Sometimes people will say that they need to spend some time away from others so they can “find themselves.” That always seemed like a strange idea to me: “I need to find myself.” If you yourself don’t know where you are, that would seem to be a bad sign! But trying to find oneself is actually a bit different than that. It’s finding out who you really are, and who you really want to be. It’s discovering if you’re on the path that you want to be on with your life.
So I ask you all: who are you? Who are you really? Maybe you’ll think about the fact that you’re a mother, or a daughter, or a father or grandfather. Maybe you think of yourself as a brother or sister. Maybe you’re a student or worker or boss. Maybe you think about yourself in terms of what you can do: a good writer, a good swimmer, a caring friend. Whatever you think of yourself as, ask yourself: am I the person I want to be? Should I be doing more, doing better?
And most importantly for us here this morning, who are you in your relationship with God? Who are you as a Christian servant? Some of the things we confessed earlier in this service lead to a not-so-good answer to that question. We confessed we are by nature sinful, that we have disobeyed God in thoughts, words, and actions, that we have done what is evil and failed to do what is good, and that we deserve God’s punishment both now and in eternity. Those things aren’t good! They don’t paint a good picture of who we are on our own!
And if that was the end of the story, if that was all we are before God, then none of us should ever serve God or call ourselves Christians ever again! But here’s the thing: that’s not all we are. Through Jesus Christ, we are so much more. In him, we are forgiven. In him, we are children of God. In him, we are empowered to serve God in all we do. So let’s serve him! Let’s live as the people that we are! Let’s all ask and answer the question: “Who am I?” I’m a child of God, born to serve him.
Our text from Exodus takes us to the story of Moses. If you were to ask Moses, “Who are you?” you’d probably get a complicated answer. We know he was an Israelite, but at first people didn’t know that. Remember his mom hid him in a basket on the river so he wouldn’t be killed. He was then raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and received the best of everything Egypt had to offer. But by the time we see him in our text, his life had changed drastically yet again.
He was no longer considered a royal son in Egypt because he killed an Egyptian man who had been hurting an Israelite. He got caught, so he ran away. He married a girl and was living out in the wilderness, taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. Maybe, if you’d asked him who he was, he’d say he was just a quiet farmer living a quiet life. He was no royal son. He was no leader of his people. He just wanted to be left alone.
Well, God was not on board with that plan. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. (Ex. 3:2) Moses was an educated guy, but he didn’t need to be to know that something weird was going on. Fire burns things up; it doesn’t just keep burning, especially if it’s a bush that was burning. So Moses went in for a closer look. That’s when we find out that God just wanted his attention.
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex. 3:4-5) You’ve probably been in someone’s house where they ask you to remove your shoes. Maybe they don’t want you to track dirt in, maybe they just got new carpet. When we’re somewhere special, it’s common courtesy to not want to get that place all dirty. Imagine how surprised Moses must have been to find a special, no-shoes-allowed place way out in the middle of the dirty desert!
He was probably even more surprised when he found out who was speaking to him. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (Ex. 3:6) God himself was talking. The same God who had brought Abraham away from his homeland to the promised land, the same God who spared Isaac’s life, the same God who brought Jacob and his family to Egypt to escape a famine 400 years before.
Maybe we get the idea sometimes from reading the Bible that God talking to people was really common. That is definitely not the case! Moses had never heard God speak directly to anyone and had no reason to expect God to speak to him! So when he did, he was scared! At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex. 3:6)
Why was Moses so afraid? Why would he not even want to look at God? Because God is holy and perfect and all-powerful, and Moses was a sinner! He had killed a man, he couldn’t even be among his own people. He was not worthy of God and he knew it!
And imagine how his surprise deepened when this burning bush turned into an Uncle Sam “I want you” poster. God said he’d seen the trouble the Israelites had gone through and he wanted to bring them back to the promised land. And who would lead them? Moses, that’s who. God said, So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. (Ex. 3:10)
I don’t think any of us will be surprised at Moses’s answer. How could Moses be expected to do all this? How could he be expected to not only talk to God but to suddenly lead God’s people out of another nation? How could anyone do that? Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11)
I realize today that we don’t live in Egypt. I do not expect God to speak to any of you out of a burning bush or any other plant. None of you have been chosen to lead the Israelites to the promised land. But on this 4th of July weekend, to make the comparison to Uncle Sam one more time, I’m telling you all: God wants you! He wants you to serve him! He wants you to be his ambassador to those around you in your life every day!
Ah, but who am I? Who am I? I’m sure we think that, just like Moses. Me? Serve God? It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how to talk very well; I’d probably just mess everything up. I’m not very good at doing things for church; that’s better left for someone else. My family and friends are going to believe what they want to believe — that’s their business. Who am I to tell them something else?
Friends, how many excuses do you come up with not to serve God? One thing I’ve discovered: coming up with excuses is easy. I know I’ve got plenty of them, and I’m sure you could all share some with me I’d never thought of. But that’s just what they are: excuses. God has not suggested that we serve him. He has commanded it. Jesus did not stand on a mountain in Galilee and give the Great Suggestion; he gave the Great Commission. He has commanded us to serve him in all we do. He has told us to spread his love with those we meet and know.
And any excuse we come up with, any attempt to pass off those commands of God is nothing short of sinful. It’s telling God that he doesn’t know what’s best. It’s thumbing your nose in God’s face, saying, “I’ll do things my way on my own, thanks.” Who am I? I can’t really serve God! I’m a poor, miserable sinner who deserves eternal death. When Moses kept making excuses, God was ready to kill him, too.
But it’s not the whole story. Yes, you’re a sinner. But when Jesus stretched out his arms on and had them nailed to the cross, when he bled and died there, he changed who you are! He made it so you can say, “I am forgiven!” When you were washed with water and the Word in baptism it changed who you are! Now you can say, “I am a child of God!” When you hear the good news of your Savior, when you take his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, when you study the Bible, the Holy Spirit is at work in you. He makes you able to say, “I am God’s servant, equipped to serve him.”
What did God answer Moses when he said, “Who am I?” God said, I will be with you. (Ex. 3:12) That’s the same thing Jesus has said to us, I am with you always. (Matt. 28:20) The same God who has commanded us to go in his name has promised to be with us wherever we go! The same God who has commanded us to serve him has promised to equip us with the skills we need to serve him. The same God who has commanded us to “be perfect” has made us perfect us by washing us in the forgiving blood of his Son!
Yes, when we’re tempted to ask, “Who am I?” let’s never forget who God is! God explained it in our text. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Our God is the great I AM. That means he never changes, he never breaks a promise, he never goes back on his Word. I AM is the God who created us, he is the Savior who redeemed us, he is the Spirit who empowers us to serve him. That is the God we serve. He has made us who we are!
So let’s be who are! Friends, go. Serve him with your lives! Some of that you might do as service here at church in this congregation. Some of it you might do among your friends and family or colleagues. Some of it you might do with complete strangers that God puts in front of you. The point is clear: all of us are God’s servants. All of us have been strengthened to serve him. How do I know this? Because all of us have been redeemed through Christ alone. All of us have the message that the world needs to hear. And all of us can answer the question the same: Who am I? I’m a child of God, born to serve him.