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 Mount 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 our of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honest, 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. Now go, I am sending 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 serve 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 name 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 can be so frustrating.
There are times, maybe you’re better than me so you don’t know what I’m talking about, but there are times when I jump into the strange new world of the Bible and I just want to say, “C’mon God! Really?”
Moses is a good-for-nothing shepherd. And he doesn’t even have his own flock to look after. He’s working for his father-in-law. So we’ve got this guy, who needs a handout from a relative, working out and around Mt. Horeb, which means wasteland, and he encounters the burning bush.
Or, better but, the burning bush encounters him.
Does it ever surprise you that the Lord needs numbskulls to bring about God’s will?
I mean, just take a cursory glance at just about any book in the Bible and you liable to come across someone who has no business being in God’s business and yet, that’s how God runs the show.
And that’s not even mentioning who God calls upon outside of the Bible.
To bring it close to home, there are 29 portraits of pastors right underneath us and there’s a better than good chance that the vast majority of them never thought they would have their picture up on the wall of a church.
And yet, here we are.
Sometimes I wish God would start calling better people for God’s purposes. Surely, the world could do to have the best and the brightest working for the kingdom.
But, then again, if God only called the best, then I certainly wouldn’t be here, and neither would any of you.
John Calvin, who gets quoted across the street far more than here once said, “God is so great, that God is able to condescend to miserable people just like us to accomplish God’s good.”
How odd of God.
And, notably, it’s important to notice the distinction between “I found God,” and “God found me.” Throughout the strange new world of the Bible, people do, indeed, go looking for God but they usually go looking in all the wrong places whereas God shows up in the unexpected places.
Contrary to how we might like to imagine it, or even here about it in church, God is not the object of our religious journeys, waiting for us to finally have enough sense to take the right steps or read the right book or get the right job or make the right choice. God is, instead, the instigator of God’s journey to us. From Eden, to the wasteland, to Bethlehem; God finds us.
And that’s why we keep reading these stories week after week, year after year. It’s why we prepare for Vacation Bible School and read scripture at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We keep listening to the story of how God reveals God’s self to people who otherwise would have never known who God was or is.
And (!) to further complicate the confounding nature of the God who speaks from bushes and books, particularly as it pertains to preaching, is that only God can tell us who God is. It has to be revealed to us.
Listen – All is well in Egypt until it isn’t.
God’s people grow in such size and strength that Pharaoh grows fearful and subjugates them. They are forced to work under the tyrannical rule of the empire and yet, they continue to prosper in power and number.
Pharaoh then decides to order the murder of every first born male among the Hebrew people. A young mother, fearing for her son’s life, places him in a basket and lets him float down the Nile river and, oddly enough, the basket is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter who chooses to raise the boy and she names him Moses which means “I drew him out of the water.”
Raised in the confines, and under the protection, of Egypt’s ruler, Moses is given access to a life that none of his kinsmen will ever know. And yet, one day, he sees an Egyptian taskmaster whipping a Hebrew slave and, overcome with emotion, Moses reaches out and murders the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand.
Moses flees for his very life, already a recurring theme, and he settles in the land of Midian where he marries Zipporah, the daughter of a priest, and begins to work for his new father-in-law.
So why, why in the world does God call to Moses from the burning bush? What’s so good on his resume, what kind of references did he list while seeking out employment with the Lord?
Moses really only brings three things to the table:
He’s in the middle of his mundane work, guiding the flock in the wasteland, when he turns aside to see the sight of the burning bush. In short, Moses is curious.
That’s not much, all things considered, but to the Lord it is the difference that makes all the difference. Moses turns to take in something unexpected, and rather than lowering his head and getting back to the menial realities of life, he takes a further look.
He is like the proverbial worker surrounded by countless cubicles mindlessly typing away at a keyboard for a job that means nothing when a suddenly flickering in the window draws him up and away from his featureless desk toward the unknown.
It is good and right to maintain a healthy diet of curiosity, of keeping our eyes and ears tuned away from monotony. Be it a strange movie or meal or moment, God tends to work in the unexpected places in unexpected ways.
