This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Exodus 3:1-15
He knows who we are – by name! (Exodus 3: 4)
The moment when we suddenly have a profound awareness that God is speaking to us is called the moment of truth. For Moses it was the sight of the burning bush, the place where Moses hears the voice of the living God. For anyone of us, it could be an earth-shattering moment, or it could be a moment in the still of the night. But it is the moment when the presence of God breaks in on us.
The curious thing is that we never know how long it will take us to reach that point. It is so easy to grow up in the Christian faith. Most of us grow up in a family where it seems as if everything is focused on God, and we are always surrounded by a Christian community. It is so easy to spend all those years in Christian education, perhaps we even graduate with a degree from a Christian college. Maybe there has never a day in your life did not know that Jesus as your Lord and Savior. But then, suddenly something happens – something stops you in your tracks – an event takes place and you realize everything you know about Christian faith is disconcertingly shallow, as shallow as a puddle of water on a sidewalk.
It is that moment when life takes a sharp turn – turns from the mad pursuit of everything trivial and meaningless to a deep awareness of God. It may not be a burning bush, but you know – you know! It is an abrupt turning point. You turn, and now you want to know God. It is not that you just want to know more about him – you want to know him deeply. You want to know him with all your heart. You are ready to abandon everything just for the sheer joy of knowing him, for the pleasure of knowing him with utter honesty and truth. This God who has created all things has called you by name, and now you have a hunger – a thirst – a burning desire to know God.
It is the turning point in life at which we can do nothing else but respond to him who calls us by name. And you respond as Moses does, “Here I am.”
He knows everything about us, and there is no place to hide.
Imagine that moment. This is God of the universe, the God who created the stars and knows them each by name. Some of you have had the experience of camping out under the stars. You see all those stars – and you know you cannot even begin to count them. All those countless stars, and all those galaxies!! Underneath those stars, you realize how the universe is so huge, so unimaginably vast and huge. You stand there underneath those stars – feeling so very, very small – and then!! God begins to whisper – speaks his living word – and he is speaking to you.
He knows us by name – knows you – somehow you realize he knows everything about you. Maybe you have read the gospels, how Jesus seems to know everything about everyone he meets – HE knows!
It is that moment in the life of Nathaniel when Jesus describes him as a true Israelite, “in whom there is nothing false. ” Nathaniel is astonished and asks, “How do you know me?” (John 1: 43-49).
It is that moment in the life of a rich young ruler who asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him what he needs to do, “Sell everything – follow me” (Matt. 19: 21).
It is that moment in the life of the Samaritan woman at the well when Jesus reveals to her astonishment that he knows she has had five husbands (John 4: 18).
It is that moment in the life of Matthew, the tax collector, when Jesus sees him and tells him to “follow me. ”We read, he “got up and followed him” (Matthew 9: 9).
It is that moment in the life of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night, and Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3: 3).
It is that moment in the life of Judas, sitting with Jesus and the disciples in the upper room, when Jesus turns to Judas and says, “Judas, you are the one who will betray me” (Matthew 26: 29).
It is that moment in life from which you know you cannot hide. You cannot escape. It is a moment that is both terrifying and comforting – unsettling and reassuring both at the same time. It is terrifying because you realize you can no longer pretend. You know that it is useless to live with the illusion that somehow you might be able to impress God. He knows every secret, every thought, every word you have spoken, and everything you have done. This can be dreadfully uncomfortable. You have that sudden awareness that it is no longer possible to hold the illusion of being worthy of God’s attention or affection
Yet, for some unexplainable reason, it is also reassuring. If God knows everything about me, and still willing to call me by my name—this is astonishing! He calls out to me—not to terrify me, but to speak to me as a friend. He calls us by name! It removes our fear of being rejected by God.
So you stand there in that “burning bush” moment, and you discover you are only able to respond as Moses responds, “Here I am. ”Here I am! Here I am, God! This is who I am, you know me. You know my faults; you know my warts, my quirks, my peculiarities. You know my uncertainties, you know my weaknesses, you know where I hurt, you know where I am troubled, and where I struggle. But this is who I am.
Ever have a moment like that? When you realize there is no place to go, and no way of escaping? Ever wonder what thoughts Moses might have had at that burning bush? One thought after another, chasing each other through his mind. Ever since he fled for his life from the courts of Pharaoh, he had been a shepherd in the wilderness for forty years. Strange things can happen when you find yourself all alone out in the wilderness. You hear voices. Whispering voices. You see mirages. Weird hallucinations. But out there in the wilderness – alone – it is often the place where God calls you by name. And somehow you know your life will never be the same.
