Here I Am, Lord!
Several years ago, I found myself living with a family of sheep farmers in rural Ireland. While there I spent my days split between loading sheep onto lories and carting them around the countryside and working for a nun named Sister Maureen collecting oral histories from locals. That might sound a bit absurd, and if not absurd than extremely idyllic… but I assure you, no one was more stunned than me to find myself hanging out in Ireland with a bunch of sheep.
I offer you this setting because it was in that place that I heard God call my name.
If any of you have even been to Ireland, than you may resonate with this statement: There is something a little unsettling about Irish land. I remember one day climbing up to the back of my host family’s property, looking out on the land that they claimed in awe of the harsh dichotomy of it. On the one hand there were lovely fields of green separated by tidy rock walls, and on the other hand you could feel a sort of loneliness that the land gave off. It was like the land was weary and had seen too much. It was beautiful. It was harsh. And it was also a bit supernatural. Everything in that place had a story, or a superstition, or a legend behind it. It felt like you were encountering magic everywhere. And I couldn’t help but know that God lived close to the ground in this place.
One Sunday afternoon, I was with Sister Maureen at the abbey that she served. Mass had just finished, and I was sitting in the center of the nave marveling at the building I was in. The abbey had been built in the 12th Century, and as you looked around you were sort of taken back in time. The cold grey stone of the abbey was the same as it has been forever. And there was something else about that abbey that struck me… the acoustics were fascinating! It was like you could feel sound as it bounced off the hard stone around you looking for something soft to absorb it. That afternoon, once all the people cleared out, I went to the center of the nave near the chancel, where the acoustics were the best and sang for a while. But there was only one song that I could think of, the song Here I am Lord. As I stood there singing in a church that had seen thousand, perhaps millions, of Christian pilgrims through the years, I stood there and felt my own voice bouncing off the hard stone walls and taking its sweet time finding its way back to me again. And for the first time in years, my heart felt settled… at rest. After a while I wasn’t hearing my own voice, but I was hearing my name being called.
God lived close to the earth here, and he was calling my name. It was a warm, glittery rumble inside of me. The sound was fractured… like millions of reflective pieces… The voice of God. As I heard it. Millions of pieces reflecting… light.
Have you ever heard God call your name?
There have been a lot of sermons done on Exodus 3, that talk about God calling out to the unwilling servant, these messages tend toward reviving church participation… But there is something marvelous about this theophany, this appearance of God that has nothing to do with motivating the church, and has everything to do with the claims that we are not autonomous. As individuals we often think of our lives as lived under the radar. No one knows our name until we offer it. No one can claim our time until we give it. We think our lives are without disruption… without intrusion… except for what we volunteer. We are the masters of our own lives!
The text that we read today finds Moses living in the Desert of Midian among Jethro’s family, supposedly, long after he fled Egypt. We all know about this fellow Moses. We know that he was delivered from a terrible fate through the dedication of a mother’s love. By being set adrift in a basket. And we know that he was taken in and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, which is a rather strange turn of events. And we know that one day, after witnessing years of cruelty to the Israelite people… his people, Moses snaps and kills an Egyptian man who he saw beating an Israelite slave. And we also know that Moses did a rather poor job of trying to cover up his crime, and was naturally caught, at which time he high-tailed it out of there and into the desert. A safe place, hidden. Or so he thought.
And this is where our story picks up. When Moses sought to hide away in the desert, God still came to him. While out with the flock one day, Moses’ attention was grabbed by a bush that had seemingly caught fire. As he went to check things out, God calls out and says “Moses, Moses!” and he responded, “Hineni”… “Here I am.”
This is anything but a simple exchange.
God calls to Moses and Moses dose not respond with a question of “yeah, who wants to know?”. Moses doesn’t respond with running away screaming, which would have likely been my response. But Moses responds with wordsof submission… “Hineni”, “Here I am”, These words instantly establishes a relationship that is between Sovereign and servant. Moses has an instantaneous understanding that this voice coming out of burning shrubbery, is something significant, something important. And Moses submits. Even if he wasn’t looking for his life to be turned upside down, he is still willing to acknowledge that there is something going on that is a whole lot bigger than him. This is the first time that we encounter Moses, not as a lucky kid that got fished out of the water by the right people, but as a person with a certain character that God can use. A character that instructed Moses to say instantly, “Hineni”, “Here I am”.
