Let Me Stay
A Meditation on Exodus 3: 1 – 15
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church September 3, 2017
Nothing is so comforting as presence.
I had a blanket with satin binding. It wasn’t enough.
Many of us get by as children by hugging a teddy bear or blanket as night falls. One step up is having the warmth of a cat or dog beside you. But nothing beats having mom or dad or a grandparent or aunt or uncle or cousin or even a sibling to sit beside the bed while we fall asleep.
Being the youngest of four, I always wanted people around when I was falling asleep. I went through a season of my childhood, when my family called me “the cat.” I had become nocturnal. Here’s the reason: if I woke up in the night, really woke up, and discovered that I was all alone, I would go wandering. I would climb in bed with my big sister and, snuggle up and go back to sleep! The only problem was, she would wake up, hot and uncomfortable, crowded by her baby sister. So, she would get up and go get in my bed.
You can guess what happened next. I would wake up, all alone, and wander off to find my brother…or my parents…someone to snuggle up to. Some days our family would wake up to discover that it was like fruit basket turnover. No one woke up in the same bed where they had begun the night’s rest.
All this came abruptly to an end one dark night. As I was wandering down the windowless hallway in search of a warm bed, I ran into something, and something ran into me. We crashed into each other and I let out a blood curdling scream. The something grabbed me and I kept screaming…until the something yelled loudly enough for me to hear him. The “something” wasn’t scary at all…it was just my big brother…sleepily walking to the bathroom.
Sometimes a presence can be both disturbing and comforting…
Moses came upon the presence of God in a mysterious burning bush, and God’s presence was both comfort in the midst of trauma and disruption in the face of calm. Moses was unaware of how desperately he needed God’s presence. After all, he had created a new life for himself. The story we have skipped over since last week is the story of how Moses, Hebrew by birth, but adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as an Egyptian, came to murder an Egyptian. Scripture tells us that Moses came upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew worker, and it enraged him so, that he killed the man, and buried him in the sand, and snuck away, telling no one.
Word got back to Pharaoh. Imagine the king’s wrath. He had taken an enemy – an infant – but still an enemy – into his own home, raised him as his own family, and this is how he is repaid. And so the king sought to kill Moses.
Which is how Moses became a convict on the run. He fled the life of luxury, and recreated himself to look and – eventually – speak like a Hebrew man. Moses became a shepherd, got married and raised a family in the land of Midian, a far cry from Pharaoh’s palace. When you relocate, you can leave a lot of stuff behind, but you take your memories with you wherever you go. Moses couldn’t escape the horrible image of his people suffering in slavery under the Egyptian king. Nor could he forget that he should have been one of those slaves, too.
Despite the joys of his new family, his wife and son, he lives with a past that includes shame and survivor guilt. He lives with a past that includes lying and murder. He lives with a past that defines him as part Hebrew, part Egyptian. He has a foot in both camps. He is both the betrayed and the betrayer. It is a troubled existence.
And since he didn’t know he was going to catch up with God around a camp fire on this particular day, Moses probably hadn’t brushed his teeth, or combed out his beard. Since he didn’t have the advantage of knowing, as we do, that he was going to visit with God at 11:00 on Sunday morning, he was probably wearing his everyday tunic, maybe for the third day in a row.
None of which matters to God, who invites Moses to take off his dirty sandals and stand on holy ground. In his dirty feet. Dirty hands, too. Those hands that took the life of another, when his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter risked their lives to save his tiny baby hands all those years ago. This man, who has somehow escaped death multiple times, now stands before God.
He has done nothing to deserve this. He has done everything to deserve this. He was born a child of God. He has fallen, and gotten up again. He has made terrible mistakes. He has been lost in the waters of the Nile, and found by a princess. He has been lost in the horrors of murder, and found in the comfort of a family. He has been lost in the wilderness of not knowing who he is, and in that place, God has found him and called him into the warmth and light of God’s presence.
Ashamed and afraid, he hides his face, but God just keeps on talking. God explains how God has seen and heard all that Moses had already seen and heard back in Egypt. God has seen the injustice and oppression of the Hebrew people. God has seen, and God has chosen Moses to be God’s servant leader in this dangerous work. Moses will shepherd the people from the wilderness to a land of milk and honey.
