Exodus 3: 1-15
Probably in 1957 or so my brother, ten years older then me, had a reel to reel tape recorder. I don’t remember all that he did with it but I do remember that when one of his friends would come over they would play radio announcer and they would interview me, the pest. I was probably around five or six years old.
One day they asked a very simple question by all accounts, “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” I didn’t know. They chuckled. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know and felt really slow of mind. I wasn’t old enough to make the connection that it had to have been Grant, Ulysses S. Grant, who was buried in Grant’s tomb. This incident, while has not sent me to the psychiatrists couch, has stayed with me all these years.
You have to admit, there are some very famous, perhaps some silly questions that have come down in life that we continue to reflect upon.
What came first? The chicken or the egg?
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear,
does it make a sound?
Where’s the beef?
Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?
Do you know the way to San Jose?
To be or not to be?
What is the meaning of life?
Questions are important! They bring clarity, they endeavor to look for profound meaning in life, they help you determine where you are and where you are going, they are critical to developing relationships.
In our scripture today Moses asks a lot of questions as his relationship with YHWY deepens. It is the old familiar story of the burning bush. Last week we met Moses as a tiny baby in a basket and this week, well, he is all grown up. A lot has happened to Moses in those years. Remember he grew up in the house of Pharaoh, as an Egyptian.
One day he goes out and sees the forced labor of his people the Hebrews and he is not happy. Finally he’s beginning to live into his born identity. He sees an Egyptian beat one of his people and he, in turn, murders the Egyptian. But he was found out by one of his own and he flees for fear of his life, he flees from Egypt, from the forced labor camps of the Hebrews, and from Pharaoh and he finds himself in Midian.
It’s here that he meets his future wife Zipporah and they begin to have children. The Israelites continue their agony in Egypt until the king died and God finally looks upon them, finally God hears their cries. We pick up the third chapter of Exodus.
Moses 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. There 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. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
When 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.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He 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.
Then 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, and 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send 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?” He 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.”
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.’” God 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.
The story continues from here, Moses is to go to the Israelites and let them know that God has heard them and that they will be delivered. Moses doubts that they will believe him and God sends a sign by changing the rod Moses had in his hand to snake and back again. That’s how he’ll convince the people.
But even after that, Moses still doubts his leadership for the task and asks yet another question. In essence, in this call story of Moses he asks five questions before he reluctantly takes up God’s call.
Why isn’t this bush burning up from all the flames?
Who am I to go to Pharaoh and do such a thing?
What if they want to know who sent me?
He can’t just say that he’s working for a talking bush..[i] he needed some credentials!
What if they don’t believe me?
And his last ditch effort question:
How can I accomplish this for you God, I’m not a good speaker.
That’s a lot of questions that Moses asks of God in an effort to subvert God’s call. But these questions are important questions between him and the great ‘I am’ because the answers reassure Moses that God will be with him, that God would not send him off on a wild goose chase and leave him flapping in the wind.
I think we all have questions from time to time about our life. Questions much more profound than ‘Who was buried in Grant’s tomb”. It is these very questions that deepen our relationship and reliance on God.
It was the poet and author Rainer Maria Rilke who once told a young poet, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them….the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”[ii]
No doubt about it, Moses was called into the presence of God for a specific moment in time and to make a difference in the lives of his fellow Hebrews and he eventually said yes, but not without inquiry. If you live and love the questions long enough you will eventually know the answer and understand the call that God has placed on your life.
Being called by God most often doesn’t mean a life to ministry. It means awakening to God’s love in the life you lead. That is, I believe, fulfilling your potential, nurturing your gifts specific that God has given you. God doesn’t want you to be anyone else but you where you are at the moment, with all of the questions that you can muster.
It means being highly attuned to the presence of God in your life. If you’re a poet then write your poems with the awareness of God’s love, if you’re a laborer then labor in God’s presence and it will make all the difference.
As Christ followers it means that we are called to exemplify God’s love and forgiveness, Christ’s unquenchable thirst for justice, and the Holy Spirit’s energy in our every day world and each day that we live out. We are called to be. And we are called to do.
Will you, through your actions, tell the Gospel that you have been called to tell? Eloquent words are not necessary, just an open ear and lots of questions like Moses who heard God calling him through a talking bush.