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 forever, and this my title for all generations.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 16:13-20
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Go Where I Send You – a homily for September 3
One of the dangers of hearing a sermon on such a familiar passage that many of us have watched over and over again on the big screen, is that we all think we know exactly what happens in the passage. When we read about Moses we picture Charlton Heston, who by the way, was replaced by Christian Bale in the new movie version of the Exodus story entitled Gods and Kings. The danger is that whether or not the movie depicted it rightly, we assume that we know how it all goes and sometimes movie producers do not worry about biblical or historical accuracy. So I suggest that we look at Exodus chapter three with a conscious effort to hearing the story as it appears in scripture as opposed to how we assume it goes.
This week in Chapter 3 we hear about Moses out tending his father-in-law’s sheep.
So what happened to lead Moses to this place? When we left him last he was a baby being rescued from the water. To recap chapter two…. Moses grew up in the palace of the Egytian Pharaoh he was raised as a prince and yet he was watching out for the welfare of the Israelite people. When he sees an Israelite worker being treated unjustly, he acts on the worker’s behalf; challenging the Egyptian and fighting with him and killing him. Moses goes out the next day to watch over the Israelites and when he tries to settle a dispute it becomes obvious that the two workers are aware that he killed the Egyptian supervisor the day before. When the news gets to Pharaoh, Pharaoh threatens Moses so, Moses leaves – flees the area and ends up at the well where Jethro’s daughters are drawing water. Moses defends the women who are being harassed by some men near the well. Moses marries one of Jethro’s daughters and he stays to work for Jethro.
(Note Moses is born in 1526 and the Exodus happens in 1406). Moses has been working for Jethro about 40 years at this point.
Remember that the children of Israel are waiting for deliverance and that Moses has been doing the everyday work of a shepherd. Things did not just happen overnight. We see the story as an action movie which quickly moves from one scene to the next but I want us to notice that there was patience involved – there was time involved. God’s plan happens in God’s time. We don’t always understand what takes the time but we need to remember that God has not forgotten us. God has a plan that will happen in God’s time.
So while Moses is out tending the sheep he notices a bush that is burning but not consumed by fire. He makes a point to go and find out what is happening with this bush.
Are we too busy going about our own business to be interrupted by God? Do we notice when something is trying to get our attention? Do we take the time to stop and check it out?
The Lord calls to Moses “when he turned aside to see”. If Moses had not stopped, would the Lord have called out to him?
When the Lord calls out to Moses, Moses responds saying, “Here I am”
This is a response of availability.
5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Sandals – are protection – keeping feet safe from things in and on the soil. Sandals are status – many people did not have sandals and sandals then, as shoes today, would show various levels of income. To remove your sandals is to identify with the poor and afflicted – to stand in humility.
When my father was a child – his father went to town and bought the shoes and clothes for everyone for a year – it was not about choosing the fit or the style – it was very practical – it was covering you so that you could do the work around the farm. Others would know that those shoes were not about fashion but about practicality and frugalness.
Are we prepared to shed our shoes and whatever our shoes say about us or provide for us – so that we can stand vulnerable and available before almighty God? Do we recognize that we protect ourselves; putting up defenses – wearing armour around others but that we need to shed that armour – that pretense before God?
God identifies himself to Moses – “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. We don’t know that Moses ever knew his father and yet God starts by saying
I am the God of your father. We know that his father was a Levite – a man from the tribe of Levi – this is the tribe that was not promised land but given the role of the priesthood.
God commissions Moses to go on his behalf I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
And now Moses initial response of availability “Here I am” becomes “Who am I?” Isn’t that our natural response as well.
When God calls we would be most happy to say here I am but, it is not long before we ask, “Who am I to do this thing?” We question God’s wisdom at choosing us. We wonder what would make us a likely candidate to go and do what God asks. Surely there is someone more suited to the task. There must be someone with better qualifications. Maybe we are able to look at the call of Moses and see how obvious it is that God has prepared him especially for this task.
Moses with his foot in both worlds – A Hebrew raised in the Egyptian palace – he would know how to go before the Pharaoh – he might even already have some rapport in the king’s court. He has clearly already shown himself concerned with the welfare of others – in protecting the Hebrew slaves to the point of death and then protecting Jethro’s daughters at the well.
But, when the call comes for ourselves it can be much more difficult to see how God has been preparing us and the circumstances around us. We quickly question, “Who am I?”
God responds to Moses, “I will go with you”. And that is what we need to hear today as well. God says to you and I, “Go where I send you and I will go with you”. Moses continues to ask some questions – If the people ask me who sent me, then what do I say? Basically he is asking, “what is your name, God?” How do I refer to you so that they will be convinced that I am coming on your behalf?
And God responds, “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 forever, and this my title for all generations.
Please note that God is not “I was”. God is I am – His identity is constant – there is no changing – no evolving – no developing – the God who Moses stands before is the same God who we stand before today.
“I am” is a powerful name. Later in the gospels when Jesus is asked about his identity, He will respond “I am he” and it is a powerful reminder that they are the same God.
We have an interesting play with words in this chapter. Moses responds, “Here I am” and then questions, “Who am I?” and God sums it all up by naming himself, “I am who I am.”
The truth is, it is not important who Moses is – God chose him and uses him but God is the one who is important. God will deliver the children of Israel – Moses has a part to play in it but, it is not something that he can do on his own or in his own strength.
The call of God involves a surrender of self. We hear this especially today in the gospel lesson. Peter has an idea of how things are going to happen. He will defend Jesus against any sort of surrendering or suffering and yet Jesus recognizes this is not the way God has planned. To suffer and die is the very thing that Jesus needs to do. And so, Jesus rebukes Peter and proceeds to explain God’s plan. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” God calls us from selfishness or self-centeredness towards his plan – his concerns. God points to those things that He is concerned about.
And the more we notice those things, the more we empathize with others, the more we are aligning our will with his. This is what it means to take up our cross – to focus on those things that are on God’s heart – to reorient our lives toward the Kingdom of God.
God calls us today saying, Go where I send you – I will go with you and if anyone asks who has sent you, you should respond “I am who I am”. We go into the world to offer God’s grace and mercy and deliverance and we go knowing that wherever we go, God goes with us. Amen.