Moses doesn’t see his resume the same way that God sees it. He is as tongue tied as most of us would be when we have the opportunity to meet someone “famous.” Moses’ response to God is not a “yes, Lord,” but a “not me! I can’t do it!” He offers five different excuses, each of which we have employed, too.
The first one appears in vs. 11: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” That’s a question that has rolled off all of our tongues at one time or another. How am I qualified? How could I possibly be the right person for the job? Surely there is someone else better suited. Our insecurities are good at trying to drown out God’s calling.
God’s response? God doesn’t go through a laundry list of all of Moses’ good qualities. God doesn’t attempt to build up Moses’ self-esteem. God doesn’t deny Moses’ mistakes. God says, “I will be with you. That will need to be enough. And when all of this is over, we will be together again, right here!” God promises presence and a future hope.
Drop down to verse 13. Moses says, “but they don’t know who You are! How do I explain you to the Egyptians, who have so many gods?” To which God gives an answer that is more perplexing than the question. God says, tell them my name is “I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I will be who I am.” God offers Moses a riddle, which doesn’t boost Moses’ confidence. “Here I am, Moses,” God says. I am a mystery, and you have to decide if that is enough to sustain you.
The rest of the excuses are in the next chapter, so you might want to read chapter 4, also. In 4: 1, Moses says, “What if they don’t believe me?” Which essentially means, “how do I prove you are real?” Like the question before this one, there is no solid answer. We cannot prove God’s existence; we can only invite others to open themselves to the experience of God. God does offer Moses a few mysterious signs to bolster his courage as he returns to Egypt. Poor Moses, every time he got discouraged he probably threw his walking stick down and watched it change into a snake. Or slid his hand in and out of his tunic, watching it change from diseased to clean and back again. All the while, feeling more and more confident. God knows Pharaoh’s sorcerers will easily dismantle these signs, but Moses doesn’t need to know that yet!
Since none of these “big” questions have persuaded God to pick someone else, Moses takes a practical approach: “I’m not good at public speaking.” (4:10) Which, if you look at scripture, seems to be a major cop out, since Moses does some mighty fine speaking. God’s response? “Who gave you a mouth so you could speak? I did! I’ll tell you what to say, and I will be there when you say it.”
Finally, since every other option has failed, Moses says, “Please send someone else!” (4:13) “Anyone but me! I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who You are. I can’t prove to Pharaoh that you exist. I hate talking in front of people…and, and, and…
“Yes?” asks God, as the flames crackle and waver.
“and…I don’t want to go. Let me stay here. I like it here by the fire. I want you to send anyone else but me. Don’t make me do this alone.” For the first time, God makes a real concession. God instructs Moses to bring his brother Aaron along. Aaron will speak, and Moses will tell him what God wants him to say. A team.
For every complaint, every excuse, God had one direct answer: I will be with you.
I don’t know who I am! I do not believe I am enough. And God says, “But I know who you are and I will be with you.”
I don’t know who you are, God! And God says, “In the mystery, I will be with you.”
I can’t prove you exist! And God calmly responds, “That is a great truth; still, I will be with you.”
I don’t speak well! “I made your mouth. I gave you speech! Even as you stutter, and trip over your words, I am with you.”
Don’t pick me. And God, getting a little testy, says, “It is too late. I chose you before the beginning of time. I chose you to live as a stranger in a strange land so you would recognize the commonality among all people. I chose you to witness abuse, so you would be inspired to take a stand against injustice. I chose you to belong to enemy families, so you would know compassion. I chose you to set the prisoners free. Free from hunger, free from fear, free from oppression, free from hate. I chose you.
And just as God chose, Moses, God would choose unlikely people time and time again. God would ignore birth order and choose David to be a king. God would choose a man named Jonah, who didn’t even want to be a prophet, to bring redemption to the Ninevites. God would choose an unknown woman, Esther, to save God’s people from death. God would choose a poor, working class couple to birth and raise the son of God.
And every time we rejoice over a baptism or welcome a new member into our midst, we proclaim that God is still inviting, still choosing, each of us in our fragile and broken ways, to stand on holy ground and simply say, “thank you.”
Let us give thanks to a God who invites us to be warmed by the fire – dirty feet and all – and then sends us out, side by side, to do this holy, dangerous and mysterious work.
Thanks be to the God who is with us! Amen.