May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O lord my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Well we continue our journey with Moses. From the bulrushes to the burning bush. And we continue with the Gospel of Matthew, with Jesus speaking to his disciples of that which is to come.
And these are both stories that I love and that challenge me a little too much. Both offer a call from God, and both offer an understandable response.
In this passage from Genesis, Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock. He led them beyond the wilderness and came to the mountain of Horeb. There he encountered a burning bush. Or more accurately a bush, that was blazing with fire, but was not consumed. And so just as you or I might be, Moses was curious. Probably with a very careful and cautious approach he turned aside to see why the bush was not consumed by the fire. And in that moment, God thought “got ya!” No just joking, but it was in that extra bit of curiosity that God knew it was time to call out.
As Moses looked to see, God spoke with words that helped him to know. “Moses, Moses!, God called. And Moses responded, “here I am.” His name was called and he, just as we might do, took another step closer. But God said “Stop” “Come no closer, remove the sandals from your feet. You are on Holy Ground.” Well that would make one stop and think. Can you imagine that moment? To see the world around us a little bit differently. No longer was it just a place to feed the flock but the place where God was encountered.
Moses knew the stories of his ancestors. And he knew that he indeed was about to enter into a conversation with the Holy One. And so he hid his face. “He was afraid to look at God.” To his ancestors, to look at the face of God meant death. He might have been remembering that, but to know that God was calling him by name would have filled him with so much more than that – awe, shame, wonder, confusion, worship. And probably a little bit of straight up terror as well.
And God’s next words probably didn’t help Moses one bit. God spoke of His people, the Israelites, and their misery, their suffering, their oppression, their lament. God spoke of the hope he had for taking his people to a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that was good and open and free. God spoke that he wanted to Moses to be the one to lead them.
And Moses did not think this was a good idea. Who would follow him, he wonder? Who would believe that it was God who sent him? “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
Moses, alone, was not and would not be enough to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. And Moses, alone, would not be enough to convince the Israelites to leave with him. Moses knew this and God knew this too. But the call for Moses was clear and he would not be going alone.
And it seems like Peter was having that same conversation with Jesus many years later. Jesus had been trying to show his disciples the journey that was about to take place. And Peter was having none of it. “God forbid it Lord; this must never happen to you!” Oh Peter! How little he understands of the One he calls his friend. And Jesus is annoyed. “Get behind me Satan!” Which sounds a lot like stop and come no further. You are standing in the way of the One who is the Holy on this ground. Moses objected because he was afraid. Peter was afraid too.
And just as God pressed on his conversation with Moses, so too does Jesus press on with Peter. "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
These are hard words, especially for the disciples who were staring to like the notoriety they were gaining and the power that seemed to come as they walked with Jesus. They weren’t ready to hear the call to deny themselves and to lose their lives. They did not know that to lose their life was to find it. To burn with the Holy fire but to not be consumed. They weren’t ready to take up their cross to follow him. For they did know that the I AM who sent Moses, was the I AM who they were to follow.
And what about us today? Is there a sense that there is something for us to see or to move toward? Can we look back on our lives and see how this has been the case in big and little ways?
The call, however, doesn’t always seem so clear. And it doesn’t always seem so strong. And we may not even think of the direction of our lives in terms of a call. It often is a missing piece when talking about working in the secular world or in non-ordained lay vocation. It seems that the word call has become specific to the vocation of ministry or pastoral care. Indeed I work in a place where most of the students would say they are there because they felt the call to study or they have felt the call to some form of ministry and their study would help them to fulfill that call. And when I have been asked about the direction of my life, as it pertains to my pastoral interests, I have been asked if I have felt the call? And for those who are interested, my answer has always been no. It may be that I been looking at in the wrong way or in the wrong direction. It may be that I have been hoping to see the burning bush or the flashing lights. It may be that I have missed letting the ordinary things of my life become the place for God to say take off your sandals for you are walking on Holy Ground. It maybe that like Peter, it is myself who stands in the way of letting God do God’s work through me. I can hear Jesus’ rebuke to me. But it also may be that I haven’t heard that specific call, because its not the one that God is wanting me to hear.
And maybe, in fact, each one of us have been living out the call for our lives but have never really been given the chance to see how even a little bit of curiosity was enough for God to move in and to begin the conversation. Do you remember the doubts and the fears as you took or now take a chance on a job or profession or service opportunity? Can you remember a time, before or even now, that you are or were in the midst of seeing something that pulls you towards action and you wonder "who me?" "why me?" and "not me?" And God longs to say "yes you, and I will go with you.”
God saw the suffering of his people and we know there is still much suffering today. We are hearing and seeing much through the various forms of media. And we can see it plainly in our streets. But God hears and sees it all even in the silence and the hidden places. And God has called and will continue to call us in ways that are specific to each one of us and specific to our community. God knows our strengths and our weaknesses. God knows our objections and our concerns. But most importantly God knows our hearts, that which brings us sorrow and that which brings us joy.
There is still so much work to be done. So much that is not all right with this world. And the divides become wider and wider. But take heart the One who went with Moses will continue to be from generation to generation.
Some of us are still wondering what the call is for our lives, some know what it is but are afraid to take the first step. Some are fulfilling now the work to be done, and some have finished their calling and for now are taking some rest. God is fully in the midst! And the journey isn’t over yet – not for each one of us and not for our St. Paul’s community either!
And so, my friends, I pray that we will know the presence of the One who turns even the ordinary-est of ordinary into holiest of holy. And I pray we will hear the call of the One who says, “Come and Follow Me.” Amen.