Posts Tagged ‘ identity ’

who am i that you would call me?

Moses is having an identity crisis.  And it’s not your run of the mill, mid life kind of identity crisis.  It’s an all out, “I don’t know who I am or where I come from” kind of crisis.

To catch us up, we need one of those “previously on…” introductions to tonight’s reading, so here goes…

The Hebrew people have been enslaved in Egypt now for quite some time.  Long enough, in fact, that Pharaoh – the dictator king – realizes that the Hebrew people outnumber the Egyptian soldiers and could possibly stage a coup and overrun their masters by simple numbers.  So Pharaoh decides to better the Egyptians chances of staying in power by increasing the oppressive labor required of the Hebrew slaves, and when that isn’t’ enough, he decides to strategically kill off some of the Hebrews, specifically, all the new born baby boys.

Moses is born into a Hebrew family at this precise time when baby boys’ lives are in danger from Pharaoh’s orders.  In order to protect him, his mother and older sister, Miriam build a basket, cover it in tar, and send baby Moses down river to, hopefully, safety  out of Pharaoh’s reach.

Well, baby Moses’ seafaring is short lived.  Just down the river, his basket boat gets caught up in the reeds and before his older sister can pull him back out into the current again, along comes none other than Pharaoh’s daughter, the princess, who hears the baby crying and rescues him out of the river.  The princess realizes this is a Hebrew child but has compassion and decides to raise him as her own.  Only problem is, she isn’t a mother herself, so she can’t nurse the baby.  Miriam, thinking on her feet, steps in and offers to find a Hebrew nurse to care for the child until he is weaned, the princess agrees, and Miriam goes and finds Moses’ (and her own) mother.  Now Moses mother gets to nurse the baby and is on Pharaoh’s payroll while doing it!

Fast forward a few years, Moses is on solid foods and the princess takes over rearing and raising him, where?  In Pharaoh’s palace. Moses is given the life and benefits of a true Egyptian prince.  He’s treated as if he were the king’s own grandson, cousin to the prince who will himself inherit the throne one day.  So, you can imagine the inner identity struggle (that all good story characters must have, right?) that Moses deals with throughout his growing up.  Am I Hebrew?  Yes, but not really.  Am I Egyptian?  No, but kindof.

Along with that identity crisis, comes a spiritual struggle: see, the God of the Hebrews is one and walked and talked with Moses’ ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and even Joseph who got Moses’ people into Egypt.  But that God doesn’t seem to be here in Egypt.  Here in Egypt, there are many gods: a god of this tree and a god of the sun and the god of that river and that palace and a god for everything.

This “who am I and what do I believe” struggle that all college students have comes to a head one afternoon when Moses is a young adult.  He sees an Egyptian soldier terribly beating a few Hebrew slaves.  He tries to get the soldier to stop using is “adopted grandson of the king” shtick, but when it doesn’t work, Moses decides to physically handle the situation and ends up killing the soldier…which at first he thinks he’s gotten away with, but finds out the next day that everyone in town is talking about it and he decides that once again, in order to prevent Pharaoh from killing him (which he is bound to do as punishment for killing a soldier) he will once again try to escape and hide out.

Now, Moses finds himself in Midian, a pagan and desert land just outside of Egypt.  And in a moment of chivalry Moses finds himself defending 7 sister shepherdesses from some rough, surly men, which wins him a place in the heart of the shepherdesses father, who then welcomes Moses into his home and gives him one of his daughters, Zilpah, as a wife.  And Moses accepts his reward, which seems to me to be the opposite of chivalrous.  Turns out that “dad” is a priest in Midian – he is in charge of leading the people through their worship of idols, so now there is a third layer to Moses’ spiritual and identity crisis. God of Abraham?  Gods of Egypt?  Gods who reside in idols? For years he lives in this family and, having taken over the shepherding business so the sisters don’t have to risk dangerous run ins anymore, he’s now in charge of caring for the sheep in this dry, desert place.

And that’s exactly where we encounter Moses in this evening’s reading.

There he is, this sometime hero, sometime villan, sometime savior, sometime killer, Moses who ran and hid from the consequences of his choices on more than one occasion, who has worshipped the gods of Egypt and the idols of Midian, there he is, tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the middle of the Midian desert,
when the God of his birthing sets a thorn bush on fire and invites this wayward wanderer who doesn’t know who he is to alter the course of his own people’s story.

