I Am Who I Am Because of the I AM
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
I Am Who I Am Because of the I AM
Text: Exodus 3:1-15
This last week six teenagers from our congregation, Mrs. Jessica, and I went to the WELS International Youth Rally in Knoxville, TN. It was a jam-packed three days of faith, fun, and fellowship with 1,200 teens and 400 chaperones from all across North America. We just returned last night at 5pm—very tired, yet very rejuvenated.
I think all 1,600 attendees would agree that one of the best presentations was from my friend Pastor Jon Enter from West Palm Beach, FL. He is one of the only 36-year-olds you will meet that has two times as much energy as the teens he is two times older than. He was fun and funny and very encouraging.
One of the interesting things he did during his presentation was to walk into the audience and ask random teens, “Answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ in 20 seconds or less.” The first young lady paused for a moment and then said her name, her age, where she is from and, “I like to swim and play sports and I’m in band and I won a gold medal in forensics this last year.” Everyone applauded.
Then Pastor Enter found a teen boy in the front row and asked the same question: “Who are you in 20 seconds or less?” It was a classic teen boy response. “I . . . uh . . . I’m . . . uh . . . I’m nervous.” Everyone laughed. “Tell me one fact about yourself,” Pastor Enter said. “Uh . . . uh . . .” Nothing. It is more than interesting to watch teens tell other people who they are and what they think of themselves.
How do you think you would have answered the question? Don’t think of standing in front of 1,600 of your peers. That is a little nerve-wracking. What if one person asked you to answer one question: “Who are you?” What if you looked in the mirror and asked yourself, “Who am I?” What would you say?
Maybe you would answer like the teen girl. “Well, I’m a mother of two. I’m a hard worker with a decent job making a decent wage trying to make a decent life. I used to be regional chess champion back in high school but I was also on the track team and homecoming queen back in the day. I love long walks on the beach and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.” That would be a response identifying who you are with much of what you have done and achieved in life.
Maybe you would respond to the question, “Who am I?” Like the teenage boy. “Uh . . . well . . . I don’t know. I still haven’t figured that out. But if you can help, let me know.” There are more than a few people in this world that are searching, looking for meaning and purpose, trying to figure out what kind of fish they are in this big sea of life.
What about this scenario though. What if someone came up to you and didn’t ask you to answer, “Who am I?,” but instead, they told you who you are. They told you, “You are a bold leader. You are go-to-guy (or gal) for wisdom. You are someone everyone looks up to. You are the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the big stinky cheese. You’re so great you should be president. You’re like a military general or a world class CEO. That’s who you are.”
There are probably two ways you would respond to that. Sometimes we might have a little flash of pride overtake us and we would say, “You know what? You’re right? Thank you for finally noticing.” Or perhaps more likely, most of us might say something like, “Oh, I don’t think so. I’m certainly not the best. I certainly don’t deserve to be a leader. And I most certainly don’t know the first thing about being president or CEO or some other important leader. Me? No way! That’s not who I am.”
It reminds us a bit of Moses. Maybe you remember the background. Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s daughter found him in the river. He was raised in Egyptian ways, but also raised by his parents in the ways of the Lord. During those days Moses’ people, the Israelites, were horribly oppressed as slaves in Egypt. And one day, Moses intervened on an Egyptian/Israelite fight and killed the Egyptian. He had to run away.
Forty years later we find Moses in Exodus 3, the cast out refugee turned shepherd who tended the flock of his father-in-law in the desert. Some forty years since his disgraceful departure, Moses perhaps had not thought much about Egypt and his people for years. Maybe he was trying to block it from his memory even.
Then God stepped in. Moses was out in the desert one day with the flock when suddenly he saw a bush that was on fire but not burning up. Much like you or I would, Moses had to check it out. And God called to him, “Moses! Moses! . . . Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Suddenly that God of his people, the Israelites descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Moses was standing in his presence.
Moses’ response was also much like something you or I would do, “At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” Moses knew what he had done in his life. He knew he had murdered a man, perhaps in defense, but still murdered him. He knew he had run from God’s people. He knew he was a sinner and had no business being in God’s presence. If you were to ask Moses, “Who are you?,” Moses would have said, “I’m a sinner who needs to get as far away from my holy God as possible.”
But God thought differently. God told Moses who he was and what he was going to do. The Lord had seen the misery of his people in Egypt. The Lord had heard their cries and their prayers. He was prepared to rescue them and bring them to a new and promised land. “Oh, and by the way Moses,” God said, (verse 10) “Now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Moses wasn’t exactly on the same page with God. “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” “Who? Me, God? Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know I killed someone? Don’t you know I’ve already failed? Don’t you know I’m just a lowly shepherd now? Don’t you know I’m a sinner who doesn’t belong in your presence?” So God promised to be with Moses and gave him a promise that one day soon the Israelites would leave Egypt and worship on that Mt. Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai) in the desert.
