Sunday, September 03, 2017

3 September 2017 ~ Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Cathedral Road, Philadelphia



The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Cathedral Road, Philadelphia
3 September 2017

God is the unimaginable, however, we seek images of God.  Our minds construct images and metaphors to describe God, to make God real to us.

Is God a bearded octogenarian floating in the sky, like the God of the famous portion of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling?  Is God wind, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit that flows through the leaves on a late summer afternoon?  Is God the breath, the ruah that moves over the chaotic waters in the beginnings of Genesis?  For some people, God is described as solely Spirit, sensed through intuition, and a feeling that can hardly be described.  For others, God is felt most tangibly in the personal connection with the person of Jesus.  Of course, our own embrace of Trinitarian theology affirms that there are “three persons, one God”...three “entities”...three metaphors (if you like), but one God.  

In scripture, God is described in a multitude of ways, with a multitude of metaphors.  In today’s lesson from the Old Testament we are introduced once again to a unique and surprising depiction of God.  God here, appears in the form of a Burning Bush.  Moses is keeping the flock of his father - in - law, Jethro,  and here he brings his flock not only into the wilderness, but the text tells us that he brings them “through” the wilderness, and “beyond” the wilderness to Mt. Horeb - the Mountain of God.  There, on this mountain moses “turns aside” because something catches his eye...something appears in his peripheral vision.  Instead of going on his way, perhaps searching for a lost sheep, he takes a moment to “turn aside,” and the text tells us this twice.  Whenever phrases are repeated in the scriptures, we should take notice.  Moses dose not merely rush on to the next task.  In our parlance, he was mindful - he was aware - he was in the present moment.  

And so, he turns aside, and what does he see there, what does he hear there?  He sees a bush, burning, and yet not consumed.  And he hears a voice, and he knows.  This voice was God.  And, what was the substance of this meeting?  What was the purpose of this interaction, this theophany?  The purpose is a divine job interview.  God is interviewing Moses for the job of liberator, savior of the Israelites, leader of the enslaved Hebrews.  More accurately, perhaps, it is not merely a job interview, but a recruitment effort.  God is the corporate “head hunter” who is looking for his next CEO.  

Take a moment and look at the dialogue.  

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.

“I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses wants no part of this job.  He is fine being a shepherd of sheep.  However, as we see, he has gone into the wilderness, and even beyond the wilderness.  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”  A pretty spot-0n response.  Just about exactly what we might say!  “Who am I that I should go?!”  We learn later that Moses does not possess the gift of public speaking.  God ends up appointing his brother Aaron to be the “mouthpiece” of Moses.  Some have even surmised that Moses might have a physical limitation when it comes to speaking, perhaps what generations 5000 years later might call a disability.  Moses wants no part of this job.  He is not equipped to do this ministry.  However, God is a God of surprises.  God looks not on the surface of the resume or the online profile.  God looks to the heart.  God looks for goodness in our bones.  God knows us from “when we were in the womb” and loves us.  “What is impossible for man is...for God.”  So, God is not going to be swayed by excuses or evasions (God never is!)  God is not going to be outdone by Moses, God is persistent and patient.  

Even then, God does not take the bait, and does not try to convince Moses that he has the skills, gifts, experience, or wherewithall to confront a brutal leader, and lead an oppressed people to freedom.  Look and see what God says:  “I will be with you.” I can almost read Moses’s mind at this moment … “oh, great! You will be with me, great!  But it is my backside that will be on the line when I go back to Pharaoh’s palace.”

Moses then comes up with another problem with this plan...namely, how on earth will he get the people to follow the likes of HIM!?  How will he begin to convince them that he is doing the work of YAHWEH, that he is acting on orders from God?  

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.

God will be with him.  A simple statement.  But an immensely powerful reality.  God is.  “I am who I am.”  At the deepest bedrock of reality, God is.  In the midst of pain, God is.  In the midst of this challenging task for Moses, God is.  In the midst of every anxiety, God is.  When we are at the end of our rope, God is.  God is with Moses, and God is with us.

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