Sermons

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

August 30, 2020

The Very Rev. Peggy Patterson

Year A  Proper 17
 Exodus 3:1-15   Call of Moses and the Burning Bush/On Holy Ground

Yahweh begins this morning’s Hebrew Scripture with the familiar conversation between Moses and the Burning Bush in the Wilderness of Mount Horeb.

Moses turns to the Burning Bush and hears the Angel of Yahweh call to him:
“Moses, Moses.”
“Here I am” Moses replies.
“Come no closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is HOLY GROUND.”

God says: “The PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING is HOLY GROUND.”
What does it mean to be on HOLY GROUND?
What makes it HOLY?
Have you ever felt as if you were standing on HOLY GROUND?

Before we dive into Moses’ whole conversation with Yahweh,
I invite you to take a moment to think about what makes a place HOLY GROUND for you?
… is it an intimate experience of God?
A Sacred Shrine?
A sense of CALL from GOD?
It certainly does not have to be in a church, …in fact, we call our Study Circles on Anti-Racism “SACRED GROUND”.

Before we accompany Moses to the Burning Bush this morning,
Before we join him in his HOLY GROUND experience of God’s CALL…
I invite you to spend a minute… 60 seconds in silence,
recalling, conjuring up the most SACRED, MOST HOLY ENCOUNTER
you have had with God.

“Take off your SANDELS,” at least figuratively, for one minute, and acknowledge the way you feel when have an intense experience of GOD’s PRESENCE, maybe even hear God’s VOICE within you.
Can you remember a time when you knew you were standing on HOLY GROUND?
(ONE MINUTE, 60 seconds, of silence…) Hold onto your image.

I pondered my own experience of Holy Ground this last weekend.
I began to think how differently my mornings would unfold if every single day I stepped out of my bed and into my day remembering that EVERY MORNING I do stand on God’s Creation, on HOLY GROUND.

This morning, we walk with Moses up to the Burning Bush in the Wilderness of Midian.
Moses almost didn’t live to tell the tale!
You remember last week, when Larry beautifully reminded us of Moses’ birth story…how he was hidden during the first three months of his life so he would not be killed by the Pharaoh who was jealous of the Hebrew children.

Three courageous women saved Moses:
Moses’ Mother created his safe passage in the basket, and gave him milk from her body to nourish him,
Moses Sister spoke up at just the right moment to assure that Moses would be brought up as a baby in his own Hebrew home with his own mother,
And Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on this immigrant baby, and took him into her own home, raising him as a royal child.
In fact, Pharaoh’s daughter gave Moses’ a NAME with TWO meanings to help keep him safe.
The Hebrew NAME “MOSES” meant “taken up out of the water” which was surely Moses’ fate…but in EGYPTIAN, MOSES meant “SON OF KING TUT, the Pharaoh’s SON”…
CLEVER PRINCESS: what better way to assure that a Hebrew baby boy would be safe as he grew up in the palace!

And GROW UP MOSES DID…
Today we meet Moses all grown up.
The narrative has fast forwarded past Moses’ upbringing in Pharaoh’s PALACE. Now he is a full-grown man, aware of his dual immigrant heritage and now increasingly uncomfortable with the plight of his Hebrew brothers and sisters.

One day, his temper got the best of him as he watched an abusive foreman treat a fellow Hebrew slave unconscionably/He flew into a RAGE and KILLED the OVERSEER.

Moses almost escaped without anyone’s finding out, but eventually in another heated argument over treatment of the Hebrews, an Egyptian Overseer taunted MOSES by saying: “Oh, you are the one who killed the foreman.”

That was enough to make MOSES flee to the Wilderness…away from the big city of RAMESES and off to distant relatives in the land of MIDIAN.

In true biblical fashion, MOSES met his future wife at the well of his future father-in- law.  She was watering the Priest Jethro’s flocks… Happily,
Moses was welcomed into the family by his new father-in -law who was glad to add a man to a family with seven daughters!

Moses and Zipporah lived a long life in the wilderness of Midian. In fact, Moses was 80 years old when he received his call from Yahweh in the BURING BUSH.

On the day in question, MOSES was minding his father-in-law’s FLOCKS and took them to a new pasture beyond the wilderness, near Mt. HOREB,
the Mountain of God.
Moses was standing in the clearing in the field when he saw the BURNING BUSH full of fire, but strangely, it was not consumed.
Moses was curious…and when Yahweh saw Moses walking over to the BUSH, he CALLED OUT TO HIM:
“MOSES, MOSES”
“Here I AM” he said.
“Come no closer, PUT OFF YOUR SANDALS, for the ground on which you are standing is HOLY GROUND.”
Moses knew this was real…and he was afraid!
He hid his face so he would not see Yahweh, for fear he would die!

