Exodus 33:12-17 The Message (MSG)
12-13 Moses said to God, “Look, you tell me, ‘Lead this people,’ but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. You tell me, ‘I know you well and you are special to me.’ If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility.”
14 God said, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.”
15-16 Moses said, “If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now. How else will it be known that you’re with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not? How else will we know that we’re special, I and your people, among all other people on this planet Earth?”
17 God said to Moses: “All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me. I know you by name.”
Sometimes Eugene Peterson’s version of Scripture sounds a lot like the Maria version. This is one of those times. God is a bit peeved with the people, what with their golden calf and their complaining and all. He’s ready to wash his hands of them, and send them off on their own with Moses to lead them, and an angel to guide Moses. God is staying home on this trip. And Moses objects. I don’t blame him. “Wait a minute! What happened to us being your special people? I was perfectly happy tending sheep but no, you want me to fight the Pharaoh for these people, then lead this stiff necked bunch to the land you gave Abraham, and now you tell me I’m on my own with them? Oh no no no no no. You need to come along too.” I can almost see God rolling his eyes before he says, “All right. Just as you say, this also I will do. for I know you well and you are special to me. I know your name.”
Before I came here, I used to say that my congregation had people in it whose beliefs ranged from "God personally wrote the King James Version of the Bible” to “God is Love” and everything in between. That happened to be totally true - and I was equally concerned about both ends.
For way too many people, including some of the “God is love” folks I have known, God is a huge, impersonal, uncaring entity who set all of creation in motion and then sat back to see what would happen. God is love, yes, but it’s not personal. Its sort of an ephemeral everywhereness. God is completely removed from their day to day lives. Prayer is only beneficial in that it makes the one praying feel like they are doing something. Jesus was a great teacher, but as for being someone they can relate to on a personal level, or speak to like a brother . . . not so much. They often feel alone, with no one really to turn to, because God - and even Jesus - is just too big and too far away to really be with them or care about them. That is so sad.
Then there are the people who believe God plans every step and component of their lives. They believe that whatever happens is meant to happen, and that everything that occurs on the earth is God’s will. They don’t believe in free will, they don’t believe that we have any real choices. They believe that everything we do or think or say was pre-determined even before we were born. It sort of leaves people in the position of not having to be responsible for their own actions, because everything is God’s will. And when something bad happens in their lives, sometimes they blame God, and walk away. This is also sad.
God said, “I know your name.” Do you know how important that is? To know someone’s name? I admit that I am not great at remembering people’s names. I am always quite impressed by people who meet someone once and remember their name from then until eternity. It takes me a while to get to know someone well enough for their name to stick in my mind. Even if I see you frequently, if I don’t have much interaction with you, I might not be able to remember your name. Not one of my gifts, but I keep trying. Because knowing someone by name is really important.
If you are on Facebook, and belong to the News Around Selma group, you will have seen posts called “Portraits of Hope” by Lance Pearce of the Selma PD. He photographs individual homeless people he meets around town and tells their story. I can tell people until I am blue in the face that all homeless people are not alike, that not all of them are addicts and alcoholics and thieves and troublemakers - and nothing I say will be really convincing. But Lance’s black and white photos along with his compelling and compassionate telling of each story help us to see these folks not as “Those People,” not as identical, faceless, dangerous members of the lowest rung in society’s ladder, but as individuals whose story is special and whose name we know. (Portraits of Hope, by the way, has its own Facebook page.)
God said to Moses, “You are special to me. I know your name.” Knowing a person’s name gives you a special relationship with that person. In my prayers, after lifting up specific concerns I often say something like, “There are many people in these same situations who we do not know, but whose names you know, Lord, and we ask that your healing power fall upon all of them.” Because here’s where I fall in the middle - I believe that God knows every one of us by name. I believe, because Jesus said it, that not a hair can fall from our heads without God being aware of it. I believe that each one of us is special, and that each one of us is loved, and that God walks along each one of us, just as God walked with Moses through the wilderness.
Moses was worried, because he didn’t know where he was supposed to be going. He didn’t know what he was going to find there. He had no idea what sort of support he would be given. Kind of like life. Kind of like our own journeys. Oh, we might have an idea of what comes next. We might have a plan and goals and tools to use on our way. But, like Moses, we’re really not entirely sure where we are going to end up, or if we have the right stuff - the resources we need to get to the end of our journey.
Next Sunday we will be invited to put our pledge cards in the offering plate, if you haven’t already mailed it or dropped it off at the church office. You may still be trying to figure out what you can give - how much time, how much money, what talents you have to share. And how on earth can you pledge to do something specific for the church or give a certain amount for a whole year! when you don’t know for sure what the future will hold? What if you can’t do or give as much as you put on your card? I know. I have the same thoughts going through my mind. Last year was the first time ever that I pledged a full 10% - and I confess wasn’t able to give my entire pledge every month. I feel a bit guilty about that. And I thought about maybe pledging a bit less, just to be certain I could fulfill it this year. But you know, nothing is certain in life. Unexpected expenses happen. Illness happens. Cars break down. Calendar conflicts come up. But I know that I only have to do the best that I can do and that no matter what, God will walk with me on my journey to generosity. So I will pledge to give 10% again this year, and do my best to fulfill that pledge.
The one thing we can always be certain of on our journey is that God will be with us. God will be walking alongside of us, holding our hand, sort of like Christopher Robin and Pooh. Pooh, of course, was a bit more - shall we say - clueless? than we are most of the time. His needs were considerably simpler than ours are. But he knew he could always count on Christopher Robin to be there with the hugs and encouragement he needed.
The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that just as God knew Moses by name, God knows each of us by name. Just as Moses was special in God’s sight, each of us is also special. No matter what is going on in our lives, or where we are on our journey, God is always with us. Every step of the way.