Last Sunday, we heard the story of how the Civil Disobedience and acts of resistance of a few women saved the life of Moses during the regime of an insecure Pharoah.
Brian Bantum: Perhaps revolution has always been enacted through the small acts that refuse to accommodate the regimes of death that press in each day. Through their actions, they planted a seed of God’s freedom in the very heart of the empire’s power.
It IS in the heart of the Egyptian empire where Pharoah’s daughter pulls Moses from the water and raises him in defiance of Pharoah’s devious decrees. Moses is formed by power & privilege with access to the best education and the halls of power.
While living with privilege, Moses develops relationships with his enslaved kin and begins to reject his Egyptian heritage and starts identifying w/Israelites. His rage is so intense after witnessing an Egyptian oppressor beating an Israelite, he murders him. The next day, as he attempts to settle a fight between two Hebrews, they reject him. To them, Moses was no different than the oppressive Egyptians. His attempt to identify with the Hebrews failed. And now he is a political refugee and traitor wanted for murder.
Moses escapes from Egypt to Midian where he adopts a 3rd cultural identity finding refuge with a Midianite clan in the wilderness and marries Jethro’s daughter. Separated from his Hebrew & Egyptian roots, out of his privileged life, Moses was out of his depth. He felt so lost as an exile, he names his son Gershom (literally-“Stanger there”) as an expression of his loneliness. All he wants is a safe, comfortable life. He keeps his head down and takes care of his father-in-law’s herd. He is finally living the good life. 40 years go by before God meets up with Moses minding his own business tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro.
One day, Moses notices a strangely burning bush that is not consumed. Curiosity gets the best of him. Scripture explicitly says that “he turned aside.” This curiosity leads to theophany – a personal encounter with the Eternal, the divine; as well as an epiphany – a recognition of God’s presence.
British author and RABBI ELLI SARAH writes: The real miracle was that Moses noticed. The ‘messenger’ of the Eternal could only appear to Moses because he turned aside, he allowed himself to be apprehended. The burning bush that Moses encountered came with a message to liberate the slaves. The signpost to the great mission Moses was called on to perform was so subtle, he could so easily have missed it; he could so easily have not seen it and just walked on by. And if Moses had just walked on by, he would have continued to live out his days as a shepherd in Midian. Without turning aside, there would be NO Exodus. If Moses had not turned aside the story would end.
We are usually so set on our own direction, our own busyness, our own distraction – that we miss what God is doing. Or the opportunity to encounter God. By not paying attention, we might miss things, miss people. To turn aside is perhaps the beginning of prayer.
Moses turns aside. He got off the path. God did not speak until Moses turned aside. When God saw that he turned aside, God calls out: “Moses.” Moses responds: “Here I am.” One might wonder if the action of turning aside actually brought forth God’s speech. Does God wait for us to notice, too, to turn aside? Perhaps it is the Nature of God who longs to be with, to be relational.
Where Moses is standing is holy ground and the voice tells him to take off his shoes. I discovered that St. Francis wore no shoes, instead journeying barefoot, vulnerable to the ground, bringing deeper awareness of God’s presence. To take off our shoes believing the place where we stand is holy ground.
The voice seems to know a lot about the enslaved people Moses left behind.
“Their cries for help rose up to God”.
God is calling him to return. God will lead them to live in a land of abundance. Promises that sound great but cannot happen on their own, promises that require something of Moses. Except Moses is finally comfortable. He had resigned himself to a life of taking care of the family’s sheep and goats. He enjoyed his children, wife, extended family. After 40 years, he accepted his identity living within the Midianite community who had adopted him. Not looking or dreaming of more than this.
Moses protests. He is aware of his limitations; he knows his history; he is a wanted man. He has an identity problem. Was he a Hebrew? Egyptian? Midianite? He is also anxious about his abilities. He keeps arguing with the Almighty. He has already been rejected – how will his people accept his leadership and authority.
“If the people ask me who sent me, what am I going to tell them?”
God said, “Tell them I AM sent me to you.”
It is a mysterious name. This phrase became a combination of 4 consonants-the Tetragammatron in Hebrew. Translated as Yahweh in some Bibles, Jehovah in others. But this name is actually never spoken aloud by Jewish people. It is too holy to be spoken aloud. There is a curious link between breath, Ruach, pneuma, spirit, and the Jewish name for God.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a Mystic-Scholar, explains in article: Breathing the Name of God: The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are YOD, HAY, VAV, and HAY. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury. This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb “to be.” Scholars have suggested that a translation of the 4-letter Name of God might be “The One Who Brings Into Being All That Is.” So God’s Name is the Name of Existence itself. Since God is holy, then so is all creation. Here is a Name, a God who is neither completed nor finished. This God is literally not yet.
Rabbis say this combination of letters is more akin to breathing than speech. Yod Hay Vav Hay. One wonders: Could breathing be one of the names for God? Is the very act of breathing a prayer to God?
“Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my name for all generations.”
God is not only beyond all words; God’s name is attached to human names:
The God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.”
The God of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah & Rachel, the God of Mary Magdalene & Sojourner Truth. Where will you add your name? It is similar to calling ourselves children of God. Mystery. Majesty. Transcendent. Immortal, invisible, Relational–the Holy God waits for us to notice, to turn aside, to literally breathe, and in so doing, notice it as prayer to the One who created us, who loves us, who continues to call us forth.
Moses continues to protest: ”What if they won’t believe me if I tell them you sent me? You have forgotten that I am a very poor public speaker. I’m slow of speech. Send my brother Aaron.”
Moses had convinced himself that he absolutely does not have—the skill, the courage, the persuasiveness, the gifts, the experience, the standing, the stature, the anything to pull this off.
Finally God asks: What is in your hand?
The questions helps Moses recognize that he already possesses all the resources needed to fulfill God’s calling. Raised in Pharaoh’s court with privilege, education, and insider’s understandings of power, Moses also possessed survival skills he acquired in the wilderness that would prove invaluable when leading a resistant people through tough terrain and punishing desert. God was calling this Egyptian-Hebrew-Midianite Moses – who holds a unique tri-cultural gift, and he happens to be holding a staff that God would symbolically use to liberate a nation.
Finally, Moses stops talking and starts moving. He pushes through the wall of self-doubt, inadequacy and fear. Was Moses’ life easy and restful after God got a hold of him? Not so much. That was the day his real troubles began. And he never steps foot in the Promised Land.
There are still cries of suffering in the world. God still needs companions to hear God’s name and do God’s bidding. We will protest, we will come up with all kinds of excuses, why we cannot, would not, will not be effective—we lack the knowledge, the ability, the energy, the resources, the clout. We will come up against the wall of our own limitations and self-doubt and inadequacy, or complacency or apathy in not wanting to get involved.
“What is in your hand, Moses?” God asks us this question as well. It might seem insignificant like the staff of Moses. David had his sling and stones to defeat Goliath. The boy had his five loaves and two fishes. The woman had an alabaster jar filled with oil to anoint Jesus. We all have something in our hands. As we release what is in our hands, God is ready to anoint it.
What is that in your hand? How are you making it available for God’s purposes? Will you turn aside? God is able to use whatever we offer for the sake of the common good. When we use whatever is in our hand with courage and compassion, we begin to contribute toward building of God’s realm on earth.
In the power of the burning bush, in the quiet stillness, in the everyday noises of living, God is calling to each one of us, inviting us to trust in the gifts God has bestowed on us. You are beloved and blessed by God to be a blessing to others.