Sunday’s Sermon: Sacred Identity: Lost & Found


Text used – Exodus 1:8-22; Exodus 2:1-10; Exodus 3:1-15 (embedded in sermon text)




  • Names
    • Did you know that in certain parts of the world today, there are actually certain names that are illegal?[1]
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Devil” in Japan
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Smelly Head” or “007” in Malaysia
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Bridge” in Norway
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “@” in China
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Tom” in Portugal
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Brfxxcxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmncksssqlbb11116” in Sweden
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Stallion” or “Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii” in New Zealand
    • Flip side: some of the oddest legal name changes in the world[2]
      • Simon Smith → Bacon Double Cheeseburger
      • David Fearn → James [insert the title of every Bond movie ever made up to Casino Royale] Bond
      • George Garratt → Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined
      • Claire Forshaw →
      • Tyler Gould → Tyrannosaurus Rex
      • Jeffrey Wilschke → Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop
    • No joke, y’all. I couldn’t make that stuff up if I tried! The point being that names have significance, right?
      • Significant to us
      • Significant to others
      • Even the hint or suggestion of a name has power.
        • Prince changing his name to a symbol (1993)
        • Much more personal example: my initials before I got married = LJP → one of the main garbage collection companies around Le Sueur = LJP … So all of the dumpsters and garbage bins around my parents’ house say … LJP. Yup. Names, right?
      • Elie Wiesel quote: “In Jewish history, a name has its own history and its own memory. It connects beings with their origins. To retrace its path is then to embark on an adventure in which the destiny of a single word becomes one with that of a community; it is to undertake a passionate and enriching quest for all those who may live in your name.” → “A passionate and enriching quest.” And so we come to our Scripture this morning … a selection of readings from the beginning of Exodus in which sacred name is first stolen, then re-given, and finally reclaimed. So let’s take a closer look at these phases.
    • [READ Ex 1:8-22]
    • Super abridged backstory → reminder of the basics of Joseph’s story[3]
      • Favorite son of Jacob (Isaac’s son, Esau’s twin)
      • Ambushed by his brothers → sold into slavery in Egypt
      • Servant in a wealthy house in Egypt → landed in prison → ends up in front of Pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams
      • Ends up in position of incredible power in Egypt → re-encounters his treacherous brothers (who don’t immediately recognize him) when they come begging for food in Egypt in the midst of a massive drought
      • Finally reveals himself to his brothers and moves all of them, their families, and their father, Jacob, to Egypt so he can continue to care for them
    • Beginning of this first portion of today’s story = generations later: Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.[4] → A new king came into power. A new Pharaoh. And he didn’t know Joseph. He didn’t know all that Joseph had done to save the people of Egypt – Pharaoh’s own people! – let alone all the other people of the region who came to buy grain from Egypt during the famine (and all the gold that put into Egypt’s national coffers). He didn’t know the prestige and honor that Joseph enjoyed, despite being “the other” – a stranger in a foreign land. A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.
      • Result: [Pharaoh] said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against, us, and then escape from the land.” … So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites.[5] → So the Israelites – the descendants of Joseph and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham – who had been enjoying life as simple citizens of Egypt up to this point are suddenly stripped of their identity as normal citizens. They are stripped of their identity as protected. They are stripped of their identity as respected. They are stripped of their identity as free.
        • First part of this story brings other haunting historical events to mind
          • Africans forcible brought to this country as slaves à most often given the names of their slave owners (if any name at all)
          • Jews and others interned in concentration camps and stripped of their names during the Holocaust à given only a number instead
          • Native Americans forcibly stripped of their culture, their language, their indigenous names and even their families when they were marshalled into Indian Boarding Schools in late 19th and early 20th centuries
          • To say nothing of what is happening and has been happening on our own southern border.
      • Pharaoh’s solution = no less appalling: The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah: “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.”[6] → But being strong, faithful, determined women (the only people in this entire passage, including Pharaoh, to actually be named, mind you!), Shiphrah and Puah defy Pharaoh’s orders and let the male babies live also … which brings us to our 2nd
    • [READ Ex 2:1-10]
    • The salvific work of Shiphrah and Puah in action: a baby boy born to Israelite parents, allowed to live and thrive and be loved by those parents, hidden until they could hide him to no longer, then sent down the river in a basket with a hope, a prayer, and a sister to follow him … just in case.
    • Story recap
      • Moses’ basket finds its way into the hands of none other than Pharaoh’s own daughter as she’s bathing in the river
      • Basket and the baby inside = plucked from the river and saved DESPITE obviously being one of “them,” of “the other” – text: When [Pharaoh’s daughter] opened [the basket], she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”[7]
