October 3, 2021
Exodus 2:23-25, 3;1-15, 4:10-17
Back in the late 80s, I had just moved from Connecticut to Dryden and was just getting to know my new colleagues at the newspaper and my new surroundings.
Donna and newborn Jay would arrive in Dryden a couple of months down the road. The only family with me was Theodore, our German Shepherd and, truth be told, having him in the passenger seat of the truck really made the border crossing easier.
Early in my second week at the paper, the assistant editor, Dave, invited me to a Kinsmen dinner and meeting so that I could extend my social circle beyond Theodore.
The date of the meeting came and I drove out to the Kinsmen’s spot on the lakeshore.
Dave introduced me to the members who were present.
“This is Jeff Badger,” he said, as one man extended his hand.
“Nice to meet you Jeff,” I said as we shook hands.
“It’s Doctor Badger,” he responded.
More than 30 years later, I’m still not sure if he was joking or not … but during my time with the club, I could see that he was selective about who could call him Jeff.
Today’s reading from Exodus offers a recounting of the conversation between God and Moses.
The Israelites had gone to Egypt and had flourished … so much so that the Pharoah had become fearful of being overwhelmed by the Israelites and enslaved them to keep power.
In their oppression, the people called to God for deliverance. We’re told today that God heard the people’s cries and remembers the promise that had made to Abraham and later to Jacob … the promise of land and that the people would be a blessing to the world.
Which brings us to Moses.
He’s serving as a shepherd when God tells him to go to Egypt and tell the Pharaoh to release the slaves and allow them to leave for the promised land.
Moses makes a lot of excuses as he tries to convince God that there are better choices than him to make the journey and free the Israelites.
God won’t be swayed … Moses is the man … although Aaron will be able to speak for him.
But at the end of the conversation, Moses asks the voice from the burning bush …
“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?”
This question is the heart of this passage … how do we name God … or rather how do we know God?
… How do we know God?
The translation of the Bible we use says the voice answered Moses’ question with: “I am who I am.” Other versions of the Bible give the answer as, “I am who is.”
Later in the Exodus story, Moses tells the people that Yahweh is the name to use … which is how you pronounce the initials Y H W H.
The people during biblical times believed that God’s name was too holy to be spoken … that it couldn’t be pronounced.
In today’s story, a name really isn’t important … or necessary … God’s presence is known without a name. God is known through the actions … through the covenant … the promise … that was made and affirmed over and over again. God’s faithfulness is shown in the relationships with the people … with each of us.
Today, God is known through the response to the people’s cries in Egypt.
Later, God will be known in the person of Jesus … who becomes fully human to be with us and to take our suffering upon himself. So, people have a name … and a face to go with it.
Perhaps, we should look at these modern translations as our attempts to place a name on something so that we can make
Perhaps, being able to put a name to it makes knowing God simpler … making a relationship a bit easier.
After all, giving suffering a name makes healing easier … identifying … naming … a problem is part of the process toward solving it. Knowing a person’s name … is how we know them … it reflects our relationship with them.
Relating to Jeff is different than relating to Doctor Badger. Our names … and sometimes whatever letters we put before it or after it … are one of the ways that we are known to the world.
The names we go by … the names we are given or ones that are used … change over time … high school nicknames … marriages … new jobs … they all reflect relationships we have with others.
Names can reflect the love in our lives … they can be a tool of oppression … or reflect who we have always been … like when a transgender person transitions and changes their name to better suit their identity.
But … ultimately … a person is known through what they show through their character and through their actions toward people … toward amimals … toward creation.
That is how the world knows them.
Our relationship with God may change … but even if we didn’t know the name … we’d still know the unconditional love … the grace … that comes into our lives with each breath we take.