But Moses still had doubts and worries and excuses. “What if they ask who sent me? What should I say to them?” You might know that these excuses continued all the way into the next chapter. “What if they don’t believe me, Lord?” “What if they don’t listen, Lord?” “I’m not a very good speaker, Lord.”
Moses thought he knew who he was. He wasn’t a general. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t a servant of the Lord. He wasn’t a soldier in God’s kingdom. He was a nothing. He was a sinner.
Moses thought he knew exactly who he was. So he came up with every excuse possible to get out of serving and obeying God. But the real problem was that Moses forgot who God is. So God told him. Verse 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.”’”
Way back when Moses was a child, his parents taught him about the true God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. His godly father-in-law Jethro served this God, too. No matter what Moses’ lack of self-esteem or self-worth was, no matter how much Moses may have changed or sinned or ran away from God’s people—his God, the LORD, did not change. That God’s name is the I AM.
What a beautiful name that is. Interestingly, his name is really in the future tense, as if God is also saying, “I will be who I will be.” And also very interesting, the root letters of that name I AM are related to the name the LORD, the Yahweh-Jehovah God. You put all of this information together and God was using a play on words to say this to Moses: “Moses, you may have changed. You may have been hiding in the desert for 40 years. You are a sinner. You shouldn’t stand in my holy presence. But I AM who I always am, and I will be who I will always will be. I have always been, I am now, and I will always be Yahweh, the loving and compassionate LORD who forgives sins and hears the prayers of his people. That’s who I AM. And I AM the one making you a leader and a general. And I AM the one who will give you the words and the courage. And I AM the one sending you and blessing you. So go.”
Wow. What an empowering message for Moses. What an empowering message for us today. There are more than few days when I struggle with the question, “Who am I?” Sometimes I feel like giving an answer like the teenage girl at the youth rally. I want to list all the things I’ve done and accomplished in my life. I want to be able to say, “Who am I? Well look what I’ve done!”
But then I think about the things that I have done in my life, and there are plenty of things I have done that I don’t like. There are plenty of things that I’m ashamed of in my life. So like, Moses I want to run away from God and his people and go hide in the desert. I stand here in this sanctuary in the presence of the living and holy God, and like Moses at the burning bush I want to hide my face from God.
That’s when I feel like the teenage boy at the youth rally. “Who am I? Uh . . . well . . . Umm . . . I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m afraid. I’m a sinner. I can’t go, Lord. I can’t serve you, Lord. Let my light shine in the world? Me? How? Make disciples of all nations? Me? What will I say? Not me, Lord. I can’t. That’s not who I am.”
Listen to your patient and gracious God today. Who you think you are because what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished or how smart you are or how bold and courageous you are—none of that matters. What matters is who God is.
“I AM WHO I AM,” God says. “You may change. You may waver. You may run from me. You may make excuses. You may sin, and sin a lot. You may be afraid. You may love me one day and pretend you don’t know me the next. But that’s not who I AM,” God says. “I AM the God who took on human flesh. I AM the Light of the world. I AM the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. I AM the Yahweh-Jehovah God who does not change. I AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I AM the God of Moses. And now I AM your God, too.”
Why would God possibly want a poor, miserable sinner like me to be his child? Because he is the God who never changes in his love and forgiveness. How could I possibly find the strength to let my light shine in this terrible world of darkness? Because he is the God who never changes in his faithfulness in his power or his might. How could I possible find the words or the energy or the time to go and make disciples of all nations? Because he is the God who never changes in giving his people courage, the right words to say, or blessings beyond understanding.
I smiled this last week during many of the Youth Rally presentations because the message they were encouraging those 1,200 teens with was coincidentally the same message I knew I would be sharing today. Those pastors and presenters said it so well to the teens: “It doesn’t matter what your hair looks like or what kind of clothes you wear or if you hang with the cool crowd or if people “like” you or if make millions of dollars some day. That’s now who you are. God makes you who you are. You are a redeemed child of God. And that’s all that matters.”
Moses heard that same message, too. God came to him hiding out in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. He was afraid of God and his holiness. He was afraid to serve the Lord. He was afraid of hardship and opposition. He was afraid to fail. He was afraid because of who he thought he was. Until God told him an incredible message: “The I AM is sending you and I AM the one who makes you who you are. You are my redeemed child. I will be with you. I will bless you.”
Right here, right now, today the God who is always the same has the same mission for us today. “Go, let your light shine. Go, make disciples. Go, I am sending you.” And we are afraid. So afraid. I might face hardship and opposition. I might not know what to do or say. I might fail. I’m afraid of who I am. But the God who is always the same has the same message for us today, too. “The I AM is sending you and I AM the one who makes you who you are. You are my redeemed child. I will be with you. I will bless you.”
This sanctuary is holy ground. It is the house of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses—it is the house of your God. But leave this holy place like Moses—with comfort, with confidence, and with courage. You can answer the question now. Who am I? I Am Who I am Because of the I AM.