So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He 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.”
But 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 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.’” 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.
But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.” Exodus 2:23-25; 3:10-15; 4:10-17 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God--our Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer. Amen.
This past summer, when our worship committee made the decision to shift to a new lectionary--to the Narrative Lectionary--it was after we’d spent much of the summer immersed in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures.
I don’t know about your own experiences, but these are the stories I grew up with. The stories that were told to us in Sunday school and in Vacation Bible School. The stories of creation and of the fall, the stories of Noah and the ark, the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the stories of Moses and Israel. First, in Egypt and, then, freed from the bondage of slavery. And on and on and on. There were the stories of our faith, I was told. The stories of who we are as a people.
But, somehow, I could never really connect the dots. What was God’s meta-narrative anyway? How did these stories connect to it? And, more importantly, what was my connection to these stories and to this meta-narrative?
It was only until seminary, in a missiology class, that the light bulb went on.
What that plan is--that meta-plan or meta-narrative--what it is has long been debated among theologians. Generally, though, it can be reduced down into four basic elements: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration.
At the beginning of September, we started at the beginning with the creation story. About how God--a god already in relationship (Creator-Father, Redeemer-Son, Restorer-Spirit)--desired to be in even greater relationship. And so, this relational God creates. God enters into the world and begins to create. To first bring a place of chaos into an ordered world. Then, to populate that newly-created, newly-ordered place. With animals and birds and other creatures. And then with human beings--called to be caretakers of that world. God entered in and created a place of beauty and flourishing. God created a place that was good.
And, then, it all fell apart. Literally.
Beginning with the fall of those first beings and then a continued descent into anger and hatred, murder and devastation. God saw how sin and brokenness was tearing the world--God’s good and beautiful world--apart. Full of wickedness. And falling apart. The result of sin and brokenness.
At first, God regretted God’s creation. Genesis 6:7 tell us that God was sorry he had made creation. God regretted it--but, just a moment. God refused to walk away. Instead, God devised a plan. God’s mission. The misseo Deo, if you like. And that plan started with a remnant of people. Noah and his family. People who continued to follow God, who sought to live out who God desired them to be. Human beings who found “favor in the sight of the Lord.”
So, God started on a plan of redemption. To begin with a remnant of humanity and to form them into a select people. To enter into a covenant with them. A covenant that sought to redeem them and bring them back into full relationship with God. And, then, to expand that to all of humanity.
The story of God seeking to bring redemption to a fallen humanity began with Abraham. It began with Abraham and a promise. A promise that through Abraham this blessed nation would come and that Abraham and his descendants would be blessed so that they could be a great blessing to others.
Today, in our reading, we have an important next step in that redemption narrative, in the formation of God’s people. Last week, we left off with Jacob. Jacob, that son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, who lived so fully into his name. Meaning trickster.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, names are really important in scripture. Jacob’s name would eventually be changed to Israel. Which means “God strives.” It would be through Jacob--through Israel--that God would strive to continue to grow God’s people. To grow them into a nation.
By the time our story begins today, several generations have passed. We have moved out of the book of Genesis (meaning “beginning”) and into the book of Exodus (meaning “departure”). The book begins in Egypt, which is where Jacob would eventually end up. Jacob (or Israel) has grown into a large nation. So, large, in fact, that they are becoming a threat to the Egyptians. Particularly to the political leadership of Egypt, who are watching them grow and become increasingly worried that their own people will become a minority people.
And, so, they begin to oppress Israel. Ruthlessly. The first two chapters of Exodus tell us that the Egyptians made their lives bitter. And that Israel groaned under their slavery. That they cried out. That out of their slavery “their cry for help rose up to God.”
God heard them. We read in the first verse of our lesson today that [read Exodus 2:24-25].
So God devised a plan. To rescue Israel.
Do you notice here that God doesn’t choose to work alone, to rescue Israel alone? God could, you know. God could make that choice. God takes the initiative, develops a plan, but does not work alone. God calls Moses. “Moshe” in the Hebrew, which means “to draw out.” God calls Moses to draw the Israelites out of Israel, out of bondage and servitude, out of slavery.
Then, there’s this amazing dialogue after God calls Moses. Moses doesn’t drop everything and run. He doesn’t immediately agree with God. He raises sharp objections to God over God’s call. Eight objections, to be exact. God never tells Moses to be quiet. Or ignores his concerns. Instead, God responds to each objection in turn. One after the other. It is through this conversation, this dialogue, that Moses gains fuller knowledge. In God’s interaction with a questioning human, God more fully reveals who God is.
It is one of God’s responses to Moses, in particular, that we gain a much deeper understanding of who this God is. When Moses asks God, “When they ask me ‘Who this God’s name is?’ what will I tell them?” God responds with God’s name. For the very first time, in conversation with a questioning Moses, God gives him God’s own personal name.
The Hebrew here is actually untranslatable. Ehyeh-asher-ehyeh. Untranslatable. The earliest recorded understanding of the divine name--of God’s personal name--was as a verb derived from a three-letter stem. The verb “to be”. An absolute Being. Eternal. Unchanging. Dynamic. We know it in English as the Tetragrammaton, which means the “four consonants.” A name that has been translated to mean “I Am That I Am,” or “I Am Who I Am,” or “I Will Be What I Will Be. A name that would be so revered by Israel that, in later Jewish history, they would not say it out loud.
In giving God’s own, personal name to Moses, God is saying to him, “I am entering into relationship with you.” God has called Moses into relationship. And promises “to be” for Moses. Absolute. Eternal. Unchanging. Dynamic.
In the same way, God has called us in our baptisms. Giving us God’s name. Children of God. Entering into relationship with us. And promising, in Christ, “to be” for us. Absolute. Eternal. Unchanging. Dynamic. God’s meta-narrative becomes our micro-narrative. One by one. Redeemed and restored into relationship with God.
And, yet, our story, our micro-narrative, is part of God’s overarching story. A story of salvation. Of God seeking redemption for us in Christ Jesus. It is a story of freedom from bondage. And it is a story of God’s formation of God’s own people. So that we, and all of humanity, might be restored into fullness of relationship with God. Into fullness of relationship with our animals here, with all creatures, and with creation. With God and all of creation.
This is God’s plan. God’s mission. We are part of it. Fully redeemed in Christ, it is our mission, too. Our mission with God to all the world.
May God bless out work together. Amen.
Preached October 1, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Exodus 2:23-25, 3:10-15, 4:10-17; John 8:58.