Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 31, 2014

2014.08.31 “Stories from the Family of Faith: The Call of Moses” – Exodus 3: 1 – 15

Central United Methodist Church
Stories from the Family of Faith:
The Call of Moses
Pastor David L. Haley
Exodus 3: 1 – 15
August 31st, 2014

burningbush

 

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

– Exodus 3: 1 – 15, the New Revised Standard Version

 

A place on my bucket list that I hope to visit someday is St. Catherine’s Monastery, on Mt. Sinai, in Israel’s Sinai peninsula. It’s official name is, the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, if that tells you anything.

Though of course no one knows for sure, according to tradition it is the place where Moses encountered the burning bush, and later received the Ten Commandments. Established in the 4th century, St. Catherine’s is saturated with Biblical and Christian history.

There are many things that make it interesting. The Library, for example. St. Catherine’s library contains the largest collection of Christian manuscripts and icons outside of the Vatican. In 1844, Konstantin von Tischendorf, a German scholar visiting the library, discovered two things: (1) they were using ancient manuscripts as firewood, (2) the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in Greek, dating from the 4th century, which he took with him. One of the most important books in the world, it now rests in the British Museum.  When Prince Charles visited St. Catherine’s in 1995, one of the monks reminded him that they still had a signed document that the manuscript was “on loan,” and wanted to know when it would be returned. Prince Charles was polite, but observed that if the British started returning everything they took from other countries, there would be little left in the British Museum.

Or, how about The Charnel House? The Charnel House is the place where the bones of all deceased monks are stored.  I think Central should start a Charnel House, perhaps under the Log Cabin. Then, when someone asks how many members we have, we could say, “living or dead?” and add, “Would you like to meet them?” The statistical possibilities for us statistic loving Methodists are almost endless: longest inactive; most decomposed, etc.

I would like to climb the 3,750 steps up The Path of Moses to the top of the 7,498 foot mountain, or, take the optional camel ride up the back way. Although, supposedly, camels are notoriously nasty creatures, known to hiss, spit, vomit, shake, and on occasion go beserk.  A lady once sent a postcard from Egypt; on the front was a picture of a camel, on the back were the intriguing words: “Whoa doesn’t mean stop to a camel.”

Out back of the monastery, forming its spiritual heart, is the Chapel of the Burning Bush. According to an ancient tradition, this chapel sits atop the roots of the Biblical bush “that blazed with fire, and was not consumed,” from which God spoke to Moses.  A few feet away from the Chapel is the bush itself, a rare species of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus. Many monks and scholars agree that the bush’s presence is the very reason St. Catherine’s Monastery came to be there in the first place.

The story in which this bush plays a major supporting role is the one we heard today, the story of God’s call of Moses. The major roles, are played by Moses, and in a guest appearance, God, who here for the first time reveals God’s name. It is not only a story about how God spoke to and called Moses, it is a story through which God still speaks to and calls us.

I might ask here, which version you prefer? The book version or the movie version, especially the one with Charleston Heston as Moses. (although we have yet to see how Christian Bale does it, in the movie due this December, Gods and Kings?)  I can still remember as a kid how excited I was to see the Bible come to life, even though when I watch it now (for some inexplicable reason they show it every Easter), its pace is like molasses, and in the age of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects are cheesy.  Did you know they actually used jello for the parting of the Red Sea?

Whether we prefer the book or the movie, the bush that burned without being consumed, we have already met. Who doesn’t know this story?  As I shared in my email teaser,  I have some firemen friends who arrived on scene during a thunderstorm at a house with some bushes on fire, and announced over the radio, “Yeah, we’re on the scene with a bush on fire; we’ll be out talking to God.” Though they deserved a Bible quotation award, instead they got a reprimand, for extraneous radio traffic.

Moses we met last week, a baby saved by the subversion of Jewish midwives, raised as a foster child in Pharaoh’s own house. The part of the story we didn’t hear last week, or today, is that once grown up, Moses’ first outing against injustice got him kicked out of Egypt. Exiled in the wilderness, Moses takes up shepherding, which, in the Bible, is apparently the ideal preparation for leadership and ministry. (I’m just sorry I didn’t any real shepherding in seminary.) One day, on a remote mountain, seeking straying sheep, Moses sees this bush that keeps on burning, and says, not, “You know this would be a great place for a monastery,’ but, “I must see this bush which keeps on burning.”  The text says, “When God saw that Moses turned aside to see, God spoke from the midst of the bush.”

