Blogging Towards Sunday, September 23rd
What’s in a name? That’s the question with which today’s scripture from Exodus wrestles. Always a propos, the question seems even more poignant in this time of increasingly vehement and violent religious discourse, political action and violent extremism. All the religions of the world lift up compassion, justice and peace. And yet multiple mysterious things are done in the name of divinities: the storming of an embassy in Libya, the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Korean Peninsula, the blockade of the West Bank, the enslavement of Africans, the Crusades, the 9/11 bombing, the Spanish Inquisition and the cold blood murders of medical workers who perform abortions. It’s easy for us to look at actions taken in the name of other gods and traditions as see how they are twisted, and yet we have to admit that in our own faith community tragically destructive things have been done in the name of the God we serve and follow. So where does that leave us? If we claim to do things in the name of God, are we religious extremists? When we pray in the name of Jesus of Nazareth are we intolerant activists? If we don’t invoke the name of God in our actions, decisions and talk are we denying our faith out of the fear of being labeled extremists or even terrorists?
Today’s passage continues with the story of Moses and begins his redemption and return to his people and Egypt and acceptance of his vocation. God calls Moses in this passage, in a way that is both similar and different than the divine calls to. How of Abraham (Gen 22:1), Jacob (Gen 31:11), Joseph (Gen 27:13) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4, 6 &8). How are we called like Moses? How are you?
Moses curiously makes excuses, trying to get out of his vocation. And yet somehow in this unfathomably sacred experience of God’s presence Moses is invited to be at home and to be himself. He’s been residing in a foreign land, hiding from Pharaoh and God, confused about his identity. Yet here knowing who God is – Moses is finally able to start to grapple with his own identity. He first becomes aware of God’s plan and call for the people, and then becomes aware of God’s call for his life.
The Burning Bush is a revelation of God’s mysterious unfathomable presence (what theologians call Transcendence) which is only understood when we experience God’s presence with us (what theologians call Immanence). How have you experienced that? If God’s redemptive coming down in our lives can take the form of revelation, that revelation need not be a disclosure of other-wordly mysteries but simply God enabling us to look at our this-wordly situation under a different pretext, seeing the world as God sees it.
What’s going on with the burning bush? Is it God’s presence or the presence of the Angle of the Lord? What does the text say? What does that mean?
God gives God’s name – the tetragram (YHWH) – the Hebrew word for to be. Yahweh, commonly translated as the LORD, is difficult to translate. Some translations might be “I is and I will be” or “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or even “I was, and am, and will be”. It conveys that God is – present, alive, active, involved, personal, caring. It also conveys that God is beyond our grasp, beyond our limited experience of time and life. God cannot be put into a box or pigeon-holed in the past, the present or the future. God IS. It’s a radical message for Moses who is afraid and confused, feeling abandoned and sent alone to do an impossible task. It’s also a radical message for us today in a massive multi-national society in which we often can feel identified only by our email account, our paycheck or our address.
Why does Moses complain? Is he refusing to do what God wants? Why doesn’t God get more upset? Is Moses being respectful or self-centered? Read chapter 4 of Exodus to see what else happens and how God moves Moses beyond his fear into action, from flight into acceptance of his vocation.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in this text?
2. How have you experienced God, come to know who God is in your life? Was it a one time experience, a processes, a mix?
3. How do you understand your call (vocation), your identity and God’s identity as connected?
4. How are you – are we – called like Moses to reveal God’s radical presence in the world?
Painting "The Burning Bush" by Seth Weaver
Painting "The Burning Bush" by Seth Weaver