In one of the tenderest passages of scripture, Yahweh poured out his heart to MOSES: confessing his LOVE for ISRAEL and his COMPASSION for His PEOPLE.
“I am the God of your Fathers,
I am the God of Abraham,
the God of ISAAC,
and the GOD of JACOB.
I have seen the affliction of MY PEOPLE who are in Egypt. I have heard their cries. I know their suffering.
And I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, to bring them up out of that land to a GOOD and BROAD LAND,
A Land FLOWING with MILK and HONEY.
I have heard the cries of my People ISRAEL!

Then, Yahweh looked directly at MOSES and said:
“COME, I will send YOU to Pharaoh that YOU may bring forth my people, the people of ISRAEL out of Egypt.”

With that, Moses looked up in disbelief:
“ Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of ISRAEL out of Egypt?”

Moses Protested!
You know how this conversation went: Moses thought of FIVE reasons he should not accept Yahweh’s CALL.
1.    First, Moses protests that he is unworthy…and God says, “Don’t worry. I WILL BE WITH YOU.”
2.    Second, Moses insists that the people will not believe Yahweh has sent him. He insists that he wants to know GOD’s NAME… After all Egypt has many gods. So, God provides his NAME:
“I AM who I AM.”
3.    Third, Moses does not think the people of Israel will listen to him…So God surprises Moses with a magic staff with a serpent’s head…and even demonstrates its healing powers.
4.    Then, Moses says he is afraid that he will not be heard or understood because of his speech impediment…so GOD says,
“I made your mouth and I will provide you with words for PHAROAH”
5.    Finally, Moses admits that he is afraid to go to Pharaoh ALONE, so he asks God to send someone along with him.
God says, perhaps a little frustrated:
“After all, I WILL BE WITH YOU”…but I WILL ALSO SEND AARON TO BE YOUR MOUTH PIECE and your STRENGTH.

If you think about it, Moses is amazing! Even standing on HOLY GROUND, MOSES is not afraid to have a genuine conversation with GOD.

Maybe the boldest thing MOSES asks of God is his NAME:
Of course, Usually, Yahweh’s NAME not even spoken by the Hebrews:
“MY NAME IS: “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell the people that I AM  has sent you.
Some scholars say that a better translation of God’s Name might be:
“I WILL BE WHO I will be…or I will be who I AM”

In other words, Yahweh is PROMISING, and REASSURING MOSES and US that God will always be GOD for you.
Yahweh says: “I will be FAITHFUL and I will always be YOUR GOD.”

Think back on your HOLY PLACE, your HOLY GROUND. What was it like to remember that time/place/voice?

Interestingly, Moses did not have to go to a HOLY PLACE far away to find that Holy Ground. He heard God in the midst of his everyday life,
tending the flocks of his Father-in-law JETHRO.

Granted, he did have to look up from what he was doing, (thank goodness he didn’t have an iPhone!) Moses did have to “look ASIDE” AT THE BURNING BUSH (WHICH WAS NOT CONSUMED), but he saw it in the midst of his ordinary life.

PERHAPS, this week, we may look for the messages from God.
Remember they may appear in unexpectedly places and times in our lives… You never know when you may find a BURNING BUSH at our feet, calling you to a new journey…
You never know when you may be called to set others FREE in our own day, to listen yourselves to a voice from A Burning Bush or from the Ground of the Holy One.

In the HOLY PLACES of our lives we are asked to listen, to respond and to act  to the people crying out today in our streets, in our detention centers, in our families so that more people in our country and in our world may live and taste the Land of MILK and HONEY which God has provided for us all.

“TAKE OFF YOUR SANDALS this week,
The LAND ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND!”

Reflection for August 23,2020

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8 to 2:10; Romans 12;1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Lawrence DiCostanzo

I have always been a bookworm.  As a kid, I loved Robin Hood, and knights in shining armor,  the crash of sword on shield.  I also loved books that were a little more peaceful.  One of these  was called “Happy Times in Finland.”  It was the story of an American boy’s visit by himself to Finland to spend a year on his own with his relatives.  I was attracted to the adventure of this solo trip across the ocean.  Now that I look back, I must have also been attracted to a story of immigrant return to a home country.

I read this book five or six times.  I see that my grandchildren do this, and you may have done it, too.  As an adult, I actually bought a copy of it.  I used to bring up this book all the time.  On a cool summer day, I’d say: “You know, in Happy Times in Finland, there were frosts even in June!”   Or “This meadow and lake remind me of the long country walk in ‘Happy Times in Finland.’”  My children would roll their eyes. “Here we go again.”  Barbara, my wife, really summed it all up when one day she said: “I know what we’ll put on your tombstone!  ‘Happy at Last . . . in Finland.’”

What makes a really good book?  Or a good movie or a good television show?  When I think about stories I have really and truly loved – not appreciated, but loved — they end with a future for the people who inhabit them.  It is a future that may require them to endure, but it always seems filled with the certainty that the characters will flourish in their future beyond the book’s back cover.  That’s the happy ending.  Not “and they lived happily ever after’, but “and they continued to flourish.”  I feel this when I finish a Jane Austen book or a Charles Dickens book.  Maybe you will think of your own favorite books or shows or movies.

