Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Am Who I Am (Exodus 3)

This sermon is by our Worship Pastor SuJin Shin.

As we’ve heard from Josh last week, Moses could be saved from death thanks to Shiphrah and Puah who were so weak but resisted the system, the powerful king.

Moses was a special baby, so his mom kept him hidden for three months. But his mom eventually couldn’t hide him anymore, so she got a basket and put her baby in the basket. Then, she  laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. He was found there by Pharaoh’s daughter. At that time, the baby’s sister was following him and approached the princess when the princess found him.
And she suggests that the princess finds a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby and the princess said ‘Yes’ because she found that he’s Hebrew. So the baby’s sister took her mom to the princess and the princess asked the mom to feed the baby for pay. The baby’s mom took him back home, and fed him. Wow!!! What a great story it is!! Isn’t it? This is an amazing drama. And later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. And she named him ‘Moses’ which means “I lifted him out of the water.”

The interesting story begins from this point on. Many years later, when Moses was a youth, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After making sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting, and tried to stop the quarrel. And the one man said, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you gonna kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” He must have thought, “What? People know that I killed the Egyptian?” And he ran away to the land of Midian, a wilderness. He started to live there and he lived there for about 40 years.

And today’s story is started. Would you stand as we listen to the word of God? I’m reading Exodus 3:1-15.

3:1 One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God.
3:2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn't burn up.
3:3 "This is amazing," Moses said to himself. "Why isn't that bush burning up? I must  go see it."
3:4 When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, "Moses! Moses!" "Here I am!" Moses replied.
3:5 "Do not come any closer," the LORD warned. "Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.
3:6 I am the God of your father - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
3:7 Then the LORD told him, "I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.
3:8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey - the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.
3:9 Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them.
3:10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt."
3:11 But Moses protested to God, "Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?"
3:12 God answered, "I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain."
3:13 But Moses protested, "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they will ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what should I tell them?"
3:14 God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you."
3:15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: 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 eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.

Moses was very special. He grew up as a son of a princess, a prince of Egypt. But he knew his identity as a Hebrew for his mom would teach him about it. So he might have been very proud of killing an Egyptian. That’s why he could appear to people and try to prevent their fighting the next day. He might have thought that there’s something different about him- for he is a Hebrew, but he’d been raised as a prince of Egypt to reign over his own people. He might have thought there’s a certain reason for it. So he might have thought that someday he would do something for his people. He could have thought he was hero. That really makes sense. But it was not. He couldn't be a hero at all. Rather he became a murderer and a fugitive criminal. There was nothing to do except run away.

So he went to Midian and got married to a woman there and lived in the wilderness while tending the flock of his father-in-law. How do you think Moses felt about this situation? I can imagine that he should have been so disappointed and depressed. He had been a prince of Egypt. He actually knew who he was. He had all the power and authority to do anything he wanted for the Hebrews. But his expectations were broken. He could do nothing with what he has and who he is. I am not saying that everything you have is useless or meaningless. I am saying that everything is nothing without God. Rather everything you have can make you nothing like Moses. God was with him of course. But  Moses was doing things as if there’s no God. He killed someone and hid it. No guilt. Don't say that God made him do it. It was just by himself. He just could have made an excuse. But it was wrong.

We sometimes do something wrong with God’s name like “Oh!! God makes me do this to you. I can handle it. God really wants me to do this.” And finally we do something we really want to. By God’s name. It’s just an example. But it’s just one side of our lives. We make mistakes many times like this. Moses needed to spend time to be humble. He needed to be trained. He needed to be nothing. And he needed to be the one who can trust only God, not himself. God needed to make him a leader of Israel to bring them out of Egypt. So God left him live in the wilderness doing just shepherding for 40 years. For 4-0 years!! Do you think you are walking in the wilderness? Do you think you are just doing something normal compared to your abilities or  the background you have? Do you feel like God is doing nothing for you? Then it could be like you are being trained by God. There could be something special waiting for you.

One day, Moses was tending the flock as normal. He came to Sinai, another named Horeb. And by accident he saw something amazing. There was a fire from the middle of a bush. And there was the angel of God in the middle of a blazing fire, but the bush didn’t burn up. Of course the angel of God didn’t burn up, either. How amazing!! It was just a normal day. He was expecting nothing in his life. Because there was nothing special for 40 years of his life. And he is kind of old to expect something new. He is about 80. But he is seeing blazing fire from the middle of a bush right in front of him. So he is coming to this amazing scene to look closer. And God suddenly called his name. “Moses! Moses! Do not come any closer,” the Lord says. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Feels so urgent. God is just warning not to  come closer and to take off his sandals and finally introduced himself to Moses.

