Tuesday Morning

A sermon for Proper 17; Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

 

It started like any Tuesday morning, with the usual morning home rituals; getting kids ready, getting wife and self-ready, each car safely heads off in their usual directions. Traffic was about the same. Even the news was it’s customarily nothing self. Morse was looking forward to a typical and routine day. Then he saw the fire in his boss’ eyes. At first, he thought he’d slip on by, but his curiosity got the better of him. So, he stopped to wave hello to Yancey, who was on the phone. And then he excitedly waved Morse in. He heard Yancey say “that is excellent. I will call you tomorrow with the final details.” and then he hung up. Before Morse could open his mouth, Yancey launched into an excited explanation. It involved the company’s long pursuit of a contract with a major corporation to provide a software solution to a massive inventory control need. It is what they did; however, it was a monumental commitment, requiring extensive modifications to interface with the existing accounting, billing, and other systems. Morse stuck his hand out to congratulate Yancey when he heard him say “… so tomorrow I want you to fly up there and start the design interviews. It shouldn’t take more than two or three weeks.” Morse was dumb struck. He’d never done design interviews before. He’d never flown anywhere for the company before. He’d never managed anything near this big or complicated before. Besides, who is going to help his wife with all the family stuff; the shopping, the pets that needed to go the vet, the yard needed cutting, and both cars needed an oil changed and a washing. He heard himself stammer “I … I …. I …. I’ve never managed anything like this; why me?” Yancey assured him he had his back, told him to clear his calendar, get all his assignments to Yancey’s assistant who’d reassign them, review the customer’s RFP, and at lunch he’d give Morse the project details, and they’d start outlining the broad process. Morse mumbled “What am I going to tell my wife?” and Yancey answered, “If she needs anything, have her call me.” In a strangely exhilarating mix of emotions and thoughts, Morse started off towards his cubical.

 

There is nothing more usual than a Tuesday morning. There is nothing more usual than a bush, or fire, or a bush on fire. Unless of course, your boss signs the deal of his company’s lifetime and gives you the responsibility to get it off the ground. Unless of course, the bush doesn’t burn and God has seen, heard, and knows his people’s misery and gives you the responsibility to set his people free. So, starts Morse’s and Moses’ Tuesday.

A couple of details about Moses’ and the burning bush. There are lots of reasons to take your shoes off in certain places. One is to acknowledge that the place is special or holy. Another is to be able to relax and feel at home; don’t you take your shoes off when you get home? So yes, God is naming this place as holy, and Horeb or Sinai will be a holy place throughout Exodus and much of the bible. It is also possible that God tells Moses to take his shoes off because God wants Moses to be himself; to remove all pretense, to be vulnerable and open to what God has to say (Suomala). And Moses needs to vulnerable and open. God has seen, heard, knows, and has decided to act on behalf of Israel and that ~ is going to require a human agent. (Epperly, Gaventa and Petersen, Brueggeman). Moses is it. Moses is understandably taken aback. He asks, “Who am I?” which may reflect identity confusion. Is he a son of Israel, is he an Egyptian Prince, or a Midian shepherd (Harrelson)?

A bit later Moses asks for God’s name. The answer is “I am who I am.” or “I will be who I will be.” or both at the same time. Have you ever noticed how similar Moses’ question about himself “Who am I” and God’s name “I am who I am” actually are? Bound up in all this is the possibility that: Moses’ unspoken question is “Who will I become?” and that part of God’s “I will be” is “with you” which is necessary for Moses, to hear and answer God’s unexpected call, and to become God’s chosen leader of God’s chosen people (Bratt, Gaventa, and Petersen).

One of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings is

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to (Tolkien).

Morse isn’t looking for a major assignment and to be away from home for a couple of weeks, nonetheless, Yancey’s call sweeps him off. Moses isn’t looking for God, nonetheless, God’s call sweeps him off. Both their calls come on an ordinary day at ordinary work (Epperly). It doesn’t matter if the call is to a small thing or to a big thing, it can come any day at any time and always, in the same way, ~ completely unexpected. A divine calling is another way God is constantly moving in our lives (Epperly). The challenge for us is not so much can we hear it? but will we accept it? Peter helps make my point.

