The GenerUSity of Participation
It’s World Communion Sunday. The focus of our worship today is the communion table. And before we get there I’m going to speak to you from my heart for a few minutes.
It has been a tough pandemic. For all of us. For each of us individually for all of us together, it’s been a tough pandemic for us as a Church. It has not been as tough on us as it has been on other churches and I am grateful for that. It is because of your faithfulness and your generosity and the unity of our leadership team. We are OK.
And I think that God is offering us even better than OK. God is offering us thriving. That is offering us an opportunity to be the people in the world, not just that God calls us to be, but that we long to be.
We belong to the people who have lives that are meaningful. To do things that matter. To make a difference. It’s not just pastors whose lives matter, or missionaries who make a difference in the world, or monks and nuns who lead religious lives. We all lead religious lives. We all are called by God. We all have gifts that God has given us.
That matter in the world. The way that we teach. The way that we garden and the way that we build things. The way that we take care of our families. The way we do online marketing. The way we program computers, the way we make beautiful art. We provide health care to people. Science, the law. Stuff that we do in the world for her.
The story that I want to read to you this morning comes from the Book of Exodus. It will be familiar to most of you. But it continues to blow my mind wide open about who God is and what God is calling us to do in the world. So last week we talked about Jacob and the dream, the vision that he had of a ladder reaching up to heaven this week. We’re in the Book of Exodus, which means we’ve fast forwarded through a lot in the last couple weeks. So Jacob had twelve sons and a daughter. Through a family drama where they have a Netflix series, his second to youngest son, Joseph winds up in the land of Egypt and eventually all the rest of the children also wind up down there in Egypt so that they don’t die in a famine in Israel and they stay there in Egypt for generations and they grow and they get bigger and they settle in the land, but they’re never Egyptian.
Right, the racial difference is always there. And eventually the Egyptians are threatened by this difference, and so they enslave these ancient Hebrew people. They oppressed them harshly. They tried to kill them off by killing their male children. And one male baby escapes this faith. His name is Moses. And he is found by the Princess of Egypt, by Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised in the Royal Court. Eventually he kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew slave.
He flees the country. He goes to the country of Midian, which is far out. He gets married. He sets up house. He doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything meaningful. This is where we pick up the story this morning.
This is the book of Exodus chapter 2 verse 23 through chapter 3 verse 14.
Sometime during those many years the king of Egypt died, but the people of Israel still groaned under the yoke of slavery, and they cried out, and their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the people of Israel, and God acknowledged them.
Now Moses was tending the sheep of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock to the far side of the desert, he came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. The angel of Yahweh the Lord appeared to him in a fire blazing from the middle of a bush. He looked and saw that although the bush was flaming with fire, yet the bush was not being burned up. Moses said, “I’m going to go over and see this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t being burned up.” When Yahweh the Lord saw that he had gone over to see, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Don’t come any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Moses covered his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Yahweh the Lord said, “I have seen how my people are being oppressed in Egypt and heard their cry for release from their slavemasters, because I know their pain. I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that country to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the place of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Yes, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen how terribly the Egyptians oppress them. Therefore, now, come; and I will send you to Pharaoh; so that you can lead my people, the descendants of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” He replied, “I will surely be with you. Your sign that I have sent you will be that when you have led the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
(Not much of a sign. “After I’ve done it, you’ll know I can do it.” Anyway, maybe it’s a sign for you.)
Moses said to God, “Look, when I appear before the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am,” and added, “Here is what to say to the people of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
You guys have heard this story before, not unfamiliar. Burning Bush is even a phrase in our language. You’ve got a burning bush. The thing I want us to focus on just for a few minutes this morning is this name of God. I did not study Hebrew in seminary. If somebody else did, you can talk to them for better information after service. Ancient Hebrew is complicated. Nobody even speaks it anymore. The Hebrew that the Bible was written in is not the Hebrew that Jewish people speak today. The verb tenses are super complicated, and so this name of God is fascinating. Because Moses says, “What is your name?” Gods in the ancient world were specific gods, right? Different countries had different gods. They had actual names. They had personhood and so Moses says, “I’m going to go tell the people that God has sent me and they’re going to say, ‘Which one?’ And what am I supposed to tell them?”
And God responds, “I am who I am.” Or because of the way the verbs are conjugated, “I will be who I will be,” which is not much more helpful. Or it could even be, “I am becoming who I am becoming.” This is not a helpful answer!
Here’s what blows me away about this. God’s response as to “What is your name?” is, basically, “I exist.” OK?!
That verb “to be” is our most basic verb and in English it’s super short. Just two letters, B-E. I am. You are. We are. You know what I think is so powerful about that is that it reminds us that the incredibly common is incredibly holy. The most basic answer is that existence itself is wrapped up in God, or God is wrapped up in that. It gets mystical, real fast, right? And some of you like mystical and some of you don’t. But it gets mystical real fast.
