The Rev’d Matthew David Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Lent III, Year C
February 28th, Anno Domini 2016
“God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’”
In the name of the God who is and ever shall be. Amen.
“The Bible’s Moses cuts himself shaving. He is afraid, he is a liar. He does many a thing under the table before being Up There with the other Tables.” So says Hélène Cixous, French literary critic and feminist. True, and we could also add murderer, stutterer, unsure of himself, hot headed, unpredictable, and often a big disappointment.
But the Bible’s Moses is also one who sees God face to face and lives, whose face shines with the blinding Shekinah glory, which must be veiled before other mere mortals.
Moses undergoes a remarkable transformation. He journeys from being a burnout in Midian working for his father-in-law, Jethro to paradigmatic religious leader and lawgiver. He provides us a lens for thinking the Lenten journey and preparation to see the risen Lord. In our passage, we see the beginning of Moses’s transformation and catch a glimpse of who he will become.
Our Old Testament reading begins with Moses minding his own business, tending Jethro’s sheep, and he happens to stumbling onto the mountain of God, Horeb. There Moses sees something weird, so he says, “Hey, I gotta go check out this crazy thing—a burning bush that doesn’t burn up.” If he knows the bush burns but doesn’t burn up, that means he must have been standing there a while watching it from afar, scratching his head. Like the manna in the desert, like the oil in the lamps of the Maccabees, like the wine at the wedding of Cana, like the bread and fish in the desert, it doesn’t get exhausted—there is always more with God.
As Moses gets closer, all the sudden, without even knowing it, Moses expectedly find himself is in a holy place, not unlike Jacob does after his dream about the ladder and the angels. In the Bible, when someone comes near God, as when someone sees an angel, they need to be told two things: don’t be afraid and get up off the ground.
Moses picks himself up, takes off his sandals, and God tells Moses about his plan to rescue Israel from Egypt and bring them into a good land. The cruel dictator and slave drivers will simply just let the slaves leave. “… and Moses, you are the person to lead my people. You just go talk to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go,” God says.
Moses’s first act as the new commander in chief of Israel is to complain, question God and offer four reasons why the LORD’s plan stinks. We only hear Moses’s first two questions in our reading. Both of them, I think, are critical for us as we watch Moses through our Lenten lens.
Moses’s first question for the LORD is “Who am I?” Uh, hello! Do you see me? I am literally out in the middle of nowhere, working for grumpy ol’ Jethro, a refugee from Egypt after killing someone. Talking in front of people ain’t my thing. In fact, I have a speech impediment. But certainly Moses thought him talking to Pharaoh was a lousy idea.
The question is about how you can be the kind of person God’s calls you to be. There is so much wrong with the world. It is a hard time nowadays turning on the news. The problems regarding race, gender, and income inequality are staggering; sometimes they seem to be getting worse each day. What’s more powerful demagogues are leading many only further down paths of hate and ignorance. Who am I? Just an artist, a teacher, a student, a working mom, an accountant.
Now, God in the Bible, and especially Jesus in the Gospels, has this one really nettlesome habit: God often gives an answer that is not an answer to the question asked. God does not say, as the therapeutic moral deism of American religion might expect, “Oh Moses, you ARE special. You can do it! You are your own unique snowflake. You see shepherd; I see savior!” God doesn’t assure Moses anything about himself. God’s say, “The most important thing about you is that I will go with you. You will, if you look for them, see signs of my presence. Who you are is someone whom God will never leave nor forsake.”
Moses’s second question is “Who are you? There are tons of gods out there, and I don’t even know which one you are? When I tell Pharaoh god wants him to let the Israelites go, everybody knows the first question will be ‘Which god?’ Ra the sun god? Sekhmat the predatory warrior goddess? One of the eight gods of the Ogdoad? Who?
To us, someone’s name is fairly arbitrary. There is basically a limited amount of names and a parent picks one because it is a family name or they like the way it sounds. We would never assume the meaning of your name was connected with your identity. For instance, Derek in old German means ruler of the people. But if you were in a sale meeting and the sales manager said we need to find someone to lead a promising new account and some dude named Derek stood up and said “I am DEREK,” that wouldn’t help his chances; it would hurt them.
But in ancient Egypt, as in many cultures, the name contained the essence of the person or deity. Like lots of ancient deities, God offers a few names. “My name is ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ You tell the Israelites ‘I AM’ sent you. My name is Yahweh, and I am the God of your ancestors.” What does I AM WHO I AM mean? Umberto Cassuto, a famous Jewish scholar of the Hebrew Bible, suggested the paraphrase “It is I who am with you.”
Before Moses can become Moses, he needs to ask God “Who am I?” and “Who are you?” God doesn’t really answer either of his question, but instead says, “I am with you and I will always be with you.”
What do you think of that answer? If you came to God with your most pressing question, and God didn’t answer your question, but just told you, “I am with you,” would you be OK with that answer?
What about my job?
What about my finances?
What about my health?
I am with you.
I am still with you.
I will always be with you.
Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake. I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
In the Eucharistic mystery, God comes to us, is present among us. As we come to see God face to face, at the elevation, and when the priest places the medicine of immortality into your hands, you have an answer from God to whatever question you bring here, “I AM WHO I AM. And I will be with you, if by faith you look for me.”
 Hélène Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 67.