Who Am I?: Sermon for August 31, 2014

Exodus 3:1-15

3:1 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.

3:2 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.

3:3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

3:4 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.”

3:5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

3:6 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.

3:7 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,

3:8 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.

3:9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.

3:10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

3:12 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.”

3:13 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?”

3:14 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.'”

3:15 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 forever, and this my title for all generations.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you, o God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

When I was a kid, in elementary school, there were a lot of words I couldn’t pronounce the right way. (And not just because I was from the South.) I had a speech impediment, and so once a week or so I had to go meet with the speech pathologist. And she would try to get me to concentrate on saying “s” correctly, or making sure my “f’s” and “th’s” sounded different.

And, she was good at what she did, and my speech did eventually become clearer, but I also became incredibly self-conscious about speaking in public. I was always worried that when I talked my mistakes were all that people heard.

10351450_801313973254536_63441642393740313_nThe whole prospect of public speaking scared me to death. And I remember very clearly making a decision as a child that whatever I did when I grew up, I would never take any kind of job that required me to stand up in front of people and talk.

There’s an old saying that we make plans and God laughs. I think God laughed pretty hard when I made this promise to myself that day. Because the truth is that our best laid plans often don’t quite match up with God’s.

Moses knew what that was like. When you think about Moses you might think of him telling Pharaoh “let my people go”, or parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mt. Sinai with the two stone tablets and the 10 Commandments. You might think of Moses as a strong leader. A man of faith. A liberator.

And he was all those things. But first he was this. A baby who escaped death because his mother put him in a basket in a river. A boy who grew up in the royal household not knowing his heritage. A teenager with a conflicted identity who saw injustice and in a moment of rage killed a man. And a young man who had fled, and who in exile resigned himself to tending his father-in-law’s sheep.

It was while he was out with the sheep one day that things changed for Moses. He’s grazing the sheep and he sees this bush that is on fire. And that’s concerning, but even more concerning is the fact that while the fire is raging it doesn’t actually seem to be burning up the bush. Moses goes to take a closer look and once God has Moses attention, because sometimes for some of us we need big signs like randomly burning shrubbery, God calls to him.

“Moses! Moses!”

And Moses says, “Here I am.” And God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground. And then God says “I’m the God of all your ancestors…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…that’s me. And I know what’s been going on. I know what you and all of my people have been going through in Egypt. I know about the suffering and the slavery and the beatings and the injustice. And, more than that, I’m going to stop it. I’m going to take all of you and bring you out of Egypt and to a place flowing with milk and honey.”

Sounds pretty good, right? God knows how bad things have been. God is going to put a stop to it. God is going to save God’s people. This must have all sounded like good news to Moses. Until God says this: “And I’m going to send you to Pharaoh to take care of this, okay?”

And that’s when Moses asks the big question: “Who am I that I should be the one to go to Pharaoh and lead the people out of Egypt?”

“Who am I?” It’s the big question. We all ask ourselves that. And Moses had reason to ask. He was a refugee who had fled after killing a man. But even without that, he did not think of himself as a leader. He was just a guy who watched his wife’s father’s sheep. He didn’t really belong with the Hebrews, didn’t really belong with the Egyptians, and didn’t really belong with the people in Midian. And, Scripture tells us, he was “slow of speech” which meant that he probably had some sort of speech impediment to boot.

This is the guy God chose to go talk to the Pharaoh and then lead his people for forty years in the wilderness? Moses was probably the last guy you would expect, and Moses himself knew it.

And so when Moses says “who am I”? it’s not a ridiculous question. It makes sense.

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever felt called to do something big, something meaningful, but you haven’t felt qualified? I think we all have. I think we’ve all had a time when we have counted ourselves out of the game before we even tried because we just didn’t feel like we were good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough. Moses got what that felt like. And that’s why he asked his big question: “Who am I?”

Now, here’s the kicker: did you notice that God doesn’t answer him? Hardly confidence-inspiring, is it? Instead, when Moses says “who am I”, God says this: “I will be with you.”

God doesn’t say “Moses you are good enough,” or “Moses, you have what it takes”. Because God promises something better. God promises God’s presence.

So Moses starts to think about logistics, and he says to God, “If I go to your people, and tell them you’ve told me to lead them out of Egypt, what do I say? What if they ask me who you are? What should I tell them?”

And God says this: “Say, ‘I am who I am’ and tell the Israelites that ‘I am’ has sent me to you. This is my name.”

“I am who I am”. What’s that supposed to mean? Is it a riddle? Is it God dodging the question? It sure doesn’t sound like a name.

But in Hebrew “I am who I am” translates into a name for God that you may have heard before. It’s is pronounced “Yahweh”. And among the most Orthodox of our Jewish sisters and brothers that name is so holy that it is never spoken out loud. And if it is written on paper that paper must be treated with respect. In fact in college I had a professor who was an Orthodox rabbi who asked us that we give him our textbooks if they were damaged because they contained God’s name and it was so holy that he would bury them out of respect.

It was striking how deeply he cared and it took me a while to realize that it’s wasn’t just the actual name itself that made it holy. It’s what it means: I am who I am, which at its essence just means this: God is.

Of all the things we can say about God: God is great, merciful, gracious, loving, eternal, Triune, and we could go on and on…none of them are completely accurate. Because on their own they can’t be. No matter what words we can put on God, they will never accurately convey the vastness of who God is. We will never completely get it. And so the most faithful thing we can say is what God said: God is. “I am who I am.”

That’s what God tells Moses before God sends him to do something incredible. Moses asks “Who am I?” and God says “I am with you”. Moses asks “what’s your name” and God says “I am”.

And that’s the sum of it. God is. And God is with Moses. And God is with all of us. And because of that, sometimes ideas as crazy-sounding as going and asking the Pharaoh to leave and take everyone with you work out. Because God is with you.

The name of the book this story is told in is Exodus. It was originally written in Hebrew but later it was given this Greek name. And Exodus literally means “a way out”. And that’s what God created through Moses; a way out for God’s people. God took this most unlikely of heroes and made him capable of amazing things. God did that. Because God is. And God was with Moses.

So who was Moses? He was someone that the great “I am” had chosen to be with. And who are you? You are someone God is with too. At your core, that is what defines you more than anything else in life. That is how God answered Moses’ question, and that is how God answers us all: I am, and I am with you.

And so maybe, despite our shortcomings, despite our faults, we are enough. And maybe God can use us in some ways we have never imagined. It’s easy to give all the reasons why we can’t succeed. It’s easy to give all the reasons why we won’t even try. It’s easy to accept defeat before the first step is taken. But when we do that, we forget who is with us, and who God is.

And so here’s my challenge this week. What if every time you tried to step out in faith and then asked yourself “who am I?” or “what makes me think I’m up to this challenge” or “why did I ever think I could do this”, what if every time a question like that comes up, what if you didn’t answer? And what if instead you just said this: God is. And God is with me.

What if we all did that. Can you imagine what it would be like if we all put our faith into action and trusted that God would be there with us? What would it be like if we believed that God could take the most unlikely among us, and the most unlikely parts of us, and use them for amazing things? I’m not saying it would always be smooth sailing; even Moses wandered around for forty years in the wilderness. But I am saying that if God is really calling us out into the next part of our journey, God is not calling us out alone.

God is. And God is with us. And that is all we need to know. Amen.

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