Or, as one of my favorite authors Haruki Murakami puts it, “If you only read the books everyone else is reading, then you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
After Moses’ curiosity draws his gaze toward the bush, the next thing he does is wonder. The strange fiery foliage isn’t enough on its own, Moses wants to know why it burns but does not burn up. He is not content to let things be the way they are simply because they are that way, he probes further.
It is good and right to wonder about the workings of God.
It does my ego good to remember that none of you come here with the great desire to hear preachments about the Lord, but instead you are here to daydream about God, to wonder, to ask questions, and rest in whatever answers you discover.
A couple weeks ago one of you asked me, after church, about the Apostles’ Creed and why we say, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” I won’t out you, but this person said, “Why do we say that? We’re Methodists, not Catholics.” And I gave the typical response, “it’s the lower-c catholic which means universal, we’re just saying we believe in the church writ large.”
This kind of question pops up all the time, but what struck me most this time was the fact that the person then said, “I’ve wondered about that my whole life, and I’ve never had the nerve to ask.”
Faith is a strange and wondrous thing that necessities wonder. That’s why the disciples are forever asking Jesus to elaborate on the kingdom of heaven, they want to know more.
Moses is curious and Moses wonders about this strange sight in the wasteland, and when the Lord sees Moses’ curiosity and wonder the Lord says, “Moses, Moses!” And he says, “Here I am.”
In short, Moses responds.
“Kick those sandals off your feet, we’ve got holy business to attend to. I am the God of your people, and the time has come to set them free and I have just the person for the job.”
“And who might that be?”
“You, silly goose.”
“Are you out of your mind? You’re a talking bush that’s on fire! And you want me to deliver the Hebrew people from Pharaoh?”
“Have no fear Moses my dear, I will be with you.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me fiery fig tree, or whatever it is you are, even if what you’re saying is true, no one will believe me when I tell them. I don’t even know your name.”
God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”
The rest is biblical history.
When it comes to the question of “Why Moses?” It doesn’t really matter. Sure, there are some bits to his history that make him a prime candidate for paradigm shifts, he spent time in Pharaoh’s court. In the end, who he is doesn’t matter.
The only thing that matters is that God is the one doing the calling.
You see, God does God’s best work making something of our nothing, of making a way where there is no way whatsoever, of making the impossible possible.
We, today, tend to view ourselves and one another through failures, mistakes, shortcomings. It is the negative that we carry around day after day. But to God, each and every one of us has a potentiality that can be made manifest in the kingdom of God.
Or, to use a very old adage, God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.
Think about Moses! In just a few short chapters this would-be shepherd in the wasteland will be taking care of the flock of God, standing up to the tyranny of Pharaoh, delivering the Hebrew people to the banks of the sea waiting for the God of impossible possibility to do something.
It’s fun to pick on Moses, he’s an easy target. The rest of his tale paints the picture of his relationship with God like an old married couple who constantly bicker and fight and eventually reconcile. For what it’s worth, we read more about Moses than any other person in the Bible with the exception of Jesus. And yet, Moses’ story isn’t even really about Moses – it’s about the One who calls him.
I AM WHO I AM
I love how quickly Moses moves from “Here I am,” to “Who am I?” His curiosity and wonder and response are all good and fine until he hears what the Lord wants him to do. And immediately, Moses has reservations. Who am I to do all of that?
Who am I?
Who are you?
Whatever it is your experiencing in your life right now, whether you feel like you’re wandering through the wasteland or making moves on the mountaintop, God calls miserable and merry people like you and me all the time. It might not be to deliver God’s people from the oppressive rule of a dictator, it might be as simple as the nudge to call someone who needs to feel loved, or the feeling that there’s something we can do to make a difference in this community. And it might not come through a burning bush, it might be as simple as the words of a hymn, or the silence of a prayer, or any other number of possibilities.
Or, as Paige Anderson so wonderfully put it to me this week, “Sometimes all we need in life is the tiniest sign from God to remind us of our purpose.”
What makes the story of the burning bush so good is the fact that, in the end, the call of Moses is a wild and ringing reminder that we don’t have to be saints to be of use for God’s kingdom. If we need anything at all, it’s a little bit of curiosity, wonder, the tiniest smidge of faith.
Faith not in ourselves or our abilities, but faith in the God who is able to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine.
If you ever feel like you’re not good enough, that’s fine. Because God is good enough for all of us. Amen.