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Who am I?3 months ago
Maybe we have all had our identity shaken a bit during the period of the pandemic, to one degree or another. In this week’s ReSource Blog Stewart Fyfe takes us back to the story of Moses at the burning bush to help us to understand again our fundamental identity in God’s world, and what a God-given identity means for the way we are to live our lives.
Hello everyone. I’m Stewart Fyfe, I’m a ReSource Minister based here in beautiful Cumbria. But who are you? That’s what I want to think about today.
And it’s perhaps a particularly pertinent question after 15 months of intermittent lockdown. Who are you? As I think about myself, I would say I’m a leader of a small youth church, but actually we haven’t met properly for over a year. I lead a number of mission initiatives that aren’t happening at the moment and I’m not sure whether they’re going to emerge in quite the same way again. Actually, I could go through almost every aspect of my life and say - that’s who I was, but I’m not sure if that’s who I’m going to be again post-Covid.
So, come to think of it, I’m not sure who I am.
I’ve been clinging on to the memory of who I was as a means of grounding myself, but it’s been so long now that I’m not sure that I am that person any more and I have very little idea of who I’m going to be in the future.
So what can we be sure of, as we try to piece back together some sense of who we are?
Moses at the burning bush
I was re-reading recently one of my favourite passages of the Bible, Moses and the burning bush. Moses is famous, of course, as the guy who led Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. He’s the guy who parted the Red Sea, who got the 10 Commandments and who gave us God’s law, the law of Moses, and, according to tradition, the one who gave us the foundational first 5 books of the Bible. There would be no Christian or Jewish faith without him. As world heroes go, he is way up there, but there was a moment when all of that nearly didn’t happen. There was an amazing exchange between God and Moses which changed everything and it’s recorded in Exodus 3 and 4, but chapters 1 and 2 are an important background.
So the people of Israel have been in Egypt for a long time. They’ve been clinging on to a memory of who they once were in Israel, but now they are slaves in Egypt and it’s been so long, they’ve basically forgotten who they are and who the God who formed them was. And they cry out in their slavery - not to God, because they’ve forgotten him - they just cry out, but their cry comes up to God. And he remembers his covenant with their ancestors and he resolves to act. He resolves to send Moses to them to remind them who they are, “say to the Israelites, I am the Lord, the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
In am with you
So God meets Moses in the burning bush, while Moses is busy tending his sheep and sends him to the Israelites to remind them who he is. Moses is understandably confused, because he doesn’t know this God either, but there is something even more audacious that God is asking Moses to do: “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”
And Moses says what any sensible person in that situation would say: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” This is bonkers. I was just here minding these sheep and you come in and ask me to go to the most powerful person on earth and ask them to do something they are never going to agree to. Who am I?
And God’s answer is this: “I am with you.”
The answer to all those questions - why have you called me to do this? What right have I to stand before the powers of this world? Why are you asking me?
The answer to the question “Who am I?” is “I am with you.”
There’s a song many of us love to sing in Church that has the refrain “I am who you say I am” and I often sing it inside my head, because it really reminds me of the truth of this.
In all of the conflicts of people’s expectations, of other people’s priorities and demands, of our own sense of obligation, our own fears and hopes, it is so hard to know who we really are. And the answer from God is “I am with you.” That is all you need.
You probably don’t need me to say any more at this point, other than to go away into a quiet corner and spend some time with God taking this to heart, but just to help with that process, I just want to pick up three other things from this exchange with Moses that might help.
Firstly, Moses objects that he doesn’t know who God is - and the people of Israel, who he is called to lead, don’t know who he is. “Can I at least tell them your name?” He asks. And God seems to think this is a perfectly reasonable point. He gives Moses his name which translates as “I am who I am” - a bit enigmatic, but amazing to know God by name. It’s the start of a personal relationship.
And then he offers Moses some signs and wonders through his staff, that convince him and the people he is to lead, both of his name and of his character. These miracles will quite literally set them free from their slavery. So they have a pathway to freedom by getting to know God. That is the means by which they can know who they are and what God is calling them to. And that’s how they find their way to freedom. So perhaps God is calling us to lead others to know him by name and, through demonstrations of his power in their lives, to set them free and come to know themselves by knowing God deeply.
Secondly, Moses objects that he doesn’t have the gifts and skills needed for the task. You want me to speak to the Israelites and to Pharaoh, but “Lord, I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And God kind of gives the same answer - “I am with you - I’m the one who gives speech, sight and hearing. I am with you.” What more do you need? But he goes the extra mile - he gives Moses Aaron as a collaborator, and that’s enough to give Moses the courage to go. And when he is finally standing before Pharaoh, he finds his voice and unlocks the gifts that God has indeed given him for his calling.
So who is God giving to you as a collaborator to encourage you? Or at an even more basic level, what do you need to give you the courage just to get up and go? Because it will be through your obedience that God unlocks the gifts you need and that’s how you’ll discover that God is with you and has given you all that you need for his calling.
Bespoke works of God
Thirdly, God is incredibly patient with Moses while he raises objection after objection. The only time when God gets angry with him is when Moses says, “No Lord, please send someone else.” Then God gets proper cross! You see, He can work with our doubts, our fears, our hesitation, our lack of confidence. But he can’t do anything with us if we just refuse his calling.
If Moses had persisted in refusing God’s call, not only would he never have discovered himself, but God could hear the cry of his people and he knew that hundreds of thousands of people would be let down. No wonder he was angry. He knew what was at stake. You see, God was calling Moses to do something no-one else could do.
And that is true of us. We’re not just homogenous people interchangeable with everyone else. We are bespoke works of God each called to a particular purpose. If we don’t answer God’s call, not only do we fail ourselves, but the whole contribution God intended us to make fails. No one else is us, so no-one else can make the contribution we were intended to make. Conversely, however tough what he is calling us to do might be, we can do it if God is with us.
Yes, I am with you!
So if, like the people of Israel, like Moses and like me in lockdown, you are in danger of forgetting who you had once been and wondering who you are and what God is calling you to, make a bit of space to do a bit of wrestling with God, Moses-style. Ask him again who he is, spend some time getting to know him deeply. Open yourself to using the extraordinary powers he gives us. For Moses that was given through his staff, but for us they are given through the Holy Spirit.
Make use of those powers and see God at work in your life and in the world around you. Work with those God has given to work with you. Think about what you need to give you courage to go. And then go, go to Pharoah and say “let my people go”.
Do whatever he calls you to, however audacious, dangerous and costly. Because the answer to “who am I”, in fact the answer to everything is “I am with you.”
He is sending you. So go and God be with you. Amen.