      • Moses’ sister pipes up and offers to find some “random” wet nurse for the boy to raise him until he’s a bit older → Pharaoh’s daughter accepts → Moses’ sister runs to fetch her own mother (Moses’ own mother) to raise the boy until he’s old enough to be taken into Pharaoh’s house and adopted by Pharaoh’s own daughter – text: After the child had grown up, [his mother] brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.”[8]
    • More to this name than meets the eye
      • Simple presence/existence of the name itself = meaningful → Moses is the only name mentioned in this entire part of the story. His mother gets no name. His sister gets no name. Even Pharaoh’s daughter gets no name. Only Moses. The Hebrew child. The one who wasn’t supposed to be in the first place. He gets a name.
      • Moses = supposedly Egyptian named used in many other royal names throughout Egypt’s history BUT far more to it than that → Walter Brueggemann draws undeniable parallels between name (Moses) and Hebrew word for “draw out/deliverance” (always an act accomplished only by God): What may be a royal Egyptian name is transposed by the proposed etymology into Israelite praise for deliverance. Thus the rescue of little Moses from the waters anticipates a larger rescue to be wrought through the power of Moses.[9]
        • Meaning of name speaks to God’s power in Moses’ life
        • Meaning of name speaks to Moses’ call in the future
    • [READ Ex 3:1-15]
    • Filling in story gap with super abridged version of Moses’ story
      • As an adult, Moses sees a slave driver abusing a Hebrew slave → attacks the slave driver and kills him
        • Somehow must have grown up with the knowledge that he was one of the Israelites – text (part we didn’t read today): One day after Moses had become an adult, he went out among his people and he saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.[10]
      • Moses flees the wrath and justice of Pharaoh → ends up in Midian (modern day Saudi Arabia) → gets a job tending flocks of sheep for Jethro, priest of Midian → (also falls in love with and marries Jethro’s daughter) → For all we know, Moses is perfectly content to live this life – the life of a shepherd in the desert – hiding from Pharaoh and his past and his identity. Hiding from it all. But God had other plans.
    • This last passage = incredibly powerful passage because the reclaiming of sacred identity is actually three fold here
      • Moses’ reclaiming his identity as an Israelite → Think about it for a minute. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house – the house of a man who had outlawed and done his best to eradicate Moses’ very existence. Surely he didn’t grow up learning the Hebrew ways and traditions. Surely he didn’t grow up participating in Hebrew worship and learning Hebrew prayers. And once he had fled to Midian and married the daughter of a priest, he more than likely assimilated to the cultural and spiritual practices of his adopted family and nation. And yet God found him there in the middle of the desert. God came to him in a burning bush. God literally called him by name. – text: When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.” Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.[11] → In this encounter, Moses comes full circle – back to a faith and an identity that had long been denied him, both by circumstance and by his own inattention.
      • God reclaiming the identity of the Israelites as God’s own protected people – God says this straight out in the text: Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land … Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.”[12]
        • God recognizing the plight of the people as God’s own plight
        • God recognizing the pain of the people as God’s own pain
        • God recognizing the need of the people as God’s own need
        • Popular saying: “God, break my heart with what breaks yours” (call to/prayer for a missional heart/mindset) → This is sort of the reverse of that. It’s God saying, “I see what breaks your heart, and it breaks mine, too, because you are my beloved children, and I am your God.”
      • God reclaiming God’s own identity as sovereign and sacred, unfathomable and undeniable → comes in God’s response to Moses’ seemingly-simple question
        • Question (reveals Moses’ fear, inexperience, and self-doubt): But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”[13]
        • God’s response = both achingly simple and staggeringly complex: God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.”[14] – Heb. “Yahweh” (YHWH) = sounds like breath, derived from Heb. word “to be” → This formulation makes God both intimate and incomprehensible – as powerful and vital as breath, as near as our own heartbeat and breath but on a global scale.
          • Brueggemann: This God is named as the power to create, the one who causes to be. This God is the one who will be present in faithful ways to make possible what is not otherwise possible. This God is the very power of newness that will make available new life for Israel outside the deathliness of Egypt.[15]
  • And that is where we enter into this story, all. This is where this grand Story of faith intersects day in and day out with our own stories. Maybe you’ve been given a name you don’t desire, a name you don’t want to own or claim. Maybe you’ve been stripped of some element of who you are, either by your own actions or by the malintent of others. Maybe you’ve been filled with doubts in your own God-given call and identity like Moses. The Good News is that the God who called out to Moses from that bush … the God present in faithful ways to make possible what is not otherwise possible … the God whose name is as essential as the very breath in our lungs … the God who reached down into history to free the Israelites and encouraged them to reclaim their own sacred identity … this God reaches down to us as well. This God calls us as well. This God cares for and loves us as well. Your sacred identity is sure: beloved child of God, summoned and called, named and claimed. Forevermore. Amen.



[3] Gen 37-50.

[4] Ex 1:8.

[5] Ex 1:9-10, 13.

[6] Ex 1:15-16.

[7] Ex 2:6 (emphasis added).

[8] Ex 2:10.

[9] Walter Brueggemann. “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 700.

[10] Ex 2:11 (emphasis added).

[11] Ex 3:4-6.

[12] Ex 3:7-8, 9.

[13] Ex 3:13.

[14] Ex 3:14-15.

[15] Brueggemann, 714.