Which raises the question, “What if Moses had not turned aside?” Doesn’t it make us wonder how often God might have spoken to us, if only we had stopped to smell the spiritual roses along the way? It is true, in the lives of the saints through the ages, some of the greatest experiences of God have come about not through intent or routine, but at times and in ways that dance divinely between God’s revelation and our receptivity. Moses and the burning bush. Isaiah worshipping in the temple. Paul on the road to Damascus.  St. Augustine reading in his garden.  John Wesley at Aldersgate.  So may God speak to us, if we have the sensitivity to stop and listen.

Why Moses? The Rabbis, great at reading between the lines, say Moses was there in the wilderness to prevent the flocks from grazing on someone else’s land, which demonstrates his commitment to justice. Or that he was there to be free of distractions, which makes him a mystic in search of God. Another tells the story of a lamb running away and Moses rescuing it; God, taking notice, notes this is a man of compassion. It is such people, passionate about justice, seeking God’s presence, compassionate for the least and the lost, these are the kind of people God uses.

Having met Moses, we now move on to the Starring Role, the Burning Lead, the Dramatic Center of this story and our story, God. Nothing in Genesis or Exodus thus far has prepared us for such a dramatic encounter between God and another human being. This is a God who is different.  This is not the chummy God with whom Adam walked in the garden, or with whom Abraham ate lunch, or with whom Jacob wrestled in the darkness.  This is an awesome God, at whom Moses is afraid to look, in whose presence every place and any place is sacred, necessitating the removal of the shoes from one’s feet. This is the ancestoral God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is revealed as a God of compassion, who sees the suffering and hears the deepest groans of God’s people.  What this means for Moses (and for us), is that there is good news and bad news: The good news is that God knows our suffering and desires to deliver us; the bad news is that God chooses us to do it.

Upon this news – having met Moses virtuous side, we now discover that – like most Biblical heroes – Moses is a lot like us. Because, for a man confronting a burning bush, Moses has very cold feet. What follows is that Moses politely declines God five times, a record unequaled even by Methodists:

“Well, you know, God, these sheep, they get me up early and   get me home late. On Monday nights, there’s football, on Tuesdays bowling. Wednesday’s is Scouts, Thursdays choir, weekends are filled with errands, and Sundays, Sundays are the only time I have for golf   and relaxation.”  (Sorry, that’s not Moses, that’s us.)

What does God say, in response? Blast Moses with a wall of flame? Say, “Don’t worry, Moses, it won’t take much time, we only meet occasionally, and after all, it’s only a short term commitment!” No, what God says is, “Moses, I will be with you.”

When Moses still demures, and says, “But what if they ask me who has sent you, “what is his name,” “What shall I say?”

Backed into a bush – I mean a corner – God’s answer – though one of the most enigmatic and debated statements in the Bible – introduces a new stage in the history of monotheism: the revelation of the divine name.

God says, in Hebrew, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” which gave rise to the name Yahweh, the specific proper name of Israel’s God. But, in truth, the Hebrew defies translation. It could be, “I Am That I Am, or “I Will Be What I Will Be.”

The name is gender free, neither masculine nor feminine, as befits a God who embraces polarities of male and female, young and old, transcendent and near at hand.  You may have noticed, English doesn’t always cooperate, but I work hard not to refer to God as “he”, “him,” and “his.”

It may be connected to the phrase in verse 12, “I will be with you.”  In that case, God’s name would imply “I am not a far-off God, a remote, uncaring philosophical conclusion, I am God who will be with you. You cannot understand me, but you will know me by my presence, only when you accept my invitation, and follow my commands.  In other words, “You’ve got to go, before you know.”

What then does God’s name mean?  It may mean any and all of the following: God exists. God is more than we can comprehend. God, or our understanding of God, is constantly growing.  God is present in our lives. God is with us in our efforts to do what is right, but difficult, including delivering God’s people from their bondage. (Etz Hayim, (Torah and Commentary), pp. 330)

Because it is such a classic text, much more could be said, but this is enough for today, on this Labor Day weekend.

Does God still speak in burning bushes?  Some people hear God speaking on billboards, in crying statues, and even in plates of spaghetti. But more often, God speaks through God’s Word, through the encouragement of friends, and in the sufferings of those in need, whose groans God still hears and whose sufferings God still sees.

Does God still call extraordinary people like Moses and Jesus, people who seek God and are compassionate and love justice? Yes, but God also calls those who feel incapable and inadequate and have several excellent excuses, making us feel like we are the wrong person for the job, like Peter or Paul or Mary Magdalene, or like us.

And when the call comes, however it comes, through burning bushes or the cry of those in need; whether it comes to those who are eager or those who are reluctant, to those who say, “Yes,” the best of all is this:

God is

The God Who Will Be With Us.

This is God’s name forever,

God’s title for all generations.

Amen.

 

        

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: