|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2014||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 19, 2014||Second Sunday after the Epiphany||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 12, 2014||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17|
|The Epiphany, Year A||January 6, 2014||Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A||January 5, 2014||Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A||Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve||December 24, 2013||Christmas Eve, 2013||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C||November 24, 2013||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C||Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 17, 2013||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-10|
|Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 10, 2013||Proper 27, Year C||Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:27-38|
|Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 20, 2013||Proper 24C||Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8|
|Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 13, 2013||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 6, 2013||Proper 22, Year C||Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10|
|Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 29, 2013||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
Third Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:March 3, 2013
Scripture: Exodus 3:1-15, Luke 13:1-9
Liturgy Calendar: Third Sunday in Lent, Year C
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
In the passage from Exodus we’ve heard today, Moses, a shepherd who had led his sheep beyond the familiar wilderness where they usually grazed, found himself standing on holy ground on God’s mountain and having a conversation with God.
In our scientific and rational age, holy ground and conversations with God are hard to come by. We’re often busy gathering facts and working on projects that involve specific definitions and boundaries. And our worship is like that as well—our liturgy is shaped and structured in a particular way that has grown out of 2000 years of Christian worship.
None of this is bad—but sometimes our work and our day to day activities, and let’s face it, sometimes even our worship, may sometimes seem more like routine than an encounter with the Holy.
This story about the burning bush has a lot of power for me, because it reminds me about some of the ways we can encounter the Holy in our day to day activities. This story reminds us that God is waiting to have a conversation with each and every one of us if we’re available to listen. And this story reminds us about who we are in the light of who God is.
So let’s take a closer look at this story and see what it holds for us.
First of all, Moses is busy with his work. Seeking some good grazing ground for his sheep, Moses has led his flock beyond the wilderness to Mt Horeb. Maybe the vegetation there was more plentiful. We don’t know whether or not Moses knew that this was the mountain of God.
It is in this place that Moses sees the burning bush—the bush was blazing, but it wasn’t being burned up by the fire.
At this point, Moses could have thought to himself—“That’s odd.” Maybe it’s the way the sun is shining through that bush,” or “Oops, there goes one of my sheep straying off—I’ll have to check this out later.” Or he could have just been scared and run the other way, hoping that the fire wouldn’t spread.
But instead of any of these alternatives, Moses says to himself,
“I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why this bush is not burned up.”
Moses decided to look away from tending his sheep to check out this burning bush. “I must turn aside,” he said.
Now maybe I’m preaching to myself here, but I think that turning aside is very difficult for some of us. We get a focus on our work, or whatever it is we’re doing, and we don’t let anything distract us from that thing—because that thing is so important that it absolutely has to be done, or we have so much to do that we don’t dare take any time away from what we’re doing for fear that whatever it is won’t get done.
But—turning aside from the order and the work and the routines we’ve imposed on ourselves gives us the chance to notice differently, to be more attentive to the things around us that might truly be miracles and to see the burning bushes that we’ve overlooked or passed by without noticing.
To turn aside will mean different things for each one of us—so I’ll speak for myself here as an example—I intentionally have to decide to turn aside in prayer. I make a conscious decision to turn aside from all of the things I have to do in order to sit down and pray. This is a different sort of prayer than I engage in the rest of the day—the kind of prayer that is an ongoing conversation with God about whatever is going on, prayer on the run—I’ve heard these prayers called arrow prayers—you shoot them off throughout the day. All of those prayers are fine, but I also need the prayer that requires my turning aside so that I can give God my hopefully undivided attention. Or I’ll turn aside from what I’m doing to go for a walk, and if I want that time to be turning aside in prayer, I make the conscious decision to leave my cell phone behind, so that I can be fully attentive to whatever I might see or experience on the walk.
Which brings us to the next thing that Moses does after he turns aside. He says that he is going to look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up. Once he turns aside, Moses looks at the bush with an attentive eye– full of wonder and curiosity.
