Take off your shoes!

When God speaks to Moses out of a burning bush, he takes off his shoes, as he is told.  But Moses is not so crazy about the rest of the stuff God tells him to do.

Full Text: 

Take off your shoes!

September 29, 2013 – Exodus 3:1-15

 

            In the beginning, God created all things.  God made order out of chaos.  God made light in the darkness and separated water from land.  God made a space in which life was possible.  And God saw that it was good.

            Then God called forth life from the land and from the water and from the sky.  There were animals and fish and birds and plants and trees and rivers and sun and moon and stars.  And God saw that it was good.

            Finally God made human beings in the divine image.  And God gave human beings the job of continuing the creative process – nurturing life, bringing forth life, and making life possible and bountiful.  And God saw that it was very good.

            But then things turned not so good.  God blessed the human beings that they might be a blessing.  But that’s not the way they lived.  They lived for themselves.  It caused great disruption – between God and human beings, between creation and human beings, and between human beings themselves.  There was lying; there was cheating; there was stealing; there was killing.  Things got so bad God tried to start over with a flood, but that didn’t work as well as God wanted either.

            Finally, God went to one man – Abraham – and God said, “If you follow where I lead, I will give you land and descendants to fill the land and blessings, and through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

            So, Abraham went.  It took a while, but at last Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.  Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons – Esau and Jacob.  With his mother’s help, Jacob stole his father’s blessing and his brother’s birthright.  He got his comeuppance from his father-in-law, Laban.  But, in the end, he received God’s blessing and was reconciled with his brother.

Jacob had, not one or two, but 12 sons by four different women. His favorite was not the first or the second, but the 11th son – Joseph.  Because of this, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him so they sold him down the river – or, rather, across the wilderness.  They sold him to some slave traders on their way to Egypt.  Through his faithfulness and humility, Joseph was able to rise high in Pharaoh’s government and to use his position to save many people from starvation, including his brothers and their families.

So, it was that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and his wives all ended up in Egypt.  They came because of food.  There they flourished.  Though it had gotten off to a rocky start, they began to realize the promise of God to give many descendants.

But there were now two problems: The first was that they were living far from the land God promised to Abraham.  One promise is being fulfilled; a second promise is being threatened.  How are they going to get back to the land of their ancestors?

The second problem is that the descendants themselves are being threatened.  They are being threatened because the Pharaoh in Egypt feels threatened by their numbers and their strength.  So greater and greater burdens are being put on them.  Closer and closer watch is being kept on them. 

At the end of Exodus 2, we read:

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

 

It’s not that God had forgotten.  God is not like me.  Sometimes I get up from my chair and walk into Marcie’s office because there is something I want to tell her and by the time I get there, I have forgotten what it is I want to talk to her about.  God is not like that!  God has not forgotten in that way.  This means that God will now act in order to honor the promise that God gave to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Just as God went to one man – Abraham – out of his desire to bring blessing to everyone, God goes to one man now – Moses.  Moses, at that time, was working as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro, in the land of Midian.  He had grown up in Egypt, but after killing an Egyptian for beating an Israelite slave, Moses skipped town. 

As he was out in the fields, keeping watch over his flock by day, he saw an amazing thing – a bush that was burning but wasn’t burning up!  He went over to take a closer look.

A voice spoke – “Moses!  Moses!”

“Yes!” Moses said.  “I’m here!”

“Take off your shoes,” the voice commanded.  “You’re standing holy ground!”

Then the voice went on.  “I am the God of your father: of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  I have seen the suffering of my people.  I have heard their cries for help.  Now I want you to go and lead them out of Egypt, take them through the wilderness, and bring them to the land that I promised to Abraham.”

Moses not only took off his shoes.  He hid his face in his robe.  He did not want to see God directly.

Still Moses had a question, “But why me?  I’m nobody!  The Pharaoh will never listen to me!”

God said, “I will be with you.  And this will prove it to you – when you lead the people out, you will bring them to this very mountain and you will worship me!”

Moses protested again.  “But what happens if I go to the people of Israel and say, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me,’ and they say, ‘What is the name of this God?  What do I tell them?”

God said, “I AM WHO I AM.  Tell them I AM WHO I AM has sent you.”

Moses said, “But what if they say, ‘Who are you?  God couldn’t have appeared to you’?”

God said, “I’ll give you some neat tricks.  I’ll turn your shepherd’s staff into a snake.  I’ll turn your hand sick with leprosy.  I’ll turn a bucket of Nile River water into blood.  That should be enough to get their attention.”

Moses said, “But I’m no good at public speaking.  I get all tongue tied.  I stutter.  I stammer.”

God said, “Who do you think made your mouth?  I will be there with you and I will give you words to speak.”

Finally, Moses said, “Please, Lord!  Isn’t there anyone else you can send?”

God said, “OK! OK!  Your brother, Aaron, is good at public speaking.  He can go with you. But I want YOU to go!”

 

God’s plan to save Israel – the descendants of Abraham and Sarah – and to make good on his promise to give them land is off to an unpromising start.  His chosen leader, Moses, makes objections five times. 

Our standard is Mary.  When Gabriel announces to her that she is to conceive and bear a son, her only question is, “How’s that gonna work?”  After Gabriel explains that it will be God’s Son she will carry in her womb, she says, “Alright.  Whatever you say.  Let it be with me according to your word.”

But I think that Moses’ resistance tells us as much about God as it does about Moses.  Yes, Moses feels eminently unqualified for the position.  I would have given up after two or three protests.  I would have thought, “Maybe this guy really isn’t right for the job.”

Unlike me, God is patient and persistent.  Just as God was patient through all the craziness and chaos, through all the murder and the mayhem, God is patient now.  God doesn’t give up.

And I think this is in line with the revelation of God’s name.  Most of the reflection about this passage has to do with the meaning of the name.  It is most often translated, I AM WHO I AM.  But it can also be translated, I CAUSE WHAT I CAUSE, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.   Yes, it is a mysterious name that won’t allow us to pin God down.  But I think the name means something like, I WILL BE WITH YOU, because that is really the message that God is giving Moses.

The Great I AM is a holy name.  It is a mysterious name.  But when God gives the divine name to Moses, it is also an act of intimacy and vulnerability.  When we know someone’s name, that allows us to be closer to that person.  We can engage that person in conversation.  In that conversation, we can be changed and that person can be changed.  We don’t always think this way about God, but I think knowing God’s name is a game-changer for Moses and for Israel.  God is willing to be intimate and vulnerable for the sake of the people and for the sake of the promise.

This same holy and awesome I AM, this same intimate and vulnerable I AM, is the one that the Gospel of John tells us about.  For the one who is God made flesh is the one who tells us, “I am the bread of life.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the light of the world.  I am the resurrection and the life.  I AM.”

 

Jesus is the one who will be with us in our darkness and will lead us in his saving love to everlasting life.