Normal Never Was, God Always Is

by | Sep 19, 2021


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Normal Never Was, God Always Is
September 19, 2021
Exodus 3: 1-15

Exodus 3: 1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “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, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a]He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

At the congregational retreat this past weekend, nearly 200 of us sat in the mottled shade in camping chairswhile Hadley led us in a meditation.

It was intended as a reflection on one of the fruits of the spirit—Peace—
although it could have also passed for JOY—

I snuck a glance around and saw Ron Adams, eyes closed in deep peace,
head back in his camping chair, hands folded across his chest,
all the while wearing neon pink UPC sunglasses.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to chuckle, so I closed my eyes again.

Hadley kept asking us to
focus on your breath
feel our feet on the earth

So much of life is the doing
the studying, and working
the duties and decisions
the worrying and scurrying
and the practice of meditation
invites us into something else,
not doing
but being.

Thus, reminders of
and body.

I don’t know if you have jumped on the Ted Lasso train. It’s a TV show about an American coaching British football. I love it for so many reasons, but one is for how it is honest about mental health. During the story’s arc Coach Ted, who is quintessentially cheerful, has a panic attack. For those of us who know that feeling, or love someone who does, it is a familiar scene. A friend comes close, touches Ted gently on the shoulder, and says “breathe, just breathe.”

Perhaps there is nothing more healing that just being able to be.
To be.
To be.

The book of Exodus,
exodus which literally means a way out
tells the story of God’s people making their way out of slavery into freedom.

Our story today is the call of Moses,
the one who will say to Pharoah
Let my People Go!

It’s an amazing story
of a bush aflame but not burned up
of a ground so holy sandals must come off
of an ordinary guy being curious enough to turn aside to look at what God might be up to.

And it’s also the first moment where we learn the name of God.

At first Moses asks Who am I? that you, God, would choose me.
And then the questions continue.
Moses Who am I? deepens into a Who are you?
So if anyone tells you questions are not allowed in church, show them this story.
Human questioning leads to fuller divine revelation.
Moses’ question draws forth God’s name.

And what a name it is.

Exodus 3:14 is one of the most puzzled over verses in the entire Hebrew bible.
The name given consists of the repeated verb “to be”

I am who I am.
Or as it may be translated.
I will be who I will be.
I will be who I am and I am who I will be.

What kind of name is that?

Before we get to what kind of name it is,
let’s first take a moment to acknowledge that we have been given one.


Mysterious though it may be,
the fact that God offers us a name
is an invitation.
An invitation to use the name, call the name,
praise the name, or spit it out in grief and anger.

Scholar Terence Fretheim observes that
The giving of the name entails a certain kind of relationship.
Naming is necessary for closeness.
Naming makes communication possible.
Naming entails availability and vulnerability.

Thanks be that we are in a relationship with the God of this name.

I am who I am.
I will be who I will be.

I find resonance that Moses is given the divine name in the midst of suffering.
His people were groaning under forced labor, slavery,
Moses had witnessed an Egyptian beating one of his kinfolk
and killed the man in response,
and thus he was on the run.

Nothing is normal when God reveals God’s name.
It’s a hot mess and God says I am and I will be.

It’s not normal now either.
We sure do want it to be.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve said or heard,
we’ll do thus and so when everything gets back to normal,
and of course, we thought we were getting close,
then delta.
We had scheduled a “come back” coffee for today.
But we’re not exactly back….not like we thought.

And frankly, church, this pandemic has revealed something
we’ve suspected for some time now…
that normal never was.

These covid months have unveiled a lot about our nation, ourselves,
it has exposed our patterns and values.

I remember early in the pandemic,
I read something that my Old Testament professor Bill Brown had written
while reflecting on the lack of normal.
And I’ll tell you, I have kept coming back to his words over and over,
now more than a year and a half later. He said:

I see no quick fix on the horizon that is going to return us to how things were.
Instead, I see an “American Apocalypse” settling in for the duration.
And that’s a good thing. Biblically, the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις
means “uncovering,” a revealing of what is truly real.

And, he said, much has been revealed, including a whole array of systemic evils, from crushing poverty and lack of stable housing to virulent racism and staggering healthcare disparities afflicting communities of color.
COVID-19 does not discriminate. But America does. It always has.
The good news is that a genuine apocalypse is no doomsday.
It is a vehicle of hope and action for transformation in which justice is served and shalom is accomplished for the sake of all creation.

With every apocalypse there is a new beginning that offers the chance to relearn how to live and move and have our being.
It is our choice; it is also God’s choice. I choose to live in hope in the One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Frankly, I don’t want to return to how things were. Fortunately, in an apocalypse there is no going back. Our undoing can be our becoming.

My friends,
Normal never was.
For Moses, for us.

But the good news is that God always is.

That is what this name reveals.

The force of this name is not simply that God exists,
but that God is and will continue to be unequivocally for us; with us.

The formulation suggests a divine faithfulness to self:
wherever God is being God, God will be the kind of God God is.

To put it plainly, God can be counted on.

So that when nothing is normal,
and when panic rises,
and when we are crushed by doing, doing, doing,
we have a God whose name is

I don’t think there is better news.
When I was a small tyke, my parents took me to Vancouver, I was a tag along for a meeting of the World Council of Churches.
It was during a time when nothing was normal in South Africa,
though the government named it as such,
that’s the thing about “normal” – it sure does depend who you’re talking to.
Children in Soweto were being killed, families torn apart,
anyone who voiced opposition, locked up,
like Nelson Mandela who was on Robben Island.

A bishop of the Anglican Church was invited to address the gathering.
His name was Desmond Tutu,
The South African government had banned him from leaving the country,
but they had relented for two nights only. Bishop Tutu flew 24 hours straight to get to there, — arriving about midnight, he spoke to a packed assembly immediately upon his arrival.

There, in the cool night air of Vancouver,
Bishop Tutu said “When I look at the world we live in, the world we know in South Africa, — the oppression, the hatred, the suffering, the death, —
I thank God I am not God.
Yet, when I look at the future, —
I thank God God is God! — that God is still God. And God will be God.
At dawn, he got back on the plane to fly 24 hours straight back to Cape Town.
Like Moses,
we will often be called to confront all that is not right, not normal.
But friends,
take a deep breath,
and remember, God always is.

I am who I am, God says, I will be who I will be.
Thanks be to God. Amen.