This super simple answer is actually incredibly complicated. This is not a satisfactory answer, and we’re left with thinking, “OK, what does this mean?” There’s a theologian named Paul Tillich, who refers to God as The Ground Of Being, which is actually really great, right?
That’s about as close as you’re going to get with this answer.
I Am. I Will Be. I Am Becoming.
Maybe it’s I Will Be Who I Am. Or I Am Becoming What I will Be. It just blows your mind. It’s incredibly simple, incredibly complex, incredibly holy, and I feel like that’s the way our lives are. Sometimes they feel incredibly simple. Sometimes we’re just we’re just doing our thing. Sometimes this unbelievable complexity comes rushing at us, and suddenly our thing is not simple. Then we have to figure out how to live, and always in all of that the holiness of God pervades all of it.
And what I think this means for us in the second week of a stewardship campaign is that with a God this simple, really complex, fully holy—there’s not one thing or one group of people or one ministry that is going to fully represent God. Like I said before, it’s not just pastors and missionaries and monks and nuns who are doing God’s work. Right? It’s not just Christians who understand God.
I fully believe that Jesus is God revealed to us and that following the way of Jesus is the way of the revolution and the way of my life. But I think there’s probably more to God than that.
And so the invitation for us is to find the holiness in the things that we are doing. The more we work together, the more we see God. That’s the point this morning. The more we work together, the more we see God. The more ministries that happen together at this church, the better representation of God in the world. In this second week of our stewardship series, we’re focusing on the commitment that you make as members. The second membership vow is, “I will maintain healthy relationships in the body of Christ by consistently participating in Zion’s life and work. I will find my niche in one of our 6th spheres of service because I have skills that our congregation needs in order to keep growing.”
We have experienced growth that I frankly did not expect during a pandemic. I’m the pastor, I should expect all the great things in the midst of the hard stuff. But I didn’t expect the kind of growth, the kind of momentum, the kind of energy that we have experienced in the last year and a half, and I’m grateful for it. And if it’s going to keep going, we work together to make that happen. And if you’re a member, we invite you to participate. And there are so many ways that you can.
We’ve done some good work this year in other areas that we can now articulate really clearly what the ministries of this church are and how the work that we can do feeds into that. If you are currently a member and you are not participating, please stop by the table that Sue Frederick put together for us. Stop by that table before you leave and look at all of the opportunities. Not all of you are teachers. But some of you are and God wants you to teach. Not all of you enjoy kids.
But some of you do and God wants you hanging out with middle and high schoolers with Intertwine Youth Ministry. Not all of you are administrative geniuses. But some of you are, and God wants you to help us get our processes in order. Not all of you are handy around the house. But some of you are, And God wants you swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity and helping us maintain this historic building.
I know you use your gifts in other places in the world. I’m not telling you that you have to do this, or that Zion is the only place you can do it, but there is room for you to make a difference in the Kingdom of God through the work of Zion, and we would love for you to participate in that. If none of those things seem to work for you, let’s have coffee and you and I together will pray and discern and figure out where you can use your gift. Because I promise you you can.
You’re not too old to do it. You’re not too young to do it. You’re not too uneducated to do it. You’re not too busy to do it. There’s something that needs to be done every so often that you can do.
We get in trouble when we assume that we have God figured out, when we assume that we can control God, that we have the magic word, the incantation that’s going to make things happen. Or that we have figured out what it is that God has to do in this situation because of what we did, that we’ve earned it. We get in trouble that way. And we’re getting ourselves in trouble in the world. The division is getting bigger, and uglier, and harder to cross. And I think this idea of God name puts us back in our proper perspective. There’s a sense in the scriptures that you feel in life too, of there being some control in having a name, in knowing someone’s name or in knowing who someone is.
I think about this when I remember when Sammy was born. Those of you who have kids, you may remember this same feeling and Sam and I felt like, “Oh my gosh, we get to name this person. This person doesn’t have a name yet, and we get to decide what this person’s name is.” And when I know your name, I feel like I know you more.
And there was definitely a sense in the ancient world where you needed to know the name of the god so that you could say the right kind of magic spell to make the god do the thing you wanted the god to do.
When we ask for the name of the God that we follow, God refuses to fit in a box for us. And in some ways, that’s really frustrating. And in some ways it’s really freeing. Because it reminds us who we are and where we fit. There’s a lot that needs to be done in the world. We’re doing some of it. We definitely want you to participate in what’s happening here at Zion. But God has spoken to each one of you.
God knows your name. God calls your name. And we have the opportunity to say, “Here am I,”and then do the thing that God is inviting us to do.
The final lesson from this story is that really it’s God working through us. God says, “I’m going to free the people. I’m going to go. I’m going to bring them out.” Moses is like, “That’s great!” And God’s like, “OK, now you go do it!” What?! God’s going to do it, but you’re going to do it. God’s going to do it, but I’m going to do it.
These things that have to be done in the world, the ministries of Zion. The people in the jail need to be loved. The homes that need to be built. We’re not doing that work in our own strength. We’re doing it through the goodness and the grace of God.