Bishop Manfred Kock
We have heard the old tale of the vocation of Moses. Moses looked after the sheep of his father-in-law. And he had a mysterious vision. He saw a burning bush, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses heard a voice. He was called by his name, “Moses, Moses.” And he answered, “Here I am.” And he heard the voice that called him to liberate Israel from slavery in Egypt.
A religious vision. Those visions are a booming business. And there are several people who claim to have revelations, which shows that religious life can have from time to time a tendency toward a certain lack of restraint.
That is why one should explain somehow the old tales of Israel described this mystery. They don’t want to derive anything from the newness itself. They don’t want to impress with events belonging to the next verse. The only thing old narrative traditions want is to put clearly into words the inexpressible, incomprehensible character of God—that is God turns toward men, toward humans.
Hear it again. Moses said to God, “If I got to the Israelites and tell them that the God of their forefathers had sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what shall I say?” And God answered, “‘I am.’ That is who I am. Tell them that ‘I am’ has sent you to them.” God’s name, God’s mission, God’s faithfulness, God’s uniqueness, these are the points I would like to concentrate on in my sermon.
God’s name, “I am.” According to the old Hebrew grammar, that means “I am the one I am, and I was the one I was. I will be the one I will be. ” Now, what shall we do with this kind of name? To be or not to be? Is that our question?
These words seem so abstract, so almost philosophical. They expand on the self-declaration of the Eternal, and this self-declaration tries to get a hold of the name of God. In Hebrew the ancient name of God is written with four letters, four consonant letters. Israel keeps this name holy, does not pronounce it to avoid any insult of an offense. Adonai, they used this term to pronounce wherever the name of God is written in the Holy Scriptures. It has been translated to “The Lord, Kyrios, Dominus. ” All of them sound masculine, but in Israel the name of God in no way implies any gender determination.
The Eternal, the One Who Was, the One Who Is, the One Who Will Be, he sends Moses to release the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and to lead them into the Promised Land, in the land of freedom. God is no abstract being, no supernatural creature, no philosophical principle. He is the Liberator. He is one who directs the history of liberation. That’s God’s mission. God sends people who are committed to the cause of liberation. That’s what he did, what he does, what he will do.
He does not show himself as an eternal being but as the one who is eternally faithful and reliable, the God of the forefathers, says the old traditional Israel. He has called Abraham from among a nameless mass of scattered people afflicted by the confusion of tongues, from among those who have built a Tower of Babel. God begins a history with Abraham, a history of faithfulness, a history to which he commits himself. And he called the people of Israel out of Egypt out of slavery and gave them a good order preserving life to Israel, offering his sign to all other nations. The commandments given to Israel are steps into the freedom.
I am the Lord your God. I am the Eternal. I am the Liberator from slavery in Egypt. You do not need other gods. You do not need to create an image according to your own desires. Do not use God’s name for your own interests. The Sabbath, the weekend free day is a gift. We don’t destroy ourselves and our relationships with others if we do not keep a day of rest. We put at risk our freedom if we refuse to bear responsibility for our parents and grandparents and if we cancel the unwritten fact of mutual support between the generations. We have the commandments concerning the protection of life, of marriage, the protection of property and of honor. The living conditions of our fellow human beings are not to be jeopardized, as the life of all mankind would be put in danger.
In the meantime, we are about to discover, as the observers of God’s commandments, is the way of being responsible for the future. The point is not to waste, not to squander. We have to make arrangements to avoid that the consequences of our deeds destroy us and the future of all children. Ethics are the cause of learning on the road to the future.
“I will lead you out of slavery. ” This was the message announced by the voice that came out of the Burning Bush, out of Egypt. Liberation from slavery is the pattern and example of God’s action. This is the way Israel experienced God’s action. This gives strength to the people of Israel despite all the sufferings they had to go through in history. They tell us that they have been guided through the desert by two signs of God. During the day they saw the cloud. During the night they saw a glow of fire—both symbols of the presence of God.
In regard to our future, you often don’t see such signs. But we have been given the promise that we are guided. The signs for us are the Word of God, and the sacrament of the living Christ. God is not absent from our present sorrows and from the dessert of our future.
This is the first day of Lent season. In these fearful times let us enter Lent with the discipline of hearing the Word and sharing the Holy Communion. Let us give up our fear-based thoughts and words and actions and turn to a life based on faith and hope and love.
God opens himself up to us in regards to our future. He gives us the spirit of courage that enables us to cope with changes. He gives us the spirit of patience to bear the unutterable.
Let us refer to and reply to this old story of liberation. Let us refer to and reply on the traces of liberation in our lives. “I, myself, your God, the Eternal, I have led you out of bondage. No other gods are needed.”
What kind of God is that we are talking about? How can we honestly speak about God today? And what is the influence of the commandments on our lives? The people of Israel might have experienced the God of salvation, but the cavalry of the Pharaoh was destroyed. So, isn’t it just a fate after all? Are these mere assumptions by the survivors? For sure, we could also construct a deity acting in a place somewhere in the sphere of things that can’t be explained. But what effect would such a God have on us? Fear or fatalism or perhaps a sort of satisfaction if we are better off than others?
A lot of people do away with all speculations about God. They are uncertain or even quite certain that all ideas of gods are useless. But doing away with this question means to repress it, and other gods soon take the place of the repressed God. According to Martin Luther there are people who think they have God and enough of all things if they have money and goods. These people rely on this and are so proud of it and self-assured that they won’t listen to others. Look, says Martin Luther, these people have their god, too, who is called mammon.
Of course, people today don’t literally dance around the golden calf. But if people chase after money beyond their means, isn’t that idolatry? If people keep circling around themselves and risk to drown in their own problems and misery, if they are addicted to pills and to alcohol, isn’t it idolatry?
I will be the one I will be. This is God’s name. Now called comfort, hope has its root in God’s will to liberate, to set free. The signals are clear to see. More and more people refuse to follow the gods of destiny of what is called “modern. ” They understand that Lent time is a time of prayer and repentance. It is a call to take a new direction in life. More and more people learn to expose the idols of consumerism and to realize what must be done to preserve forests from dying and rivers and lakes from pollution. More and more people’s eyes are open to see which golden calves are adored, and they discover that we have to take responsibility for all human beings on this earth. Where God remains inside, the humanity of mankind is not forgotten. In other words, where God is God, man cannot be God.
“I am the Lord your God. I have the name ‘I will be.’”
Martin Buber, the famous Jewish scholar, has translated this verse as follows: “I am. I will be there. The One who will wait for you. ” Wherever you go, he will be there.
We as Christians are joined together beyond the borders of countries and the limits of confessions. For us, Jesus of Nazareth is the final guarantee for God’s faithfulness. Confidence and love: these are the guidelines for our path. This is the name we honor. Together we praise God who sets free. We are united in the understanding of the message of God’s justice.
Time has come when we no longer suspect the others to be on the wrong side but when, instead, we acknowledge that we need each other for mutual support and as a sign of the plenitude of God’s gift.
The body of Christ needs members who praise God’s name united and together. And so let us pray for peace with the interceding Spirit of God.
O God, from whom all good councils and all just works do proceed, give us the peace which the world cannot give. Let us obey thy commandments through Jesus Christ our Savior.
The peace of Christ be with you.