiar. God has called Moses, and Moses has responded. Something important is about to happen, and we can expect that it has to do with Abraham and the promise, and probably with God’s whole history with downtrodden, enslaved people.
God continues, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy ground. You are in the presence of God. The awesome, overwhelming, frightening, inspirational presence of God. So do something – take off your shoes – to show that you know this. And Moses hides his face, because pure holiness is too much for a mere human to look at. Moses didn’t know it yet, but holiness is exactly what this awe-inspiring, holy God is going to call all of his people to show the world. They are to become a community that is known for its holiness, its justice and charity and goodness. A community that will be blessed so that they can bless the whole world. God told Abraham about being blessed and blessing the world, but now we are going to find out how that promise can be realized!
And yes, this is the God that made the promise to Abraham speaking. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”, He says. And Moses knows that, even though there have been many, many hard years of slavery in Egypt, God has not forgotten the promise that He made to Abraham so long ago. In fact, God makes that promise to Moses again. Right here at the burning bush, God tells Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” Same land, same promise. God has not forgotten his people, even if it has seemed so for a long, long time! God has come down to deliver his people and to bring them up. What a promise!
So, says God, Go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Not just go to Pharoah and demand that the people be let go, but lead them out and all the way to Canaan! I don’t know about you, but I do know that I would have no idea how to accomplish that feat, and Moses didn’t either. This is such a bold, and unexpected request, for which Moses has no real preparation – remember he’s an outcast, criminal herding sheep in the desert. So, it is hardly surprising that even though God has a great idea about getting his people out of Egypt finally, Moses is pretty sure he’s not the man for the job. I mean really, I couldn’t even have imagined leading little St. Stephen’s! Much less a huge band of refugee slaves – who might reasonably fear a noted criminal – through the desert! Could you?
So, Moses offers up five objections – only two of which are included in our reading today. “Who am I to do this huge thing?” I’m nobody. I’m less than nobody. You do know about my unsavory history, don’t you, God? “I will be with you,” says God, “and you will know that I am with you because you will serve me again right here again. At Sinai.
Moses recognizes that he has been talking with the one God, the God who made the promise to Abraham, but he wants to know God’s name. To give authenticity to his testimony to Pharaoh and the people, apparently, and God replies, rather cryptically, I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Now a library full of books has been written about what this “I am” is all about, so suffice it to say that God is powerful, faithful, ever-present, the one who creates, and who causes everything to be, But, says God, you could also sum that up nicely by saying ‘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, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Here ends the reading, but not the story. As you know, it’s a long story, but it does take Abraham’s descendants to Canaan, and beyond. And there are all kinds of setbacks and complications, but eventually Someone who says “I am the way, the door, the light…” comes down to deliver his people and bring them up to heaven!
And that “I am”, Jesus told a parable, a story about a tree wasn’t doing exactly what it should. And that tree faced the real possibility of being cut down because it wasn’t producing fruit. It wasn’t useful. But a kind and patient and loving gardener gave it one more year. He worked with it and fed it and cared for it. He had hopes for it. He gave more time. To see if it still might answer its call.
Like God, finding an important use for exiled Moses, or Linda, who almost quit. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you are doing now, you can always change your direction. May your Lent continue to be a time of blessed change. Amen.