Our Openness and God’s Possibility

Exodus 3:1-15

This is the final week in our stewardship series, Rooted in Love. You’ve already heard from Tiffany about what it means to her to consistently participate in our life and work. This morning’s Bible text dovetails perfectly with that idea. Maybe not in a way you’ve ever noticed before, because the text we are about to read is Moses at the burning bush, in which God reveals God’s name. Usually when we read this text we focus on God. But this morning I want us to focus on Moses. However, first, a little background.

Last week we were still in the book of Genesis following the story of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, which means “one who wrestles with God.” Jacob-slash-Israel has 12 sons and at least one daughter. Through some family drama worthy of a Netflix series, Jacob-slash-Israel’s son Joseph becomes a bigwig in Egypt and eventually the whole family moves there too. The family prospers in Egypt and lives there for generations. But they are not Egyptian. They are still seen as different and as so often happens, the Egyptians see this difference as a threat to their way of life. They enslave the descendants of Jacob-slash-Israel, oppress them harshly, and eventually try to kill them off by killing their baby boys. One baby named Moses escapes this fate and is adopted by the princess of Egypt. As an adult he is forced to leave the country when he kills an Egyptian slave driver. Moses makes a new life for himself far outside the halls of power and wealth and that’s where we pick up the story this morning. We pick up the story in Exodus chapter 3, verses 1 through 15. Let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

This is the Word of God, which is for all people. Thanks be to God.

I told you this story had something to say to us about participating in the life and work of this church, and we find it in Moses’s response. Out of the burning bush, Moses hears his own name, and he responds with “Here I am.” That seems like a simple statement. But it’s not like answering, “Here,” as the teacher takes attendance. In the Bible, this is a very specific response to someone hearing God call their name. We’ve actually seen it before. A few weeks ago in the story of the binding of Isaac, at the beginning and at the end, God calls to Abraham and Abraham responds, “Here I am.” In the book of 1 Samuel, when God calls to the middle schooler Samuel in the temple of Bethel at night, Samuel responds, “Here I am.” And in the book of Isaiah, when God says, “Whom shall I send, and who shall go for me?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am. Send me.”

We have faithful models in our sacred text that show us what it looks like to respond to God’s call. When God calls their name, they respond with “Here I am.” And I ask you to take my word for it because it would be long and probably boring for me to unpack all of it, but this is a response of radical openness and attention. Sometimes when Sam and Sammy try to get my attention, I respond with a distracted “Hmmmm?” because I’m in the middle of something. But other times, when I am being the mom or the wife I want to be, I respond with attention and presence and openness to whatever they’re about to ask of me because I love them. That’s this “Here I am” response. It is a response based on a relationship. Someone you love and trust— in this case God— calls your name and your response is, “Here I am. I’m ready.” Without even knowing for sure yet what it is, we respond with attention and presence and openness and readiness and willingness. Here I am. 

My friends, I think that God is calling your name this morning. God is calling my name. It is not a demanding yell. It is an invitation to respond. The fact that Moses was paying attention to his surroundings and was curious enough to to slow down and take a closer look, those characteristics created the space for God to call Moses’s name and then for Moses to respond. God is calling our names this morning, out of love, as an invitation, and we have the opportunity to say “Here I am. Yes.” 

We have a missional strategy here at Zion and it starts with affirming and blessing all the Kingdom-minded work that you are already doing outside of this congregation. A church that is oriented towards justice tends to attract people who are already active in the world, and so we start by saying thanks be to God for the ways you have already said yes. The second part of our strategy is that at least once a year we do something to address each of the priorities Jesus gave us in Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, and visiting the prisoner. Finally, when God calls us, we show up and speak up about larger issues of injustice in the world. That’s our wider missional strategy.

Within that strategy there are many things to do, weekly and sometimes daily, to sustain the life we live together as this body of Christ. As you prayerfully consider where God is calling you to consistently participate in the life and work of this congregation, some of you may be called into something new. Some of you may be called into something uncomfortable, like Tiffany was. For others this may simply be the invitation to recommit, to renew your devotion to something you are already doing. Maybe this morning you need to say, “Yes, again. Still yes.” When we hear God calling our name, our response is radical openness. 

The flip side of this is God’s response. Later in the story, Moses asks for God’s name. God has already called Moses by name and Moses responded with radical openness. Now Moses asks for God’s name and God’s response is radical possibility. Moses asks for God’s name and the way we read God’s response in English is “Yahweh” It’s actually three words in the Hebrew language: a verb, a conjunctive pronoun, and the same verb again. It’s the verb “to be” – like, the basic verb of existence, Used 3,561 times in the Old Testament. The verb of existence. I am. You are. We are. Being. “Existence verb / pronoun / existence verb.” I am who I am. Or more technically, “I will be who or what or where I will be.” Radical possibility. 

Our response to God speaking our name is our radical openness to what God wants to do in us and through us. God’s response to our asking God’s name is God’s radical possibility, that with God, anything is possible, in us and through us. God will be who or what or where God will be, in us and through us, when we are radically open to God’s call. 

Moses was open, but once he heard what God had planned, Moses was also scared, and reluctant. We can be open and scared at the same time. We can be open and reluctant at the same time. Through Moses’s radical openness, God is going to liberate an entire people from generations of oppression. God is the one who is doing the work, but that work is done in us and through us. For those of you who know the rest of the story, God doesn’t spiritually convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go. God sends Moses and his brother Aaron and they speak the words God tells them and they do signs and wonders through God’s power, and the Hebrew people act in faith based on what God told them, and then the liberation happens. God’s work is done through us, when we hear God call our name and we respond with radical openness and willingness. We never know the whole story up front. We never know everything that will be involved. Sometimes saying yes to one thing will lead to saying no to a thousand other things. We say yes, we step forward, and then God calls again and we say yes again and we take the next step. 

One step at a time, listening to God’s call. One step at a time, trusting God. One step at a time, changing the things that are in front of us to change. God is calling all of us this morning. May we respond with openness and willingness, allowing God’s radical possibility to work in us and through us. Amen. 

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