“This is my name forever”-Sermon for Proper 17, Exodus 3:1-15:
In this familiar and revelatory story in our Old Testament lesson today, I am always struck, even, deeply moved, in particular, by the name that God chooses to reveal Godself to Moses, which is, as you recall, simply, “I AM.” It feels so wonderfully rich and complex and layered with meaning that it actually makes my head spin. “I AM”…first person singular of the “to be” verb…feels, on the one hand, a very personal revelation. For, if I was to begin a sentence with “I am”…the “I” would refer, of course, to me…a real-life person. And, though I suppose no person is entirely knowable maybe even entirely to ourselves, I am still a living, breathing, existing person who you can know something of, touch, love, even, be in a life-giving relationship with. Thus, any word of introduction that begins with “I am” invites you to come to know me more fully. And, though I can’t say with any certainty, perhaps “I AM” was perceived by Moses as a sort of personal invitation to come to more deeply know and love God. God saying to his beloved prophet…I, indeed, exist. I am real. I am yours. I am here with you now. I will go with you where I lead. You can know me. You can fall more in love with me…for I am.
Thus, again, this name that God reveals in this divine encounter feels to me deeply personal, even, intimate. And, if we are to place ourselves in Moses’s shoes, the profound belief that God invites me into a personal relationship that can only be describe as intimate…more akin to even a lover than say a friend…fills me all the way up with all sorts of good things. For, I really do believe and feel that God, who in my life I have come to know as a personal reality in Jesus, is as close to me as the beating of my own heart. And, friends, that intimate and personal knowing and being known by God, the great “I AM”, feels utterly empowering and bursts my heart wide open.
And, on the other hand and at the very same time, “I AM” feels utterly cosmic, perhaps, almost inaccessible. God suggesting to Moses not that I just exist…but I am existence…the ground of being…the genesis of all that was, is, and is still to come…pre-existent and eternal…the architect of time/space…matter’s source…the ordering power behind the universe...the beginning and the end…for I AM. And, I actually don’t perceive this interpretation of God’s self-naming as impersonal or soulless, for such a transcendent revelation of the nature of God can certainly lead one to awe and wonder…to getting astonishingly lost in the unknowability and unending expansiveness of God. And, for the sci-fi/fantasy/comic book geek that lives deep within me…this, also, bursts my heart wide open. That the God who placed the stars in the sky and set the planets at their courses, also, created me…knows the number of every hair on my head…loves me personally and entirely…that the infinite knows the finite, including this living, breathing blip in the universe’s unending story, indeed, fills me with awe and wonder. It leads me to the conclusion that I am connected to all things…past, present and future, beginning with the beautiful mind behind it all, the great “I AM”. Thus, my matter, the atoms and cells that make up my life, matters to God and has both meaning and purpose…eternally so.
And, I will note further that God does not end God’s self-naming with “I AM”. For, God goes on to say to Moses that God’s name is also, “[T]he God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. And this title or name provides another way to know God, which is through God’s presence in the lives of others. God’s presence in the lives of our beloved ones…our family and friends…throughout the generations. As I have already suggested, I have come to know God in Christ in very personal and intimate ways. Again, I feel like Jesus is as close to me as the beating of my own heart. I have called out to Jesus in times of great desperation and felt his peace…a still, soft voice saying to me…you are my child, my beloved one. I am well pleased with you. But, still, most of all…by a long shot, I have come to know God’s love as a reality in my life, as God’s love has graciously come to me through the love of others…just beginning with my family from my earliest of memories.
This name God provides…is for me…much like God saying, “I am the God of Elma, and of Wiley, and of Carrie Lou, and of Ray, and of Ellen, and of JB, and of Nathan.” These are my own parents and grandparents. Those, in my life, who have loved God entirely and imparted on me from my earliest of days that God’s ways or higher than human’s ways. I have seen God work in their lives in transformative ways. And, I have seen God use their lives in transformative ways in the lives of others, including, my own. Thus, my own faith finds its genesis in their faith sown in me. I trust because they first trusted. And, as I think of the gift of the faith passed down to me…of the ways my faith connects me both backwards and forwards through time to the whole family God…which we call the Communion of Saints…that, too, bursts my heart wide open.
Now, I share these musings on God’s names because I believe they lead to a deeper truth and revelation that is, friends, so very good. So, I want to step back in the story for a moment and note that God provides these names so full of meaning, after God sets before Moses a great task. As you recall, God asks Moses to leave the comfortable and relatively safe life he has established with his new family in Midian and return to Egypt…a place he fled from because his life was threatened. And, further, God asks Moses to do so to free God’s family, who are also Moses’ family and, also, are many, many thousands of people, from slavery…living under the brutal whip of Pharaoh. And, Pharaoh does not want to let God’s people go. Friends, this is a monumental task.
And, I think it is also worth noting that God shares these names with Moses because Moses asks for God’s name. You see, Moses is looking for some back up here…some authority…some power equal to the monumental task set before him…that his own people might believe in him, work with him, even, follow him. That is if they really believe that Moses comes to liberate them in the name of the God who led Abraham to the Promised Land; the God who saved Isaac from a terrible sacrifice; the God who gave Jacob his twelve sons, the twelve tribes of Israel, including Joseph who became lord over Egypt and saved their family from a devastating famine…then maybe, just maybe, Moses has some hope of success For, if it is this God, who leads Moses…whose name Moses carries, then, perhaps, God’s people will stand with Moses…even before the great and terrible power of Pharaoh.
But, what I think matters even more…what is even more important than any name or title Moses can carry with him…that is what God is really offering to Moses…is not a just a name to create some sort of credibility…but a personal, abiding, never-ending relationship. God is saying to Moses…I am the one who your assertors…Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, trusted in…who loved me and I them…and I am the one who set the stars in the sky and set the planets at their courses…and…I am yours…I am with you now…I will go with you where I lead…I am with you in sorrow and in joy…I will stand with you before my people…I will stand with you before Pharaoh. I have seen my people suffering and together we will set them free. For, “I AM”. I am all of that…and I am yours. And, Moses, deeply connected in an intimate relationship of love with God, the great “I AM”, now has everything he needs to set God’s people free…even before he begins.
And, of course, the same is true for each of us as we face our own monumental tasks. That is the courage needed to stand up for what’s right. The extra measure of grace that is needed to seek healing or reconciliation in an important relationship that’s struggling. The inner-strength that is needed to do the hard and honest work of naming and working on the areas in our life where we need to grow and be better. The wisdom and creativity needed to overcome real challenges or road blocks at work or at home. All of that spiritual power, for whatever redemption and release we need, is found in that deep well in our souls where God’s love intermingles with our own…where we know and are known…where our personal, intimate relationship with the God who made and loves us…is forever forged.
Friends, our story today reveals the deep truth to us that God is always coming to us, in ordinary and extraordinary ways, seeking a life giving, shaping, affirming relationship…saying to us…I am the one who your assertors trusted in…who loved me and I them…I am the one who set the stars in the sky and set the planets at their courses…and I am yours. I am with you now…I will go with you where I lead…I am with you in sorrow and in joy…I will stand with you before my people…I will stand with you before all the metaphorical pharaohs that seek to keep you in bondage…hold you back…keep you small…together we shall overcome…for “I AM”. I am all of that…and I am yours. Amen.