A lot has happened since Moses was rescued from the Nile. He has grown up, killed a man, fled for his life, married a Midianite woman, and become a shepherd. All that in a few short passages of scripture. Funny how quickly our life can be summed up. There are other ways of summing up Moses life since the days of his infancy—adopted son of royalty, brought up a prince, murderer, a felon on the run wanted by the law, and hiding in the wilderness. Or one might think of him as a misunderstood young man trying to figure out who he is and acts rashly killing an Egyptian in an attempt to identify with his people, the Israelites, flees for his life and finds stability and purpose through marriage. Or maybe—a man whose birth tribe, the Hebrews, reject him; he is scorned by his adopted people, the Egyptians; and then, resides as an alien amongst foreigners, the Midianites.
No matter how you fill in the gaps of Moses young adulthood—there is always something left wanting. Maybe he was a spoiled rich prince, or a lawless youth, or a scared boy not sure of who he is or whose he is—I think he was all of those things. A young man searching for identity, pushing back against an authority he wasn’t sure he believed in, and acting against the injustices of a society he no longer trusted. That’s what has happened since we last met Moses down by the riverside. Moses has been trapped in a world bound by Pharaoh’s fear and yet he knows there has to be something better, something freer—the world cannot just be what Pharaoh has bound. And one day he discovers that there can be more to this world and he opens himself to new possibilities.
Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock. He leads them beyond the wilderness to the foot of Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, where his curiosity and courage are ignited by an unnatural occurrence—a bush burning yet not consumed. And in that moment of courage and curiosity, a moment in which Moses is willing to see the world in a new and different way, he encounters God.
You know, really, it shouldn’t have been Moses. He wasn’t worthy. He had killed a man—and not just any man, he had killed a man of authority. He was a wanted felon—this is the guy that God is going to use to set his people free? I feel sure there must have been someone worthier—maybe a slave who had stuck to the old ways of the YHWH cult, who had remembered the God of his ancestors. Someone who had an inner strength and social capital amongst the Hebrew people—not this outsider, raised a prince, and turned a murderer. Even Moses will ask that questions of God—“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I that I should do these things—you say you’ve seem how the Egyptians oppress them, did you not see how I killed one of them? Do you not know that I am a wanted man? Did you not see how my own people rejected and denied me? Who am I to do this thing?!
But God doesn’t see us the way we see one another or even the way we see ourselves. God always sees what we can do, not what we have done. God sees our potential and possibilities, not our past failures or limited focus. God is not bound; he is loosed and he will always work to loose us for the greater work he calls us too. So it is with Moses that day at the foot of the mountain of God. In the midst of the impossible God calls to Moses and looses him from all that he has done by inviting him into this new world of possibility—a world in which Moses can invite others to be loosed as well.
Moses objects to this hefty responsibility, “Who am I [to do this]?” And God replies, “I will be with you.” Moses still hesitates, “But I don’t know your name.” And God replies, “I AM WHO I AM.” Moses has tried to narrow the scope of what his life could be, but God will not let him bind himself to his fear or insecurities. He will open a way and in so doing puts a life-giving claim upon Moses instead of the claim of death that Pharaoh had laid upon him. Yes, it will be risky. It will be unpopular. It will take great courage and even greater faith. It will not be perfect or easy and God doesn’t actually promise success at the start. But he does promise his presence, “I will be with you.” And maybe that is all we can ever hope for when we face the challenges of this world.
In the midst of all that is wrong with the world, God sparks a little light—a small bush consumed by flame—in order to kindle the fire of change and transformation. God never accepts the status quo—he will not be limited by pandemics or politics or racism. He will burn faithfully not because we have faith in him, but because he has faith in us. We are not defined by what our ancestors believed, or pandemics, or political maneuvering—as Christians, we are defined by God. The answer to the question “Who am I?” Always begins with the words “I am…” We are inherently part of God as members of the body of Christ. God does not value us based on our usefulness, but he desires us to be part of his kingdom and calls us to each do our part in the building up of that kingdom here in this earthly realm.
We are still wandering in the wilderness of pandemic. We see the abuses of task masters who are bound by fear as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to experience injustice and oppression. We are on the edge of political campaigns that cause us to be distracted by the power and authority of an earthly world that seems to have forgotten the power and authority of the heavenly one. We may not encounter God in supernaturally burning bushes, but his presence is thick in the air around us. He has observed the misery of his people, he has heard the cries of the abused and mistreated, he knows our sufferings. He is the great, “I AM.” Amen.
13 Pentecost 17A: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, Alabama
Sunday, August 30, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer