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.
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>.
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>.
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/>.
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 >.