Exodus 3 - Reflection

'God said, ‘I will be with you.’ Exodus 3:12

Brothers and sisters, this morning we’re back in the Book of Exodus. In our last look at Exodus we were told that God had heard his people but we were left wondering when will He do anything about it? And whilst we realised that God had been working behind the scenes getting all His pieces in place, today, in Exodus 3, we see God spring into action. God has listened and now God acts. Look with me at verse 2 of Exodus 3: ‘the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush […verse 4] When the Lord saw that he [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’’ Notice, first, that though God desires the rescue of the Hebrew people He does not just snap His fingers and bring them all magically out of danger. Many people view God in this way, whether they believe in Him or not, but God is not a genie, and He does not work by magic. God rescues by calling and equipping ordinary people and then supporting and guiding them through the difficulties. Now, the Jewish people—the people through whom God has planned to rescue the whole world—are in mortal danger and once again God calls a person to act as rescuer. Look with me at verse 9: ‘now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.’ You can almost imagine Moses nodding along to the first bit as he hears how God is concerned for His people. A smile appears on his face as hears that God is going to act to save the very people who Moses had tried and failed to rescue himself. But then verse 10: ‘So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ ‘Wait, what?!’ thinks Moses…‘me, go where??… to Egypt… oh no, no, no!!’ Moses was all up for the rescue in verse 9…he was happy and excited even that God was going to act…but now God is calling on him to help, for him to be involved. Oh no, this won’t do and he reaches for the oldest excuse in the book, verse 11: ‘Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’’ ‘Oh no, Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy I’m a nobody’ says Moses, and indeed, he’s got a point. Moses is now just a working class guy in the middle of nowhere from a country with very little power and certainly no real sway with the superpowers. Surely, thinks Moses, God could pick someone more important or with more skills? But no, God has picked Moses; his ordinariness is his qualification. 

So what’s the secret? What turns an ordinary person—like you and me—into someone who can really help others? The answer is in verse 12: ‘God said, ‘I will be with you’.’ That’s it. That’s the key, that’s the certain something which makes all the difference; God is with them. In make up, education,  skills, and in their belief even, they are just like all those around them, the difference is just in one regard: God is with them. Oh, to be sure, Moses isn’t immediately convinced, in fact he comes up with increasingly rubbish excuses to get out of—what he rightly sees—as a dangerous situation. He down plays himself, as we’ve seen in verse 12. Then in verse 13 he goes with ‘No one will believe me, unless I have your name’ line; and so God gives Moses His name, v14: ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’. Now we could have a sermon just on the divine name, so to summarise, what God means by this name, is something like ‘I am the One who causes all things to be. I created all things, and hold all things together, and so I have the power to control history’. The implication is clear: if this God is with them, neither Moses, nor the Israelites have anything to fear. And yet, Moses comes out with three more excuses in the verses which follow, each one worse than the first. Now we must not judge Moses too harshly, for these excuses are all too often our excuses when asked to serve. For God does not just work this way back then in the Old Testament, or even back  then in the New Testament; God does not change He works the same way today. He gives gifts to people—like He gave Moses the gift of leadership—and then He asks them to act according to their abilities to build the kingdom of heaven, in doing so truly helping all those around them. He says to the one whom he gave gifts of teaching, and gifts with children: Will you use them to serve those I send to you not just to learn to read and write, not just to help them to pass exams, but will you help them to get to know the One who died for them? He says to the one to whom He gave the gift of making money will you use that gift to serve those around you; not just to give yourself a nice home and car, but to raise money for the poorest so that they can eat, have a warm place to sleep’. He says to the retired person with extra time on their hands will you visit the lonely, help the single parent to have a night off from the kids, will you volunteer at the homeless shelter, or help the unemployed to write letters in search of work. Whomever you are, whatever gifts, talents and money you have, you can trace it back to God, and that same God is asking you to serve, asking you to help others in need, just as He asked Moses before you. And yet, how often when He asks, do our responses sound just like Moses’? Who am I… I’m no one… I’m not good enough; when under it all we have the same issue as Moses, we are afraid. And to those who are afraid verse 12: ‘God said, ‘I will be with you’.’ In more recent history, God also said something like this to one to whom He had given gifts of speaking and William Wilberforce was critical in ending slavery. God said something like this to the Rector of St Laurence’s who built St George’s; and something like this to the people of St George’s when they went on to build All Saints’. God always, always, calls on ordinary people to use the gifts and talents that He has given them, and with His help make a huge difference in the lives of those around them. So what is God calling you to do?

Now, as my old gran used to say, there is always an exception to the rule. There was one point in history, when God looked around for someone to help, someone to rescue, and found no one up to the task. There was one point in history, when God looked at the world—and the evil in every human heart—and said something must be done, but couldn’t find a rescuer who could do the job. When God looked for—if you like—a new Moses. However, on looking at the entire human race from beginning to end, He saw no one who could do it, no one who could or would go through the necessary depths to rescue His people. So what does God do? Does He give up? Does He shrug His shoulders, and turn away? No, He rolls up His sleeves, and comes Himself. He comes as Jesus of Nazareth. God comes Himself, to be the man, to be the New Moses, to be the One who would go through hell and out the other side, and so once and for all, to save His people. How do we know this is true, well it’s in our Gospel reading (John 18:1-9): ’Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, [His arrest, His torture, His death on the cross] went out and asked [those who had come to arrest Him], ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ said Jesus.’ As those who have just read the divine name in Exodus 3:14 Jesus’ answer should be astonishing. Sometimes people say Jesus never claimed to be God, well I can only assume they haven’t read these verses. Jesus said ‘I am he,’ Jesus uses the divine name ‘I AM’ for Himself. How do we know he isn’t just answering the question? How do we know He isn’t just just saying, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth’… well because of verse 6 of the Gospel reading: ‘When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.’ In the presence of God, and in using the divine name, even those intent on the worst evil, even those intent on arresting, trying, and killing Jesus, fall to the ground and worship Him; they simply have no choice, His power is too much. God cares so much about the world, that He comes Himself to put it right. It is this God—the God of the cross—who calls Moses and asks him to go to Egypt. It is this God—the God of the cross—who calls to us—calls to those He has made, to those who He has given gifts and skills, to those who He put in this place and this time, with the gifts unique to each one of us—and asks us to serve? Moses may have a special place in the story of God; but then so does each one of us, if we would but heed God’s call. The God who came to earth, as the new and better Moses, turns to us now, knowing our excuses before we utter them, and asks us to serve. He will go with us, He will go with you, as He went with Moses, as He went with Noah, and as He went with Wilberforce, the Booths, and many others since. God calls you to serve… so what is your answer? May it be an unequivocal,  ‘Yes’. Amen.(from Fr Mike).