First Presbyterian Church of Watertown
Text: Exodus 3:1-15 (NRSV)
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. There 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. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When 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.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He 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.Then 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, and 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 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.”
I always imagined Moses as being this larger than life individual. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching movies like the The Ten Commandments, which was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and cast Charlton Heston as Moses. Because who could forget the scene where Moses stood up to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” And who could not remember the scene where Moses stood in front of the Red Sea and parted it in a magnificent fashion. But what we find in this morning’s Scripture reading is something a little bit different. We find Moses, who fled from the land of Egypt after having killed an Egyptian overseer. We find that the ancient Hebrew people are still suffering under the reign of Pharaoh. We find God calling Moses to go out and set the ancient Hebrews free telling them that it was “I AM WHO I AM” who sent him. But how can we know “I AM WHO I AM” if we aren’t even sure of who we are?
It’s easy to lose ourselves in the business of life. It’s easy for us to forget who we are when we see all of the pain and suffering that is around us in our local community and in our world. It’s easy for us to lose sight of what God calls us to do when there are a million other things on our checklist of things that need to get done. And like Moses, we are only trying to get through life one step at a time. We’ve had our fair share of trials. We’ve done what we needed to do in order to scrape together a life for ourselves. And when we think that everything is finally in order, we run into the unexpected. We run into God who eventually turns our life upside down in order to get us going in the direction we are meant to go. I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that that encounter with God, that encounter where God calls us to go somewhere else or do something else, can be be pretty terrifying.
If I invited you over to my house you would still find traces of cardboard boxes and unorganized piles, which I am quickly trying to finish as my mother is visiting me this upcoming Saturday. This period of moving and transition, though, has been much more than an exercise in packing and unpacking boxes. Because I don’t know about anyone else who remembers the first time they had to move, but for me at least this whole experience has also been a time of rediscovering who I am as a person and who I am as someone who has entered into a life of ministry. Don’t worry… I’m not having a crisis of identity, but sometimes we need those moments in our lives where there is an event that helps us put everything into perspective and allows us to reconnect with who we are and who God calls us to be. And that is where we find ourselves this morning as we see Moses standing before God who is revealed to be in the burning bush.
It’s possible that Moses was looking for a lost member of his flock when he came across God in the burning bush at Mt. Horeb. Moses at this point was already settled into his new life. He was married to Zipporah, whose father was the priest of Midian. It would seem that all was going well for Moses, but I wonder if he ever looked back at his life in Egypt and wondered what happened or was happening to those he left behind. But getting back to the narrative this morning, when Moses comes to realize that it was God, the God who watched over him as he floated down the River Nile as an infant, the God who had heard the cries of the ancient Hebrews, Moses becomes terrified as he is reminded of who he is as God calls him by name. Who could blame Moses for being terrified? This was quite a change of pace from herding livestock. And while I don’t think this is in Scripture, I wouldn’t be surprised if Moses wasn’t crossing his fingers hoping that this encounter with God wouldn’t be the start of a grand mission.
What I always found the most intriguing was the part that comes next, the part where God says to Moses, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” What is holy ground, and is it important for us to recognize what is holy ground? While I was serving a Presbyterian church in South Korea I quickly realized that there was a set of traditions and customs that were not a part of my experience of being Presbyterian. Each Sunday before walking up to the chancel, the front part of the church, the leaders would take their shoes off and put on a separate pair of slippers. It was almost like a line of demarcation… The chancel was considered to be a holy place where reverence had to be shown, while anything outside of the chancel area was considered “normal” ground. It may seem like a bit much, but I thought that it was an interesting ritual, because there was a physical action that reminded those who walked up to the chancel of who they were in the presence of God. So who are we in the presence of God and what ground do we claim to be holy?
This morning as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that it is every square inch of creation that has been deemed holy. As God sent Christ into the world we are able to enjoy the fact that we are able to take part in the God’s continuing work of renewing and redeeming of the created world. Therefore, I would go as far as to say that all ground is holy ground. The ground under the feet of those who serve us at Samaritan Hospital is holy. The ground under the feet of police officers and firefighters who help protect us is holy. And even the ground under those who are suffering from opioid addiction or other substance abuse, those who are homeless, and those whoever else we may judge, the ground under their feet is also holy. It is then when we begin to see how large a scope is claimed by God, we begin to understand how much work there is to be done in the Kingdom of God here on earth. And sometimes that means we will not always want to answer the call that God extends to us.
Unlike the heroic image that we often superimpose into biblical character, Moses was not fond of the new job that God had given him. Moses, even tried to make a case for why he shouldn’t be the one to go and stand before Pharaoh, “Who I am that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” But God replied to Moses, saying, “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. This is where the beauty of the overarching narrative of God’s salvific power comes into sight for us to see. It is in God’s response to Moses that the lines between the divine “I” of “I AM” and the human “I” begin to blur. It is in God’s response to Moses that we see how God, who was, and is, and ever shall be, intersects our world through the gift of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who grant us the power to accomplish God’s plan.
While it may seem like a paradox our understanding of ourselves is tied to our understanding of God. And our understanding of God is tied to our understanding of ourselves. But maybe it is in our understanding of what it means to stand on holy ground that we begin to rediscover ourselves and see the work that God calls us to do. Maybe it is in our understanding of what it means to stand on holy ground that we celebrate in the salvation and redemption found in God as well as wrestle with the complexities of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Maybe it is in our understanding of what it means to stand on holy ground that we can catch a glimpse of the “I AM WHO I AM” so that we can live faithfully into what it means to the people of a living God.” Amen.