Last week at the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre I learned the word Gwai, it means hello. I heard it again on Thursday morning as I attended the opening ceremonies of the Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre’s Weekend of Reconciliation on the Halifax waterfront. The MC greeted us with ‘gwai.’
The executive decided that the church office should be closed on Thursday to mark Truth and Reconciliation Day and I thought it was important not to think of it as a holiday, but as a day to mark something important. Creating a statutory holiday was one of the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. A symbol of commitment to reconciliation. As LJ Roche, said in a Worship Committee meeting on Tuesday, “After Thursday, no one can say they didn’t know about Truth and Reconciliation.”
As I watched the ceremonies and people mingling with each other… in all shades of skin and hair colour, it seemed to me that this was a historic moment. That this was a moment when so many of us settlers seemed to get it. And the silence, for 215 seconds, in memory of those first graves uncovered in Tu’kumlups, was emotional and deafening… even the gulls seemed to stop their cries for those 215 seconds.
The truth of what happened, the willingness to take responsibility for it and the eagerness to build new relationships. The new relationships were evident by the cluster of civic leaders participating in the opening ceremonies, all of them speaking words of gratitude for being included and the intention of partnering with the Indigenous communities to forge a new way forward.
We too are seeking to forge a new way forward. We are rooted in relationship… relationship with God, relationship with one another, and relationship with the earth. Our readings this morning are all about being in relationship, being present, and responding to God’s call. It’s a long stretch of Exodus, so I’m breaking it up a bit.
A lot has happened since last week when Jacob schemed his way to his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing. He ran away and found himself employed by a distant cousin. There he met and married Leah and Rachel, as well as their maids Bilhah and Zilpah, and with these four wives he had twelve children. The eleventh of those was Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his older brothers. Enslaved in Egypt, Joseph rose to power through God’s gifts of dream interpretation and administrative skills. Joseph skilfully led Egypt through a famine, and people came from abroad to buy food, including Joseph’s brothers. The family was reunited and settled in Egypt. After many years, a new pharaoh arose over Egypt, who did not remember his history, and he was afraid and jealous of the Israelites living in their midst. He ordered them to be enslaved, then for their children to be thrown into the Nile. The pharaoh’s daughter found the infant Moses floating on the river and brought him up as her own son…but as an adult, Moses saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. When he was found out, he ran away to the Sinai to make a new life for himself. We pick up the story there today, at the end of Exodus chapter 2. Teri Petersen
23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. 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.
I listen to a podcast each week called Bibleworm, and in it the two hosts, one Christian and one Jewish speak about the absurdity of a bush burning, but not being consumed. Really, if you came upon something like that, you would probably not believe your eyes for a few minutes.
And then to hear God’s voice! “Moses, Moses, here I am!” And he reminds Moses who God is… I am the God of your father… the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob… of course the Hebrew Bible writers ignored the women, but God was also the God of Sarah… and the God of Rebekah, and the God of Rachel… God is reminding Moses of the relationship, of the covenant, that God had with his ancestors to be with them.
Let’s pick up the story again.
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.
This is a God of promise… a God of response… God has heard their heartfelt cries and knows their suffering… this is a God that desires liberation for God’s people.
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.’[a] 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,[b] 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 for ever, and this my title for all generations.
Moses says, “Riiiight!” Me! Who am I? Or why me? And what shall I say when they ask me who you are?
He’s asking God for God’s credentials! This would lend itself well to drama!
And God gives the most straight forward answer ever… “I am who I am.” I AM! Or another way of translating it is, “I will be who I will be!”
And then tells Moses to remind the people that God is the God of their ancestors.
This gives us a little intimation of God’s immensity.
I AM WHO I AM! I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE!
This is God who is both intimate and immense!
Both responsive to our anguish and vast beyond comprehension.
And yet, Moses still argues with God, let’s pick up the story once more.
10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’
11 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’
13 But Moses said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’
How many of you can relate to that? 😉 I certainly can! I’m not good enough, there are lots of people more qualified, I’ll just sit over here in my small little corner and hope that nobody notices me.
Moses had to do two things… listen to God… respond to God… and trust that God would lead the people into a future different than the present.
We have been listening and discerning for two years now… wondering what kind of future God is calling us into. Are we confident enough to trust God and let God lead us? Will we trust in our relationship with God and one another?
Will we trust that we will see signs like a burning bush along the way?
Throughout the Bible, God calls ordinary people.
God says, “I called you!”
I called you to give hope to your people!
I called you to free your people from the bondage of the past!
I called you.
Do you believe it?
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17
October 3, 2021 – SMUC
World Communion Sunday