Sunday, August 31, 2008

One for All

Exodus 3:1-12

I think one of the greatest internet inventions is the Google image search. For those of you not familiar with what I am talking about, Google, the popular internet search engine has a way to look for pictures that appear on websites. Basically you put in a word or phrase of what you are looking for, and then it shows you what it thinks might be relevant pictures based on how the images are described on the page. If your desired words appear in the picture’s description, you are given the link to that site and that picture. Google image is how I often find pictures for worship and backgrounds of slides.

For today’s worship I did an image search for the burning bush. I was looking for a particular bush. One I had seen in Egypt on a trip there in 2001. Unfortunately the picture I took was with a film camera, not a digital one, so it was hard to share. I figured as a frequent stop on tourist and pilgrimage travels, the burning bush in St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula would not be a hard find.

I was right. There is no shortage of pictures of this famous bush. It is alive and growing to this day, exactly where it has been since sometime before the monastery was built in the 4th century. Whether you believe this is truly THE burning bush or not, it’s still pretty amazing to see a living plant whose age is well over 1700 years old. That part is highly possible. And whether or not it is THE burning bush, it has been regarded as so for long enough that the trip to see it, whether you believe it or not, can still take on the feeling of faithful pilgrimage full of awe and wonder.

Anyway, while sifting through the numerous pictures I found, I discovered a few that were posted with somewhat tongue-in-cheek commentary. One picture included a pilgrim standing in front of the bush, and off to the side, sort of in the background, for usual safety reasons, I'm sure, was a fire extinguisher.

If I had had the option, I would have taken this shot, too. The idea of a fire extinguisher at the burning bush is, in my opinion, priceless.

What do you think Moses would have paid for a fire extinguisher that day? He was scared to death by what was happening! I’d guess, first it was because of the actual flaming plant, but secondly because of the vocation that was set before him. The call of God. You want me to go where and do what?

We have made a leap in our story about the life and ministry of Moses. Last week we left him as a weaned child, and now he is an adult, apparently married, and presumably living away from the princess who took him in as a child. The part of the story we have missed is in the second half of chapter two. After Moses had grown up (in the palace, the home of royalty and privilege), one day he decided to go take a walk and see his own people. We don’t know how and why Moses knows these are his people. We don’t know if he was raised as equal to the Egyptians in his adopted family or set apart from them. It’s an interesting question, but one with no answer.

We know that he knows he is different, and he goes to see his people. He struggles internally with what he sees, with the enslaved condition of his people. And acting out of what – anger, guilt, indignation – he kills one of the Egyptian taskmasters who was beating a Hebrew. When news of his action rises to Pharaoh, Moses fled from Egypt and settled in the land of Midian. Here he finds a wife at the usual Old Testament singles’ bar – the village well – and he settles down caring for the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro.

The situation of his people was bad while Moses was in Egypt, but in chapter two it is written that things seem to have gone from bad to worse while he was gone. The Israelites seem to no longer enjoy a slavery that is more mutually beneficial and relatively free. When the first Pharaoh dies and power is handed down to his successor the slavery worsens and the groaning intensifies. The Israelites cried out to God for help, for faithfulness to the covenant, for even just the attention of God in their suffering.

And God notices. God heard their groaning, and God remembered the covenant, the covenant with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God steps into action.

Basically God says that this is not OK. This life, this existence, this slavery and oppression is not what I desire, and it can’t continue any longer. This suffering, this misery, it is intolerable, and somebody’s got to do something about it. I’VE got to do something about, but I don’t work alone.

I know Exodus is only the second book into this huge story of God’s relationship with creation, but already the pattern has been established that when there’s a big job to do, when a change needs to take place in the way humans are living and working together or NOT together as the case may be, God doesn’t work alone. God recruits God’s people to help out.

There doesn’t yet seem to be a consistent pattern for those whom God chooses. There isn’t a cookie cutter outline for who will fit the job. In the case of Noah it is someone extremely faithful, and hardly questioning, but in Jacob we have a man who wrestles with God and is set against his brother. The women of the covenant struggle with barrenness, but some work impatiently and tirelessly to try to take control of the challenge while others sit back in silence. Joseph is a dreamer, maybe a little arrogant, and he capitalizes on his situation, but doesn’t seem to be what we’d consider a superhero of strength. Most of these are just people who are obedient to the call wherever they find themselves and God uses their unique positions to make it work.

