Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/C8Yku-iYbNk)
23After 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. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God 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. 2There 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. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When 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.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He 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.
7Then 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, 8and 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. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He 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.’
13But 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?’ 14God 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.”’ 15God 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.
10But 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.’ 11Then 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? 12Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ 13But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ 14Then 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. 15You 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. 16He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. 17Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.’
Who is God? If I were to go around this sanctuary and ask each of you this question, I’m sure I’d get a different response every time. God is more than a person, more than a name, more than a certain time and place, more than anything we could imagine…God is simply more. We each have our own understanding of who God is that is completely unique to each one of us. This is because we each have a unique experience with God. None of us share the same experience of God. None of us know God in exactly the same way as another person. God is different to me than He is to each of you. Sometimes He is less, sometimes He is more, but He is always different. The God I know is different than the God that Abraham knew…or Isaac…or Jacob…or Moses. And yet He is the same God that has always been and will always be. He gives the same love and grace and mercy to us as He did to those great leaders of scripture so long ago. He loves us no more and no less than He loved them. So there are all sorts of contradictions with God: He is the same and yet different; He loves the same and yet differently; He gives the same and yet differently. These contradictions are difficult to wrap our minds around. Indeed, it is probably best to modify the question from, “Who is God?,” to, “Who is God to you?,” and whatever answer we come up with add the two words, “and more.”
It is true, God is more than we could ever put words to. God can’t be defined or named or broken apart or categorized or easily understood. God can’t and won’t be limited by mere words. God is so much bigger than words. God exists beyond words just as He exists beyond time and place. I like to think of God as a reality, an experience, a situation. I like to think that God is all around us and within us and working through us. We are God and God is us…and yet He is more than us! God isn’t limited in ways we are. God is without limits, without barriers, without constraints. We are most certainly limited. We most certainly live within barriers and constraints. Death and sin are mighty barriers and constraints that affect us and not God. We are not God and we will never will be. God is God and we are us, plain and simple.
I ask this question because it is the same question asked of Moses so long ago. It is the same question that compels Moses to ask, “What shall I say to the Israelites?” He didn’t know who God was any more than you or I. He didn’t know how to put God into a nice, neat, little package to share with others. All he had to share was his experience, his reality, his situation. All he could tell them was that God was a burning bush, certainly not something easily understood. Moses had the unenviable task of not only leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians but also of explaining who it was that asked him to do such a fantastic feat. Moses, a man of poor public speaking abilities, was asked to lead God’s people without even an understanding of who God was himself. What a strange and unusual experience for such a strange and unusual man!
Lucky for Moses, God takes away some of the difficulty of defining who God was. He tells Moses, “I am who I am…I am has sent me to you.” Not necessarily a name, not necessarily a help, but an answer nonetheless. And an accurate answer at that, particularly if you believe God is an experience, a reality, a situation. God is most accurately known in the present. God is right here, right now. God exists right here and right now. We mustn’t be so concerned with who God was or will be but rather who he is. God is right here, right now…
Now I realize this is a difficult understanding to grasp. God realizes this too! That’s why He went on to help Moses a little further in answering his million-dollar question: “‘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.” God limits himself and defines himself by the past. He uses past relationships, past realities, past experiences, past situations to explain who He was to Moses. Why? Because we naturally look to the past to help us better understand our present and future. To some degree, the past seems finite, limited, and thus understandable. We like to think we can understand the past easier than the present or future. We like to think the past is set in stone, contained, unalterable. Of course, this is an illusion; the past is just as uncontained and alterable as the present and the future. But God feeds the illusion in the hopes that we might better understand him if only we look to the relationships He had with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Again, who God was to them is different than who He is to us here in this place, at this time. God is the same yet different…
Nonetheless, there are patterns to God’s behavior. Just a few weeks into this new lectionary and we meet yet another unexpected person through whom God works. Abraham, a man well beyond child-rearing age, was asked to become “the father of many nations.” Jacob, a man who stole the rights to Abraham’s land from his brother and father, somehow received God’s blessing and support. And now Moses, a poor public speaker, asked to lead thousands of slaves to freedom in God’s promised land. God sure has a liking for the unexpected among us! God likes to work through unqualified and undeserving people. Again, we see God likes to reveal himself in contradictions. God is the same and yet different. God is revealed through the unexpected and unqualified. The God of our ancestors is the God of our present and future experiences. Our God is a mysterious God indeed!
God reveals himself in the contradictions of our own lives as well. God reveals himself through people we’d least expect. God reveals himself anew each and every day. God finds a way to breath new life and new hope into each of our days. He is the same God revealed to us yesterday as He is today. It is the same love yet new and exciting. Let us give thanks for our God who walks with us today, right here, right now. Let us look for him in people and situations we’d least expect to find him. Perhaps more importantly, let us be open to his revelation regardless of how undeserving and unqualified we think we are. Our God is a mighty God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.