 

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You can hear an urgency in God’s voice
as he cries out from within the bush:
MOSES!  MOSES!  This God knows Moses’ name…in the Jewish culture, (as in many others) one’s name is inextricably tied to his identity.
To know and use someone’s name is to claim an intimate knowledge of who he or she truly is.   And this God calls Moses by name….

This personal intimacy between Creator and creation, between God and humanity, is the HEART of Jewish and Christian theology.

God knows God’s people, so the voice from the bush is evidence that the divine urgency is about relationship:
“Moses!  I know your name…and I know who you are.  Even if you don’t.”
And then, God issues a task for this prophet to do:
“I’ve heard my people’s cries and I want you to go to Pharaoh and I want you to convince him to give them their freedom.”

Moses objects, “But LORD, who am I to do this? Why me?”
Did I mention Moses is having an identity crisis?

And God answers, “I will be with you.”
You can imagine Moses thinking,
“Well, what does that have to do with who I am?”
“Everything.”  God seems to be saying.

“The fact that I am with you and will continue to be with you makes up your identity. Who you are, Moses, is tied up in me. “

 

It is important that we recognize that God’s answer is not a guarantee of Moses success in this calling… God does NOT respond to Moses by telling everything will be just fine, that he will be safe, that it will be easy.
Rather, God’s answer, “I am with you and I will be with you,” is a divine commitment to share in the life and the risk of the one being called.  “Your identity is tied up in me…and I’m going to be with you when you risk everything to pursue this calling.”

See, the God in Moses’ story, our God is not independent from humanity.
Throughout our scriptures, God reveals God’s self to the world in personal and intimate ways, and by divine design then, humanity is tied up in God’s presence: Moses is Moses because God is with him.

And what happens next in this story has undeniable implications for the rest of history, and I would argue, deeply and profoundly effects the kinds of Christians that you and I are today:
Moses asks God, “What if the Israelites ask who sent me?
What do I say then?  WHO ARE YOU?”
See, Moses has asked the question, “Who am I?” and God has answered
“I am with you,” so now Moses asks, “Well, then, who are you??”

And the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
the God of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah,
this God who uses Moses’ name
and therefore intimately knows who Moses is,
this God tells Moses God’s name:
I AM. He says.  In Hebrew, ‘ehyeh asher ‘ehyeh.

It can also be translated
“I make happen whatever is made to happen”
“I will be who I will be.”
“I bring into being whatever is brought into being.”
I AM who I AM.  “Tell them I AM sent you. “

From within his story, this beautifully constructed story, emerges the truth that this God, I AM, is involved in history, engaged in our lives when we turn away.

I AM is not wholly other… there is no gulf between God and humanity.  “Moses, who you are inextricably tied to me because I am with you.
And because I am with you, who I AM as God is also tied you.”

God’s identity is wrapped up in us, just as our identity is wrapped up in GOD’s.  That’s the way God designed it.  That’s God’s story, that’s Moses’ story, that’s our story. We know God’s name and God knows ours.

As we journey though Lent, doing the hard work of self-examination and repentance, a wrestling with our identities- who we are and who we are called to be, learn from Moses’ story:
God is with you and in you, and that has everything to do with who you are.

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Exploring the Dichotomy

After hearing me lead a group in musical worship recently, one of my clerical colleagues patted me on the shoulder and, intending a true compliment (I’m sure) said,

my favorite Slaid Cleaves tune

SXSW

“Sometimes I think you may have missed your calling.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well I mean as a musician instead of a priest,” came the reply.
“I’d like to think I get to live out both…as a musical priest.”

Sadly, that was the end of that particular conversation.

It does sometimes seem a dichotomous life, particularly around midnight at the end of the final Saturday night set when I’d love to hang with the band and some fans for a few more beers but have to get home to finish the ending to  the next morning’s sermon…though one of my hopes is to help shift the traditional paradigm that would limit my “real” vocation to only one option. So, perhaps this venue, this blog, can be a first step in my tension-holding, congruency-discovering, status-quo-challenging quest. Perhaps you’ll join me in my discovery as, along the way, I share sermons, musings, class notes, and the like from my “priestly” role and share music, photos, and gig calendars from my “I’m in a band” identity.  Or do the sermons come from the musician and the band leadership from the priest?