Questions for God: Who Are You?

Scripture for Sunday: 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. 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. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 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.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 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.

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, 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. 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.

Notes on the Text:

We begin this week a new sermon series about asking God some basic questions. This week we focus on who is God. In the church, we take the word “God” for granted assuming that everyone knows what we mean when we say God. But if we stopped for a moment to ask people around us, especially those who are not in church what the word means to them, we would be surprised at the variety of images and ideas people have of God.

Some of the images and ideas are hard to deal with that word has become loaded with negative baggage and associations. When we look at the different world religions or the secular ideas of the divine, one could get overwhelmed as to where to find the “true” answer to the question about the nature of God. For Christian we often talk about God as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which in itself a difficult idea to comprehend or explain. For the Jews, God is so holy that the name is not even pronounced. For the Muslims, there are 99 names for God. Even in the Bible, we find a variety of images and ways to speak about God. Here are some examples:

Warrior: Exodus 15:3
Husband: Hosea 2:16
King: Psalm 98:6
Father: Psalm 10:13
Midwife: Psalm 22:9
Mistress of a household: Psalm 123:2
Birth giver: Isaiah 42:16
Mother: Isaiah 66:13

I think that our images of God can help or hinder our faith and the more expansive and open our images are, the more open we are to God’s work in our lives. It is hard to be intimate with a distant or judgmental God. In his book Your God Is Too Small, J. B. Philips challenges some of our misconceptions about God. Here are some these misunderstandings:

  • God: the resident policeman. Some of us seem to know God primarily as the source of scolding and guilt.
  • God: the parental hangover. God is our parents magnified. God who is our parents projected into heaven. This God is a hangover from what our parents were to us.
  • God: the old man with a long white beard who has lived for ever. In his book, J.B. Phillips talks about a group of students being asked about a new thing that had just been discovered fifty years ago when the book was written – radar.  They asked a group of students if they thought that God understood radar. The students said, “No! God is too old to understand radar.”
  • God: the heavenly bosom. God: the one to whom we go for comfort and escape when life becomes too hard.
  • God in a box, whom we turn to when we need answers and we don’t know where else to go for answers. This God exists only to answer questions for which we have no other explanation: God in a box.
  • God: the managing director, whose job it is to coordinate and steer the universe and make sure everything comes out okay in the end.

With these misconceptions in mind, I invite you to consider how you relate to God. For Christians, there is also the burden of understanding Jesus as the manifestation of God on earth. We often think that Jesus is easily understood because he was a human being just like us, but that is far from the truth. In fact, in the Gospels themselves we hear the disciples struggling to understand who Jesus is. So even our understanding of Jesus can be lacking.

So I would like to propose two things: First, we need to always be mindful that it is easy to make God in our image. God is bigger than anything we can ever imagine or define: God is not a being, God is the Ground of All Being (Paul Tillich). Second, we need to remember that what really matters at the end of the day is how we open ourselves to mystery, to the things of love, and the soulful things of life so that we continue to grow in our ability to love and serve as God does.

Prayer by Joyce Rupp:

Unnameable God, I feel you
with me at every moment.
You are my food, my drink,
my sunlight, and the air I breath.

with each refreshing rain
each slant of sunshine
each beam of moonlight
each whisper of wind

in every spiraling thought
every turning of the heart
every spoken and written word
every action large and small

you stead, you lead
you encourage, you guide
you embrace, you never let go

one with my soul, one with my life
one with me in the first breath
one with me in the last

you know me now
you will know me
always and forever

I remember
I rejoice. Amen.

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