Last week, we saw God blessing Jacob at Bethel, despite the fact that Jacob used deceit to steal his father’s blessing from his brother Esau. The week before that, Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac in the manner of the neighboring cultures. What was God thinking when God chose these people? We need to go back to Genesis if we want a glimpse of the pattern of how God works.
By God’s Word, living creatures of all kinds came forth– “…and God saw that this was good.” Then God said “Let us make humankind in our image….” After the rest of creation has been brought into being, at the end of the sixth day, God brings humanity onto the scene. “Let them be stewards…” – caretakers, overseers, guardians– “… of the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and everything that crawls on the ground.” [Genesis 1:25-27]
We were created, according to the narrative account in Genesis, in God’s image– we read: “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.” We were created in God’s image, in God’s reflection; unlike the rest of creation, we were created with the potential of being one with God; we were created with freedom and a strong will. We have also been created with reason, with which we can guide our actions and judgments. The creation of humanity was not an afterthought, or as just another element the larger scheme of things. Humanity, we here, our sisters and brothers of all colors, traditions, cultures, races and abilities, have been given to each other that we might multiply the best of times and share in the worst of times. We were created for a future, for the fulfillment of a divine promise. The basis of our faith is deeply rooted in this story of Genesis from which our lives– our sense of hope and future– spring.
Abraham and Sarah were given the promise and blessing of a new future… that from them would come a unique people sharing a common heritage of favor. That favor, that heritage of living under God’s promise or covenant, was to be passed down from generation to generation as an inheritance from God for the future of humanity. But, that promise was challenged and brought into question from generation to generation… as Abraham felt he was called to sacrifice his son Isaac following the traditions and beliefs of the cultures of influence surrounding the land of Israel; as Jacob challenged the traditions and culture of Israel itself when he tricked Esau out of first the birthright, then the blessing, due Esau and not Jacob; as Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. What kind of future can we expect from such a heritage? But yet God chose to work in and through this heritage, these lives with their weaknesses and strengths.
The descendants of Jacob grew into the nation of Israel, and because of a great famine, settled in Egypt as guests of Pharaoh. Israel survived the famine because of the forward thinking of Joseph, a son of Jacob and child of Israel, and now second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. As the story reads, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he told them: “You planned evil for me, but God planned it for the good, as it has come to pass this day—to bring about the survival of many people.” [Genesis 50:20] But eventually a new Pharaoh rose up who did not know Joseph and the Hebrews became cruelly enslaved to the Egyptians. The Promise was once again threatened by the people and events of history, but God continued to use our shortcomings, our shortsightedness “… to bring about the survival of many people.”
So now we meet Moses. Many of you remember the story of Moses: Pharaoh attempted to rid himself of the problem of a growing and potentially threatening Israel by ordering all the male children killed at birth. He “… spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” [Exodus 1:15-16] Unknown to Pharaoh, Shiphrah and Puah refused, and Moses was born. Ironically, Moses was ultimately taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter who found Moses on the river and adopted him as her own. [Side note: Notice that these three women, Shiphrah, Puah and Pharaoh’s daughter, were used by God to forward the Promise and will of God, and they didn’t even need a man to direct them or help them. Just sayin…]
Moses grew up within Pharaoh’s household as Pharaoh’s son, an Egyptian, and became an overseer. After he killed an Egyptian guard, saving a Hebrew slave, he fled. This is where our story today picks up: “Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock deep into the wilderness, Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The messenger of [the Holy One] appeared to Moses in a blazing fire from the midst of a thornbush. Moses saw—“The bush is ablaze with fire, and yet it isn’t consumed!” Moses said, “Let me go over and look at this remarkable sight—and see why the bush doesn’t burn up!” When [the Holy One] saw Moses coming to look more closely, God called out to him from the midst of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” Moses answered, “I am here.”” [Exodus 3:1-4]
It must have been quite the conversation Moses had with God at that burning thorn-bush when God called him to involve himself in the injustice that God’s people were caught up in as slaves in Egypt. Moses didn’t see himself as the right person– five times he tried to back off; five times God hears Moses’ objections and works around and through them: “Please, my God, I am not good with words. I wasn’t yesterday, nor the day before, nor am I now, even after you spoke to me. I speak slowly, and with a wooden tongue.”” [Exodus 4:10] To this, God told Moses, Aaron can help, he’s good with words.
When you read through these stories, you begin to wonder if God has any control over people and events. Couldn’t God have resolved these problems without human intervention? In fact humanity was and is, the cause of most of God’s headaches. But that was not the way God chose. God doesn’t choose the quick-fix. God chooses to not alleviate the suffering and injustice in the world by divine self-action. One, maybe two, words from God would fix everything. But notice how God chooses to work in and through those who are decidedly not God, not perfect, to bring about a new future, to bring about healing and justice. God works in and through the powerless to overturn the powerful; God works in and through the weak to overcome the strength of injustice; God works in and through the reluctant to establish a new future of freedom, compassion and empathy.
Our future is not dictated by divine word or action– God is not in control of what might or might not happen when fallible people like Abraham or Jacob or Moses, or like ourselves, fail to follow our heritage of God’s promise, to live into God’s future. God made a world in which fallible people live; a world in which disabilities of one sort or another predominate; a world in which weakness and a lack of confidence do not disqualify us.
We were created in God’s image, in God’s reflection; unlike the rest of creation, we were created with the potential of being one with God; we were created with freedom and strong wills. We have also been created with reason, with which we can guide our actions and judgements. The creation of humanity was not an afterthought, or as just another element the larger scheme of things. We were created for a future, for the fulfillment of a heritage, a divine promise– we were created in the image of God, to be a reflection of God to our neighbor in this world.
Moses asked the voice in the bush… “when I go to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is this god’s name?’ what am I to tell them?” [Exodus 3:13] God responded: “I will be who I am.”– I have been faithful and will be faithful; I was God for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Leah and Rachel and Jacob– I have been God through all time and in all places– and I will be your God, and you will be my people.