He knows that we need him (vs. 7).
Before we go any further, I want to give you a hint of what it is that God is about to do. If you have ever wondered if God sees what you are going through, or whether he hears the cry of your prayers in a time of distress, you need to see this. He comes to Moses in the wilderness at that burning bush, and he says to Moses, “I have seen the misery of my people . . . I have heard them crying out . . . I know how much they are suffering . . . I have come down to rescue them . . . “That’s why he had called out to Moses. God has seen and he has heard the wretched misery his people have endured as slaves, and he has come to rescue them. You cannot read this story without being staggered by the thought that God calls these slaves “my people!”
This is the God who knows us, the God who calls us by name. He knows our weakness. He knows our helpless despair. He knows our restless misery.
The God who knows us sends us on a mission: Go!
This God is holy — God says to Moses, “take off your shoes”(vs. 4,5).
The first thing Moses learns is that he is in the presence of a holy God. Before anything else is done or said, Moses must come to a profound awareness of the holiness of God. God says to him, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Take off your shoes! And we read that Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
We do not often take time to think about what that means to be in the presence of a holy God. When was the last time you ever felt that you had to take off your shoes because you were on holy ground? It is so easy for us to treat God casually. We come to a worship service a few minutes late – so what, it’s no big deal. Or we think of coming to worship as if we were going to see a movie, or watching the kids at a football game. We love to be entertained.
So often when we set aside a time to spend alone with God, we find a bunch of random thoughts bouncing around in our head, pursuing anything and everything but God and his Word. Or we make promises to God, but find that these promises are quickly forgotten in the demands of the day.
And God says to Moses, “Take off your shoes! This is holy ground!” That’s what he says to Moses. But imagine what would happen if we really took this seriously in every part of our life. God gives us his promise that he is with us wherever we are. He is with us in the classroom, in the office, at home, on the road, and in the field. And everywhere God is, his holiness pushes away and overwhelms everything that is unholy. This is the first hint that God in all his holiness is about to separate his people from everything that is contaminated by sin.
Before you go to work tomorrow, remind yourself that you will be in the presence of God all day long. Remind yourself that you are serving a God who Holy is all his ways. Then, with a profound awareness of God’s holiness, take a moment and whisper this prayer: “Lord, let me be your servant today, in every word I speak, in everything I do.”
This God comes to rescue his people (vs. 7,8)
God’s people have lived in Egypt for four hundred years, and God has watched over them and blessed them. They have been so blessed, that Pharaoh now sees them as a threat, and his response to this threat is harsh. He has subjected them to the cruel life of slaves, and he has ordered that all male children born be killed. God’s people are in bondage, and it is as if they are the living dead.
God’s purpose is to rescue his people. He intends to rescue them. Listen to what God says to Moses, “I have seen the misery of my people . . . I have heard them crying out . . . I am concerned about their suffering . . . so I have come down to rescue them” (vs. 7,8).
As you listen to what God says to Moses, you may be asking the question that almost every person asks at some point in their life, “Does God know what I’m going through? Does God see what I am facing? Does God really care for me?”
What God says to Moses reveals the very character of God, reveals the compassion God has for those who know what it means to experience the brokenness of life. The answer is yes. Yes, God cares. Our broken world and the prospect of living in such a world can be a dreary thought if we begin to doubt that God really cares. But when we hear what God says to Moses, everything changes. God sees what you are going through. God hears you when you cry out to him. And God cares deeply about you.
God’s plan is to send Moses. He says to Moses at that burning bush in the wilderness, “Now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt” (vs. 10).
Moses has a few questions about this. His first question probably comes from the thought that what God is asking him to do sounds like something beyond impossible. “Who am I that I should go?” Moses most likely had resigned himself to be a shepherd for the rest of his life. Forty years ago he had fled for his life from the courts of Pharaoh. All the thoughts of his life as the prince of Egypt are faded memories. Occasionally he might have winced at the thought that all his education was mostly wasted as he lived the simple life of a shepherd – with never a thought of wondering what plans God might have for him.
“Who am I that I should go?” Lord, are you sure you have the right person in mind? I think you might have made a mistake. I just love the way God answers Moses with a simple promise, “I will be with you.”
