Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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 for ever, and this my title for all generations.
Where is this Sacred Ground?: Exodus 3:1-15
I love a story about a reluctant hero. And, that is definitely one way to think about Moses. He’s a reluctant hero. A man raised in two cultures: secret son of the brilliant Hebrew woman Jochebed and adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter, he’d had the option to quietly stay in his Pharoah’s good graces. But, he chose to protect someone his adopted grandfather enslaved. And, he killed an Egyptian in the process. Out of guilt and fear for his life, he ran from Egypt, ran from his easy, if complicated life, and settled in Midian. The prince became a shepherd, working his father-in-law's flocks.
Moses had a privileged upbring, but not a lot else at the beginning of this story. In fact, he’s only got a job because his father-in-law gave him one. The main thing he’s going for him was other people were taking care of him. First, his sister and mother. Then, his foster mother and then his father-in-law (though, to be fair, he did help his future wife and sisters-in-law out first). He probably thought this was what his life was going to be like: nestled into a new family, separated from his first family and his adopted family, taking care of sheep. I imagine him being grateful for the tranquility. I also imagine him being surprised and maybe a bit dismayed to be invited back into the action.
One of my favorite parts of Exodus is Moses trying to talk God out of calling him. God says, "I've heard the cries of your people. I'm sending you to tell the Pharaoh to let my people go." Moses says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.?" God says, "I have observed the misery of my people. I will deliver them from their suffering. Go to the Pharaoh. And Moses is like, "The Pharaoh? Really? Because he is not thrilled with me and Pharaohs hold a grudge." God says, "I will be with you. See this burning bush? It's a sign so you know I can do amazing things, even help you go talk to the Pharaoh. So, go. Save your people. We'll meet back here up on this mountain."
Moses, though, is still afraid. He seems keenly aware of just how unqualified he is to be saving anybody. And, he seems all too aware that if he shows up back in Egypt, he's going to need an explanation. After all, if I may quote scholar Karla Suomala, "Moses can’t just run down to Egypt and say that he is working for a talking bush." So, God tells Moses God's name so Moses can tell Pharaoh who sent him and who empowered him. In Hebrew, this name is four simple letters. In English, these four letters are YHWH. It is often pronounced Yahweh.
I have learned from Hebrew scholars that the name Yahweh, rooted in the Hebrew verb "to be," means "I am who I am." It also means "I am what I am" and "I will be what I will be." The translation isn’t clear but that is some of the beauty of it. It is a mysterious name befitting a mysterious God who speaks from burning bushes and pillars of fire. Other scholars have pointed out that this mysterious name does seem to have one foundation idea: living, being, existing in one's identity as a child of God. A God with a name rooted in being is a god of creation and of connection... the God who used more than few scoundrels in the family of Abraham and Sarah to bring Divine blessing to God's people. This is a God who can even work through Moses, a murderer and a shepherd, to bring about liberation to God's people. God says, "I am who I am. And, I will be with you even if you think you can't do the job... even if no one else thinks you can do the job. I think you can. So, go. Save your people."
Moses asked for one more thing in the verses following today’s reading. Even with the sign of the burning bush and the name of God on his lips, Moses feared that his words would not be clear enough. God eventually agreed to send Aaron, Moses’ brother, along, too. Sometimes it’s easier to do hard things with someone else by your side, in addition to God I mean. Eventually, God answered every question and Moses was satisfied enough to do what God asked. It is incredible to watch this reluctant leader and his brother walk right into the court of the most powerful man in his world and demand that he free the people he had enslaved.
Moses isn’t the only one walking on sacred ground. He isn’t the only one who God calls to work for liberation. Right now, refugees are being treated like criminals, caged when seeking asylum, hassled when moving into established neighborhoods. Right now, if we are paying attention, we are hearing the testimonies of Black citizens in our country who are clear that they are not safe with the people who supposed to be paid to protect them. Powerful people seem to be doing their level best to ignore the humanity of their neighbors. Fear, just like in this story, is being used as a weapon. You might see the burning bush that inspires you to action not out in the field with the flocks but on your phone or computer or television.
I imagine that some of us, like Moses, might be tempted to argue our way out of speaking up to the powerful. We’ll say it is too hard or too scary or we just might mess up the words. While we might not be Moses, we can be inspired by Moses. Remember, we don’t have to be perfect to follow God's call. With God's help, we can build on whatever is broken in our pasts to serve our people. We just have to remember that God will be with us, too. Because that's who God is... the one who calls us towards life and connection. So, the next time you feel God's call to liberation and you feel tempted to say "who am I to go to Pharaoh," remember Moses. And, remember that you, too, are a child of the living God. Don’t let your fear keep you from your calling. This ground is sacred, too. And, God stands with us on it.
Resources consulted to write this sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.