Exodus 3:1-15 (The New Jerusalem Bible)
1 Moses was looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led it to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing, but the bush was not being burnt up.
3 Moses said, 'I must go across and see this strange sight, and why the bush is not being burnt up.'
4 When Yahweh saw him going across to look, God called to him from the middle of the bush. 'Moses, Moses!' he said. 'Here I am,' he answered.
5 'Come no nearer,' he said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
6 I am the God of your ancestors,' he said, 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this Moses covered his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Yahweh then said, 'I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying for help on account of their taskmasters. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings.
8 And I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country, to a country rich and broad, to a country flowing with milk and honey, to the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites,
9 Yes indeed, the Israelites' cry for help has reached me, and I have also seen the cruel way in which the Egyptians are oppressing them.
10 So now I am sending you to Pharaoh, for you to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'
11 Moses said to God, 'Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'
12 'I shall be with you,' God said, 'and this is the sign by which you will know that I was the one who sent you. After you have led the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.'
13 Moses then said to God, 'Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?'
14 God said to Moses, 'I am he who is.' And he said, 'This is what you are to say to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you." '
15 God further said to Moses, 'You are to tell the Israelites, "Yahweh, 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 for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations.
I always dread the part of the phone transaction where the salesperson asks my name. You see, there are two problems with my name: My first name and my last name. My first name is Jon spelled "J-O-N" instead of the more common "J-O-H-N." So when I tell my first name, John, I have to say, "J-O-N." And they reply: "You mean, J-O-H-N?" "No. I mean J-O-N." The reason for that spelling is that my real first name is Jonathan. "J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N." Thus, "J-O-N" for short. After convincing the person on the other end of the line that I really do know how to spell my first name, we must deal with the matter of my last name. "Burnum." "Is that "B-U-R-N-U-M?" "No. It's spelled like "Burn-Ham." "B-U-R-N-H-A-M." At this point in the conversation I usually find myself envious of the person whose name is "Joe Smith" or "Jane Doe." It really does get old having to explain my name to a stranger on the telephone because I need to check on my phone bill. But we must go through the ritual and they must get my name right or we cannot proceed with our business.
Names are meaningful. The name "Jonathan" comes from the Hebrew name יוֹנָתָן (Yonatan)) meaning "YAHWEH has given." Of all the Anglo-Saxon names to come from Britain, Burnham is one of the most ancient and comes from the Old English words "burna" or "stream," and "ham," or "homestead." (source) Today's story about Moses' encounter with God in a burning bush explains the origin of God's name, “Yahweh,” which means “I AM WHO I AM” or "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE." God's name, Yahweh, emphasizes God's freedom in the present and future tense.
When I was young, my Uncle James was nearly burned alive but he lived. I remember going to see him when he was in the hospital. I felt so sorry for him. He was all bandaged up and could hardly move. He was in great pain. Due to an accident at work, 80% of his body had 3rd degree burns. Uncle James survived that fire. He had skin grafts. But his life was never the same. No one who gets burned that bad goes back to business as usual and neither did Moses. He is a shepherd, out tending his flock, when he comes across a bush that is burning but it is not being burned up. The bush is burning with Yahweh.
God calls to Moses from the burning bush. God gives Moses a mission to return to Egypt and bring God's people out of slavery into the promised land. After initially refusing, Moses finally responds to God's call and his life will never be the same. Here is a recurring pattern in the Bible. God calls people. People initially refuse. People finally give in to God's call. They do what God wants them to do and they are never the same.
Moses knows he will need back up on this return mission to Egypt. So Moses says 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?” God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
While this is an ancient story, the Hebrews consider it to be their personal story. They do not refer to their ancestors as "they," but as "we." In the Jewish Ritual of the Feast there is this text: "In each generation, each one must consider himself or herself as having come out of Egypt personally. . . . It is not just our ancestors whom the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He brought out of Egypt, but ourselves; he delivered us with them." (Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami, 426)
In the Inquirer's Class we spend one Sunday investigating the Presbyterian story. I show a graph of Presbyterian history that begins at the top of the page with "OT People" and ends at the bottom with "1983 Reunion, forming Presbyterian Church (USA)." Our Presbyterian story starts with the "OT People" meaning the Old Testament people. The Bible is a record of our family stories. The Bible is a story about us.
Religion, Christianity, and church may never make sense to we until you put ourselves into the story. Our story begins with the Old Testament people and continues through the New Testament people and all down through the ages until now. When we present our pledges to God this morning we are participating in our own salvation story. We are connected by faith with Moses, Jesus and Paul.
But you may not be feeling very connected today. In fact you may be feeling disconnected.
lost the taste for being free.
Thank God He sent some gull-chased ship
to carry me to sea. (Sings Bruce Cockburn)
Perhaps you feel as if your life has run ashore today. You may feel as if you are wandering around in a wilderness with no satisfaction. Or you may feel enslaved inside an empire as the Israelites of old were enslaved in Egypt. Today is a day to break free. Today is a day to find your way back to the sea of God's love. Today is a day to begin again on your journey toward the promised land. Today is the day to re-enter the story.
Here is one way to think about your pledge on this Stewardship Sunday. When you walk forward to place your pledge card in a plate you are buying your way back in to the story. This is something we must do over and over again, not once in a lifetime. We must put ourselves back into the story. You may find your way back into the story with a financial gift, a song, or an act of mercy. However you do it, finding your way back into the story is the greatest journey you will ever make.
The old hymn puts it precisely like this:
This is my song.
Praising my Savior
all the day long.
This is my story.
This is my song.
Praising my Savior
all the day long.
Make it your story today.
Sacred moments shared are one of the joys of serving as the pastor of a congregation. We share memorable moments such as the birth cry of a baby or the last breath of a beloved family member. It is exciting to hear a baby's first cry after birth: “Yaaaah-weh” ... “Yaaah-weh.” And that cry is sometimes heard during the child's baptism as well. Other times we listen to the dying breaths of a family member ..."Yah-waaaaaay” – "Yah-waaaaaay” – "Yah-waaaaaay” is the sound a dying person makes as they inhale and exhale as their body expires. They may make this sound over and over again for several hours and even days as their family listens and waits for the time when they will no longer make that sound or any sound. I have heard that sound in the past year on the lips of some dear members of this congregation.
The first sound a baby makes after birth and the last sound a person makes before death are different pronunciations of the same name: “Yaaaah-weh” and "Yah-waaaaaay” This is the name of God as revealed to Moses: "Yahweh." God's name is our first cry when we enter the world and our last breath when we leave this world. We declare God's name with every breath we take. Whether we feel it or not, we are already inside this story. We never left it. We never will. Yahweh. We pronounce God's name when we enter this life and as we leave it. We pronounce God's name with every breath along life's journey.