But now Moses has another question, a searching question that basically wants to know, “Who are you?”Listen to what Moses says: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (vs. 13)
Who are you?I hear a voice out here in the wilderness, and I see this burning bush, but maybe this is all a mirage. Maybe this is just my imagination working overtime. So, who are you?Who are you that you should send me to do something that looks to be impossible?
What follows is God’s response that is absolutely staggering in what it reveals. God begins to reveal the very thing that brings joy to everyone who has come to know and understand that God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ is to “make us alive even when we were dead in sin.”
God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. I am the Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (vss. 14,15). God is saying to Moses, “This is who I AM, and I AM is sending to bring my people out of Egypt. God did not say that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob back when they were alive, at the time they lived. God is revealing to Moses that He is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — still their God because they are still alive. Do you understand what God is saying to Moses?He tells them, “You are convinced that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob have died, but I want you to know that they are in my presence. They are alive and I am their God.”
It is more than a little intriguing that Jesus uses this burning bush conversation between God and Moses to prove to us the truth of the resurrection from dead, to prove that people do not cease to exist when they die. Jesus referred to this moment in the life of Moses in Mark chapter 12.
We read in Mark 12: 18 – “Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.” Their question is intended to point out how silly and ridiculous it is for anyone to believe in life after death, or to have any thought that there might possibly be a resurrection. This is their question: we know a woman who married seven brothers. She married the first brother, and when he died, she married the second brother; and when he died, she married the third brother; and when he died, she married the fourth brother; and when he died, she married the fifth brother; and when he died, she married the sixth brother; and when he died, she married the seventh brother.
So they ask Jesus, “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Mark 12: 23). The question if filled with sarcasm, cynically showing their disdain for the any thought of the resurrection. But the question also is meant to force Jesus to take sides – either to take the side of those who believe in a resurrection, or to agree with them that the thought of a resurrection is simply absurd.
Jesus gives His answer to the Sadducees in Mark 12: 24-27 — “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. ”
God is still doing all the things for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that God does for those who belong to him. God is still doing the things that God does for anyone about whom it can be said, God is his God, and God is her God. God sustains them, God blesses them, God guides them, God empowers them, and God is with them. They are still alive — except that now they live in his presence instead of on earth.
This is the God who says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Now, go, I will be with you.”
It is here that we begin to understand that God’s promise is unfailing and unchanging. “I will be with you . . . I AM WHO I AM will be with you.”
Moses has asked his questions, and God has given Moses his promise, “I will be with you. ’It is the same promise God to us when he calls us to walk by faith. It is the same promise that God gives to every follower of Jesus, and it is the promise that Jesus himself gives to us when he tells us just before he returns to his Father, “Go, make disciples . . . and surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20).
Sometimes we may find ourselves asking questions of God, like Moses does here at the burning bush. Who am I, God, that you think I should do this? And, who are you that I should even consider doing what you are asking me to do?
And God reminds us that in Christ he has sent us as his messengers into a broken world, a world filled with suffering and misery. He sends us into a broken world with the message that God sees those who live in misery – he hears those who cry out in despair – and that he is concerned about those who suffer.
We may ask our questions, but God simply says, “I am with you. Now, go.” This is really is all that matters . . . for Moses . . . for you . . . for anyone of us. “I am with you.” It is the promise of the unchanging, all-powerful, everywhere present, all-knowing, eternal, promise-keeping God.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Prayer of response
Lord, you are awesome in your holiness, and we are astonished once again that even in all your holiness, you still see us, you still hear us. Give us the vision and heart to see those who are hurting, and give us the courage we need to reach out to those who live in the despair of brokenness. Speak your promise to us once more that you are with us. For Jesus sake. Amen.
Order of Service
WE GATHER IN GOD'S PRESENCE
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6, 7
Silent Prayer concluded with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH# 625
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the LORD who made the heavens and the earth.”
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May God’s grace, mercy and peace be ours in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Opening hymn: “Now with Joyful Exaltation” PsH# 95:1-3
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130: 7-8
Hymn: “Not What My Hands Have Done” PsH#260
God’s Will for our Lives: Exodus 20: 1-17
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH#282
Scripture Reading: Exodus 3: 1-15
Sermon: “Walking with God: The God Who Knows Us by Name”
Prayer of Response
Hymn: “Guide Me, Oh My Great Redeemer”PsH#543
WE DEPART WITH GOD'S BLESSING
Prayer for God’s blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen. ”
Doxology: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH#620