Who Are You?
In this morning's gospel, Jesus is doing what he typically does when people point out the faults of others - he holds up a mirror. Because one of the challenges of discipleship is always examining the motivations of our own hearts, our own words and actions.
And the good news of the gospel is even though its hard work, it will lead to an abundance of fruit - of gifts. Just like a patient farmer God will give us time to prune back what we don't need and cultivate what we do.
Moses is an inspiring and relatable example for us this morning in his famous encounter with God in the burning bush. Moses is not at all eager to answer God's call and live into his gifts as a liberator of people. Moses does a better job of rattling off all the reasons why he isn't up to the task. That is a habit many of us share - its easy to name what we get wrong, what are sins are - than it is to name what gifts we've been given and how they have born fruit in our lives and the lives of others.
In total, Moses lists five reasons why he is not up to the challenge and perhaps some of his reasons will sound familiar to you.
The first – Who am I? Moses doesn’t believe that he has any ability to do what is being asked of him. To go before Pharaoh and say – Let my people go. True, it is a big challenge but it's not impossible. It will require risk, courage, change. When we ask "Who am I? I can't do this!" Its as if we know we are going to be different on the other side of that endeavor, and like any unknown, that can be scary.
The second – Who are you? Moses wants to be able to say something definitive about God. He wants the authority of a name to point to. These two questions I believe are intertwined throughout our lives...more on that in a minute.
Next, he starts getting whiny, complaining that the people might not believe him or listen to him. Then he says he can't because he's never done it before and he won't know what to do. And finally he just begs God to choose someone else.
Even though Moses puts up all these defenses and tries to get out of what he’s being asked to do, I think on some level God's call is a response to something Moses has been searching for his whole life. Maybe he couldn't even name it. Because he already tried to liberate one person - he just chose the wrong way to do it.
Before Moses was married and settled and tending his father-in-law’s sheep – he took the life of an Egyptian. He had seen the forced labor of the Israelites – he had seen unfair working conditions and oppression. You’ll remember that Moses was taken by the Pharaoh's daughter as her son and raised in that household. And we read (Exodus 1-2) that “one day, when Moses had grown up – he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinfolk. He looked this way and that – and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day – he saw two Hebrews fighting and he said to the one in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew.” And that man answered, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Uh-oh. Moses flees, terrified everyone will know his sin and Pharaoh will kill him - which is how we got to Moses tending the sheep. But, that question he is asked - who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you think that's what Moses wanted when he killed the Egyptian? To become another Pharaoh? I don't. Of course, I completely disagree with his course of action, it was a reactive choice and ended a life. He did act because he saw someone being beaten. He did act because he is confused about who he is and what his place is in that society. Deep down I think he wanted to do right, but got it wrong, and can't all of us relate to that?
And that sin comes to the forefront of his heart and mind when he hears the voice of God and sees this incredible fire. I think its one reason that when he stands in front of this burning bush – he hides his face, afraid to look at God.
There is a proverb – fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (9:10). That to me is what is happening here. Moses is at the very beginning of understanding the wisdom of God which is intricately connected to the question all of us ask - who am I?
The more we question who God is, the more we will grow in understanding who we are. When God first tells Moses God's name he says, I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Traditionally, this name of God was understood to mean if you want to know God then you have to personally investigate God just like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did! You have to have your very own relationship with God, that is the only way to know.
But that name isn't enough for Moses, so he asks again - who are you? And God replies - I am what I am. Literally it is the ancient Hebrew of the verb “to be.” And it can be translated in several ways - I am who I am or - I will be what I will be – or He who is – or who will be – or who causes things to be.
To name God – to conceptualize God as a being with a name – like you and I are beings with names – cannot be done. As one theologian says (Volf) "God is not another piece of furniture you can move about in the room in your head where you hold your concepts." That’s when we box God in.
God is active. God will be. God is. Surely that is the beginning of wisdom.
God will be whenever there is liberation – freedom – love – reconciliation – healing – wholeness. That is the God we need – God who is more than a name – but a reality – a reality that we participate in – a personal awareness through a wide variety of relationships.
This is the authority Moses grows into – the burning bush moment is what opens his eyes – it is the beginning of his story – but it isn’t the last time he has a personal revelation – changes, grows, struggles. It happens in his conversations with God – and in the conversations he has throughout the entirety of his life.
God will be who God will be. We see this in the ongoing ministries of our community. The new ways we deepen and grow relationships among ourselves and our neighbors. You see this reality in your own life when you reflect on the surprises and the changes, the challenges and the obstacles God enabled you to overcome. It is a name that is filled with freedom and promise. God will be who God will be. Who are you going to be as you grow in life with God? Amen.