March 3, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart
Before and After
You can’t watch television these days without coming across advertising programs for weight loss plans, … about every other channel… right?
And one of the big things with the advertising plans is a before and an after picture.Some of you have those kinds of pictures!
Today I want to paint such a picture for us - of Moses.
Before and After
Our reading this morning is the moment in Moses life that was the fulcrum – the turning point of the before and the after. And its here I want to spend a few minutes – then look at the life of Moses before this moment – and the life he had after this moment.
Of course, the moment from our reading this morning is his encounter with the very presence of God, the Creator. “Take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.” We don’t get the sense that this was some kind of dream or even a waking vision he had while in the desert, but an encounter with something supernatural that drew him in – drew him near out of curiosity, if nothing else.
As Moses came near, he became aware of the What – the Who that this encounter was with.
Let’s look at the first paragraph of your reading from Exodus 3:
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. 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.
What do you see when you look at, when you read or hear this story?
Extraordinary: Even in the annuls of biblical history an encounter of this kind with the presence of God was out of the ordinary. Abraham had visitors he described as angels, dreams of smoking firepots and burning fire - Noah heard a voice of instruction in the building of the Ark. The other patriarch’s had various kinds of encounters with God, but none were of this type – none this direct. Moses alone stands as one who was summoned into the presence of God who is, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “a consuming fire.”
Personal: When God caught Moses attention with the fire and he came near to see, God called him by name: “Moses, Moses!” In each case when the presence of God encounters us, God calls us by name. The God of the Universe knows your name. He is a personal God who knows you personally – intimately. And loves you in that same way as well. And Moses responded. “Here I Am, Lord.” Sound familiar? We sing the song of surrender and partnership with God by that same name. It was the response of young Samuel, the great prophet of Israel who anointed David as king. It is the response of Moses at this encounter with the Burning Bush – the presence of the living God. Simply,
Here I Am. “Lord… you have my undivided attention!”
HOLY: God warns Moses immediately to keep a safe distance … and to remove the shoes from his feet – as a sign of the holiness of the Presence of God that he found himself in or near. In our culture we rarely find a place that evokes this kind of response from us – or that should. A few weeks ago, as Bishop Ken Ross was doing his very first ordination at Wellspring I sat near him on the front row. After the processional, as he sat listening to the Word read, he bent over and took off his shoes and preached barefoot. I know Ken well and know that that is his custom. And I was reminded of, and the purpose of that for him, is to remind himself – that “this is holy ground.”
Here where we are, when we are gathered together in Jesus’ Name, is holy ground. God is worthy of our reverence and respect – of our shoeless entry into his presence. Just as a reminder of His holiness and the promise of His presence, perhaps we need to consider taking our shoes off from time to time.
Familiar: God, the creator, wanted Moses to properly identify the Whom of this encounter – the Thou who was talking to him – who had drawn him aside and who was calling him to a special work. We will see this even more clearly later in the reading. Here God sets Who He is in the context of the history of His dealings with the ancestors of Moses, the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses understood clearly and responded appropriately! “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”
This is a right response when we encounter God’s presence! You recall the story of the calling of Isaiah, the great later prophet of the exile. His response to encountering God’s presence in worship in the Temple was, “Whoa is me… I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”
Though God knows our name and call it, and though God reveals His Name to us, yet that familiarity does not afford us the right to stand unrepentant, or on our own merit, in the presence of God. We will always be UNDONE.
And what came next:
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 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
Call: God doesn’t just show Himself to Moses as a courtesy or for Moses upbuilding – so that he will feel good! God encounters us in order that we might be clear on our marching orders! Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “when God calls a man (or woman) He calls them to ‘come and die.’” Moses was no different. This was God’s response to the cries of his people in the slavery of Egypt, something Moses was intimately familiar with and where Moses already had “skin in the game.”
The Call of God is filled with promise! I have come down to deliver them … and to bring them up … to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”
The Call of God is not without risk! This isn’t nobody’s land God is sending them to. It’s the land of all the peoples who inhabited the land of Palestine. – Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites and Hivites, - oh, and the Jebusites. All of whom Moses was familiar with from his days in the palace of Pharaoh, as the peoples of the land of Canaan. Fierce tribes with many warriors.
So the call had Moses mind reeling. Not to mention the risk and utter impossibility of freeing slaves en masse from the clutches of Pharaoh, but God has his eye on the “land of promise.” - Which wasn’t their land yet! And then, Moses hears it:
“So come, I will send you…”
Moses gets the orders – and immediately the discussion begins:
Have you ever had a discussion with God? The sentence begins with BUT!
Sound familiar? All too!
But, Lord! Or “No, Lord!” our famous oxymoron!
“Who am I, Lord, that I should go up to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
This is one of a long line of what I call the “Who Me? Club.” In fact, if your response to God’s presence and call in your life is not something along this line, it’s probably just another good idea. Moses responded this way, not because he was afraid, but because he knew the enormity of the task and the cost of what was being asked.
And God’s Answer: I will be with you…
God’s presence with us is the answer to the question. If you look at that promise, it appears many times through scripture, almost always in the context of this kind of encounter or challenge.
What God requires of us and calls us to do, we do WITH HIM. He does With US.
God’s call is accompanied by His Presence.
Now Moses was not done with the questions… as if to begin to justify or wiggle out Moses tells God that the Israelites are going to ask him, “Who sent you?”
And God’s reply – God’s Name is one of the most significant passages in all of Holy Scripture. God’s name is the name of being - I AM. Or I AM Who I AM.
Not easy for us to understand, as if it should be.
God here gives Moses what we know as the Tetragrammaton. The four-letter, unpronounceable word that is the word that prophets and scribes through the ages have so held, that when written, the scribe had to go wash first, come back and write the letters and then go wash again.
An unspeakable Name - YH-WHWhat we have added vowels to in order to get Yahweh or Jehovah.
You’ve heard me say “It’s good to have a friend, better to know his address.”
Well here its, “It’s good to have a God, better to know His Name!”
The Existing One.“Thus shall you 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.”
Moses was the shepherd, keeping a flock in the desert of Midian for his father-in-law.
But God encountered Moses, the child of choice, the child of privilege, raise in Pharaoh own household by his own daughter. God chose Moses after Moses ran away after killing the Egyptian. Moses ran. But God came after him.
God’s plan and call on us is from before our birth. It runs through all the circumstance of our lives and it comes with a promise.
I will be with you. Jesus said it too, “I will be with you, even to the end of the age.” Here is the key to the after for Moses and for us. I will be with you.