God calls to Moses in a very dramatic yet personal way! This is not the still small voice that spoke to Elijah, but rather this is God in a physical form. God is present and visible in this scene. In verse 8 it states that God had “come down” to respond to the cries of his people. This is a physical intervention. And as we heard in the text, the mere presence of God is transformative. God says “Don’t come any closer, take off your sandals. I am the God of your father, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” And at this point Moses knows exactly who’s presence he is in, for he turns his face away, and likely get to work taking off his sandals. So when Moses says “Hineni”, “Here I am” he is not saying “yes, can I help you?” But is submitting his life fully to the awesome physical presence of God. We can see by Moses keeping a respectful distance, removing his sandals, and by turning his face away, that Moses is in a place that has been transformed into a holy sanctuary, and Moses a simple servant of God doesn’t seek to impinge on that holiness but to honor it.
God called to Moses for a very particular reason. Verse 10 states, “So, now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” In this moment, the grand plan of God has now become a human responsibility. God heard the cry of his people, and he has found just the right person to spearhead the campaign for their release! This is now a human obligation, and human vocation. It is Moses that will do what God said, It is Moses who runs the risk that God is ready to take, It is Moses who will meet with Pharaoh, it is Moses that is acting on behalf of God to save God’s people. “Go” the Lord said, “I am sending you.” Clearly, Moses’ likely saw his chance of success in Egypt were, shall we say, modest… but still… “Hineni”, “Here I am”
Today, the notion of a “call” is often trivialized or institutionalized. Or it is thought of as mere obedience. But to be called, is to be called by name for a task that God has prepared for you. As we can see form the life of Moses: call is not depended on being sinless, it is not dependent on being skilled, and it is not depended on our own plans or doubts.
… And that is exactly what happens next in this story, Moses doubts. He says “Who am I to do this?”, “I am slow of speech and of tongue!”, “Find someone else!” Moses says. But God didn’t make a mistake when God called Moses by name. God knew his sins, knew his struggles, knew his insecurities. But yet, was set on using Moses for God’s plan, anyways. God equipped Moses with everything that he needed.
For when God called out from the fire, “Moses, Moses!” he wasted no time responding “Hineni” “Here I am”. Moses had clarity for a moment, before all those pesky doubts set in. Clarity that the One who called to him is great and that the One who called him is able.
We are not autonomous. We are known by our God. We cannot live hidden or apart from our God, because our names are known.
Have you ever heard God call your name?
It is likely that if we were to go around the sanctuary sharing our testimonies, sharing our stories… that many of us would have something to say about “call”. As someone that is just beginning to hear your stories… I have meet people in this sanctuary that have dedicated their lives to serving God’s creation. I heard stories of parents, and grandparents, that have raised children… I hear of volunteers, of servants. I hear the stories of those that have soughtto honor and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ through their work and ministries.
What do you have to say about call? It is likely that we all have or have had doubts and fears about the path that God has placed us on. We have all had moments in our life and our work of when we were in over our heads! Moments that have humbled us! Moments of people doubting our capacity! Moments of us doubting our own capacity… Moments when God’s truth is so evident and real and vast… that we feel so very small.
But, the great thing is… God knows your name, God knows what you can do, God knows what can be nourished and grown inside you. Grown at your hands. We are known by our God, and our God has work for us to do. We may have fear, we may have doubts.
But as with Moses, God knows our sins, knows the worry that we harbor. But despite that, or perhaps because of it… God loves you and has work for you to do. Work that asks you to be sowers of peace and grace. Teachers and models of the Gospel. Work that includes living lives of truth and of always seeking after our God.
Standing there in the abbey, all those years ago, listening to the last notes of a hymn find there was back to me, I remember having a rested soul. There was clarity for a moment. God lives close to the ground. Our Creator, our Savior, walks with us, talks through us, and calls to us. God used the cold, ancient stones of an abbey to speak to me. How might God be speaking to you? Through the wisdom of a friend? Through that nagging pull in your gut? Or perhaps through the messages that you hear from up here, at the pulpit?
What has God called you into?
Hineni… “Here I am.” We are not autonomous, but rather we are known.
There is work to be done. Grace, peace, truth to be spread…
Have you heard God calling your name? …