Remember Watergate? I’m certainly old enough to remember it. It’s now talked about in history books. It was a bungled burglary that led to the only resignation of a President of the United States.
One of key figures of the Watergate scandal was President Nixon’s Special Counsel, Charles Coulson. A Slate Magazine writer called Coulson, “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’’ of an evil administration.” Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman called Coulson, Nixon’s hit man. Coulson was the author of Nixon’s Enemies List.
The Watergate break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee involved a special unit that was supposed to investigate White House leaks. That is how they got the name, the Plumbers. Coulson helped organize the Plumbers.
In actuality, Coulson was not convicted of covering up the Watergate break-in. Coulson was indicted for it. What Coulson did was to plead guilty of the Daniel Ellsberg break-in in exchange for the dropping of the Watergate charges. Coulson served seven months in Federal Maxwell Prison.
As Coulson was facing arrest, a friend gave Coulson a book, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. The book was Coulson’s come to Jesus moment. News organizations labeled Coulson’s conversion as a ploy for a reduced sentence. I was one of those who doubted the sincerity of Coulson’s new found faith.
Coulson wrote a memoir, Born Again, about his conversion and prison life. It was later made into a movie with Dean Jones playing Coulson. Coulson became a leading advocate for prison reform. It was his calling.
After his release from prison, Coulson founded Prison Fellowship. It is now the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. Coulson participated in a prison program called, InnerChange. This faith-based program significantly reduces the recidivism rate among prisoners.
Coulson was certainly a member of the Christian right. He opposed same-sex marriage and was an outspoken critic of evolution and post-modernism.
To feel a particular call from God like Coulson did concerning prison reform, is a thing of horror and comfort. Horror in that a call as significant as this would be Don Quixote-like, thinking one can change such an entrenched system and the ridicule that would follow. And comfort knowing that God is behind you no matter how rough it gets. In other words, God has your back.
When Moses heard his call from God, Moses’ initial response was of the horror that would be Moses’ if he accepted the call. God needed to give Moses comfort.
Moses was a conflicted individual. He was born a Hebrew, but raised Egyptian. Though part of the royal retinue, he still felt an affinity for his people, the slaves of Egypt. Egypt probably had many more slaves than just the Hebrews, but for the people who wrote the story, it is all about them and it’s all about Moses.
It was this affinity for the Hebrews and their plight that Moses murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Fearing being caught and executed, Moses ran for his life. A lot of biblical heroes run for their lives. Moses ends up in Midian and marries the daughter of the priest. A priest of what, we don’t know.
Moses arrived with only the clothes he was wearing and becomes sort of an indentured son-in-law to Jethro. We believe Midian was on the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. We don’t know much about Midian and its religion. There are hints in the exodus story that Jethro was a monotheist, maybe even a Yahweh worshipper. It would be hard to live in the household of a priest and not have God’s name dropped.
We might assume, somehow, Moses wanders with Jethro’s flock a really long ways away to the Sinai. Moses comes to the mountain of God. Depending on the original source, it is called either Horeb or Sinai. It is already known as the mountain of God. This mountain has a reputation.
Cecil B. DeMille has Moses on the mountain but the text doesn’t support that assumption. Moses was looking for pasture in a barren land, not a hike up a mountain.
Then something caught Moses’ eye, a bush that burns and yet is not consumed. We are told it is an angel. The angel looked like fire, but was not fire. Having never seen anything like this, Moses had to check it out. Through the angel, God calls Moses and introduces himself as the God of the Hebrew patriarchs. Moses is the shepherd of another man’s flock. Now Moses will be called to shepherd God’s flock.
Moses was already fleeing from one death sentence and to avoid another, Moses hid his face from God. No one can look at God and live.
An unspecified amount of time has transpired since the time of Joseph’s rule of Egypt to the time when God tells Moses that God has heard the plight of God’s people. In that previous time, a Hebrew ruled Egypt for Pharaoh. Then at some point, the Israelites who were promised pasture land for as long as they wanted were removed from their pastures and shackled into slavery. In fact, they went from seventy people to so many that Pharaoh culled the boys from the population, fearing a revolt.
God wants to do something about suffering. God’s people must go back to the Promised Land. They will settle there. They will worship Canaanite gods there. They will be exiled from there and return spiritually renewed – being a religion instead of a nation. It is only when they are oppressed again that the time will be ripe for Jesus.
God wants to deliver God’s people from abject poverty in Egypt to the land that the patriarchs once lived, a land flowing with milk and honey and from slavery to freedom. This isn’t a land that just happens to have some milk and some honey at some roadside stand. This is a place where milk and honey are so abundant that the land flows with milk and honey.
Moses is called. “Oh and ah Moses, I, God, want you to go to Pharaoh and secure their release.” Moses basically replies, “Really? Me? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
God reassures Moses. God will be with Moses. And this mountain will be a sign for you when you pass by this way, you will worship on this mountain. Or least Moses will. The people are not allowed on the mountain.
Moses wanted to know what he should tell the Israelites about who sent Moses, the murderer, to them. “You shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’ ” I am. That is a rough sense of what the Hebrew language means. It might be more literal to translate, I am who is. The actual Hebrew is the Tetragrammaton, the name of God. It is impossible to pronounce, but some have suggested a sort of word, Yahweh. It is the name of God and it is forbidden for Jews to say it, even if it is impossible. When a Jew reading Hebrew comes across it, they say Adonai, or Lord.
This is the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. It is this God who sends Moses. For eternity, this is God’s name and God’s title.
God says that the name of God is a verb, not exactly proper grammar in any language. This is the creator. The creator is action. This is a God that cannot be pinned down. This is a God that cannot be sculpted. This is a God that cannot be put in a box. This is also a God that cannot be grasped, physically nor metaphorically.
What follows next is Moses putting up argument after argument that God made a bad decision, with God overcoming each objection. Eventually, God wins out. God usually does.
This is a story of a hero. This is a story of a miraculous transformation. A man who suffered from identity issues and who is a murderer, returns to the scene of the crime and is never arrested. Instead of running, instead of hiding, he is out in the open and gives orders to the most powerful person on earth. Even then, he is not arrested!
This is a story of what can be done when someone has the confidence that God has your back. Notice God wants to end the suffering of God’s people. But God doesn’t do it, at least not alone. God sends Moses and Aaron. It takes people to do God’s work. In this day and age, it takes us, all of us to do God’s work. And we can do it when God has our back.
Text: Exodus 3:1–15 (NRSV)
 David Plotz (March 10, 2000). “Charles Colson – How a Watergate crook became America’s greatest Christian conservative”. Slate.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ex 3:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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