Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"God is ______" by Megan LeCluyse

Delivered on September 16, 2015.
Text: Exodus 3:1-15

(Light match) You’ve probably heard the saying that if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Now there are a couple different meanings of burned, and this phrase can imply either. One is being burned by other people – someone who you thought you could trust stabs you in the back. The second is much more literal – if I let this match burn long enough, it could burn the skin of my fingers.

When it comes to our faith and being disciples, it is the second kind of burning, the really literal kind, that I am talking about, the kind that implies a kind of danger, but a danger that many of us are drawn towards. Following God is not supposed to be safe – I think it supposed to be a little bit like playing with fire. Fire is beautiful, it is exciting, it is mesmerizing. These are all things faith is meant to be. But fire is also dangerous, and the reality is, our faith can lead us to some unexpected, and sometimes unpopular or counter-cultural, places. When Moses encounters this burning bush, he is given some pretty challenging instructions!

But first, who is this God who Moses encounters, and why is this God so dangerous? Our passage tells us this is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel. In our overview of the Bible we are going to have to go through the Old Testament fairly quickly, but as we explore the identity of God, we can look at a few key points from the book of Genesis. The God of Abraham asked Abraham to leave his homeland and his former gods. There is a rabbinic story about this that depicts a young Abraham, maybe your age, going and smashing with some type of hammer the idols of his father, as he gave them up to worship Yahweh. That was not a safe or easy ask. The God of Sarah allowed her to conceive a child when she was about 90 years old. The God of Jacob came down and spent an entire night wrestling with Jacob, and when at dawn Jacob was still fighting, struck Jacob on the hip socket and gave him a limp. I’m not sure entirely what we are supposed to do with that, but clearly, following God has it’s dangers!

And so we get to Moses, a baby born and not meant to survive, put into a basket covered with pitch and floated down the river, his mother seeing this as his only chance for survival. Raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he wound up killing an Egyptian who he saw beating a Hebrew slave. He fled the country, going to Median, where he married Mariam, the daughter of Jethro, and worked as a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Jethro is again an example of how this God works in some pretty unexpected ways, because Jethro plays several critical roles in the Moses story, and Jethro was not an Israelite. So Moses is out tending the flocks, when he sees a bush on fire, but not being consumed. 

Obviously, this catches Moses’ attention. God speaks to Moses through a burning bush, and this will change Moses’ life, in exciting and incredibly dangerous ways. It will shape the entirety of his life. God is aware of the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, and God has chosen Moses to go and free them. Ok, so let’s pause there for a moment, because that’s not like saying, “hey, can you run to the store and get me some milk?” This is a huge ask! First, we find out in the next chapter, Moses has a speech impediment, probably a stutter. Moses, who is spending his time pretty much alone, maybe with another shepherd or two in the hills, who isn’t confident in his ability to speak, is being asked to go to Pharaoh. Moses will make a bigger deal of this point in Chapter 4, so God tells him Aaron will do the speaking. And what is the demand? To set the Israelites free. To change the entire economy of the country, to challenge a practice that has been going on for generations, and that the Egyptians see as the norm. Is it an ask about pursuing justice. Yes, it is. But one that would be terrifying to be the guy whose supposed to ask for it!

So Moses asks who should I say sent me? Give me something here God, something about your power, something intimidating. And what’s the response? “I am who I am,” sometimes translated “I will be what I will be” or “I am that I am.” When we ask who God is, the response is “I am.” How are we supposed to understand who God is then? In part, by looking to the past, and seeing who God has been. But I also think this statement is so broad because we aren’t supposed to have a full grasp on who God is. 

I am. I am not captive to your limited understandings, to your notions of who I am supposed to be, not going to fit in the God-box that you want me to fit into, I am not created in your image. I am not a God who wants blood sacrifice, I want you and your life. I am forgiveness and mercy. I am love, I am hope, I am liberation, I am joy, I am peace. I am the spirit that hovered over the waters of the deep, the spirit that gives you life and breath. I am the one whose image you are created in.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Susan asks Mr. Beaver who Aslan is. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
I am. I am the God who appears in a burning bush, calling you on an exciting and dangerous journey, and promising to be present with you every step of the way. Amen. 

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