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  • Writer's pictureNorthminster Church

"Discovering God's Nature" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

Exodus 3: 1-15

  1. Intro

- Those around my age will remember “The Prince of Egypt”

- Came out in 1998

- Made into Broadway play

- All-star cast: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren

- Some details are wrong - not an exact retelling

- What they do get right is music and scene of Moses w/burning bush

- Moses follows sheep into cave and sees silvery burning bush

- Soft, ethereal music plays

- Voice of God speaks and they follow scriptural conversation pretty closely

- Beautiful, artistic interpretation of the story

- Makes it clear this exchange is a holy moment in a holy space

- Watch it if you haven’t seen it

  1. Holy moment, holy space is not what Moses was anticipating

- Comes at in-between time, in-between place

- Moses isn’t in Egypt or Midian but in the wilderness caring for sheep

- No longer a member of Royal household or Liberator he’ll become

- Not looking for God - doesn’t even know this God

- And yet God comes to Moses in this in-between time, at this in-between place

  1. God doesn’t simply call out to Moses

- Not like Jesus’ baptism w/dove descending and voice from heaven

- Not like the stranger that comes to wrestle Jacob or angels that show up at Abraham and Sarah’s home

- God uses burning bush - requires paying attention

- In movie Moses comes across bush in a cave - only thing in the cave, he can’t miss it

- But what if bush was out in the open, on a sunny day, and on fire but not burning up it?

- It would be easy to overlook

- Rabbi Amy Robertson from BibleWorm podcast asks, How long did Moses have to stand looking at this bush to recognize it was on fire?

- Interesting attention-getting method

- Surely God could’ve chosen something clearer

- But if we think about the bush as a metaphor for what was happening in Egypt we see that God needs someone to recognize when things are on fire[1]

- God needs someone who’ll stop and pay attention

- Someone who won’t walk by without reacting

- Someone who’ll intervene

  1. Did you notice?

- As God and Moses have conversation God says to Moses, “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, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey,”

- Makes total sense. This God of burning bushes can likely do whatever She desires. Obviously powerful.

- But that isn’t the plan

- God’s deliverance will come through Moses

- God is sending Moses to do this work rather than swooping people out of Egypt

- Because as with Jacob - this is a God of relationship

- Through God’s relationship with Moses, through God’s presence in Moses, this gargantuan task will happen

  1. Divine Name

- Also hear “Divine Name” for first time

- In Hebrew, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh”

- From “to be” verb

- About being-ness, is-ness, presence[2]

- “I am what I am,” “I will be what I will be”

- Or specifically for this story, “My name will become evident from my actions”[3]

- Remember: Moses doesn’t know God. Grew up not knowing who he really was. Certainly didn’t know his familial religion.

- This is an introduction

- So you’d think God would be a little clear with this name, but it’s vague

- Rabbi Amy Robertson, this name “sounds like a breath”[4]

- It’s not straightforward or simple, and yet again there’s “no sticking God in a box with this name.”[5]

- Perhaps knowing this, God tells 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”

- Does Moses know Abraham, Isaac, Jacob? Probably not. But the people will.

- The connection, the concreteness, the foundation of Moses’ new relationship with the God he’s just meeting comes from his ancestors.

- It’s a family connection, a tradition to have this relationship with this God who uses a burning bush to get your attention and sends you to do a seemingly impossible task

  1. Transition

-Probably familiar with the parable often called “Parable of the Drowning Man” or “Two boats and a Helicopter”

-Goes like this: a major flood happens and a devoutly Christian man is caught in floodwaters. His entire house is flooded so he climbs up onto his roof seeking safety. While on the roof he prays to God for rescue. About that time a Coast Guard helicopter comes into view looking for survivors. Stops to help the man, but he sends them on to help others saying, “God will rescue me.”

Continues to pray for rescue, water continues to rise. A bit later a Police rescue boat makes it to man’s house. Plenty of room for him but again he refuses saying, “God is sending someone for me.” Continues to pray, more time goes by. Water is getting critically high. He’s going to be in trouble soon when neighbors come by in a kayak. They’ve abandoned their home and are going to safety. There’s room for the man who’s treading water at this point. Refuses for a third time, “God will rescue me.”

Man eventually drowns and when he arrives in heaven he meets God and asks why God didn’t rescue him despite his faith. God responds by saying, “I send you a helicopter and two boats, why didn’t you accept the help?”

-Often interpreted as “God helps those who help themselves” - lousy theology and not biblical in the slightest

-Mention the story because I think what’s about is what Moses’ story’s about: paying attention and God’s ability, God’s penchant for working through people

VI. Conclusion

-Good News: What Moses discovers about God is same thing we discover: God’s nature is that of relationship, meaning for 2 week we have a story about God seeking someone out where they are. Even in their in-betweens.

-Added dimension this week, God’s presence requires a response

-What I mean is that “when God is most present, it requires people doing the thing they’ve been asked to do.”[6]

-It requires us to get up and moving

-To put out time, our resources, our hearts, our physical space and ourselves where our mouths are

-To step out in faith even when that’s scary because it’s where God’s leading us

-We don’t have to be Moses saving an entire group of people.

-All we have to do to respond to God’s presence, to respond to the things God is asking us to do is this: Don’t increase anyone’s suffering and be genuinely, sincerely helpful. That’s it.

-In big ways and small, not causing more harm and helping another person is embodying the call of God where it comes from.

-Questions to leave you with: How will you respond? How will you help another? Are you paying attention?

[1] Dr. Amy Robertson and Dr. Robert Williamson, BibleWorm Podcast, Episode 504, “Responding to the Call,” September 24, 2023, [2] Ibid. [3] Jewish Study Bible [4] BibleWorm, ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid.

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