Exodus 3:1-15 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27—Series C)
“God Is With Us”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 10, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning’s text is the Old Testament reading from Exodus 3:
1Now Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and he came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. 2And the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire in the midst of the bush. And he looked, and behold, the bush was burning by the fire, but it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside, now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses.” And he said, “Here I am.” 5And he said, “Do not come near here. Take off your sandals from your feet because the place upon which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. 7And Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and I have heard their cry in the presence of their taskmasters, for I know their sufferings. 8And I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to me, and also, I have seen the oppression with which they Egyptians oppressed them. 10And now, come, and I will send you to Pharaoh and you will bring out my people, the sons of Israel, from Egypt.” 11And Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring out the sons of Israel from Egypt?” 12And he said, “For I will be with you and this will be the sign for you, that I myself have sent you, when you will bring out the people from Egypt, you will serve God upon this mountain.” 13Moses said to God, “Behold, I go to the sons of Israel and I say to them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you,” and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’, what shall I say to them?” 14And God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I Am sent me to you.” 15And God said also to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, sent me to you. This is my name forever and this is my remembrance throughout all generations.”
How many of you are familiar with “the cloud”? Instead of saving files to the hard drive on your computer, you save your photos, files, and music to “the cloud” using tools like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, or Dropbox. You upload your files to the cloud, and they are saved there for your later use. So, where is “the cloud”? Well, it’s definitely somewhere, but it isn’t located near us in any real way. That’s why it’s called “the cloud.” Just like clouds in the sky are distant and beyond our grasp, cloud computing stores everything at a distance. When we save files to “the cloud” they go somewhere out in the distant reaches of the Internet. There is a physical location for the servers that hold these files, but most of us have no idea where that is. Our photos and documents are just somewhere out there in “the cloud.”
There are a lot of people in our community and world today who conceive of God in the same way. They have trouble comprehending a God who is actually connected with this world. Like files in “the cloud,” God is thought to be out there, somewhere. God exists in some form and he takes care of the hidden workings of the universe. This God wants people to be good to one another, to try their hardest, and to enjoy a generally happy life. This God doesn’t have a lot of “moral” requirements as we find them in the Ten Commandments. No, this God’s followers live a moralism of tolerance and niceness and not necessarily a pure and moral lifestyle. As far as day to day life goes, this God doesn’t really need to be involved. It’s perfectly fine for Him to be in “the cloud,” distant and aloof.
The “normal mode” of this God that many people believe in today changes only if there is a problem in one’s life. If an individual’s problem can’t easily be resolved, this God can be called on to “roll up His holy sleeves and get to work.” These, however, are the rare and fleeting occasions when God is actually needed. These are the only moments when He is said to be actually near and present within the world. After the problem is fixed, God retreats back into “the cloud,” as it were, and waits for the next time He’s needed. This God is really like Aladdin’s genie-in-a-bottle. When you have a problem, give Him a call so that you can learn to follow His principles or learn how to be tolerant and good like Him so that you can better overcome your mistakes, solve your problems, and be happy.
The Bible, however, reveals a completely different God to us. The Holy Scriptures show us, not a God who is distant and aloof and who only shows up when there’s a problem, but rather a God who is intimated connected to His creation and to His people. We read in our text, “When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Do not come near here. Take off your sandals from your feet because the place upon which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”
Here is a God who has come into His creation in a wondrous way. He appears to Moses in a bush that is burning with fire and yet is not burned up in the fire. Here is a God who knows the one to whom He speaks as He calls him by name: Moses, Moses. This is the living God, who is and was and is to come. He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—the very same God whom these patriarchs knew with faith and trust in His Word and Promises. This very same God is the One who has come to speak with Moses and to share His plans with him. And we learn that this God is holy.
“Holy,” means “set apart.” God is set apart from His creation as the Holy One. He is without sin and hating sin. Moses has to take off his shoes on this holy ground because the Holy God is there! And how does Moses react? Moses hid his face! He was afraid to look at God! This is the God who is described also as a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; 9:3). The prophet Isaiah would preach centuries later, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” (Is. 33:14). What can this God possibly have in common with Moses? What can God possibly have to do with you and me in our sinful condition? God’s own answer is this: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people. I have heard they cry. I know their sufferings. I have come down to deliver them.”
