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    The Great I AM

    God calls Moses and gives his name August 30, 2020
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    Pr. Sebastian

    Today’s sermon is a bit of a continuation of last week’s theme, 

    which was the identity of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. 

    Today we go one step further and ask, well, who is God? 

    When we say “god”, who do we mean? 

    What is God’s name?

    And why does that matter?

     

    Our first reading today, from Exodus Chapter 3,

    is one of the most important passages of the entire Bible.

    This single, small but powerful event, the calling of Moses from the bush, 

    sets the stage for the entire 40 year exodus: 

    the plagues, the escape from Egypt of the Israelite slaves, the wilderness wanderings, the covenant of the law at Mt. Sinai and finally the conquest of Canaan and the entry into the promised Land.

     

    1.

    We have a desperate situation in Egypt, 

    with the Israelites having to provide hard, forced labour, 

    basically being treated as slaves, 

    and they are groaning, 

    they are crying out: how much longer?

    What kind of a life is this when we are treated like second-class citizens, like dirt?

     

    And God hears their cries and laments and remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

    He looks at their situation, takes notice and decides that he will deliver them.

    He just needs a willing partner.

     

    Enter Moses (whose name means “the one who draws out”).

    He would become the greatest prophet and military leader in the entire Israelite history.

    Last week we heard about his birth, amidst the genocide of Hebrew boys, 

    and how he grew up in a life of privilege in the court of the Pharaoh, 

    with help of the Pharaoh’s daughter.

     

    We skipped the part where, 

    out of sense of justice he kills a taskmaster, 

    who happens to be beating a slave.

    Moses flees to Midian, present-day Saudi Arabia, 

    and in exile finds a bride and settles down to form a family.

    But his life was not destined to be the life of a comfortable nomadic family father. 

    God had much in store for him.

     

     

    In our reading this morning we find Moses as a shepherd, 

    tending a flock of sheep, leading them beyond the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God.

    This is a symbolic journey foreshadowing later events: 

    his leading the flock of Israelite people to the wilderness, to Mt Sinai, 

    to receive another revelation from God.

     

    2.

    And at this mountain of God, 

    “an angel appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a thorn bush.”

    And the bush was not consumed by the fire.

     

    I think it’s important not to get bogged down in the literal questions of what kind of fire this is, or what kind of bush this is…

    Like in many bible stories, an angel…or actually God, 

    presents himself in a fire,
    and this is a story about God figuratively shaking Moses by the shoulders, 

    And saying “look here Moses!”

    Moses “experiences the holy.”

    It is a holy and special moment, 

    Standing on holy, sacred ground,

    so much so, that sandals must be removed 

    (just like we see today with Muslims entering a mosque).

    The experience of God is so powerful, that Moses must turn his eyes away, 

    it’s dangerous to look at God. 

    God is so powerful and awesome.

     

    “Moses, Moses!” God calls.

    “Here I am,” Moses replies.

    “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, the God of ancestors, (perhaps forgotten, in the mists of time).

     

    3.

    God tells Moses he has heard the cry of his people, 

    and knows their suffering.

    He will deliver them to a land of “milk and honey” a good land.

    And he will send Moses to do the job.

    Moses is called and sent on with a journey.

    Not something he’s excited about, naturally, it’s a daunting task.

     

    But Moses has a bigger problem beyond his shaking knees.

    If he comes to the Israelites to tell them that God will deliver them out of the hands of their oppressors, 

    They might ask:

    Mr. God who? Who sent you? 

    What is this God’s name that you speak of? 

    On whose authority are you basing this wild and crazy new adventure?

     

    And this is a crucial and important question, that Moses asks.

    (It seems he doesn’t know a thing about this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, about the stories we know of in the book of Genesis.

     

    “What’s your name?”, we ask when we meet someone for the first time.

    To know someone’s name means that you are starting a relationship, 

    as any good salesperson knows.

    To establish a connection, one needs to know who is who.

     

    For example, in a school classroom that is rowdy, 

    it makes all the difference if the teacher knows everybody’s name. 

    Then nobody can hide behind the cloak of anonymity, 

    of the infamous roll call where 3 girls respond to the name Emma.

    A teacher who knows all the student’s names can call the children out and 

    She knows who to send to the principal’s office if needed.

     

    To have a decent relationship, you need to know the other person’s name.

     

    For example, if you’re receiving an email, 

    the very first line is the “From” line…

    you want to know who the message is from.

    Even getting a letter in regular mail, you want to know who sent it,

    because it makes all the difference.

    Is the letter from a lover, 

    Or a random company who wants your money, 

    Or a bill from one of your utility providers?

    Knowing who sends the message makes all the difference.

     

    God is known in relationship with humans and humans know God because they know his name.

    If you know someone’s name: you can call them for help.

    Like when a toddler cries out “Mommy!” in the middle of the night and this immediately wakes up the parent and sends them rushing into the child’s room.

