Exodus 3:1-15 & Matt. 16:13-18
7 September 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert
To truly understand God, we must hold in tension the fact that God is wholly other than us, as we see so very clearly in the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. And God is entirely one of us as we see in the stories of Jesus, the Messiah. This is the unique character of our Christian faith – that God and humanity came together in the person of Jesus Christ. The mysterious unknown, unseen God who speaks out of burning bushes, whose presence is too holy to approach, did in fact become a very approachable human being. No other faith group makes such a claim. This mysterious yet revealed God in Jesus Christ does not give us as much room for misunderstanding as we might have otherwise. If you want to know who God is, look at Christ. The same Holy One whose name is unspeakable became a human being. When we look at Christ, we see a God who does does not use power against people but for them. When the religious leaders of his day, who were disturbed by his claims to be the Son of God, he did not fear them. He challenged them, though he did not rise up to fight against them, to defeat them, as he could have done. Jesus never used his power against others but for them.
As we struggle with appropriate actions to the atrocities committed by ISIS, our concern should always be humanitarian. We want to preserve the dignity and life of all human beings. That’s what Jesus did. Hatred for hatred is not the answer, though awfully tempting. Those who commit grave sins against humanity should be stopped, but in ways that do not perpetuate violence, if possible. Those who brutalize others are dehumanizing themselves, as well as those they kill. God wants to liberate all of us from our inhumanity one to another. God is especially near to those who suffer, as we see in Exodus. Hear now the call of Moses, the most significant human character in the Hebrew scriptures.
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. 2 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.
3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 4 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." 5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
6 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. 7 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, 8 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. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 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." 13 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?"
14 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.'" 15 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. (NRS)
God calls Moses, explaining “I have seen. I have heard. I know my people are suffering. Go, tell Pharaoah to let my people go.” God’s active engagement with the suffering people. Moses is like most of us. “No, I can’t do that, God. Why should I lead?” And God reassures. “I will be with you. You can!” Moses says, “Why will they listen to me. Whom shall I say sent me? What is the name I shall tell the people?” God replies, “Tell them it is the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and my name is not yours to hold. I Am Who I Am. I will be Who I will be.” This is why to this day Jewish worshippers will not say the name of God, when the Hebrew letters YHWH come up, they say, “The Lord.” God’s name is definitional for being. I AMIt is no small matter that Jesus used the same language of I AM eight times in the Gospel of John.
John 6: 35, 48 I am the bread of life
John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
John 8: 58 Before Abraham was, I am
John 10:9 I am the door
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd
John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life
John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 15:1 I am the true vineBut in the synoptics, the earlier-composed Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus lives out his identity more than he announces it. He is more engaged in healing and teaching, and asks questions to the disciples about who they believe he is and who the people think he is. Let read that brief narrative.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (NRS)
This is a significant claim to make – one which cannot fall on deaf ears in places like Iraq and Syria, where Christians have been forced from their homes and pressured to give up their faith. But even as they wade through Hades, a hellish existence, they have the promise from Christ’s mouth: I will be with you.Christ said, 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12 NRS)
There is consistency between the exodus and the incarnation. God see, hears, feels our pain, and comes to save us that we might be blessed and a blessing to others. Yet Christ said, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me.” That’s when Peter and the disciples started getting nervous.So I have two questions for each of us today is this: How is God calling you? Moses had his holy ground experience with a burning bush and the voice of God calling him to a task he did not want, but to which he was ideally prepared. Moses was alone when God called. Are you listening for God’s voice when you are alone and quiet? Do you have some time alone and quiet? Who are suffering people God would have you lead to greater freedom and peace?
Next how would you answer Jesus’ question – Who do you say he is? I want to give you a moment to consider this question quietly. If someone was genuinely interested in Jesus and asked you to tell them about him, what would you say? If someone had a gun aimed at you or a machete on your neck, and asked you to deny your faith, would you still have the courage to say, “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and my Savior.” I sometimes imagine that if I was in such a situation that I might be like the little old lady who fought off her attacker with love, telling him she would gladly give him the money he wanted, that he deserved a chance at life, that he was a valuable human being. But often attackers are far too consumed with self-hate and hatred of others to hear anything. And ISIS is far too consumed with broadcasting their brutality for their evil gains.
No truly faithful Muslim would do what I just described. No, these acts of terror are conducted by sick people masquerading as Islam. It is a shame the damage these acts of terror wreak on the reputations of God-fearing, peace-loving Muslims. Let us never make the mistake of grouping good Muslims with this horrible ISIS group. Hitler was a baptized Christian, who drifted far away from the true faith, and no Christian wants to be associated with him.
Enough talk of all the evil in the world. Let’s remember that we are here to worship a sovereign and holy God. We worship God because God is worthy of our worship and we are in need of those “holy ground” moments when we hear God calling us, inspiring us to trust and follow, to be peacemakers in the world.
Secondly we come to learn and grow. We come to worship and to Sunday school, Bible studies, Wednesday nights, and other activities and small groups that we grow in our awareness of who Christ is, so that we can faithfully answer Jesus’ question: But who do you say that I am? And further that we ourselves will be defined by that answer. For God became a human that humans might become more like God, in image of God, obedient to God’s call on our lives. May it be so.