31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 4, 2015
Exodus 1:8-2:10, 3:1-15
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
I am who I am. When Moses asks for God’s name, God responds, “I am who I am.”
It might seem odd that Moses needs to ask for God’s name. Remember though that Moses has been raised in Egypt, a land with many gods: Ra, the sun god, Osiris the god of the dead, Anubis, the dog headed funerary god, Isis, the godddess of love, the winds, magic, and more. The Egyptians had many gods, as did the Canaanites, the Hittites, and the Amorites.
It was not so strange for Moses to ask for God’s name. What is unusual is God’s response. “I am who I am.” Or “I will be who I will be.”
That was not the response Moses was expecting. Like the Egyptian gods who had physical representations you could touch, Moses wants something tangible, some way to know God, to understand God, to take hold of God.
For thousands of years, people have wanted the same thing. They have wanted to understand God, to categorize and define God. They have debated God’s gender, God’s physical representation, God’s omnipotence and God’s omniscience.
It’s important to know God. It’s important to know that God is a God of relationships, a God who has been with our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents, going back hundreds and thousands of generations. It’s important to know that God is faithful and ever with us.
It is also important to know that God cares deeply for God’s people. God hears our prayers; God knows our suffering; and God wants to free us from the things and systems that enslave us, to unburden us from those things that weigh us down and oppress us. God wants us to walk in light and live in love. God cares deeply for us.
And God is active in our world, actively working to bring about peace and justice. God is still speaking in our world, speaking to us, as individuals and as a community and calling us to partner with God and create God’s kingdom. God is still working in our world, through each one of us.
We, at the First Congregational Church, seek to be faithful to God’s call and partner with God in ministry. We have long been listening to God’s still speaking voice. We spent a year discerning our five Spirit ministries of Worship, Welcome, Nurture, Outreach, and Transparency, and this past year, as we conducted the United in Ministry Capital Campaign, we listened a lot to what our brothers and sisters in this Christian community had to say. We shared our challenges and our dreams; we spoke of our concerns and our hopes.
And when the official Capital Campaign was completed and we had raised more than 90% of our goal, we knew our work was just beginning.
Church Council, who represents our different ministry committees and serves as our church leadership in between Annual Meetings, knew that God was speaking through all of these campaign visits.
They gathered the campaign visitors, and with Rodger Stotz’s facilitation, the campaign visitors shared what they heard, and we connected these hopes and needs with one of the Spirit ministries of Worship, Welcome, Nurture, Outreach, and Transparency.
This debriefing evening bore much fruit. Church Council has spent the last three months praying about everything they heard and discerning what new ministry goals God is calling us to.
And because we believe that God speaks through community, in the months to come, members of Church Council will be visiting and hosting gatherings to share what is going on in our church’s ministry and share about these ministry goals. Share so they can listen to your thoughts; share so you can also pray and listen to God and discern if God is calling us to these ministries or to others.
Listening to God, discerning God’s calling is very difficult work. We wish it were easier. We wish God’s messages to us would be clearer, that knowing God’s direction and calling would be as easy as seeing a burning bush.
But as Mari Amorosino’s study Bible says, “Every day, we have the possibility of a burning bush experience.” Every day, God is still speaking to us. It is simply a matter of cultivating our listening ears, nurturing our listening hearts so we can hear God’s voice clearly speaking. Every skill and ability we have is stronger for our practice.
As a preacher, I have found myself jealous of those whose every personal encounter seems to be filled with the voice of God. They have these Godly experiences in the grocery store parking lot; on the plane, their seatmate is not a screaming baby but someone who they engage in a deeply theological conversation with; they see a stranded motorist and stop to help and find God’s blessing.
I’ve wondered – what is it about these people that God seems to be speaking through their every encounter?! And then I realized, God is speaking through our every encounter. Every day, we have the possibility of a burning bush experience – if our ears were only listening, if our eyes were only opened to it.
So how do we cultivate listening ears? How do we nurture listening hearts? How do we see the burning bushes in our midst? The holy ground that we are already standing on?
Intentional daily moments of listening and reflection like the one we engage in during worship on Sunday morning help – as does expecting to hear God’s voice. Expecting to hear God’s voice through the Bible, expecting to hear God’s voice through our own gut instincts and thoughts, expecting to hear God’s voice through others.
The Israelites in Egypt were not the last of God’s people to be oppressed, to be persecuted and enslaved by a tyrannical ruler who wanted to increase his power and his wealth. Throughout history and all over the world today, we see God’s people suffering. They are oppressed by corrupt governments that use fear and economic control to keep them living in poverty and near starvation; they are fleeing countries where the government and rebel forces have no respect for human safety or life.
God observes the suffering of God’s people; God hears their cries, and God calls us to help.
Thousands of years ago, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, calling him to return to Egypt and set God’s people free, to lead them back to the promised land, a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
God didn’t just speak to Moses through. God also spoke to two midwives, calling them to do their part to save the people and their children from the genocide Pharaoh was set on inflicting. And God continues to speak to us.
As we watch and hear about tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan and Syria, we hear God’s still speaking voice calling us to help. As the people of Mexico and Central and South American continue to stream across our border, looking for relief from drug cartels and government oppression, we hear God’s still speaking voice calling us to help. As we hear about children in our own community, who are living in tent cities or on relatives’ couches, as we hear about children falling asleep in school because they haven’t had anything to eat that day, despite being eligible for free lunch, we hear God’s still speaking voice calling us to help.
Every day, we have the possibility of a burning bush experience. Every day, we have the possibility of a burning bush experience. Expect it. Listen to it. Partner with God.