| Exodus 3:1-15
|Sun, September 1, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
|Okay ... let's see if I have this right. Moses is minding his own business ... taking care of his in-laws' flock, helping out with the family business. His father-in-law may be the priest of Midian but there is nothing particularly holy about this work. One look at his sandals will tell you that! Moses is simply looking for better pasture, better grazing land when he happens on to Horeb - God's mountain, holy ground, sacred space. Now, poor old Moses has no idea that he has crossed the border into God's reserve ... God's sanctuary ... God's turf. He still thinks that it is another ordinary work day ... another day to punch the clock and hit the rush hour ... another day to pick up the kids and get home in time to help with the chores. If he had even thought that this was to be a holy day he would have at least brought along a clean pair of shoes.
The bush is his big clue that today is going to be different. Not at first, mind you ... he's seen the odd tumble weed alight in this dry land. But never has he seen one that burns all day. The flame on the other side of the valley draws him like a magnet. He is curious. He makes his way closer ... and closer until ... until he hears his own name: "Moses, Moses!". Moses answers ... perhaps tentatively: "Hhhhere, I am". He has no idea whose voice has called ... or what is going on. "Don't step any closer", commands the voice, "and take off those filthy sandals. This is holy land ... I am the God of your ancestors". And Moses does what any self-respecting, self-preserving child of God would do in his place ... he removes his footwear and then hides his face for fear of what might happen were he to shed eyes on the majesty of God.
Now the call of Moses is surely a once only kind of event. Non-consumable burning bushes are not all that common place ... and God's voice is all too rarely heard to speak a direct word. Yet the image of the burning bush will not go away ... it is as if it is burning still. Just look at the United Church crest next time you get a chance. You know the one ... with the dove descending and the Bible open and, sure enough ... there on the right hand side ... a burning bush still in flames and not yet consumed. It is the Presbyterians among us who added it to our family crest. Something about the God who continues to speak, to call, to be revealed in the world led Presbyterians all the way back to Exodus, chapter three ... to Moses' surprising day on the range. Our Presbyterian heritage suggests that they are not alone. Face it, how many of us are surprised to find ourselves here on a long weekend Sunday morning ... mysteriously grabbed at one point in our life by curiosity at some strange presence, some undeniable voice, some sacred Word that broke into the midst of our otherwise muddied up, all too ordinary lives? Remember this past Easter ... remember this chapel packed with people singing and celebrating. Remember the family out for an Easter morning walk with their dog ... minding their own business ... wandering along Chancellor Boulevard when they glanced the crowd through the windows and heard the music all the way out on the street. It was the children who made them cross the street and discreetly wander in to find out what all the commotion was about. Like them, look at how many of us come out of curiosity ... wondering what makes the church tick after all of these years. The strange thing ... the mysterious thing ... the incredible thing ... is that here we find our own names being spoken ... in the Word we recognize our own lives being described, our own minds being addressed, our own hearts being called into service.
In that call the gospel is present in a nutshell. As Moses listens, the Great and Holy God says: "I have seen the misery of my people ... I know their sufferings ...their cry has come to me ... I have come to deliver them and to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey". "I have seen ... I have heard ... I will deliver". This is too good to be true ... can God have any idea how long such good news has been awaited ... how many oppressed and abused and abandoned have given up hope in ever hearing such words from the mouth of God? Moses, on the lamb after killing an Egyptian security guard, must think it good news ... fine news ... great news ... until the Master's Voice adds one more line to the litany: "I have seen ... I have heard ... I will deliver ... and I will send you ... yes, you". "Me? ... who me ... stand up to Pharoah ... go home as a rebel, lead slaves to freedom ... me ... all on my lonesome?". "Not to worry", comes the reply, "I will be with you every step of the way ... right through the day when you bring them here, to this mountain, to worship". Well, that is the gospel - the good news - in a nutshell, isn't it: God has heard the people's cry and seen their sufferings ... God is delivering them from bondage, saving them from certain death ... and God sends us out, the curious ones who draw near, to do God's bidding. Whatever else our baptism means, it means being sent by God on a mission: to announce what God is up to in the world.
Of course, to do so Moses will need some pertinent information. Namely, he will need to know how to describe this God ... how to prove that it really is God who has given the message. It won't be enough to speak in generic terms: "god said this" and "god said that". No, Moses needs a moniker ... something unique and descriptive ... something like "Father of All" or "The Divine Ruler" or "Mother Nature". Instead he gets a mysterious name that has long since been called the "Tetragrammatron" ... the four consonant title found on God's name tag: "YHWH". "Yahweh". "I AM". It sounds so solid, so stable, so deep. "God is". Fair enough. True enough. We can see the t-shirts now. But wait. This name is like no name we have ever known. It is not a noun ... not even a metaphor. Nor does it describe something solid, stationary, unmoving. No. "Yahweh" is a verb ... it describes activity ... it means something like "I am up to what I am up to ... I am doing what I am doing". It is a name that cannot be tied down. This God cannot be pinned down, summed up and kept in anyone's hip pocket or pocket Bible, for that matter. No wonder the people of the Old Testament soon decide never to say this name aloud ... after all, to use another's first name is to assume that you know them well. Soon we may think that the mysterious One has become familiar ... soon we may forget the otherness of the mysterious "I AM".
Which leaves us with a bit of a conundrum. When we go from here ... when we leave to announce the good news, to tell the world that God has seen the misery, heard the cries, knows the suffering and come to deliver who will we say has sent us? Titles will not do ... God has already ruled that out ... in spite of all our battles over "Father" and "Mother" and "Lord". "The God Who Is Doing Things" sounds a bit peculiar ... a bit odd ... a bit off the wall, don't you think. But it may not be far wrong. Perhaps this is the only way we can name God ... by telling stories about God ... stories that portray this God in action. No wonder we learn the name of God within the epic story of the Hebrews' liberation from slavery. This God is the One who saves, rescues, liberates ... delivers.
And look, we who are also people of the New Testament, we discover the identity of this same God in One whose title is also a mystery. "Messiah" the disciples call him. But not the kind of triumphant Messiah they - or we - expect. No, he is a Messiah whose way leads to suffering ... and whose voice calls us to follow on that way. "I AM the bread of life", Jesus says, "I AM the true vine". Here at his table, the great "I AM" continues to keep the ancient promise to be with Moses when he meets Pharoah, to be with the disciples in every age, to be with the curious become the converted. Make no mistake about it. We may have come here while tending our in-laws' flock or fishing for Galilean trout ... we may have come here simply thinking of ourselves as students or employees or retirees ... but we go out changed. The voice of God calls: "Carry the news to the people ... I have heard, I have come, I will save". At the Table we join Yahweh’s people in every time and place ... those with eyes alert and ears attuned for the One whose name is witnessed in new life emerging out of suffering ... in the promise of freedom made good ... even now.