    Calling upon God, with their name, 

    can invoke their presence and bring aid.

    When we have a name to call out, we can get a response.

     

    So by giving out his name, his calling card, as it were,

    God is saying to Moses and us:

    I’ll be there

    When you call me.

     

    “Call upon the name of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,” as we hear of in the Psalms.

     

    And so what is God’s name?

    Well, it’s pretty mysterious.

     

    4.

    I AM.

    You can translate the Hebrew in different ways.

    “I am who I am”

    Is the simplest.

    Or

    “I will be what I will be”

    Or

    “I will be whatever I will be”

     

    I Am who I am = implies that God is the ground of his own existence.

    God simply is.

    God is not a being that was created.

    God is not one of many gods on a list.

    God just is.

    And God is manifest, is revealed, in the past, present, and future.

    God is beyond time.

     

    “I am who I am”

     

    But in this giving of the name,

    God is also playing a little coy, and saying:

    “just because you know my name now, doesn’t mean you can control me. 

    I am so beyond you.”

    “I will be whoever I will be” means that 

    “while I will graciously reveal my name to you, I will not be bound or defined by it.”

    God can’t be summoned like a genie in a bottle.

    God can’t be hailed like a taxi.

     

    God’s name is not a Tom, Dick or Harry name.

    God’s name is tied up into the very fabric of existence.

    Some might say, that God is existence. 

     

    And since God is eternal, and beyond time and space,

    God is also saying

    I am: I will be with you.

    Nothing can separate me from you.

     

     

    ——-

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    5.

    This profound experience that Moses had at the burning bush with the Ground of existence, the God who calls himself “I AM”

    reminded me of a series I’ve been watching a bit on Apple TV + called “The Greatness Code”. 

    This series interviews world-famous athletes to ask them about the game or the time when “it all came together” and they felt true greatness, 

    for which they are idolized by millions.

     

    In the first episode, LeBron James, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever, recalls a game against Boston in 2012

    where he was finally able to calm down the nagging self-doubts that he wasn’t be able to perform well under pressure. 

    As he said: “I just felt nothing” amidst the rowdy and antagonistic Boston crowd. 

    He just played and didn’t worry or get distracted.

    He went on to score 45 points that day and cement his reputation as a superstar.

     

    In another episode, Tom Brady, star quarterback, talks about a game where all his teammates were completely aligned, and every play they attempted succeeded.

     

    These superstar athletes talk about these games as if they were treading on holy, sacred ground. 

    They tell the story of the time where everything suddenly became clear to them what they had been working on for many years.

    It was an epiphany moment for them.  A revelation or great realization.

    A game, or a moment which encapsulated so much of their struggles and then eventual success.

     

    I see Moses’ encounter on the Mountain of God as a similar story of greatness.

    In this story it suddenly becomes clear what his life’s goals will be:

    he is changed from just a regular shepherd into a pastor, a savior, a leader, and a prophet.

     

     

    I think many of us have a similar defining story that we sometimes tell ourselves, or our close friends and relatives, 

    A story that defines who we are, and the choices we made.

     

    Of quitting a job with an abusive boss and realizing, that you’re better than people have told you that you are.

    Of having a teacher or mentor with whom you really clicked, and realizing, oh, this is a profession I’d really enjoy to be in.

    Or of seeing your first grandchild and realizing how awesome this circle of life really is and how grateful you are, for having lived this long.

     

    Perhaps my most defining stories revolve around a series of dreams I had as I was seeking endorsement to go into seminary.

    In these dreams I felt God’s closeness and God’s comfort, and encouragement in pursuing the next steps.

    In my times of trouble, in my hour of need, 

    God was there to give me a sense of tranquility and assurance 

    that “all will be well”.

     

    Perhaps even you can recall a time when you felt closest to God, 

    and sensed God’s presence, 

    and perhaps grasped a bit of God’s existence so close to your own.

    Possibly your own “burning bush experience.”

     

    Maybe that’s why you’re listening to this sermon today, 

    hoping through this Golden Hour to regain a glimpse of that inner peace and awareness that you are not alone in this existence 

    because the great I Am, 

    the one “who is and always be” is there by your side, 

    through these scary pandemic times, 

    with frightening nationalistic rhetoric coming from south of the border, 

    with a society changing rapidly and the old familiar “normal” slipping away.

     

    6.

    God calls, and humans respond.

    God is revealed in times of trouble, when people cry out in pain, 

    out of fear, out of anger over injustice.

    God is one who hears our cry in this pandemic.

    He is not a punisher, nor a slave-driver.

    But a deliverer.

    One who reveals himself in times of trouble.

    God is there for us, just like he was for Moses and the Israelites.

     

    And so we can pass through this valley of the shadow of death,

    Through the howling wilderness,

    And pursue our way, confident,

    That the Great I AM,

    Who was, and is and will be,

    Is there with us now and always.

    Amen.

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