As is the case several times throughout the Narrative Lectionary this is one of those weeks where we make a pretty big jump in time from one week to the next. We just left Jacob tricking his father and dreaming in the desert, and now we come to the Israelites groaning in slavery in Egypt. If you don’t already regularly do it, this might be a week to take some time to explain how we got here, but not too much time. There are so many rich pieces to run with in the actual text from Exodus.
Right off the bat I want to mention a discussion that has been going on over at the Narrative Lectionary Facebook Group. Some are wondering if there is a typo in the notation of the verses included in this lesson from chapter 3. The discussion there gives some reasons that it most likely is not. However, as with any lectionary, feel free to expand or shorten as you think will best fit your context.
If you have been picking up on the theme of God using imperfect people as blessings, you can definitely continue with a slight twist as Moses tries to resist God’s call. The difference between Moses and some of the earlier leaders like Abraham and Jacob whose stories we have heard, is that Moses is more acutely aware of his imperfection and unworthiness for the call. He humbly refuses to serve at first instead of actively seeking ways to force God’s covenant. A comparison/contrast to the earlier “stars” may be one preaching angle for this lesson.
Working backward through the passage, another preaching focus could be on the name of God that is revealed in the portion of the lesson from chapter 3. The name is revealed to Moses at his request to give credibility to his witness when he goes back to the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. I’ve never quite understood why the Israelites would recognize this name if it really is the first time it is revealed. How would it be proof to them? I don’t necessarily think that’s a preachable angle, but it’s a questions I’ve had of the story. You can work with the translation of the divine name a little when preaching this text, because the tense of the name, translated “I am who I am” in the NRSV and most others, is not clear. I found a helpful post about all the different translation possibilities for God’s name that could be fun to use in preaching. We had a candidate for ordination in my presbytery use a mixed tense translation in his statement of faith about a year or so ago, and I think I spent a week meditating on his choice, “I am who I will be.”
Personally one thing I like to do within the Narrative Lectionary is find a few different mini-series within the larger narrative to sort of group my sermons together in chunks. I don’t necessarily announce these, but they help in my preparation, our chancel area design, and keeping some continuity from week to week. This fall the thread I am seeing is the inclusion of stories about places (physical and spiritual) where God is revealed and the divine presence is practically palpable. So far God has been revealed in the taming of chaos during creation. God has been revealed as the provider and protector of life on the mountain of Moriah. God has been revealed in a dream, a vision of God’s messengers coming back and forth between heaven and earth, blessing creation and lifting it to heaven by their mere presence. Here in the early chapters of Exodus God is revealed even more intimately, with an enigmatic name and a reiteration of the covenant and promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15). So I have been asking the question, where do we meet God, and what does that locus tell us about who God is and what our relationship is because of it. We meet God in the intimacy of a name. With a name to call God, we can confess our misgivings and our fear.
One last possible point of entry into preaching this week that I will point out comes from the opening verses of the lesson that come from chapter 2. (I really did work backwards mostly unintentionally. This is my first shot at one of these posts, so I will try to go in order next time.) I was immediately drawn to the list of verbs that give an account of God’s actions leading up to the exodus. God heard…. God remembered…. God looked upon…. God noticed…. If you are in a context of people who are hurting, people who are groaning under oppressive grief, worry, debt, anxiety, you name it, if you are preaching to people who are feeling forgotten, I think a whole sermon on Exodus 2:23-25 could be extremely powerful. The whole rest of the Exodus narrative flows directly from this; it is what God did when God took notice and decided that now was the time to act.
There are so many wonderful options this week, and I’ve only scratched the surface here. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people find and seeing in what directions we all go. Please share your thoughts, questions for the wisdom of those gathered, and insights, in the comments. All are welcome!