“Who Am I?”
September 03, 2017
By John Partridge*
Exodus 3:1-15 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28
It’s sometime hard to figure out what’s “real” and what’s not.
When we meet someone we want to know who they really are, and this becomes even more important when we want to do business with them, or… if they want to marry your daughter.
Many of us have been the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic, or had to fire a contractor that didn’t live up to our expectations, or worried about who our children were dating because we weren’t sure that they were the people they seemed to be.
In the age of social media, it’s all to easy to pretend that your life is more perfect than it is, or to claim that you go to church, or that you went to a certain school, or to fabricate all sorts of impressive things. But our curiosity about the people that we meet isn’t anything new. People have wanted to know the truth about the people that they meet as long as there have been people. We want to know if we can trust them, and if so, we want to know how much we can trust them.
And that brings us to our scripture for today. Four hundred years after the life of Joseph, the people of Israel still lived in Egypt, but after the passage of so much time, the Pharaoh on the throne no longer remembered the story of Joseph and what he had done for the nation of Egypt. And once those lessons were forgotten, Pharaoh began to wonder who the Israelites really were, and if he could really trust them. (Exodus 3:1-15)
3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending 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 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
The Pharaoh of Egypt doesn’t know who Israel is, and he doesn’t know Israel’s god, and he doesn’t know anything at all about the character of Joseph and so he decides that it’s too risky to trust that they won’t rise up and try to overthrow him and take control of his nation. This decision leads him to oppress the descendants of Jacob and try to limit their ability to reproduce. In turn, because of his oppression, God calls Moses to be his agent as he rescues his people. But that causes Moses to doubt himself and wonder what it is that God sees in him. Moses wonders why God would want him because he has already been thrown out of Egypt, and because he is disgraced in Egypt, because he is a wanted murderer in Egypt, a humble shepherd in Midian, and so Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go” and do this thing.
We all do that. Many of us have struggled to understand who we are. We often hear about young people you go off to “find themselves” and that’s exactly what they are doing. They are struggling to decide who they are. But a big part of the answer for us is the same as it was for Moses.
God’s simple answer is that it doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is that the God who created the universe is going with you.
But Moses follows up with another pretty solid question. Since the people have been living in Egypt for 400 years, and many of his own people have forgotten Jacob, and Joseph, as well as their god, and they are going to want to know who it is that wants to save them.
And God answers, tell them that “I am” has sent you.
Egypt’s gods always had a name and a description. There was Ra, the sun-god, Amun, the wind god, Anubis, the god of death, Horus, the god of war, Isis, the goddess of magic and healing, Osiris, the god of the underworld, Set, the god of the desert, Sobek, the god of crocodiles and alligators, and on, and on. But when Moses asks the God of Jacob what his name is, the only name big enough to define it are words that we can only use to describe ourselves. What all this says, in one name, is that the only thing big enough to name God, is God himself. God’s name is “I am.”
God is, all that is.
God’s message to the people of Israel is that it doesn’t matter who they are, and it doesn’t matter what has happened to them in the last 400 years, and it doesn’t matter how powerful Pharaoh and his armies are, and it doesn’t matter that many of them have forgotten God and don’t know how to worship him.
The only thing that matters is that the God who created all that is, is going with them.
And then, thousands of years later, as Jesus approached the time when he knew that he would die, we hear this story in Matthew 16:21-28.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
After several years of teaching his disciples and telling crowds of people who they should be as followers of God, suddenly Jesus tries to explain to his friends who he is, by describing what he needed to do. Jesus had to do these things because that is who he was, because that is why he came. And when Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus declares that doing so is taking the side of the enemy because Jesus’ identity, who he is, is tied only to answering God’s call and doing what God wants him to do. Jesus’ identity was built on God.
The only thing that mattered is going where God wanted him to go and doing what God wanted him to do.
And finally we come to Paul’s words for the church in Rome as they too wondered who they were. (Romans 12:9-21)
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul reminds the church that if we are to call ourselves Christians, and allow our identity to be shaped by God, then we must be sincere. In a time when everyone is talking about “fake news” it is far more important that we not be “fake Christians.” We must hate evil and love good, we must serve God as much as humanly possible. Paul lists these things, not as suggestions, but as a checklist or as a measuring stick against which to check ourselves.
Our world is a strange, wonderful, terrible, and sometimes terrifying place. And in these difficult times we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and we worry about the future.
God’s simple answer is that the God who created the universe is going with us.
We met here today in a church and we call ourselves Christians. We claim that our identity is built as followers of Jesus Christ. But are we fake Christians or real ones?
There’s really no need for us to wonder who we are.
If we are real Christians, then we must go where God wants us to go, and to do what God wants us to do.
That is who we are.
Otherwise it’s all just for show, and we’re all fake Christians.
Who are you?
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.