August 30, 2020
Pentecost 13, Proper 17
For the sake of variety, I decided to preach on the OT lesson for today. When I first read it, the whole sermon flashed in front of me. I decided to spend some time thinking about Moses and the burning bush.
Moses' first response to the burning bush was curiosity: "I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up." I wonder if Moses ever thought how appropriate this manifestation of God was--that God would be known in something that burns continuously and yet never turns to ashes?
Moses tried to teach his people that God's passion for them would never die, even if they were disobedient, even when they did not do what they knew was right. Even if they broke their promises to God. God never becomes lukewarm about them. God's heart gets broken many times, but the flame of God's love never goes out.
That fire that burns within the heart of God--burns for justice, and righteousness, it burns for all God's children. Can they live in that love with one another? Is it possible for all of God's creation to exist and live in harmony? The passion of God is love which never dies, it never grows cold, it is never extinguished, but it does cause pain and disappointment for God and for Moses as well. Many years after Moses, Martin Luther said "The Goodness of God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love."
Moses would also know the pain of such passion because his work was never done. A time would never come when Moses could say, "Well, that's over now, all my work is done." As Moses followed God, as he did what God commanded, as he spoke for God, showed people the heart of God, his heart was broken too.
Never, in his life, did Moses know the satisfaction of a job well done. He never saw the joy of his people who were completely righteous. He never experienced the satisfaction of seeing his people really love their neighbors, who wanted very much to keep the commandments. He never saw people willing to be obedient, and all living in a loving community.
So Moses came to see the burning bush, as "this great sight," and he felt close to God, but by the end of his life, he may have learned that to follow such a God is to know heartbreak and to feel as if he has been burned.
Things go pretty well for Moses as he has this experience of being close to God but as soon as God tells Moses where Moses fits into the plan, what God expects Moses to do, Moses starts firing off his excuses. Four in rapid succession. We hear only the first two in today's reading: "I'm not enough. I don't know enough. People won't believe me or listen to me. I'm not a good enough speaker." Moses tops it off by finally saying, "Send someone else," which is basically the same as "I just don't want to."
God does not give up on Moses. God doesn't say, "You're right, you're such a loser, and you don't even want this job. What was I thinking? Put your shoes back on and move along. Next!"
This glowing-oven-full-of-love God says, "Go. This won't be easy on you or Me. This is going to hurt both of us, a lot. This is the nature of love: not to give up,, we listen to what the people are saying, we do what needs to be done to set people free, to show them again and again what a holy, obedient life lived in the love of God and neighbor looks like. So, let's get busy."
God wouldn't accept Moses' excuses. Maybe part of the problem is that God has a habit of choosing unlikely people to do His work. People who do not have the talent or personality or faith to do his work. But maybe part of it was that Moses wasn't just saying no to God, Moses was saying no to God's people.
Think about this for a moment. God tells Moses why He is calling him: my people are suffering, and still Moses says no. God's heart must have broken.
Was God wrong to ask him to do something, not just for God, whom he couldn't see but for the people God loves, whom he could see? All he had to say was a simple, "Here am I, send me."
To follow our God of unquenchable love, we must pick up our own cross and walk the way of love.
Our reading from Romans today shows us what this kind of love looks like. It's not a catalog of nice actions, with love leading the list. It is here to remind us that love is the command, and what follows is this love spelled out.
Hear the passion, the energy, the fire in this love. Genuine love: hating what is evil, being devoted to what is good; showing a familial love for one another; outdoing one another in showing honor; being unflagging in energy; being aglow with the Spirit serving the lord; rejoicing in hope; remaining steadfast in suffering; persisting in prayer; sharing in the needs of the saints; striving to show hospitality to strangers. That's quite a list.
God's love burns on. The bush is still burning. How about ours? Does it reflect God's intensity? Or do we just put our shoes back on, hurry along, pretend we never saw the bush, never heard the call, never sat at the foot of the Cross, and we wonder what kind of a God loves like this?