Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
I am who I am, preached by The Rev. Peter Courtney
Robin Williams plays Popeye the Sailor man in the movie version of the comic book story. Popeye sings a song which goes: “I yam what I yam what I yam what I yam, I’m Popeye the Sailor man.” Popeye is generous, vigorous and firm in his opinions. He knows who he is. This is a good thing. He is Popeye the Sailor man.
When Moses asks the God of his ancestors for his name, Yahweh answers: "I AM Who I AM.” He goes on to say: “Tell the people ‘I AM’ sent you to them.”
One can almost hear the dedicated skeptic writing the comedy line right now:
Question: “What do Yahweh and Popeye have in common.”
Answer: They are both very strong and they are both fictitious.
There is no question that Yahweh is establishing his credentials with Moses. The subtext is that he is strong, the one who has always been and who was in the beginning. More important than being strong, Yahweh sets out his family tree by saying he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “I am” is the God who accompanied the People of Israel from the very beginning; long before anyone can remember except through the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel.
Yahweh’s name "I AM Who I AM” is intriguing. We know that it can mean “I will be who I will be.” Yahweh is telling us that he is the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) God of Israel and will continue to be so into the future. Yahweh also refers to Godself in the third person: “Yahweh is the one who makes all things.” This is not unlike Popeye’s conviction that spinach makes him able to fin-ich what he starts.
When Yahweh tells Moses that he and the people of Israel will go into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites it is hard to imagine that all these folks will be glad to see them.
Popeye is all about bluster, noise and violence. He can vanquish dastardly villains after a huge fight and a re-supply of spinach. Curiously he is powerless in relation to his girl friend Olive Oyl who treats him like dirt and slaps him around with impunity. We read comic strips to see big tough men diminished by more powerful women. Oddly, there is some evidence for the same kind of behavior with David and Bathsheba, Sampson and Delilah and several others. Popeye is not fictitious; he is a real cartoon character whom all of you have met one way or another.
Yahweh on the other hand is not a cartoon character. In Eastern Orthodoxy the story of Moses and the burning bush is called the Unburnt Bush. In order to get Moses’ attention God appears in a bush fire which does not succumb to the flames. Even people who have no idea about anything in the Bible know what a “burning bush experience” is. Burning bush experiences are numinous, transcendent, unexplainable phenomena which really happen to us. Last week we said that when God calls, it is not always with son et lumiere. But when God does do sound and light we tend to discount the experiences because these experiences are outside of our normal experience. We play safe with them and discount them as unreal.
Just because a burning bush is a stunt does not mean it is not real. In the Bible God appears in places where one takes off shoes because our feet are on holy ground. I served a parish which called their coffee hour Holy Grounds since it is there where we meet the holy in our neighbor.
It is terrifying to think we would encounter the really real, the utterly holy, the one who tells us to take off our shoes because we are on holy ground. It is normal to be terrified. Who wouldn’t be both fascinated and scared by these larger than life experiences?
Two caveats. It is important to remain open to the power and presence of God. Our spiritual journey is best taken when we look at our lives and notice that God was there all along whether there is a lot of noise or not.
The second caveat is that burning bushes are not the only way that God gets our attention. It is one way. People do have burning bush experiences. When we do, it is important to take off our shoes rather than discount the experience.
Remember that God can speak softly too as she did to Elijah in a still small voice. Our job is to pay attention. Our God is not like Popeye, a comic blusterer. God is the steady regular attender to us and the lives we live. If we insist that God can only be in unburnt bushes we are very likely to miss the still small voice of God.