Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
August 30, 2020
“I Hear Their Cries in Kenosha”
Exodus 3: 1-15 – Common English Bible
A Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro,[a] Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. 2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.
4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”
5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8 I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9 Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.[b] So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” 15 God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.
Last week we began the Great Liberation narrative with the story of the birth of Moses, and before that, the reason why the Hebrew people were living in Egypt in the first place – to escape starvation in their homeland. We heard about the rebellion of the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, who tricked Pharaoh and refused to cooperate with his order to kill all newborn Hebrew boys – because he was paranoid that there were too many of them. We heard about the clever plans of his mother Jacoybed and sister Miriam to put him in a basket on the Nile so he could be discovered. And we learned about the rebellious compassion of the Pharaoh’s own daughter who, despite her father’s orders, rescued Moses from the Nile and raised him as her own. And today, we heard his encounter with a burning bush. But what happened in between?
Like Jesus, we can only speculate on his childhood upbringing. But I do wonder, what was that moment like when he realized he was a Hebrew but living the privileged life of Egyptian royalty? Like anyone adopted, he must have had so many questions, such as, who did he really belong to? Where did he fit in?
Well, one day, Moses did indeed face a choice. He looked down from his palace and saw the cruel labor that was forced on the Hebrews. He saw an Egyptian slave master beating a slave. In that moment he realized that these were his people. In that moment he was seized by outrage. And in that moment, he looked around to make sure no one saw what he was about to do. He killed that slave master and buried him in the sand. But someone did see him, and word spread, even to the Pharaoh. So, Moses fled as far as he could to save his life.
Moses kept running until he eventually settled in the land of Midian. He married Zipporah and became a shepherd for her father. He settled into a peaceful, obscure life – but always with a dark secret no one else knew. Moses might have always worried that one night there would be a knock at the door, dragging him back to Egypt to face the consequences of his crime. When word came years later that the Pharaoh had died, he was relieved. He was free from his past and he could die in peace.
That’s when today’s story interrupts Moses’ plan for comfortable obscurity. He was tending his sheep, far from home beyond the wilderness, when he saw that infamous “burning bush.” When he stepped toward the curious sight, a voice called Moses, Moses.
The voice from the burning bush proclaimed, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Yes, it was that Jacob, the dirty-trickster scoundrel who cheated his twin brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing. It was that same God now talking to Moses.
The voice of God made seven “I” statements before declaring God’s name is “I am who I am.” God said:
1)I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt
2)I have heard their cries for deliverance from the cruelty of their slave masters
3)I know their suffering and pain
4)I have come down to deliver them
5)And repeated, I’ve seen for myself how the Egyptians oppress them
Again, God said,
I have seen their misery
I have heard their cries
I know their pain
And I will deliver them.
Just as Moses was about to say, “Good for you, God. Go for it!” Right before Moses could say thank you to God for promising to free his kinsfolk from their suffering, God said, 6) “And so… I am sending you.” “Wait. What?”
And with that we learn how God works in the world. “I will deliver my people from slavery means you will save my people from slavery. From cruelty. From oppression.” We also learn that God doesn’t choose people for that work who declare “I alone can save you. I alone can fix the system.” We all know how badly that works out. No, God works in the world through people who say, “Wait. Who me? Why me?”
God’s seventh statement in this dialogue is meant to make Moses feel better. I am sending you. But 7) “I will be with you.” Moses, however, just continues with a list of reasons why God has chosen the wrong person. After all, Moses was a murderer who fled the scene of the crime; he was a stutterer with a stunning lack of self-confidence, claimed people won’t believe him; and, after all, at 80 years old, he was content watching sheep in a pasture until it was time to put him out to pasture.
But God doesn’t care about excuses. In fact, I think with God, the more excuses the better. Or rather, the more strikes against you the better.
You might think this is just a fairy tale about Moses. You may think, this isn’t a story that relates to my life because I’ve never seen a burning bush. Or a dancing bear. Or a talking fish or something else supernatural.
But you have, we certainly all have seen the misery of God’s people. We have watched over and over and over again, one year after another after another as if on a loop, the killing of black men, women, and children. We watched as an officer put his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8 long minutes as he cried out for his dead mama to save him. It is through my eyes and your eyes, God says, I see the misery of my people. Don’t look away.
We have certainly all heard the cries of God’s people treated with cruelty. The guttural cries of the mother of Jacob Blake’s children sitting in the back of the car watching as seven bullets discharge one by one into his back as the officer tugged on his t-shirt to keep him from leaving. But we also heard as people pointed and shouted that the 17-year-old white boy walking down the street with a rifle hanging off his neck had just shot people. But instead, in the ultimate example that “law and order” is about maintaining white supremacy, officers thanked him for being there. Asked, would you like a drink of water. And waved as he went home that night to sleep in his own bed. It is through my ears and your ears that God says, I hear their cries in Kenosha. Don’t turn away.
We certainly all know the pain and suffering of God’s people – the way our stomach ties in knots witnessing the gleeful cruelty of this administration and the silence of its enablers. 180,000 dead from Covid, each of them with a family mourning what didn’t have to be so tragic with a little common sense and some leadership from the one who brags “I alone can fix it,” but doesn’t or can’t. Can’t, won’t, or incapable of seeing or hearing or feeling anything that isn’t about himself. But it is through my body and your bodies that God says, I know their pain and suffering. Don’t walk away. The I AM will save them.
We might cheer, “Good for you, God! Because someone has got to do something about this.” What happens when we realize that God is talking directly to you? Who me? Why?
Well, it’s precisely for these reasons:
That’s all the right stuff for God:
God needed a stuttering murderer with a stunning lack of self-confidence to deliver God’s people from slavery. Who me? But we’re simply responding to that which we can see, hear, and feel in our body.
You may have heard of the rabbi named Zusya who died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, "Why weren't you Moses or why weren't you Solomon or why weren't you David?" But when God appeared, God simply asked, "Why weren't you Zusya?"
Let’s go through our list of reasons to pick someone else:
What else do you have?
But you still have eyes to see.
You still have ears to hear.
And you still have a body through which you feel.
And that’s how “I am who I am” works in the world to save God’s people from their misery. What have you done wrong that makes you exactly the right one?
I love being the