So Come, I Will Send You

Trinitarian Congregational Church                                                       Homecoming Sunday

Anthony S. Kill                                                                                       September 10, 2017

Texts: Romans 12:1-8; Exodus 3:1-15

 

The story of the burning bush that speaks to Moses is probably one of the best-known images of God’s presence in the Hebrew bible.

We tend to remember Moses as the greatest leader and prophet the Hebrews ever had, the only person in the Hebrew Scriptures considered holy enough to be admitted into the very Presence of God.

But that’s Moses only by hindsight.

That’s how Moses’ reputation emerged after the end of his long and faithful life in God’s service.

Who was the Moses we meet in today’s reading from the beginning of Exodus?

Born of Hebrew slave parents; hidden in a floating reed basket because male infants of the slave class had been condemned to death;

He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian.

As a young adult, he murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, then ran away into exile because he was afraid Pharaoh would find out.

He became a shepherd in the wilderness east of Egypt and married the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest, and started a family.

So Moses was literally a man without a country, neither Egyptian nor Jew, now part of a Medianite clan a murderer and fugitive from justice to boot.

This is the unlikely character who runs into an Am-Bush in the desert. (or more precisely, an “I-Am-Who-Am”-Bush in the desert)

But I think it was an ambush too.

God had heard the cries and groaning of the people of Israel in their bondage, and God remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.

God decided to do something about it, and Moses was going to be his man.

So God has come to entice Moses, and to call him to a mission.

After Moses notices the bush that was on fire, but was not being burned up, he turns aside to take a closer look, then hears God calling his name out of the bush “Moses!  Moses!”

Moses replies, “Here I am”

Then the dialogue begins.  After the initial call, God’s first command is to recognize the holiness of this encounter — “Come no closer.  Take off your shoes.  This is holy ground.”

Then God brings up the issue at hand: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people out of Egypt.”

To which Moses replies, “moi?”

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

God reassures him, “I will be with you”

And Moses says, “Oh, yeah; but remind me again: who are you?

“When I go to the Israelites in Egypt and say, ‘the God of your fathers sent me to you,’ and they say (as they surely will) ‘O yeah?!  Who’s that?’ what name shall I tell them?”

And that’s when God replies with the enigmatic name:

“I am who I am.”  “Tell them ‘‘I am’ sent me to you.’ ”

That’s still not good enough for Moses.

He continues to protest, and haggle, and grapple with God’s plan for him for another 25 verses, before he finally turns away from the bush, accepts the challenge of God’s call, and sets out for Egypt.

This is a wonderfully rich story.

I want to underscore a few of its themes that resonate with me,

First, most of us persist in believing that we’d never be worthy of having a spiritual experience of God, or encountering the Holy One on our journeys, in our wildernesses.

We’d never be worthy to be chosen for some special mission.

But let me remind you that Moses was no great hero at this point.

He was a murderer, an outlaw, and a fugitive when this experience happened.

He had run away from his past, from his crime, and from his destiny.

He was a man without a country; and without a people.

And he didn’t want this job.  He protested mightily at first.

And what’s more, at first glance, he really was ill-qualified for the demands of leadership.

He was slow of speech and tongue, as he pointed out.

But God told him to share his work, delegate authority,  get whatever assistance he needed, trust in God’s presence, and do it anyway.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber observed:

“Such is the paradox and burden of prophecy.

It is laid upon the stammering to bring the voice of Heaven to Earth.”

Secondly, sometimes people lament that they never have a “burning bush experience,” meaning that God never just comes and tells them what God wants them to do with their lives.

But remember, at first, Moses didn’t “see God,” or “hear God;”

He noticed the burning bush, scripture says, and decided to turn aside.

He saw something unusual, something mysterious, and he stopped, stepped aside from what he was doing, and took time to contemplate the mystery.

Moses noticed the extraordinary events happening around him, and paid attention to them.

He wasn’t out searching for God, and didn’t immediately think he had found God;

But he was attuned enough to the mysterious around him to let it capture his attention when it presented itself.

He didn’t know that he was in the presence of God, but he was aware of the presence of mystery, and he gave himself to it.

And it was this receptivity on Moses’ part that led him to hear God’s voice.

Also, it is very clear that God’s appearance to Moses was not about Moses’ personal holiness, or his moral rectitude or his religious beliefs,

The whole purpose and direction of the burning bush theophany was the needs of the community.

Moses is commissioned to become a community organizer, not a saint.

He is lifted up by God for one purpose only:  “Let my people go”

He is lifted up by God to confront and defeat injustice and lead a community to autonomy and dignity.

As a matter of fact, to anyone who wasn’t a believer in this God of the Hebrew’s history, Moses’ mission wouldn’t have looked one bit religious.

It was politics and protest and social upheaval that Moses was doing, period.

God sent Moses on an eminently political and social mission: “Let my people go!”

Only those who understand our God’s passion for justice and compassion for the needy can see the deeply religious urge that underlies the politics of human rights.

Moses was one of the first to know that the work of human liberation is truly worship of God.

A burning bush had told him so.

What of this is our story — my story, your story?

When are we invited to turn aside from our ordinary, busy lives, and discover the holy ground on which we stand?

As a new program year begins here at the church, how does the God of your past call you into the future?

How does the God of this congregation’s past call you as a church into the future?

How does the God who brought you thus far seek to lead you to new promises and new deliverances?

Where does God need you to help the human community in its struggle for freedom and respect in the face of prejudice and discrimination?

Where does God need you to help the human community  in the face of unprecedented natural disasters

Let me close with a true story that captured my imagination.

It happened a couple of months ago in Florida.

Two women were visiting Panama City Beach in Florida when they heard screams and saw two young boys hundreds of feet out from shore.

They’d been caught and pulled out by a rip current and couldn’t get back.

There were no lifeguards on duty, so the women went out on boogie boards to try to save the boys, but then they got stuck in the rip tide themselves.

Others went in to attempt a rescue attempts, only to get caught in turn.

Eventually, there were nine people caught in the water and in danger of drowning.

That’s when the people on the beach realized that no single person was going to be able to save them.

This was a problem that was bigger than any one swimmer, even a strong one, could handle.

So one by one, then ten by ten by ten, people linked arms, forming a human chain of 80 people reaching out toward the stranded swimmers.

And having made their human bodies into one huge super-human body, they plucked those swimmers from the waters one by one and passed them back to shore.

Not one person died that day on Panama City Beach.

There are problems in this world that a body cannot handle alone.

There are situations that cannot be saved by a single person.

There are currents you can never swim your own way out of.

Which is why we need the church, why we need to be the church, why we need to be part of this Beloved Community, the place where we link ourselves together, make our bodies into the Body,    and perform miracles that none of us could perform alone.

The church doesn’t exist for our salvation;  it exists to give us a way to participate in the saving of the world.

Amen