“Here I Am”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
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. 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.” (NRSV)
There’s a gospel connection lurking in this ancient text. Listen to the revealing harmony as we overlay portions of two biblical stories:
“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro…”
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
“There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire…”
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” (Luke 2:9)
“[God] said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be a sign for you…when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’”
“This will be sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…” (Luke 2:12-13)
“Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight…’”
“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.’” (Luke 2:15)
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry…I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…’”
“My soul magnifies the Lord, for the Mighty One has…brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…” (Luke 1:46 & 52)
Jesus is often called the “Second Moses.” It seems fitting, then, that the stories of Moses’ call and of Jesus’ birth mirror each other so closely. What’s more, they are two of many biblical reminders that God’s call tends to surface in the midst of wilderness—whether geographical or spiritual. And that call often evokes an eager response.
“Here I am,” says Moses.
“Here I am,” says Samuel.
“Here I am,” says Isaiah.
“Here I am,” says Mary.
“Here I am,” says Ananias.
In most of these stories, the Here I am character experiences a kind of existential hiccup. Moses hiccups when his Here I am becomes, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…?”
Does that feel like familiar ground? To say, “Yes!” then, “Wait! Who am I to do that?” If it does feel like familiar ground, it is also, says God, “holy ground.” And a fruitful journey through the holy land of Here I am to Who am I? and back again requires openness, humility, and a fierce hope.
We see that in the conversation between God and Moses. On the holy ground of call and response, the Who am I? question marks the moment when Moses confronts the demands of new responsibility. And it’s a profoundly intimate moment. Take your shoes off, says God. Moses receives his call barefooted—that is to say, exposed, vulnerable, and dependent on grace.
After getting Moses’ attention with a sight that defies reason, God turns and calls Moses to work that is even less plausible than a burning bush, and far more frightening—Go tell Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves.
God then assures Moses with a sign that isn’t particularly assuring. When Moses has completed his task, he and the Hebrews will worship right where he now stands barefooted and overwhelmed. This “sign” is not some good luck charm or a compass to guide him. It’s a promise toward which Moses must both live and lead others. It’s an invitation to pure trust. And isn’t that appropriate? Forgive the cliché, but the life of faith really is a journey—a journey of risk, and discovery, and hope. And Moses isn’t buying it.
The Hebrews won’t believe me, he says. I was raised in Pharaoh’s house! Plus, I’m wanted by Pharaoh for murdering an Egyptia!. Can you at least give me a letter of reference or something?
Getting all existential, God says: Tell them my name is I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you—the I AM of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I AM the one who was, and is, and is to come. Now go.
Having been raised in an Egyptian household, Moses’ well of Hebrew memories isn’t even damp at the bottom. But maybe hearing God say I AM stirs something elemental within him, something that begins to remind him of the old story of Abram who leaves when God says, “Go.”
God’s call for Moses to free the Israelites is also a call to establish a brand-new set of memories by which God’s people may live into new hope. And through the long and ragged arc of Here I am’s and Who am I’s, I AM eventually speaks another word: Emmanuel. Through Jesus of Nazareth, God says, I AM with you, in person. And so, the ongoing Exodus of Creation continues.
Humankind is always somewhere on the Exodus continuum. We’re either slaving away in some Pharaoh-possessed kingdom. Or we’re crossing some sea trying to escape it. Or we’re chasing former slaves and trying to capture and oppress them all over again. Or we’re building golden calves because pillars and clouds don’t persuade us anymore. Or we’re simply wandering about, and complaining about the food.
Sometimes, though, we’re settling in to new ways of life, new and more edifying ways of being in relationship with God, with each other, and with the earth. Remembering the faithfulness of God, we look hopefully toward a future we can’t yet see, but which we trust because we trust that we didn’t get to wherever we are completely on our own.
Here in the early 21st century, being the Church is no easy calling. Sometimes the best we can do in our wilderness is to throw up our hands and say, “Here we are,” then work through every “Who are we?” moment with memoried grace. So, we keep telling the stories, trusting that God is creating, through us, new and renewing memories for generations to come.
The issues that plague our wilderness may seem irresolvable, but they will, in time, find resolution, because just as God called Moses to address the issue of Hebrew slavery and oppression, God is calling us to address the issues of our generation—issues which do, in part, define our era. And because Jesus himself did, as Mary said, bring down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the lowly, the Body of Christ must, in my opinion, exercise a voice in addressing things like poverty, violence, racial injustice, and environmental justice.
Having said that, the issues themselves do not define us. We are defined by how we deal with one another in the midst of them. And until we, as followers of Jesus, answer God’s call to deal with each other as God deals with us in Jesus, we may never truly experience the peace that passes understanding.
To use Mary’s words again: “In remembrance of [God’s] mercy, according to the promise [God] made to our ancestors,” (Luke 1:54b-55a) let us say to God, Here we are. Then let us be resolved to be defined by our Here I am of openness to God, and by our Christlike love for each another and for all Creation.