We can find 2 things here. The first is that God calls you because of Himself, not you. I mean it’s important who God is more than who you are. God said who He is instead of who Moses was and is and what Moses did or does. God doesn’t call you because of who you are, or what you’ve done. The second thing is that God demands you to take off your shoes which are dirty, not holy, even though it seems urgent. God appeared to Moses over 40 years later. God is about to say something serious and urgent to Moses. And the Lord just says “Take off you sandals”. We face many times to work urgently. We sometimes have to deal with something or someone so fast. But God wants us to take off our shoes first. God wants us to take off our dirty shoes to stand on holy ground. Yes, it was holy ground where Moses has to meet the Lord. So the Lord wants Moses to be holy by taking off his shoes. Then where is this holy ground for us? Is it just a sanctuary where you worship God? People could worship at a specific place before, like a sanctum or temple. But after Jesus, we can worship anywhere if we do it in the spirit and in  truth. Worship is how we glorify God’s name. We live to glorify God’s name. We have to take off our shoes that could make us unable to come to the Lord our God. These shoes could be our selfishness, greediness, arrogance, hopelessness, and even desperation which Moses would have. We should take off these to go forward to God. Because God is holy. Nobody can even see God’s face for He is holy.

After all, the holy God said to Moses that “I am aware of my people’s suffering”. And the Lord said that He had come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and led them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. The God who can’t be in a sinful place has come down to rescue His people. God said that he had certainly seen the oppression of His people in Egypt. God said that He had heard their cries and distress because of their harsh slave drivers. God said that He knew all about them. And He told Moses “Go! I am sending you to Pharaoh! You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt” What great news for the people of Israel!! But what about for Moses? Can you imagine how Moses felt? It could be so weird to Moses that the Lord suddenly appears to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush and furthermore it’s not burning up. And the Lord says he is going to save the people of Israel. He is already about 80 years old and he has nothing except some flocks. All he can do is just tend the flocks. Then he is supposed to be going to Pharaoh and lead them out of Egypt?

Yes, as we could think, Moses asked to God. “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” It’s such a natural question for Moses. Because now he has nothing to be proud of. He has nothing that he could do big or special. He is just a shepherd and old. There doesn’t seem to be possibilities for him. So he is asking, “Who am I to appear before the king of Egypt? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” And God answers, “I will be with you.” See? God doesn’t say anything about Moses even though Moses asked about himself. God just answered to be with Moses. How come God doesn’t answer about what Moses is asking? It’s because God being with Moses is more important than who Moses is. And then Moses asks this, “Then what should I tell them about you?” I don’t think Moses is asking because he doesn’t know or believe in God. He seems to be making sure of who God is. He might want to confirm who God is. Because now he knows that he is nothing. He is just nothing without God. When he came to this wilderness, he should have been so disappointed and desperate. But he should have realized that he’s nothing, that he didn’t deserve to do something special. And he might have thought that he is nothing. Yes, the wilderness life gave him this insight. God trained him there. That’s why he should have checked who God is when God said that he should do something big, something very special. And God doesn’t ignore this kind of question at all for it’s so important to know who God is.

So God answers that “I am who I am”. What does it mean? God is who God is. God isn’t created. God created everything. God isn’t reigned. God reigns everything. God isn’t made by anything. God just makes everything. Nothing compares to God. There’s none like God our Father. The Lord is the God of Abraham who gave his son Isaac to Abraham at the age of 100, which is impossible to have a descendant, but God had promised him to be the father of a multitude of nations. The Lord is the God of Isaac who saved his life and prepared a ram as a sacrifice, instead of Isaac. The Lord is the God of Jacob who met him face to face fighting with him and named him ‘Israel’ and blessed him. This God is calling to Moses. God is who God is. That’s enough. We don’t have to ask about us. We don’t have to be proud of what we have or who we are. We don’t have to be worried about what we don’t have or who we are. We just have to know who God is. The important thing is whether God is with you or not. The important thing is if you are connected to God who is God. Therefore you have to give up who you are.

Do you remember that we are going to talk about what we have to give up so God can lead us out of slavery during Lent? I can say that we need to give up our shoes which are not holy. The shoes can be our concern about what I have, or who I am, so that God can’t lead us. When we are concerned about it, we can’t let God work in us. When we think about just us, we can’t go forward to God’s holy ground. Because if we focus on us, whether we would be proud of ourselves so we could make a mistake as Moses did before going into the wilderness, or we would be depressed so we can’t do anything forever as Moses did after. That’s why we need to know who God is instead of who I am. So we must take off our shoes to see closer and know God. For God is who God is.

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