Storytelling is a great gift to humankind.  It entrances us, but it is also our real way of thinking and teaching and learning.  It is not logic that really moves us.  Rather, we understand life through stories and by thinking about them over and over.  Just as we re-read a book we love or watch a favorite movie again.  Just like “Happy Times in Finland.”

My thoughts about “Happy Times in Finland” come from trying to figure out today’s lectionary passages.  I am always looking for a unity in the day’s readings.  I guess I am looking for a story.
There is a young pastor and student of the Bible up in Portland.  His name is Tim Mackie.  He believes that the Bible “is a unified story that leads to Jesus.”   I can see his point.  Look at the beginning and ending of the Bible.  The first sentence is: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  [Genesis 1:1 NET] And towards the end the Book of Revelation mirrors Genesis when it says: “And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!”  [Revelation 21:1 NET] In between lies the story that leads to Jesus.  And, when the book ends, we continue to flourish with Jesus.

I think that part of this unified story that leads to Jesus is the story of the growing unity of all people.  I’ve looked at the readings in this light.  They start with the beginning of the book of Exodus.  The prelude is the beautiful story of Joseph at the end of Genesis.  Joseph is a child of God’s promise to Abraham. God moves Joseph to the totally alien world of Egypt. He carries the promise with him into this alien world.  He serves that world and helps it prosper.  The promise to Abraham is moving outward.

When Exodus starts, it looks like the promise is dead.  But the numbers of Abraham’s people have, in fact, increased.  But they have become a leaderless and oppressed ethnic group.   Eventually, God provides the leader, Moses.  But he does it through the saving hand of Pharaoh’s daughter who draws him up out of the Nile River.  Pharaoh’s daughter an amazing and admirable.  Although she is Egyptian and noble, she adopts Moses and raises him.  Her rescue of Moses starts the story of exodus, the story of God’s loyalty, of hope, of rescue and liberation and redemption that we are involved in.  But also, the seed of unity of all peoples is sown in this passage because of the actions of Moses’s new mother.  Tradition gives her a name that recognizes how important this Egyptian princess is.  That name is “Daughter of Yahweh.”

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the unity has expanded considerably.  I would guess that most, if not all of the churches Paul founded were mixed Jewish and Gentile.  It certainly seems to be the case with the church or churches of Rome.  These people had to meet each other across social and cultural chasms.  Of course, they had clashing ideas.  It also looks like they bickered and had turf wars.   Paul wants to resolve the clashes and end the bad feelings.  He wants mutual respect and consideration to prevail.  And, to this end, Paul uses his beautiful and visceral metaphor for the church which appears in this passage and in other letters of his.  “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”  If I live with this passage a little while, I see a proclamation that we are unified and that we should realize and accept this grace – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, light-skinned and dark.  Pharaoh’s daughter would be thrilled.

The Gospel today is very dramatic.  The high point of the drama is Peter’s confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  But what strikes me today is what Jesus says to Peter in reply: “On this rock I will build my church.”  There are interpretations of what the “rock” is, but there is no question of what the church is.  It is us.  It is the church that Paul described in Romans  and elsewhere.  The church that has internal differences, squabbles, and different kinds of people in it, but ultimately is unified in faith, hope, and love.  And the church – each of us is in it as a person – is wound up with the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

I learn lessons when I wander up and down the paths of writing these reflections.  Unity is a big challenge for me because people love the idea of individuality and independence. They squabble like the people in Paul’s churches and in Rome. They look down their noses.  They try to cover it up with diplomacy.  They gossip and complain.  Importantly, they are torn between loyalties to the state and to the church.
Will this tension between unity and disunity ever end?  Actually, I don’t think so until maybe the world’s story reaches the end of the Bible’s.   And it certainly won’t happen by our efforts. This is the world where we live and breathe.  We are just like the people in the entire length of the Bible story.  We are redeemed over and over again.  We love and, importantly, we hope.  We hope that we will love, we hope that things will be perfect someday or on some days. In fact, we are placed right in the middle of the Bible story.

Our great advantage is the amazing wonder that is Jesus.  The wonder that let Luke write about singing angels and open-mouthed shepherds.  The wonder that kept Paul writing from prison. The wonder that gives us the endurance – another big word for Paul! – to keep on going and to have in our hearts, if we pay attention, the joy that wonder brings, despite the sadness of the age.
Perhaps I sound poetic and not very practical.  But, as to practicality, I think we can each read the basic manual for how to behave.   We get it.  We can work at it.  But I think that we need a foundation of wonder to support joy and unity and courage and endurance.

That’s how the Bible ends – with wonder.  “Behold I make all things new.”  This is an ending of hope and with a future.  Just like “Happy Times in Finland.”  Or like a book or movie that is beautiful to you.

 

 

Readings from The Lectionary Page: http://lectionarypage.net