A sermon, based on Exodus 3.1-15, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019
Moses, in an outburst of outrage, slew an Egyptian overseer, who was beating a Hebrew slave. In fear, he fled Egypt. In Midian, a safe distance away, drawing near a mountain, “an angel of the Lord appeared” in a bush ablaze, yet unburned. God spoke: “I have observed my people’s misery…I have heard their cry…I know their sufferings…I have come down to deliver them.”
How would God do this? With cosmic signs? Cataclysmic earthly upheaval? An army mighty in number and power?
No. None of these. God tells Moses, “I send you.” I hear God’s voice echoing in the words of that soulful spiritual: “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell ole Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’”
Now, the way this story is written, first, God informs Moses of the crisis of an enslaved people, then God calls Moses to be the agent of divine deliverance, which stirs up in Moses an inner conflict: “Do I remain in Midian in safety or return to Egypt, risking my life?”
However, I bid that we look at this story through an existential interpretive lens, that is, the way things happen from our human point of view. Moses had escaped Egypt. He already knew of the crisis endured by his people. God didn’t have to tell him! That knowledge provokes his inner conflict as he wrestles with the question, “What should I do?” That wrestling opens “the ear” of his consciousness, allowing him to hear God’s call. A call terrifying, life-threatening in the magnitude of its inherent danger.
No wonder Moses second-guesses himself: “Who am I that I should go?” God answers with a word of consolation, “I will be with you.” Moses, desperately seeking to be sure of the identity of the voice speaking within him, so to know that the call is not merely the summons of his subconscious, even worse, his guilt that he is safe and his people, trapped in an oppressive slavery, are not, cried, “Who shall I say has sent me?” God answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” God’s Name is a verb; the most powerful verb “to be.” God is no idle idea, no motionless, meaningless imaginary concept, but a very active, very present power.
As with any biblical text, there always is much, so much that one can say. Today, the Spirit leads me to speak from my heart as a pastor.
Each Sunday, when I rise, I do not and cannot know who among us will gather among us on that day. Nevertheless, every Sunday, this I know. Since the previous Sunday, each one of us who does come has lived another seven days. And in that week, each of us has entered, perhaps, endured a range of human experiences, some joyful, some not, and human thought and feeling from elation to desolation, from tranquility to anxiety, and everything in between.
As this is so, whenever we gather, as we do today in this place, at this time, yes, we come together to offer God our worship in word and song. Yet we, as individuals, have come from the proverbial “four winds,” each of us with our dreams and desires and difficulties. Thus, no one of us can know the truth of the lives of all of us, most of us, even a few of us. I surely do not and cannot.
Nevertheless, I, with a pastor’s heart of love for you, each and all, this day, believe, know and declare this: Whatever your, my, our crises and conflicts, God calls unto us, this day and always, saying, “I AM with you.”
Illustration: Moses Adores God in the Burning Bush, James Tissot (1836-1902)