September 24, 2017 | Exodus 2 | Rev. Nancy Talbot
Last week we started a 10 week series on the story of the Exodus, one of the foundational narratives for people of both the Jewish and Christian faiths found in the Bible. As we pondered the story of Moses’ birth and the courageous and defiant women around him who secured his future by hiding him from Pharaoh and his death dealing ways, I reminded you that this is a story for which there is no historical or archaeological evidence. All the stories around which we are gathering in this series are not just about Moses and the Hebrew people, they are meant to be stories about you and me and the world in which we live today and how God is active among us.
A lot has happened in the story since we left off last week just as Pharaoh’s daughter had rescued baby Moses from the bulrushes where his mother had hidden him in a little basket to keep him from drowning in the river Nile. Moses is now a full grown man who he has been raised in the house of the Pharaoh and yet still has a heart for his people.
This morning we heard how his indignation at the treatment of the Hebrews has led him to lash out and kill one of the Egyptians he encountered beating on one of his kinsfolk and how Pharaoh has found out about it and is out to kill him (once again!)
So Moses is now on the lam. He flees the wrath of Pharaoh, helps out a few people while making his escape, ends up marrying the daughter of a sheep herder and appears to be well settled into his quiet life in the countryside.
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the old Pharaoh has died but the Israelites are still stuck in a life of slavery, groaning from the weight of their oppression under a new Pharaoh who appears to be just as cruel as the former ruler.
That is when Moses, minding his own business, tending his father-in-law’s flock out on Mt. Horeb has a sudden encounter with an angel and a burning bush.
Now in our day and age, it’s rare that people encounter angels and burning bushes while minding their own business. In fact, seeking out angels and bushes that burn without being consumed has become something of a business unto itself these days. Yesterday I googled the word angel and immediately up came a website called www.angeltherapy.com. It told me that all I have to do is click on an icon of angel of my choice and all my co-dependent relationships will be miraculously healed. They even promise to throw in a book on how to listen to my own angels completely free of charge. All this without having to leave the comfort of my own home.
As for awe-inspiring bush burning experiences, I bought one of those this summer too. They call it zip-lining. You wouldn’t believe how effective it was for bringing me closer to God in prayer.
I have no doubt that if Moses were alive in our day and age and he came across an angel and a burning bush, he would have people touring up Mt Horeb for angel card readings and selling them authentic burning bush pocket lighters on the way back down.
That’s how treat sacred experiences in the year 2017 isn’t it, like they are commodities to be bought and sold? As if we know so much about the heavenly realm and the spiritual life that we don’t actually need any other-worldly participation. You want a spiritual experience? I’m sure there’s an app for that.
Contrast that with what happens when an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush and Moses is curious enough to turn aside and pay attention to it. God calls to Moses out of the bush “Moses, Moses” and when Moses responds “Here I am” the next word God utters is “Stop!” “Come no closer! Don’t you know the place on which you are standing is holy ground?”
In the bible, seeing angels and listening to burning bushes is serious business. It’s not kitchy or easy to sell, it can’t be neatly packaged and easily marketed. It requires a respectful distance.
One of the false pretenses of the spiritual life that often gets presented to us in today’s spiritually hungry society is that turning aside to look for angels and ponder burning bushes will lead us to a state of spiritual freedom that will cure us from all our ills and lift us above the worries of the world.
For Moses, turning towards the voice of God and standing on holy ground led him right into the worries of the world. It led him right into God’s worries about people labouring under harsh taskmasters and being treated with cruelty and God’s concerns about genocide and infanticide and people being treated poorly just because of the colour of their skin or the country in which they were born.
It turns out the worries of the world back then were not so different than many of the worries of our world and if the story of Moses and the burning bush has any truth in it at all for us today, it may be the truth that God is more likely to be found in the midst of the suffering of this world than during a day at the spa or a week at a meditation retreat. It’s just that sometimes those are the only places we slow down enough to actually notice that God might have a job for us to do.
And so after Moses’ attention has been captured with the angel and the bush, God lays out a plan. “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, and 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. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt, to set my people free.”
The circumstances to which we are called into service in our day and age might be different than the circumstances in which the Hebrew people found themselves, but there is plenty of suffering to be relieved in our world and plenty of people living under harsh rule and unacceptable conditions and plenty of us held hostage by thoughts and situations that have us literally and figuratively trapped.
And if you are like me, it’s this next part of the story where you will recognize yourself. This is the part where Moses starts making excuses about why he is not the person God should be picking for this job to set the people free. We only heard a couple of those excuses in this morning’s reading but it actually takes more than 30 verses of scripture for God to convince Moses he’s up to this task. Even then it’s only because it’s been made abundantly clear that Moses will not go alone, that God the great I am with be with him, that in the end he finally agrees to go where he is being sent.
Poor Moses, minding his own business, when suddenly he discovers God has another plan in mind. It’s the same problem many of us have when it comes to our spiritual life. We think our relationship with God, the sacred, the source of life itself, is all about us and what we want and it ends up being about what God wants.
The paradox is of course that what God wants is ultimately what we want for ourselves and for our world, we would just prefer it if someone else did the heavy lifting.
Keith Howard once wrote an article for The Observer magazine in which he talked about how often we spend our time trying to figure out “how” God calls people; kind of like the free book on listening to Angels you can get on www.angletherapy.com; instead of asking the harder question which is whether or not we are willing to be called.
It’s a question I’ve been thinking about this week and especially today as members of this congregation and people from across the lower mainland march in downtown Vancouver for Truth and Reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people. How willing am I to be called to set others free from the bondage of our past and present history? How willing am I to hear the call to be set free myself?
No matter how we respond, there is one thing of which we can be sure, the great I am, the source of life and energy, courage and accompaniment will continue to persist for the sake of freedom, in the name of love until everyone is free, until peace has come at last.