Last week Simon proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus renames him Peter saying he and/or his confession will be the rock the church is built on. The very next verse is this morning’s Gospel story when Jesus begins to tell the disciples about his betrayal, suffering, and death. Peter, back to being Simon, rebukes him. Jesus call’s him skandalon … a stumbling rock (Hoezee). Peter and the disciples have a political, Davidic warrior vision of Jesus, who they expect will bring them just enough more power to kick the Romans out. Betrayal, suffering, and death do not fit their image. They do not understand Jesus isn’t bringing them, bringing us, just a little bit more, God/Jesus via Jesus’ resurrection is setting them, setting us free (Lose). At this point, Simon and the others don’t understand what Jesus is doing, and what it requires, any more than Moses understands what God is doing and what it requires.

Jesus isn’t expecting Peter to lead the disciples in telling Israel and then the whole world, that he is offering just a little bit more political and military strength. God isn’t expecting Moses to lead Israel and then the whole world to a slightly more comfortable life. God and God/Jesus are calling Moses, Simon, and the disciples, to proclaim God’s offer of transformative freedom from everything that binds them to the oppressive forces of their lives.

God has seen, heard, and knows what oppresses the Hebrews and he calls Moses to lead them, and the whole world, to divine freedom. God has seen, heard, and knows what oppresses Israel and via the incarnate Jesus calls Simon Peter to lead them, and the whole world, to divine freedom. God has seen, heard, and knows

  • the cries ringing out across our world from poverty ridden peoples, in overseas countries and here in the USA
  • the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Philippines, and the too many more war-torn countries
  • families burdened by lead poisoned water in Flint Michigan
  • the cries of Black Lives Matter
  • the cries of police officers killed in the line of duty
  • those in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and parts of Arkansas who are suffering from the torrential rains of Harvey
  • farmers and others suffering from dicamba drift
  • in the vitriol and hatred of those who denigrate people they deem are other, because of race, national origin, sexual preferences or orientation, illness – mental and other, or anything they deem not normal, and
  • people in all sorts of places, oppressed in all kinds of ways.

God has seen, heard, and knows the cries ringing out across our neighborhoods from those

  • needing help with groceries
  • a ride to the drug or grocery store
  • assistance taking their medicine
  • need the yard cut
  • a listening ear
  • a presence to break the isolation of living alone.

God, God/Jesus is here to deliver them. Such a delivery requires human agency, like Moses, and Peter and the disciples. Which ~ may make us squirm just a bit. And it doesn’t matter if the task seems big or small, the same questions loom. What will your burning bush look like? How will your Tuesday morning go? What world views or political, philosophical, theological, or other thoughts obscure or muddle your Divine call? Will we know who we are? Will we risk becoming who we will be?

I do not know what your burning bush looks like. I do not know what your calling may be. I do not know the nature of its agency. I do not know much of anything. But! this I do know. I know I am who I will be is with you now, and will be with you Tuesday morning, till the end of ages.

 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 17 A Exodus 3:1-15. 29 1 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brueggman, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 9 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17 A Matthew 16:21-28. 3 9 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 13 A: Can You Imagine? 3 9 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28. 3 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Exodus 3:1-15. 3 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. n.d. <//www.goodreads.com/quotes/137661-it-s-a-dangerous-business-Frodo-going-out-your-door-you >.

 

Aimlessly Watch The Clouds, Wiggling Our Toes In The Ground

A sermon for Pentecost; Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Pentecost is as big a preaching challenge as Christmas and Easter. The readings are the same every year. There is a similar focus every year, the arrival of the Spirt. So this year, I propose that we, regardless of the angelic question, from last week, about staring into the sky. aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off and wiggle our toes into the ground.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the publisher of literature for loafers. The goal is to sustain the value of aimlessness. It turns out this is really hard; it is very focused work; it is a burden. So, Gavin took a sabbatical and moved from London to Rome. There he spent his time aimlessly looking at paintings. He noticed that there were always lots of clouds. This caught his attention because there are no clouds in Rome’s skies. This peaked his curiosity, and he just went with it. He started the Cloud Appreciation Society; it has a website, I googled it, it is there and has an intriguing look. You can join its current 40,000 members for $15. The Society’s goal is to get us to look aimlessly skyward.

