I AM

September 3, 2017/Exodus 3:1-15


If you grew up in the church, you most likely heard the story of Moses and the burning bush.  You may have made a little construction paper bush with red paper flames shooting out of it – burning yet not consumed.  You may have thought, like I did, that it was a really cool story.  But the story is about much more than a burning bush – or at least, the burning bush is about much more than God’s doing magic tricks.

When the story begins, we learn that Moses is working as a shepherd.  Leading his flock, he has wandered beyond the wilderness to the mountain of God.  There, on the mountain, he sees a bush that has flames shooting out of it.  The bush is blazing, but the fire does not consume it.  And Moses, being a smart fellow, decides he needs to check it out.  “I must look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.”

Moses quickly discovers that in this burning bush he is witnessing the astonishing power and presence of God.  God called to him out of the bush.  Don’t come any closer, Moses!  And take your shoes off!  You’re on holy ground!

Another minister of my acquaintance takes these words to heart each time she preaches.  You are on holy ground!  And so, stepping into the pulpit, she removes her shoes.  She takes off her shoes and then steps into the holy ground of God’s pulpit.

Take your shoes off, Moses!  You’re on holy ground!

Moses had entered into the presence of God.  He hid his face, afraid to look at God.  Over the centuries, artists have depicted the scene with Moses, bare-footed, covering his face with his hands or throwing himself face first to the ground or cowering in fear.  But Moses did not run from the presence of God.  From the moment God called to him, “Moses!  Moses!” he rested in the presence of God.  “Here I am.”  Here I am.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m scared and I’m overwhelmed, but here I am.

So God continued to talk to Moses.  He spoke of his sorrow at the misery of God’s people in Egypt.  He shared with Moses a vision of a future life for these people in a land flowing with milk and honey.  And he called on Moses to bring this people out of Egypt.

But now Moses was filled with doubt.  Unlike the earlier response, a simple declaration that he was present with God, now Moses wonders how he possibly can free a people who have been enslaved for so long.  “Who am I?” Moses asks God. “Who am I?”

And who are you, that the Israelites will believe that I was sent by God?  When they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob responds simply, say to them, “I AM has sent me to you.”  I AM.  Yahweh.

Thus began Moses’ long relationship with God.  The God-of-the-incredible-bush had revealed God’s self to him as a God who cared about the suffering of his people.  “The God-of-the-incredible-bush cared about Israel, and about justice, and about protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves.”[1]  Moses also learned that this God would not leave him to do this work alone.  “The awesome God-of-the-bush will be with him, so that not even Pharaoh need be feared.”[2]

Moses would express other concerns about God’s plan.  He feared rejection by his own people.  “Suppose they don’t believe me,” he would whine to God.  I’m not a very good speaker, he would complain.  “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  But in the end, despite his fears and hesitations, Moses will embark on God’s grand adventure to return the children of God to their land.

By giving Moses a name to pin on this God-of-the-burning-bush, the great I AM establishes a relationship with Moses that will extend through confrontations with Pharaoh and last through arguments with the children of Israel as they wander through the wilderness for forty years.  Through every trial, protest, and complaint, this God will be with Moses.  Remember this burning bush, Moses.  One day you and my people will return to worship me here.

Each of us has our own burning bush experience.  If you have not yet encountered the God of Moses in a way that is startling and commanding and troubling, get ready.  Your time will come.  When God calls, we might want to run away.  We might head in a different direction, or put God off for a later time.  But eventually, like Moses, we must respond.  “Here I am.”  Here I am, God.  Through us, God will execute justice for the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden.  Through us, God will care for those who cannot protect themselves.  God will use us as Moses in this place and time.  Wherever we walk, wherever we work, wherever we risk, when we do these things in service of the God-of-the-incredible-burning-bush, the great I AM will be with us.

[1] Brueggemann et. al., Texts for Preaching, Year A, 463

[2] Ibid.

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