St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Sunday 3rd September — Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Here I am

Semon preached at Enmore, Four­teenth Sunday after Pente­cost, the 3rd of Septem­ber 2023. 

Read­ings: Exodus 3. 1–15. Romans 12. 9–21. Mat­thew 16. 21–28


The story of the call of Moses is one of the best-known pas­sages in the Old Test­a­ment and much loved by Bible story artists. It is also an exten­ded call nar­rat­ive which begins in Chapter 3 verse one but con­tin­ues to chapter 4 verse 17. To say that Moses was reluct­ant to obey God’s call is an under­state­ment. Moses took a great deal of per­sua­sion before he finally accep­ted the task God had for him.

The pas­sage starts with Moses look­ing after the flock of his fath­er-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midi­an. He leads the flock away from the wil­der­ness, to Horeb, which the nar­rat­or describes as being the moun­tain of God. He encoun­ters a strange sight, a bush burn­ing fiercely but not being con­sumed. He comes closer to exam­ine this strange event and hears the voice of God call­ing his name, Moses, Moses. He responds, ‘Here I am’. We wor­ship the God who knows our names, and Jesus declared that even the hairs on our head are numbered. God then calls Moses to come no closer and to remove his san­dals, because the place where he stands is holy ground. The ground is holy because of God’s appear­ance, not because it was already holy. This is the first occur­rence of the word ‘holy’ in the Bible and it sig­ni­fic­ant that the concept is linked with God.

God then reveals him­self to Moses as the God of your fath­er, the God of Abra­ham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jac­ob. In response Moses hides his face because he is afraid to look at God. God spe­cific­ally acknow­ledges the faith of Moses’ own fam­ily. And the nam­ing of the pat­ri­archs demon­strates a con­tinu­ity in God between Moses and his ancest­ors. The ref­er­ence to the pat­ri­archs also harks back to God’s prom­ise to his people in chapter 2 of Exodus: “God heard their groan­ing and remembered his cov­en­ant with Abra­ham, Isaac and Jacob.”

The Lord then speaks to Moses and tells him his plans to res­cue his people from their oppress­ors. Not only will he deliv­er them from the Egyp­tians, but he will bring them out of Egypt and into a land flow­ing with milk and honey. The Lord then reveals to Moses that he is to be the one to res­cue the Israel­ites and bring them out of Pharaoh’s clutches!

Moses’ imme­di­ate response is to declare: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israel­ites out of Egypt?”

But God is ready with a reply: “I will be with you.” He then adds and ‘if you want a sign that you are the right man, when you have brought the people out of Egypt then you will wor­ship God on this moun­tain.’ An odd state­ment from God until we remem­ber that the moun­tain they are stand­ing on is Mt. Sinai where Moses will later be giv­en the ten commandments!

But Moses is still not con­vinced and has anoth­er response up his sleeve. He says to God “if the Israel­ites ask me who sent me and what is his name, what will I say?” God says to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM. This is the most com­mon trans­la­tion of the Hebrew but oth­ers are “I will be what I will be.” and “I will be who I am / I am who I will be”. Anti­cip­at­ing con­fu­sion from this cryptic word God tells Moses to say to the Israel­ites: “I AM sent me to you.” The divine name is built on the Hebrew verb ‘to be’ and is related to the divine name used fre­quently through­out the Old Test­a­ment, Yah­weh, or YHWH. This spe­cial name of God is con­sidered so holy that it is not to be pro­nounced in pray­er or wor­ship. The NRSV uses ‘the Lord’ in pref­er­ence to using Yahweh.

God knows that behind Moses’s ques­tion “What is his name” is a plea for assur­ance and pos­sibly an expres­sion of Moses’s fear at the task being asked of him. The con­ver­sa­tion between Moses and God begun in chapter 3 verse 4 con­tin­ues through to chapter 4.17. Moses tries to find ways to get out of the task God is want­ing to give him. His struggle is real, he has no per­son­al ambi­tion, and he has no con­fid­ence in his abil­it­ies but God has an answer for every excuse. What is clear is that God prom­ises to be with Moses in all that he under­takes, he will not be left alone. The his­tory of the church reveals many appar­ently ordin­ary people who did great things for God. One thinks of Gladys Ayl­ward the young Eng­lish woman who believed that God was call­ing her to go as a mis­sion­ary to China. She was turned down by mis­sion­ary soci­et­ies but decided to go any­way using all her sav­ings. After trav­el­ling alone into China in the early 1920’s she spent the rest of her life there, improv­ing the lives of women and hav­ing her work recog­nized by the Chinese author­it­ies. In the !950’s a film was made of her life. When God calls us for a task, he always prom­ises to go with us.

We move from Exodus to some thoughts about the Gos­pel read­ing from Mat­thew 16. In the read­ing last Sunday, Jesus asked his dis­ciples the ques­tion, ‘Who do you say that I am’ and Peter made the fam­ous state­ment: “You are the Mes­si­ah, the Son of the liv­ing God.” It was a moment­ous moment and there may have been a gasp from some of the dis­ciples. They had prob­ably all been think­ing this was true but up till now no one had been game to actu­ally declare it. Jesus praises Peter for mak­ing this state­ment and says that his Fath­er in heav­en was the one who had giv­en Peter this insight. The affirm­a­tion that Jesus is the Mes­si­ah is the turn­ing point of this Gospel.

In the pas­sage read this morn­ing Jesus reveals to his dis­ciples what is going to hap­pen in the com­ing days. He tells them that he will under­go great suf­fer­ing at the hands of the reli­gious lead­ers and that he will be killed and on the third day be raised. Peter is hav­ing none of that and takes Jesus aside telling him that none of these things should hap­pen. Jesus’ response to Peter is harsh: “Get behind me Satan, you are a stum­bling block to me”. We have quickly moved from Jesus prais­ing Peter and telling him that he is the rock on which Jesus will build his church, to Peter set­ting his mind on human things, not divine things. Peter may under­stand that Jesus is the Mes­si­ah, but he does not yet under­stand what it means to be the Messiah.

Jesus then explains that fol­low­ing him will involve tak­ing up the cross and deny­ing them­selves. Peter is not the only one who has trouble with this mes­sage. Theo­lo­gian and mar­tyr Diet­rich Bon­hoef­fer, who wrote about the cost of dis­ciple­ship, saw in Peter’s reac­tion evid­ence that “from its very begin­ning. the Church has taken offence at the suf­fer­ing Christ.” Jesus did not go seek­ing suf­fer­ing for him­self or his dis­ciples and in his min­istry, he often spent time alle­vi­at­ing suf­fer­ing. None the less suf­fer­ing often tends to accom­pany those who fol­low his path.

Jesus reminds his fol­low­ers that those who save their life lose it. A life con­trolled by fear of suf­fer­ing and death is a life already lost. But to lose one’s life in fol­low­ing Jesus in the sub­vers­ive way of the cross is iron­ic­ally to find life. (Anna Case-Winters)


Fr Philip Bradford