And now we have Moses. Moses had an extraordinary beginning, that’s for sure. But as he has settled into adulthood he seems to be leading a relatively ordinary life. He’s not an activist. Not a dreamer. Not someone tortured by angels in the middle of the night. He’s not even prone to hear a voice calling, commanding him to leave home and family, everything he knows and loves to move worlds away. Instead he has left his familiar place as a fear-filled outlaw. No, Moses is just a guy watching his father-in-law’s flocks. He may have had a curious start, but now he’s just another shepherd in the desert.

But God had an extraordinary plan for an ordinary man. God heard the people cry. God knew something had to be done, and God knew Moses was the one to do it. Moses, who was raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter, MAYBE even like a brother to the Pharaoh now in power. In theory, Moses, the common shepherd in Midian, is also Moses, a direct link to the ruler of the Egyptians.

Now, we all aren’t Moses. We all weren’t raised in the palace by the princess. We all weren’t given early, intimate access to royalty or immense political power on that kind of scale, but by virtue of our nationality and citizenship, we have been given a different kind of political power, or better yet a different kind of political responsibility.

It’s hard to escape the bombardment of political information and news or semi-news this weekend in particular. Running mates have been chosen. One nominating convention has just ended and the other is just beginning. While attempting to drive around downtown this week I had the difficult challenge of trying to explain to my 3 year old, why we couldn’t make our way to the Children’s Museum from where we were in the city. “The streets are blocked off for a big meeting.” That wasn’t enough. “What is the meeting for?”, she wanted to know. I didn’t think the finer points of a two party political system were going to translate well for a three year old, so instead I tried to put it in her language. “The people at the meeting are going to pick a new line leader.” Amazingly it worked!

It worked for a three year old, but we all know this election is about so much more than picking a line leader. There are difficult things going on in our country and around the world, to say the very least. There are wars and rumors of wars. There is poverty here and abroad. There is anxiety and slavery and instability and a host of other concerns facing the people of this world. And as people of faith we can’t ignore them, and we can’t go into the voting booth uninformed.

I am not and will never advocate that one candidate or another is THE faithful choice in this election or any election. I don’t think God is owned or represented by the Democratic, Republican, Green, Constitution, Reform, or any other parties or nations. I don’t think Independents have a direct link to the divine. But I do believe that the way we Christians live our lives in the public sphere, including the way we vote or make decisions about our votes, is as much about living as disciples of Jesus as our private prayer and devotional lives or another aspect of our faith as it is lived out.

God cares about the concerns of nations. The Lord observed the misery of his people. God heard the cries of the Israelites. Their cries brought God down in the flame of fire out of a bush to put Moses into action. Indeed, God knew their sufferings, and God knows the sufferings of people all over this world today. And in the face of suffering, even ordinary people of faith are called to action.

We are called to the local task of fighting hunger in our local school feeding program. We are called to a ministry of hospitality, welcome, and sanctuary in hosting youth with disabilities during the week. We are called to regional tasks of feeding and sheltering the homeless at the shelter. And we are called to the national and international tasks of freeing captives, relieving suffering, and bringing those in bondage out of oppression through the leaders we choose and the policies we support.

God grieves over the injustices in the world and calls people of faith to be involved. Our outlook in all areas of our lives can’t be so short-sighted that we don’t see and act upon what is happening across the globe. Our vision can’t ignore the suffering that happens beyond our door and our community, the cries that come from across deserts and seas.

The call of the faithful is the call to advocate for many, not just for ourselves. The earth is the Lord’s and ALL that is in it. God’s concern is for all, and God’s call to be the hands and feet of that concern is to us. We can’t ignore the things God doesn’t ignore, and while our call to action doesn’t come out of the flames of a blazing bush, it comes just as urgently. There is suffering in the world. God’s people who can be found anywhere and everywhere, are suffering. We have the power and the responsibility to respond to their misery. With God’s blessing and the promise of God’s presence, answer the call.

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