The Holy God, the Almighty God, is the God who comes to be with His people and to save them so that they might truly be His people who have a relationship with Him. This is the God who made all things—He created you and me and all people. He is involved with our days as the God who has mercy. He is the God who not only hears our cries in trouble, but also our thanks and praise for His gifts and blessings which He freely gives us daily. God is the Holy God, set apart from sinners, who desires that all sinners of every time and place be saved from their sins and live with Him forever.
God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and commissioned him to be His “sent one” to go to Pharaoh and speak the word of the Lord. God called Moses to be His representative to Israel, the man whom God would use to lead the children of Israel out of slavery and bondage to the Egyptians. God would rescue His people. He would deliver them following ten plagues against Egypt. The Lord would bring them though the Red Sea on dry land. Under Joshua, God would bring the people into a land flowing with milk and honey where, under the covenant, He would be their God and they would be His people.
In the fullness of time, God Himself came down into the world, not simply to rescue the children of Israel, but all people. God the Son drew near to humanity in the most intimate way imaginable by taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, true God and true Man, one Christ. God the Son, who connected Himself to His creation and people throughout history, connected Himself uniquely with us according to our flesh and blood. This changes everything! We don’t have an aloof, distant God. We have a God who became fully human! We have a God who connected His life to our life!
In 1995, Joan Osborne release a song called “One of Us.” The refrain to that song asks, “What if God was one of us / Just a slob like one of us?” Well, Joan, the truth is that God is indeed “one of us.” Jesus, true God and true Man, lived a “slob-ish” life of poverty, contempt, a life facing hunger and thirst. He suffered in His body the punishment for the sins of all times and places and peoples. He died an appalling death on a cross as the wrath of God was focused upon Him. The Holy God bearing the sins of the world on the cross became the most Unholy One for you and me. C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, gave us this vivid image of Christ’s Incarnation and saving work: “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift; he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” God the Son descended into our fallen world. Jesus lifted the sins and guilt and condemnation of the world upon Himself when He was lifted up on a cross to die for us. He raised us up in forgiveness with new life as He was raised from the dead on the third day. The God of the first Exodus is the God of a new Exodus. You and I and all people are rescued from slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil by the life, death, and resurrection of the greater Moses, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who won for us forgiveness and eternal life.
And who is this God who has saved us through the work of His Son? He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of Moses. He is “I Am” who took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ in order to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.” What is that special greeting between pastor and people that we use? “The Lord be with you.” And you respond, “And also with you.” God is with you. He with me. This is not a God who lives up in “the clouds.” God is with you in Jesus, the Savior, who dwells in you now by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Eph. 3:17). And it is the Spirit, the Helper, who teaches you all things and brings to your remembrance all that Jesus has said to you (John 14:26) by directing you to God who is found in His Word, in His Sacraments, and in His Church.
In the Word of God we find not just old distant and dusty words. We find God Himself speaking to us at the present moment. Luther writes, “When you open the book containing the gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should therein perceive the sermon or the gospel through which he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. For the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him.”
In the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, you intimately experience the nearness of God in Christ. God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and turned simple dirt into holy ground. Jesus Christ is truly present for you in Holy Communion with His body and blood in, with, and under simple bread and wine. The Holy Spirit is delivered through simple water connected to God’s Word of Promise in Holy Baptism where He gives you faith, forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal life. God is truly near and present through these means, ever comforting you and dwelling among you.
Emmanuel—God is with us, hidden and located in Word and Sacrament. The church, where the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments takes place, is the location of God’s presence in our world. It has been rightly said that at the font, the pulpit, and the altar is where heaven and earth meet. The Lord has promised that He will be present in His Word and Sacrament ministry that takes place in His church. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 13:20). So, God is present with us, here and now, as we gather with Him around His Gospel Word and Sacraments.
This real, present God is the Holy One who came to Moses in a burning bush. He is the God who came to the children of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. And He is our God who comes to us “when the Body of Christ gathers together in His name. He floods the sanctuary with His merciful presence as sins are forgiven. He is near in the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel. He is truly present in what appears to be nothing more than simple bread and wine. The church, this gathering of God’s saints, is holy ground where God has located Himself here among you and me—Emmanuel, God with us.” Amen.
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 62-65.
 Quoted in Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 72.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 121.
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 78.