The Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
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. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Let review what we know of Moses’ life up to this point. He was born in a time when the Pharaoh was waging genocide against the Israelites, killing all the male babies. He was put into a basket by his mother and floated down the Nile. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who raised him as her own. He grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace and was educated and trained to be a prince and warrior. At some point he learned that he was in fact a Hebrew. When he was forty years old, he saw an Egyptian work foreman beating a Hebrew. He lost his temper and killed the Egyptian. When he found that he was known to be the killer, he fled across the Sinai to Midian. There he protected some young women from a gang of men. He was invited to join the ses household by the women’s father, Jethro. For the next forty years he lived with Jethro, married one of the daughters, and tended the sheep. He eighty years old when, one day, he sees a bush that is on fire, but not consumed.
This is really two stories combined into one. One story is and epiphany story. Moses sees the burning bush and turns aside for a closer look. God calls to Moses using his name. God tells him to take of his shoes because he is on holy ground. He then reveals that this is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses’ own ancestors. God reveals something of Godself to a human being. Moses is awed and covers his face.
The second story is a call story. God calls Moses to a task: to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. It is important to note that God did not arbitrarily decide to rescue the Israelites from the oppression of their slavery. God responds to the cries of his people. God pays attention. “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.” God rarely acts directly; God prefers to use human agents to carry out the divine purpose. “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses thinks this is lousy idea for a number of reasons. First, he is eighty years old and not looking for a new career. Second, in Egypt they may still want him for murder. Thirdly, he has no credentials to show the Israelites so that they would follow him.
It is this last problem that Moses raises to God. 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 responds, “I am who I am. 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 forever, and this my title for all generations.”
I find this a frightening reading this morning. In two weeks, I will be retiring. H ave spent nearly forty years in parish ministry. The last thing I want is to have God tell me I have another job to do. Especially if it is going to take another forty years.
More seriously though, is what this story says about God. First, how God responds to Moses request for the divine name is instructive. God does not exactly answer. God says, “I am who I am. In my irreverent moods, I call this the Popeye name. The Hebrew is very ambiguous. It could also mean, “I will be who I will be” or “I am becoming who I am becoming.” Hebrew does not really have tenses like past, present, and future. Instead it has completed action represented by the perfect and ongoing action represented by the imperfect. The divine name seems to be a form of the imperfect of the verb “to be.” that suggest that God is changing. God cannot be put in a box. God cannot be defined by a set of statements. God is always on the move. God responds to changes in the relationships God has with the people of God. St. Augustine famously said that what you know about God is not God.
Second, God defines Godself in terms of relationships. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites are God’s people. Because of this relationship God does give Moses a name by which they can call upon God: Yahweh. To tell someone else your name is to reveal something of yourself and to give the other some power of you. Frederick Buechner writes:
Buechner. It is my name. It is pronounced Beekner. If somebody mispronounces it in some foolish way, I have the feeling that what’s foolish is me. If somebody forgets, I feel that it’s I whom am forgotten. There something about it that embarrasses me in just the same way that there’s something about me that embarrasses me. I can’t imagine myself with any other name—Held, say, or Merrill, or Hlavacek. If my name were different, I would be different. When I tell somebody my name, I have given him a hold over me that he didn’t have before. If he calls it out, I stop, look, and listen, whether I want to or not.
In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is Yahweh, and God hasn’t had a peaceful moment since.
Finally, God calls us to carry out God’s purposes. Here we are in the middle of Lent. We are meditating on who we are with God. How we doing as disciples? Some of you may be worrying about how St. Michael’s will in the months when there is no priest in the office. Covid still is not over. We are also watching with horror as Putin tries to carry out his purposes on Ukraine. At a time like this the words of bishop Steven Charleston come to mind:
Now is the moment for which a lifetime of faith has prepared you. All of those years of prayer and study, all of the worship services, all of the time devoted to a community of faith: it all comes down to this, this sorrowful moment when life seems chaotic and the anarchy of fear haunts the thin borders of reason. Your faith has prepared you for this. It has given you the tools you need to respond: to proclaim justice while standing for peace. Long ago the Spirit called you to commit your life to faith. Now you know why. You are a source of strength for those who have lost hope. You are a voice of calm in the midst of chaos. You are a steady light in days of darkness. The time has come to be what you believe.
Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” There are burning bushes all around us. Which one will I see today?
E. Bevan Stanley