Sunday, August 31, 2014
Text: Exodus 3: 1-15
Today we celebrated the conclusion of a discernment process that identified a ministry in support of the LGBTQ community as our first focal ministry. The particulars of this signature ministry have yet to be determined, but a congregational conversation during our post-worship luncheon generated many ideas consistent with our guiding principles for doing justice: http://opentableucc.org/our_principles_28.html. Instead of a sermon, I share a guided meditation and commentary on the Hebrew Bible story.
GOD CALLS US TO HOLINESS Exodus 3: 1-6
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
PRAYERFULLY TAKING OFF OUR SANDALS
I’m removing my sandals. Because we are on holy ground. Children, if you want to take off your sandals, you may. Grownups may do so, too, as part of this meditation on feet freed from sandals:
I invite you to stand up now. Stand on your good, strong, beautiful feet—young and tender feet; old and aching feet; feet decorated with nail polish or callouses. Bend down and look at your feet and be thankful for the places they have taken you. Look up, stretch, and be thankful those feet have rooted you to this good earth even as you have stretched for things above. Join your hearts now with friends who now find standing to be extremely difficult. Stand up with the laborers we celebrate tomorrow who have stood for fair working conditions and refused to be slaves to modern Pharaohs. Stand up. Firm. Immovable. Stand on those good feet with faith in God’s loving kindness. And refuse to tread on others. Amen.
HEARING GOD SPEAK THREE TIMES
In the Hollywood version of this part of the Moses story, the burning bush usually upstages God. Let’s pay attention to what God is saying. God speaks three times in this story.
1. God first speaks to Moses by calling Moses by name (Ex. 3:4). There may be sacred work to be done in this world that has your name on it. It’s for you to do. This important work may not be accomplished without you. Our recent discernment process assumed that we as a congregation would hear a special calling to serve our larger community in a way that others are not undertaking. We, a predominantly straight congregation, are feeling drawn to support Mobile’s LGBTQ community in part because we think other churches are not stepping forward to do so in a focused way. Our LGBT-affirming focus will not prevent us from continuing to support other worthy organizations and causes. It will, however, help us prioritize for the immediate future.
Let that thought inspire us without making us self-congratulatory. Thank God we are not the only church in Mobile that welcomes LGBTQ folks. Our host church is warmly welcoming. As are a few others. But Open Table aspires to be very intentional about using our progressive theology to offer an inclusive Gospel (good news). We may begin some new project supportive of existing LGBT organizations or launch a completely new initiative. We hope to engage decisively, bravely, strategically but work with others humbly whenever we think we’ve heard God call our name.
2. The next words God utters are “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5).
Taking off our shoes is a to sign of respect and a means of cleanliness in some cultures—especially in the Middle East and Asia. When some of us would visit Open Table’s Iraqi friends, Moona and Talal, we would remove our shoes before entering their apartment. A spiritual disposition that treads gently into new territory is one admire. A spiritual disposition that treats the other as sacred is one I want to develop.
But taking off sandals also has political implications in this story. One biblical scholar reminds us that sandals, usually made from animal hides and plant fibers, were not always worn by the poorest in the land, and some artfully decorated sandals could denote social status. Taking off our sandals connects us all on our most basic level—a holy act. Interestingly, “Sandals discovered in the tomb of Tut-ankh-Amon bore the image of foreign captives upon the insole, proclaiming with the king’s every step Egyptian royal power over the peoples and nations his armies had subdued.” As he walked, he crushed the conquered all over again. One thing we do in worship is to acknowledge we are not God, and we do not want to behave as Pharaoh. Our role is to liberate rather than oppress.(Anathea Portier-Young in “Commentary on Exodus 3: 1-15”)
3. The third time God speaks to Moses (Ex. 3:6), God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” After we remove our sandals . . . after we press flesh to sacred earth, a spiritual act . . . after the unshod community feels both humility and empowerment. . . we may hear God speak God’s name. God first reveals Godself to Moses in the same way I first encountered the Divine: through family. The God I first worshiped was the God of my mother and grandmother and greatgrandmother. I suspect that’s how you first experienced God, too.
How is it possible for us to name what is Holy and beyond our knowing? We start by recognizing that others who came before us had a similar experience. We follow those who’ve taken off their sandals. But we don’t follow unthinkingly as oppressors would want.
GOD CALLS US TO END OPPRESSION Exodus 7-12
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
SUNG RESPONSE “Here I Am, Lord”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- How can we discern if the voice calling us to action is God’s?
- What are you feeling as we commit to an intentional focus for our community engagement?
WE CALL GOD “I AM” Exodus 3: 13-15
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
SONG “Bring Many Names”