Moses on Holy Ground: A Meditation for World Communion Sunday
Chapter four of The Story
October 2, 2016
Our choir’s anthem this morning was “Holy Ground.” And that is the theme of this section of The Story. Any place that God and God’s people connect, is Holy Ground. We consider this sanctuary Holy Ground. Zion people have been meeting God and each other right here for 230 years. But we know that God is present outside of this sanctuary, as well. In the first 3 chapters of the Story we saw God walking in the Garden, and talking to Adam. We saw God present when the 3 angels visited Sarah and Abraham and announced that Sarah, in her old age, would bear a child. We heard God testing Abraham on Mt. Moriah. God was present and moving through Joseph, to save his family and God’s vision for a new nation. Now we see Moses on Mt. Horeb, and the angel of God gets his attention with a burning bush, and out of the bush the Lord calls to Moses.
Moses and the Burning Bush (page 45 of The Story) Exodus 3: 1-15
1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending 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 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me, from generation to generation.
“I am” is a curious name for God. But then what isn’t curious about this God? This is a God who speaks by appointing as spokesperson someone who stutters, A God speaks through angels, a God speaks in the whirlwind, and through the still, small voice. This is a God who both saves and condemns, negotiates and dictates, directs armies and embraces children, who both intervenes in human affairs and sometimes keeps a distance. But then, let’s face it…God does not seem concerned about being understood by us!
To mobilize the Hebrews, Moses needed a name for God. After all, Moses was being asked to launch a campaign for a god that no one knew. God said, I am who I am. What in the world does that mean? Let’s think about the verb form “to be.” I am, you are, he/she/it is. We are. We are human beings. That means we be human! Not very good English, but it accurately describes what we are. We were created human. It is our condition and our state of being.
God is not a being. God can’t be a being because God was not created. God is, and was, and always be. There is no time that God was not, because God is the ground of all existence.
God as “Ground of Being” – Paul Tillich was critical of the view of God as a type of being or presence. He felt that, if God were a being, God could not then properly be called the source of all being (due to the question of what, in turn, created God). As an alternative, he suggested that God be understood as the “ground of Being-Itself”. He felt that, since one cannot deny that there is being (where we and our world exist), there is therefore a Power of Being. He saw God as the ground upon which all beings exist.
I think we understand the word “ground.” It brings to mind, at least to me, soil. We studied soil in my Master Gardener class last week. The soil is the medium in which plants grow. It’s where their roots get the minerals, water, and air needed to sustain green life. God is the soil from which we arise, where our roots are anchored, where we derive what sustains us. God is the ground of our existence just as soil is the ground of a tree’s existence.
Here is another way to think about it. Our joint confirmation class is called “EIMI.” That is the Greek form of the verb “to be.” It’s a little obscure for a 7th grader, granted! But the title is to remind us all that because God is…we are. And the point of confirmation is to help our young people strengthen their identity, to know who they are, in relation to God. That relationship will undergird and inform all their other relationships in life.
As we read The Story, we should begin to hear echoes of passages in the New Testament. So where in scripture have we heard other statements that start with “I am”? Jesus used “I am” statements to introduce and explain his ministry, and to let us know that he was God. Like pieces of a puzzle that fall into place, a picture of God begins to emerge in these “I am” statements.
These “I Am” sayings in John go back to Exodus 3:13-15. The seven declarations are:
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).
John makes it even clearer by recording the time the Jews tried to kill Jesus for claiming to be the I AM of the Old Testament scriptures (John 8:52-59). In the story the Jews asked Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus answered them in a way that they could not miss, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is God in flesh.
World wide communion was developed to remind us of our common ancestry in Christ. Our Christian identity and heritage is rooted in this great truth: The Great I Am invites us into relationship, through the table spread before us today. It is where we are nourished and sustained by the ground of our existence. It is the holy ground where we meet God.