In June 2006, a member saw an impenetrable shroud of dark clouds looming over town. It was so enormous, so terrible and so strange; that she took a picture of it and posted it on the website. The initial thought was “this is unique.” It turns out it wasn’t really unusual. People posted pictures of similar clouds from Norway, Ontario, Scotland, France and Massachusetts. It also turns out the cloud does not fit into any official cloud formation. The esoteric system for describing unusual clouds is to fit the clouds into the existing map of the sky or set them aside as irrelevant. Gavin named it himself; ‘asperatus’ which he got from Virgil’s description of a rough sea.

asperatus

Gavin pitched the newly named cloud formation to the Royal Meteorological Society. They referred him to World Meteorological Organization. The WMO provided a lengthy description of their archaic system of establishing new cloud types. Nothing has been added since 1953. When Gavin asked “Why?” he was told, “Because 50 or 60 years ago, we got it right.” (Mooallen)

Nothing new in 60 years? Well aimlessly looking into the sky will still provide you with awesome visions and from my practice I expect you will experience something different.

Now to our toes Maria Evans wants us to take our shoes off and feel the ground. Maria’s inspiration come from Exodus (3) when God tells Moses “Remove your shoes, this is holy ground.” In ancient societies and some modern societies, this is a sign of respect. In some ways, when barefooted you are more naked, therefore, humbler before God. Maria got to wondering

what if God’s intent with Moses was not to prove that one has to ingratiate or depersonalize oneself in the presence of the Divine, but [is] a desire on the part of God for us to feel with our own two feet what it feels like to be a little closer to God in a tactile way?

She posits that our tendency is to focus on the distance between God and Moses. It is a false distance. Moses is told to “come no closer” but he cannot get any closer his feet are already intimately touching the holy mountain. He is already as close to God as one can possibly get; the soles of his feet press against the holiness of God’s personal space. Maria ponders when do we stand back from a genuine chance

  • to press against the holiness of God?
  • to intimately encounter the holy?

Where do we hesitate to take our shoes off and feel the presence of the holy (Evans)?

To allow our minds to wander aimlessly, dropping all pretenses and wiggle toes against God’s holiness, is to risk an encounter with the Spirit. Some of those pretenses we think are scriptural. We heard the story of the Tower of Babel when God infuses many languages into human society this morning. God is not out to limit human accomplishments; God is not afraid for the divine self or heaven. God’s concern is what we, in our efforts to be like God, and unbridled by restraints on our inclinations and power, will do to one another (Gaventa and Petersen). On Pentecost, God is not undoing what was done at Babel. Everyone spoke Greek. The gift of the Spirit for native languages is to undermine Rome’s interests in creating a single people through suppression of native languages (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter’s speech quotes from Joel’s exhortation that in the last days the Spirit will be poured out on all people and that they will prophesy. We tend to believe prophecy is about seeing into the future. And prophecy does use stories of our past to reveal the presence of the Kingdom in the here and now or the future. But what prophecy really does is to tell the truth (Skinner). To speak the truth into an oppressive empire of any form is unsettling. Any encounter with the Spirit will nudge us into the world to speak the truth of God’s Kingdom, and that leaves us uneasy. So yes, we leave our shoes on, and we stay hyperactively engaged with mundane futile activities empire proclaims as necessary.

The wonder of today is that Jesus continues to keep God’s word. He said he would return from the dead after three days, and it was so. He said he would send us another advocate to walk beside us forever, and it is so.

To begin again, I propose we aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off we wiggle our toes against the holiness of God’s personal space. I further propose we trust the advocate to walk beside us as we speak the truth in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here and now. I don’t think it will take long to experience a new manifestation of God’s eternal loving presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Lectionary Acts 2:1-21. 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Evans, Maria. Speaking to the Soul: Kick off your shoes. 10 5 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Gospel John 14:8-17 (25-27). 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Spirit Focus. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lundblad, Barbara. Commentary on John 14:817, 8 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Mooallen, Jon. “An improbable tale of how a British maverick harnessed.” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-amateur-cloud-society-that-sort-of-rattled-the-scientific-community.html?_r=0&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Acts 2:121. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.