1Moses 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. 2There 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. 3Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up."
4When 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." 5Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6He 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. 7Then 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, 8and 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. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." 11But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."
13But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14God said to Moses, "I am who I am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I am has sent me to you.'" 15God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall 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': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
We had a busy week last week here at the Presbyterian Church of Lowell. Sunday was a luncheon and fundraiser, followed by Youth Group and a Super Bowl party. Tuesday was our Marti Gras pancake supper. Friday we hosted the Moderator of the General Assembly, who for a year and a half has been an ambassador for our church across the country and around the world.
Most importantly, though, Wednesday night we gathered in this place to be anointed wth ashes, to remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return. The season of Lent is a journey, and the first steps remind us that our own journey has an end. This year, our Lenten journey follows the Israelites out of Egypt.
The Exodus from Egypt shows the capacity of God to liberate the oppressed, and to topple unjust empires who build themselves up by holding others down. Although we think of Egypt as a struggling North African country, this was the most powerful nation the world had known for millennia. God looked at their great works, the economic and military powerhouse they had developed, and spoke: “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.”
At our Ash Wednesday service, I preached about the death of a whole generation. Even dynasties come to and end in Exodus chapter one. But in here in Chapter 3, we see that the promise of God has not passed away. It is alive and active in God’s hands. We hear God’s voice sympathizing with our struggles, we feel God presence around us even when we run from who we are, who God has created us to be.
Because Moses, as we know, is on the run. At the end of chapter 2, he murders an Egyptian and hides the body in the sand, but word gets around and Pharaoh chases him out of Egypt. Many years later, he turns aside to check out this burning bush, and God sits him down for a chat.
That chat sets the tone for understanding God ever since.
As Moses and God have a conversation back and forth, God begins to reveal who he is to Moses, and through him to the people of God. God promises liberation for a people who have been taken advantage of, and are oppressed because of it. Moses is totally on board right up until the moment when God tells him that Moses is the guy through whom God is going to do it. Then, suddenly Moses wants to see some credentials.
“But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.’””
This is more than an introduction, the LORD is connecting with his people in a powerfully intimate way. The LORD is not just a high minded concept, or a distant spirit who winds up creation and then watches it go. When the LORD tells Moses his name, it’s the beginning of an intimate relationship. The relationship begins with I AM WHO I AM, and is shortened to a simple I AM. We’re on a first name basis with the LORD!
We tend to get lost in titles for the LORD, heavenly father, holy one, great and gracious God, the list goes on and on. But in this moment, those titles and metaphors that can only captures a part of God’s nature are set aside. The LORD says I AM WHO I AM. One commentator suggested that this means “my nature will become evident from my actions.” The LORD is doing more than providing a name tag, he’s setting up a relationship that continues to guide the people of God even now. If you want to study what the LORD has done among us in the past, look to scripture, it’ll teach you how to see the LORD intervening in the life of this community in every time and place.
If you want to know who The LORD is, watch what he is doing in the world.
If you want to get to know the LORD better, participate in what the LORD is doing.
We’re on a first name basis with the LORD, not as special individuals, but as a covenant community. The LORD has chosen a people, and we are adopted into that family. The LORD is with us still, living up to the promise in his name I AM WHO I AM, showing us who he is through his actions.
Sometimes, we stumble into what the LORD is doing by accident, and like Moses, hide our face, for we are afraid to look at God. But the LORD is not in the business of scaring people. And what we see as accidents may end up as a powerful moment where the LORD reminds us who he is. Remember that last Sunday our scripture reading from Exodus 34 proved the LORD’s word true when Moses worshipped the LORD on that same mountain. And this time, rather than hiding his face out of fear, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with the LORD.
We’re in the same boat as Jesus’s disciples, many centuries after Moses’ call. The disciples are out on the sea at night, and a storm rises up. “When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.” Jesus’s reply to the fearful disciples seems like simple words of comfort, “It is I; do not be afraid.” But in his voice, rolling over the choppy waves in the midst of a storm, is more than an introduction.
Stepping back for a bit of background. Any time you see “the LORD” written in all capital letters in your bible (or in our church liturgy) that is standing in for the four-letter word that God gives Moses as his name: YHWH, which is connected to the words meaning “I am.” When Jesus is out on the lake and says “it is I,” he’s using the same form of “I am” that the disciples would recognize as connected to the divine name. We read, “It is I,” and the disciples hear the words of Exodus 3 in Jesus’s response, “[I AM], do not be afraid.” It’s more than an introduction, it’s a three-fold promise.
Jesus tells them, I AM with you, do not be afraid.
Jesus tells them, The LORD is with you, do not be afraid.
Jesus tells them, I AM the LORD, do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid, disciples, for Jesus is with you in the midst of the storm. Do not be afraid Moses, for the LORD will go with you when you bring the people out of Egypt. Do not be afraid Presbyterian Church of Lowell, for the Jesus is the LORD, and he is beside us on our journey through Lent, and through our whole life.
We do not have to be afraid, because we are on a first name basis with the LORD. The LORD is showing us who he is. Jesus is showing us what it means to be created in the image of God. That more-than-an introduction moment on Sinai is still playing out, that more-than-an-introduction moment on the sea near Capernaum is still guiding us.
And in the life of this church, we are watching the LORD do amazing things. We are getting to know Jesus better by participating in building up his kingdom. We are able to look out into a world that cries with fear and tell them “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, because “The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent us to you.”
And when we are afraid, which will happen. We need only to remember that we are on a first-name basis with the LORD, and that the one who walks on water walks with us.