“Who/Whose Am I?”
Deacon Marcia Tomlinson
Bradford Congregational Church
Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
August 27, 2017
This morning we’ve heard the beginning of the Moses story. Wasn’t it fun to see the children act it out for us! … let’s recap what we once learned in Sunday School about Moses.
- He was born when his people were in bondage in Egypt. His mother put him in a basket to save him.
- An Egyptian princess adopted him and raised him as an Egyptian prince. When he grew up he killed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.
- He fled the country but was considered an Egyptian by his language and stature. God instructed him through a burning bush to go back.
- He spoke to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” He unleashed plagues one by one each time Pharaoh didn’t.
- He and his people were protected as the Angel of Death passed over Egypt. He led his people through the parted Sea. He led them to Sinai.
- He smashed their golden calf. God gave him the 10 Commandments. He led the people 40 years through the desert.
- God would not let him go into the Promised Land but did let him see it from the mountain top. Before his death he is said to have written down all the story of his people that we have in the first 5 books of the Bible.
Right from the beginning, we are reminded of his dual identity:
- By nature he was Hebrew.
- By nurture he was Egyptian.
So too were the descendants of Jacob living a dual identity.
- By nature they were the Israelites who freely came to Egypt.
- By nurture they were now Hebrews, enslaved by the Egyptians.
The current Pharaoh had no knowledge of that past good relationship planted between Jacob’s son, Joseph and the Pharaoh he had helped. That ancient tree of friendship had been felled by time.
The Pharaoh of Exodus began a campaign of making the lives of the Hebrews bitter with hard service, backbreaking labor and bondage. All because he was afraid of their numbers. He ordered an ethnic cleansing operation, instructing two midwives to kill any newborn Hebrew boy.
But they midwives wouldn’t do it … reporting back that the Hebrew women were so vigorous they birthed the babies before a midwife could even get there. Pharaoh was presented with a picture of Hebrew women as being stronger than Egyptian women.
Then Moses was born.
Identity is the theme throughout the Exodus story … the people of Israel asking “Who are we”, and “to whom do we belong?”
- was the identity of the Hebrew baby boy cast adrift in a basket.
- was the identity of his sister, sent to make sure he remained safe.
- was the identity of the princess who took pity on the crying baby.
- was the identity of the baby the princess named “Moses” because he had been “drawn out” of the water.
- was the lineage given for this baby born to a Levite man who had married a Levite woman. He totally belonged to the House of Levi.
- was the lineage given for the young woman who went to the river to bathe. As a royal princess, she totally belonged to the House of Pharaoh.
The Hebrews, Moses’ people by lineage, were also living an identity crisis. By the time he was born they were no longer firmly rooted in belonging to God. They had lost their sense of who they were. They needed a … liberator.
Moses was a puzzlement. Pharaoh and the Hebrews both considered him an Egyptian. His identity as a Hebrew was not easily swallowed, even after the years spent away from Egypt. His identity as being sent back by God was definitely not easy for Pharaoh or the Hebrews to believe.
Well, not at first. Not until the promises and plagues revealed him as the God-sent liberator.
In the time of Jesus, It was assumed that the Messiah, like Moses, would liberate the Jewish people from the oppression they were suffering under occupation by the Romans, but Jesus was not that kind of liberator. He came to liberate us from ourselves, from all that holds us back from grasping that fullness of Grace.
Identity is a constant theme in the Gospels … Jesus reassuring his followers that they were beloved by God and welcomed into the Kingdom.“Who are we”, and “to whom do we belong?” was answered in every parable, every beatitude, every calm “Do not be afraid … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
To set the scene for this morning’s Gospel reading in Matthew, Jesus and his core disciples had headed north from the Sea of Galilee after the miracle of a few loaves of bread feeding thousands. The group was by then well within the territory named for Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great’s son Phillip. They were walking in the very shadow of the mighty Roman Empire.
“Who do they say I am” Jesus asked …
His disciples told him that some folk thought he was John the Baptist or maybe Elijah or even Jeremiah… identifying Jesus by his heritage, as someone who quite rightly was being identified as belonging to a long line of prophets and servants of God… identifying him by the Faithful Family Tree to which he belonged, the roots of which went back two thousand years… identifying him as if “WHOSE am I” had been the question.
“But, who do YOU say that I am?” Aha, there in the very shadow of the oppressive power which reigned so heavily against them, Jesus put the real question … “But who do YOU say that I am?”
In a rare moment of clarity, Peter declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
This was a pivotal moment for Peter … a moment not lost on Jesus who called him Blessed, the rock upon which the church would not only be built but would prevail against all forces.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
Can you imagine the wave of excitement that gripped the disciples at that moment? When they realized Jesus was the actual Messiah?
Can you imagine the wave of excitement that gripped the Hebrews at the moment they realized Moses was the liberator sent by God?
Who are we?
Whose are we?
Both the Exodus and the Gospel show that the phrase “who we are and whose we are” is understood most fully when we reach into the stories that have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our God. Stories such as the rescue of Moses and the journeys of Jesus with his disciples.
Jesus wants to know what he really means to us. That’s a question we must all ask ourselves. And the answer is to be found not in words but in the way we follow Him in our daily lives. Then we, too, will be gripped by that wave of excitement!
“Who are we?”, and “to whom do we belong?”
The way we answer has the potential to … liberate … our lives.
The answer is as simple yet profound as this:
We are children of the Still-Speaking God and Jesus is our Messiah.