Exodus 3:1-15

The most frightening prayer that I know how to say goes like this: Here I am.

I don’t know if you’ve ever said that to the LORD or if you’re planning to, but there’s nothing neutral about this one. For one thing, it means we’ve been found. Might as well throw up our hands, and admit the truth: Look, you got me. You found me; here I am. Once those words come out of our mouths, God is about to reach across the line that divides all things holy from all things human. Now God’s about to ask us for help.

Abraham says Here I am, and God says Take your beloved son up the mountain and sacrifice him. Samuel says Here I am, and God says I am coming to destroy Eli’s house forever. Then Samuel has to tell him that the next day! Mary says Here I am, and the angel says You will bear a son who will be the Messiah. Nobody says Here I am, and the Holy Spirit says Oh never mind. Didn’t mean to bother you. Just, um, go back to what you were doing.

If we hear ourselves say to the LORD: Here I am —if we hear ourselves sing this— let there be no mistaking what this is. What we’re doing is signing up. We’re making ourselves present and accessible, and we’re acknowledging that God is about to ask us for help, and Yes, we’ll do it. And if this scares you a little, me too.

Being asked for help is going to make us encounter our own limitations. It’s going to make us encounter our own power. And I’m not sure which of those is scarier. I’m absolutely sure, once God asks for our help, it’s going to change our whole story.

What happened to Moses is he found himself out beyond the wilderness in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He’s working as a shepherd. For his father-in-law. There’s no way this was the path he had imagined for himself, but life is funny like that, isn’t it? Here he’s wondering what he’s even doing here, when suddenly, the sight of the bush catches his eye, and he can’t look away. The bush is on fire, and the fire keeps burning.

Once God sees Moses seeing the bush, they call out, Moses! Moses! That’s when Moses says the prayer you can’t take back: Here I am.

And so it begins.

Moses took off his shoes because the ground was holy. He hid his face because God is holy and seeing their face could kill a person! Heaven just crashed into earth, and Moses is trying not to get burned, and the Spirit tells him: The people have been crying out to me from slavery. Now we have to do something. I need your help, says the LORD.

God informs Moses that he’ll have to go back to the land, where incidentally he’s wanted for murder. (You know, only that!) He will need to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. And Moses is standing there with the sheep, taking all this in. As the scene unfolds, the negotiation intensifies. Moses explains that he’ll need more credibility; God teaches him some party-trick miracles. Moses explains that oratory is not where his gifts lie; God recruits Aaron.

But before we get into any of that, right at the beginning, Moses asks God a question, and I will tell you, I’m not sure she saw it coming. Moses says to the Creator of All That Was and Is and Ever Shall Be: Yeah… If I’m going to announce the promise of liberation to the Israelites, they’re going to want to know who sent me. So… ah. What is your name?

Remember Moses can’t wear shoes because the ground is holy! He can’t look at the LORD because their face is holy! And here he just said to the Maker of Heaven and Earth: Right, do you have like a business card or something? Because I might need to call you.

Yeah, Moses, you just might.

Of course, there’s no way God can give out their real name. If human people walked around the earth knowing the actual name of God, we’d start to think that we understand God, as though his name would represent the fullness of his identity, and there’s no way we could fathom that.

The Holy Spirit does not have only one name. The LORD does not have a name that can be pronounced by people. In what was spoken to Moses, there were no vowel points. People added them to make the name sayable, that’s how we get the words Yahweh or Jehovah. It’s as close as we can get.

Now when you consider the holiness of the Almighty Everlasting, it’s not a huge surprise that her face is unseeable by human eyes, that his name is unpronounceable by human speech. That makes a lot of sense. Here’s what doesn’t: When Moses asks God for their name, they don’t say No, and they absolutely could. Instead the Holy Spirit says All right. Tell anybody who’s asking:

I am the God of your ancestors,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
I am who I am, I am who I will be.
I am here.

By saying this, God assured Moses that she could be reached, that he is free to call on the LORD whenever he needs help. And you know what, so are we. You don’t even have to take off your shoes; you don’t have to shield your eyes. You are already allowed to ask God for help. Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re a hundred percent authorized to call on the name of the LORD.

And I know, we know that.

And I know, asking for help can be harder than it looks. Many of us think of ourselves as the people who are supposed to do the helping. We’re caregivers and teachers, healthcare workers and counselors, parents and grandparents, children of parents and grandparents… Here we might go around believing that, sure it’s okay for other people to need help, but not me.

Asking for help makes us encounter our own limitations and admit them out loud— and who knew we were this vulnerable… It makes us encounter our own strength; it takes sparkling agency to know that something’s wrong and to reach out— and who knew we were this powerful… And I’m not sure which of these is scarier. I’m absolutely sure, asking for help is going to change the story.

In a few minutes, we’ll be blessing the deacons, parish nurse, and health minister. Since well before I came to our church, this group has been up to something quietly revolutionary. They’ve been creating a culture at Church of Peace where asking for help and offering help are just entirely normal things around here.

Often in our world, when people do ask for help, we turn to family members. And that’s good. We turn to professionals whom we’ll gladly pay for their expertise. That’s really important. When my neighbor needs surgery, I’m not going to try to perform it, I want her to go to the doctor.

But get this! In addition to family, in addition to professionals, you also have a church. This means you can call anybody in the red directory and ask them for help. They might be delighted if you do! Your phone could ring and it might be somebody asking you for help, and that’s not even weird! That’s just Tuesday.

This is the culture being instilled by the work of the deacons, by tiny, tender acts of kindness. Every card. Every casserole or restaurant gift card. Every prayer. It’s the kind of the thing you don’t notice until you do. Then once you see it, you can’t look away. The fire keeps burning. The ground is holy.

And so it is. If you find that asking for help or being asked for help sounds intimidating, you’ve come to the right place. We’re learning how to do this together, and it’s not surgery, so we can practice on each other.

Something to remember is that it’s okay to say No. Our No makes possible our Yes. If somebody asks you for help, and you say Not this time, that’s just fine! There are lots of names in the directory, they’ll ask somebody else, and they’ll ask you again another time.

It helps me to remember that this kind of asking is not a one-time transaction; it’s not a series of individual exchanges. Instead, imagine it more like the way the river of church is flowing —always helping, always needing help, always asking and being asked. All we can do is get into the flow of the current however we can. And can you imagine if the children saw us? If they learned that we are here for them when they need help? Because here’s the truth:

You’ve got a whole church of people who will stand beside you when the most honest prayer you can say is the one that goes: Jesus, I need help. Here I am.

Say this to the LORD, and we’ll see. It’s going to make us encounter our vulnerability. It’s going to make us encounter our power, and I’m not sure which is scarier. I am sure the Holy Spirit is saying to us:

I was hoping you would call!
I am the God of your ancestors,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
I am who I am, I am who I will be.
I am here.
Or, you know: Here I am, says God to us.

Get ready… Could be our whole story’s about to change.


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