I AM and the presence of GOD with us.
I Will Be With You (Day 28 of A Simple Lent) | Saturday
We take for granted that GOD is everywhere. But until GOD tells Moses to take a message to the people, to Pharaoh, to share the good news of liberation to the captive Israelites, and says to tell them that I AM has sent him, GOD wasn’t there. GOD came out once in a while. GOD came to flood the world and punish Sodom and Gomorrah for their refusal to show hospitality to strangers. GOD showed up in encounters.
Like this one. In a bush. A bush on fire.
But GOD makes a promise to Moses:
I will be with you.
This is not a forgone conclusion for Moses. This isn’t how gods operate. Gods don’t hang out with you.
Gods need sacrifices to even grant an audience. Gods are transactional. You pay for favor through sacrifice.
This GOD doesn’t do that; this one’s different. GOD isn’t promising to exchange labor for a wage or a blessing for a sacrifice: this isn’t payment.
This GOD promises to save the people and Moses has a stake in it. And GOD promises to be with him.
Moses is smart. He doesn’t just go along with this and assume everything will be all right. He bargains with GOD because he’s still not sure. Let’s say I go along with this idea, GOD. What am I supposed to tell the people: how will they know I actually did talk to you?
This is a very real concern.
How often do people talk about calling or being with GOD?
I just heard a clip about Cliven Bundy, that rancher who has been illegally grazing on public lands who became notorious for his infamous standoff with the FBI some time ago, is now on trial with multiple felony counts. A supporter claims that “God is behind the Bundys.”
We also see professional football players praising GOD for giving them the victory (and suggesting that GOD gave their opponents defeat). And a presidential candidate recently gave all the glory to GOD for a primary victory.
Did they pray harder? Is GOD’s will so easily passed through a person?
How are these ideas of a GOD who promises victory in court or a football field or a primary election (for what exactly?) at all resemble the GOD being revealed to Moses? How is this GOD whose great promise is not victory, but presence, revealed in such cases? How is GOD’s love able to bear all things when love is so invisible in these moments?
From I Am to I Will Be
For the astute readers of scripture, the phrase “I Am” is so wonderfully common, that its presence is almost ubiquitous. And yet it is used poignantly throughout. From the oft used response to Where are you? it is the called who say
Here I Am!
And it is even on the lips of Jesus in the gospel we call Mark when the leadership ask Jesus specifically if he is the Messiah and he says: “I am.”
These are not merely descriptions of identity, but connections to a GOD revealed as I Am and
This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.
Everett Fox translates this phrase, “I Am Who I Am” with more complexity but with the richly pregnant possibility of the Hebrew: “I Will Be There Howsoever I Will Be There.”
For the I Am is almost militantly perpetually present: It is to say I Am NOW, but the Hebrew has a timeless quality to it, which evokes a now and a then. It is not only the present moment, I am here as I am. It is also I’m going to be there. I’m always going to be there. Where you are then, I will be.
Fox also notes that this presence is also not static. I’m going to be there in the way that I’m going to be there. GOD is not permanently stuck in amber, preserved and pinned to a board with a label like an insect collected for school. The promise is a promise of a totally other kind of permanence. I’m going to be there. I’m here. And I’ll be there. But as I choose to be revealed.
This divine name he offers fulfils to the people the claim he gives to Moses about the future: “I will be with you.” GOD isn’t only revealed, GOD is present with them. In the pain and struggle. In the frightening standing up to his own people and then to Pharaoh. In the confusion of what is to come. In the promised liberation. And eventually, in the wilderness, taking the form of a cloud and fire.
Present With Our Pain
This moment is actually in the midst of great struggle. Moses has revoked his citizenship by killing an Egyptian and is rejected by two Hebrews he looks to protect. He is cast out of both worlds and is now a nomad. And finds home in the wilderness.
That GOD would seek him out to carry the message is significant. That GOD would put his dual/non-citizenship to the test, negotiating between GOD and Pharaoh is a really big deal and seems totally ridiculous. Who could do it?
No one. And that’s the point. No one could do it alone. They would get squashed. This is why he almost gets tossed out by his own people at the first sign of failure because Egypt could squish him like a bug.
So whatever we are dealing with: all the noise and confusion and pain: all the conflict and work and election-year politics: all the family and dysfunction and relationships: all of the struggle, we don’t have to do it alone.
We are promised help. More specifically, we are promised presence. One who will be there howsoever the one will be there.
To love and liberate and make all things new. Even us and whatever stupid or frightening situation we might be in. There. Then. Now.
Daily Office Readings
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This week’s homework is to find how to best embody a life of vocation.
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