We’ve all heard this expression—curiosity killed the cat, and I think that sometimes we hesitate to be curious about our faith out of the fear that we might find our carefully constructed belief systems shaken if we get too curious or ask too many questions. We’d rather be safe and follow the proscribed creeds and doctrines instead of risking curiosity. What if I asked a question that might lead me to an answer that brought me great discomfort?
And yet curiosity is an essential quality of Christian growth.
Curiosity can be scary, because what if we discover something that shakes our carefully constructed belief systems? Or makes us question something that we thought was settled in our minds? Or we might find that something we thought had a certain shape and substance turns out to be something else entirely when we examine it with curiosity.
The results of curiosity often bring about change in our lives, and sometimes this change is unwelcome and painful.
Curiosity can end up scaring us almost to death. When God’s voice came to him out of the burning bush, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Curiosity can end up rattling our faith. But without curiosity, our lives and our faith grow stagnant, like the fig tree that Jesus describes in the parable in today’s gospel. The tree just stands there, and for three years, it has not had any fruit on it at all, and the master tells the gardener to cut the tree down. It’s no good to anyone, and why should it be wasting the soil?
But back to Moses– Moses decides to turn aside, and to be curious, and to look at this great sight of the burning bush, and it is then and only then that the writer of Exodus tells us that that God, seeing that Moses has turned aside to see, calls to Moses out of the bush, because Moses is now paying attention and can hear God’s voice.
And here’s the next challenging part of this story. If we give ourselves space to be curious and attentive, what if God really speaks to us and asks us to do something that seems impossible?
Generally, God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves, and the challenge of God’s plans for us make us question ourselves, because we know that by ourselves, we really are incapable of what God is asking us to do.
Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And as we consider this new idea, we have several options—we can take God up on the plan, or we can toss it out as absurd, we can procrastinate and decide to think about it later, or we can simply ignore the idea in the hopes that it might go away, which usually it will if we wait long enough.
I often wonder what God would have done if when the Angel Gabriel had come to Mary and announced that she was going to be the mother of God’s son, what if she’d refused—what if she’d told herself—this is insane—I’m going to ignore this—or to tell the angel to go away and that no, absolutely she did not want to become an unwed mother, especially at her young age. I think God would have sent the angel to another young woman—and another—until at last God found the girl who would take the time to turn aside, to have enough curiosity to listen to the angel, to question, and then to say yes.
Mary and Moses are both curious about how God is going to work out the seemingly impossible. Both of them question God’s plan, and both of them question their own understandings of themselves.
“Who am I?” asked Moses. “How can this be?” asked Mary.
If we get as far as turning aside and being attentive and hearing God speak to us, it is at the point that God gives us a plan that we may stall out because we can’t see for ourselves who God is calling us to be. At this point we’re tempted to dismiss what we’ve discovered God is calling us to do rather than to pray about it and let it grow inside of us like a seed waiting to sprout and spring up out of the earth.
“No way!” “Not me!” The end result of that sort of decision is a lack of fruit. In the parable Jesus told, the master gives the fig tree an extra three years—and after that, the fig tree may well perish at the order of the master because it hasn’t produced any fruit—and we must heed this warning.
But if we say yes to whatever it is that God has in mind, this story from Exodus tells us something wonderful.
When Moses says, “Who am I to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God makes a promise. “Moses, you don’t have to do this alone. I will be with you.”
And to Mary, the angel says, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
So during this season of Lent, I hope you’ll take up the challenge that today’s passages offer to us—to turn aside, to look at the great sights that God puts all around us, to be curious and attentive, to listen to God when God calls out to us, to stand on holy ground, and to consider God’s plans for our lives, to have the humility to question God’s plans for us, and ultimately to decide, in our total dependence on God, and with God’s help, that we can bear fruit, and become extraordinary people —to say yes to God, the great “I AM WHO I AM,” the God who waits for us, and calls out to us as God has called out to our ancestors and will continue to call out to our descendants, from generation to generation. Amen.