Sermon for August 30, 2020
(This retelling of Moses and the Burning Bush was written by Susan Bock, author of “Liturgy for the Whole Church”)
Moses had this fire in the belly to rescue helpless folks! Maybe it came from his own precarious start, when first his mother and then the Pharaoh’s daughter rescued him from the murderous jealousy and fear of the Pharaoh, who thought there were far too many of those vigorous Hebrews dwelling in Egypt. He couldn’t oppress them enough to subdue them, so he ordered that all their boy babies be killed.
After his rescue, Moses grew up in the palace, pampered, protected, and privileged. It was a great life, as you might guess, but it was a borrowed life, and not his own. Here was Moses, Mosheh, the one drawn out of the water, a Hebrew peasant, living like an Egyptian prince! But he knew there was something else, somewhere more, something of his own that was missing, so one day, he went off in search of it, in search of himself. His search was as innocent and naive as those urges always are, and just as fateful.
Because he came upon a Hebrew, one of his own people, being beaten by an Egyptian. He looked around to be sure they were alone, then he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.
Next day, still in search of his lost self, Moses went out again among the Hebrew people. When he found two of them fighting each other, he got in the middle of that, too, but was rebuffed and derided for his meddling, and that’s how he found out the deed was known. Pharaoh knew of the murder and was after him to kill him, so Moses fled to the desert of Midian.
Well, out in the desert, he came to a well where the seven daughters of Midian’s priest were trying to water their sheep, but couldn’t because some shepherd boys kept harassing them. Moses intervened again. (Note the early, persistent signs of his calling-Moses just can’t help himself!) His reward for helping the damsels in distress was a wife, and then a child, and the Good Life, into which he settled with alarming ease, but, of course the Good Life was all he knew.
Soon Moses’ life was all planned out again, right through retirement-predictable, peaceful, and secure. It escaped his notice that, once again, it wasn’t his own life he was living, but a borrowed one. Somewhere between Egypt and Midian was Moses’ real life, Moses’ people, Moses’ work, but he’d gotten quite good at circling round all that!
Years later, on a day like any other in a year like any other, blessed and lovely because of its ordinariness, a gift so rare and precious that most of us fail to notice, Moses was out keeping his sheep, following an irresistible tug toward the west, and Horeb, the mountain of God. The sheep were quiet and the sun was high and he was lulled into a sleepy, peaceful, brown-gray sameness, when suddenly, over here in his side vision, he noticed a shock of orange-yellow brightness, like a fire. It was fire, a slow, hot, lovely blaze in a bush. And Moses turned aside to see it. He turned. And his life was never, ever again the same.
Imagine! After all that time, all that history, all that dancing around the truth of his own life, and over all that distance, God found Moses and called him to the work he was born for. And there was no job posting, no resume, no degrees or interviews or tests or contracts. Surely later, with Pharaoh’s arrogance and stubbornness, and the frogs and lice and boils and locusts, and the bloody river and the people’s grumbling and bickering and the desert’s relentless heat, surely he remembered with a stab of longing this pastoral life of sameness, sureness, and peace that had slipped from his grasp forever the moment he turned aside to see, to hear the God who is fire, and whose love, and call, and purpose for each of us, for each of us, are like fire. Even Moses. Timid, ordinary, hot-headed. Plus, he lisped. And was hopelessly drawn to comfort and ease!
So why him? Why him instead of some more believable, articulate, charismatic Israelite who was already on the scene? That’s what he said, too. Why me, Lord? Who am I to go and do this? Who am I? We might wonder, too. And wonder, as well, why Peter, bumbling and cowardly? Why Mary, dirt-poor and powerless? Why Paul, arrogant and strong-willed? Why David, lascivious and immature? Why Joseph, spoiled and haughty? Why Sarah, old and irreverent? Why you? Why me? Why this thing to do? Why now?
Who could say? All we can know is that each of us is called by fire, into fire. A fiery ordeal, a fire in the belly, a burning passion. A fiery God calls us to the fire, and into and through and beyond the fire. And why? Because he hears the cries of his people, and he sees their affliction, and comes down to save them, and needs our help to do it. And if you’re going to rescue folks from the fires of affliction and sorrow and wandering and brokenness and ignorance of the God who loves them, you have to get in the fire with them. That’s how God called Moses, and in some hot, bright way that you can’t ignore, will surely call you, too. (Susan Bock, Liturgy for the Whole Church)
That retelling and enrichment of the story of Moses and the Burning Bush by Susan Bock reminds us that when we read the biblical stories, they are never just about the characters that we find there. They are about us. Moses’ story matters still today, even though it’s thousands of years old, because it gives us a glimpse into who we are and into who we might be.
We may not all hear the voice of God speaking to us from a burning bush as Moses did, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t speaking. It doesn’t mean that we won’t feel a fire burning within us calling us to something.
Where is the voice of God calling us? Time and again, our biblical stories tell us of those who are called away from what feels easy and secure. To walk alongside God isn’t the easy path. As we heard Jesus tell his disciples in our Gospel story this morning, “If you want to follow me, you’ll forget about just what you want, and carry the burden of the cross alongside me. If you only think of yourself, you’ll lose everything. But if you give up your life, you will gain it all.”
The call of Jesus is the same as the call of God from the Burning Bush. The call demands from us: Will we open our eyes and ears? What will we do with what we see, with what we hear?
Right now, as Americans, we are being called to open our eyes and ears with compassion to what we see and hear going on in our country. There’s so much suffering. From the pandemic. From racial injustice. People are filling the streets of our cities demanding to be heard. Insisting that we turn away from our comfortable lives and see the suffering caused by generations that have ignored the problems of race in our country. The problems of poverty. The problems of wealth inequality and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.
Will we listen? Will we act? These are not just questions for those of us who are older. These are questions that I hope the young people gathered with us this morning are asking themselves, too. Because unfortunately, we are passing along these problems and crises to the next generation.
This morning, we will pray for our students and teachers and all those who make our schools run. This is a particularly anxious time to be starting a new school year. But the start of any school year can be filled with both anxiety and excitement, especially for young people. Will you find your place? Will your friends be there for you? Will you be accepted?
But a new school year is also about possibility. An opportunity to show who you are and what matters to you. To listen for the voices of those who may need a friend. To sometimes walk away from what is comfortable into risky places to help someone who needs your kindness. And by learning to listen for the voices of those who need a friend, you are working on becoming an adult who can do the same. You all can be the generation that really listens for the voices of the suffering. The generation that insists on change and then works to make that happen.
And maybe we will learn from you. Learn how to answer God’s call and to carry the cross of Jesus. In a minute, we are going to pass out tags that you can put on your backpacks. They say, “You are loved.” You areloved. By your family, your friends, all of us, and above all, by God. It’s important that we all remember that. God’s love knows no bounds—God holds us in love no matter what we do. And the way that we respond to the incredible gift of God’s love is by listening for God’s call and by sharing the love of God with others. By listening for the cry of the suffering and then working to lift them up. May the love of God that burns in us help us to shine the light for others. Amen.