What do these things have in common? Mascots, bullies, identity? They all have to do with names. Mascot names are in the news because for some people they can be degrading. Bullies call people names, and names are part of our identity that we don’t want stolen or forgotten.
I don’t think anyone would argue about the importance of names. I experienced an example of the value of names this August, when Tanya and I were at the Churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh, there was quite a discussion around names. Specifically, in considering a statement on criminal justice there was a decision to replace in a document the name blacks with African Americans. What followed was a lively debate, well as much as you can have with about a thousand people following proper parliamentary procedure. But we did spend time hearing from people express their opinions on using terms like, blacks, African Americans, people of color and people of African Descent.
Now to some this may seem inane or silly. However getting a name right is crucial. Moses in our scripture passage knew that. He knew if he were going to try to convince his people that he should be their leader in a face off with one of the most powerful forces of the world, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Moses would need to make sure he knew something about this god. He knew he was going to have to take with him some powerful proof, a word, a name.
Names are important, especially for people like the Hebrew slaves, especially for anyone who’s been oppressed. Because one of the ways of oppression is to take away your name, take away your identity. Hundreds of years ago, when Africans were loaded onto boats to make the horrible journey to this country, when they were sold at auctions, when they were born. The white masters took away the names, the language of their people, and gave them new names–trying to define and control them. And as my family has learned in our travels, names that weren’t supposed to matter, just as their lives didn’t matter much. At Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson–where a monument to he and his family stands to this day, at Mount Vernon home of George Washington, there are no grave markers for any of the hundreds of slave men, women, and children who built those grand homes, grew the crops, sewed the clothes, crafted the tools, cleaned, and cooked the food. There’s only a little grassy area where it is believe the slaves were buried. Just as their names were disposable to their masters, so to were their lives.
Not so for us. Names for us are important. In today’s reading, we are given a name for God, in Hebrew it may sound something like this. YHWH. It means “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”. But you know, that is not the only name we heard this morning. It wasn’t a name of a King or a pharaoh, but actually the name of one of the so many nameless.The man who The Lord is speaking to on a mountain, beside a burning bush. His name is, shout it if you know it, Moses.
Moses, who was a child of the Hebrews, a child of this oppressed, suppressed, distressed people. A child again named by the powers that be, when he was just a baby, Pharoah’s daughter drew him out of the waters of the Nile, the waters into which his family had out him to save him from Egyptian genocide. Pharaoh’s daughter, names him Moses, which can mean to draw out.
On one hand Moses’ life could have been so good, living in the Pharoah’s household, but as a young man Moses had taken things into his own hand, and killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.
In the story for today, God is drawing Moses out of his exile, out of his hiding, and The Lord is doing this, so that Moses can draw his people out of slavery, out of suffering, out of oppression.
Because that’s the thing with our God. Our God, God Yahweh, the God “who will be who she will” be chooses to not exist aloof, far away, but in close relationship with his people, close enough to hear and listen to the cries of the oppressed. Our’s is not the god of the winning team, the most popular and powerful. But the God of the who is close enough, who is near to those who cry out in pain, in grief, in sadness, as their masters of the world seek to own, demean and define them. The masters, the movers and shakers. They don’t want to really know this god. They want to control, define, and own God too.
But in the Bible, w the God who will be who he will be is the God of Moses, the God of Miriam, of others with names like Shiprah and Puah, midwives who save babies defied the command of Pharaoh. Ours is the God who will be the God of the prostitute Rahab, and so many others, some with names we recognize and others with names we do not hear.
The God who will be who he will be is the God is today drawing us up, and out of whatever would hold us down, drawing us to be who She, not the world, not marketing companies, not politicians, not bullies, bosses, and bigots would have us be. We are not Chinese, or illegals, grown men do not answer to boy, grown women are not girls, we do not use words like fags. The “n” word is not ours to toss around, women are not the same as female dogs. People struggling in poverty are not takers. Middle easterners are not Muslims and Arabs. God knows us, God loves us, God hears us, when we speak and when we are spoken about. God is drawing us always closer. This drawing you up and out began when your name was spoken as the waters of baptism were poured over you, it continues to this day. We don’t get a burning bush, but a burning Word, a burning desire to have peace in our streets, peace for our children, jobs and schools, to know that your name is spoken it is used with respect. Ultimately, our God is the God is the God of whomever he will be, and draws us all together to her heart, calling us to be who she would have us be. Amen.