Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hineni! Here I Am!

Hineni! Here I Am
Exodus 3:1-15
February 18, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."

5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

13 But Moses said 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?"

14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you.' "

15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "The Lord, 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 forever, and this my title for all generations.

אהיה אשר אהיה

If you are of a certain age, this story will evoke a certain set of images. If you are of a certain age, when you hear this story, you will, in your mind’s eye, see Charlton Heston, deep voiced and broad shouldered, standing in front of a burning bush. If you can, rewind that film clip and set it aside.

Imagine, as you hear this story, not Charlton Heston, but someone more Middle Eastern looking. He’s Jewish – more like a muscular Woody Allen than a leading man type. He’s not very self-confident.

He is someone who has struggled with his identity as a member of the ruling household that has enslaved his own people. In other words, his birth parents are the slaves of his adoptive family. Not an easy thing to live with. What’s more he has an uneasy conscience, having murdered an Egyptian and hidden the crime, then fled to the desert. He is a fugitive from Pharoah.

He’s also gone through a major career change, from being the adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter to herding the sheep of his father in law.
Prince of Egypt to immigrant shepherd.
The guy is a mess.

Even so, when Moses sees this strange sight, a bush that is burning, but the flames do not consume it, and hears a voice speaking to him from the bush, calling his name, “Moses! Moses!” he answers simply, “Hineni! Here I am!” It is the answer you give when God calls your name. Abraham answered, “Hineni! Here I am!” So did Esau, and Jacob, and Joseph and Samuel. And now, Moses, alone, out in the desert, no one to talk to but sheep, answers the same. God instructs him to take off his shoes. He is on holy ground, standing in the presence of God.

The first introduction is lengthy:
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

There is no mistaking the source of this voice calling to Moses. And there’s no mistaking the purpose of this conversation. God has heard the cries of the enslaved Israelites; they will be delivered out of slavery, and into freedom, out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will be their leader. He will be the one to confront Pharaoh. He will go to Pharaoh and demand the release of his people. Later in the story, Moses will explain to God how he is unsuited to this occupation, what a terribly bad leader he’d make, what an incompetent public c speaker he is.

But for now, Moses is just impudent enough to question God.
God has already said, “I am the God of your father, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob.”
Moses has the nerve now to say, “Who should I say told me this?”
And God answers.
God says, “I am that I am.
I will be who I will be.”
Tell them that “I AM sent you.”

Think of it, Moses out there, uncertain, afraid, tormented by the question of who he might have been, no more ready to be a hero than you or I would have been. Think of it, really – stop a moment and put yourself there.

In front of you is this bright flame, an angel of some sort, and in your ears ring the words of this voice, speaking from the midst of the flame:

“I AM.”

I AM – it means this voice is not just a voice, but an entity, not something, but someone,
someone who sees you and knows you and wants to be in conversation with you.
The other gods, the gods who are not the god of your father, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Rachel, the other gods demand sacrifice, and threaten punishment. They do not offer covenant, nor relationship.

This God sees you, in the fullness of your being, in all your faulty humanity and strengths and failings, in all your glory and your grief, in all your beauty and your brutishness.

This God knows who you are, and speaks to you, so that you may know this God!

And you know who you are – you know you are not worthy, not smart enough or strong enough and certainly not good enough.

But God sees something different.
God sees the beautiful blessed creation that walked in the garden.
God sees the beloved, exquisite soul made in God’s own image.
God sees the pure spirit that spoke and said, “Hineni, here I am.”
And God says, to you, “I AM that I AM.”

“I will be what I will be.
You can speak to me, you can love me.
I will love you back.
I will know who you are and love you.
I will make a covenant with you, out of that love.
And you can know me, as much as is possible, you can know me.”

In that shimmering, breathtaking moment,
you know that you are connected with all of the universe,
all of the trembling leaves on the trees,
the tiny mouse in her bower of grass,
the lonely goose traversing the sky,
the exalted mountain and the smooth prairie,
the weeping orphan and the dancing bride,
all of them are a part of you and you are a part of all of them,
you are a beast but "you are an angel,
you crawl, but you can fly," (1)
and you have said “Here I am”
to this God who knows you and can be known,
the God who sees and can be seen!

It is the first Sunday in the season of Lent, the first rest stop in a forty day journey of penitence and self-examination. From now until Holy Week, we will travel this road every day except for Sundays since every Sunday is a little Easter. For forty days, still in the gray of winter, yearning for the new life and resurrection of spring, we will examine our choices in light of God’s claim on us.

Many people choose this time to turn their attention more closely to God, to fast from some pleasure that distracts the heart, to feast on some practice that delights the soul. Others commit themselves to acts of mercy and charity, or to disciplines that strengthen body or spirit. Whatever Lenten discipline you choose, whether it be exercise of your body or the exercise of prayer, I implore you to take a moment each day to recognize and rejoice in this amazing and incomprehensible reality we have experienced today, encountering the I AM, seeing and being seen, and responding, “Hineni. Here I am.”

Take a moment each day to recognize your connectedness to all of the universe, your place in the cosmic order, your indestructible bond with God through the covenant, and your connection to all people. Pause a moment to deeply feel that connection and say,

“Hineni! Here I am!”

Then you will hear God’s voice speaking to you, saying
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, 

Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:6-11)

Hineni, O God! Here I am!


(1) Joni Mitchell, "Down to You"

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