On Fire

September 3, 2017

    Series: September 2017

    Category: Faith

    Speaker: Rob McClellan

    Exodus 3:1-6

    1Moses 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. 2There 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. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6God 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.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

    On Fire

    How many of you have a tie to someone who has been in the path of Hurricane Harvey?  I’m so sorry.  Let us name those people in prayer...

    We open our hearts to their plight, to the land of our neighbors, and to their unimaginable loss.  People often say, “It’s only stuff.” It’s not “only stuff.”  We have all seen the images by now, I presume—the roads turned to rivers; the improvised rescues, sometimes by TV crews (as invasive as they have sometimes been); and who can forget the image of the nursing home residents sitting calmly in water above their waists? A friend of mine posted a video of the flood waters slowly entering her house after they had scurried to move what they could to the second floor.  “We’re being evacuated,” she narrated, her face gaunt her, eyes fixed open wide in a state of perpetual high alert.  She was being rescued with her small down syndrome child and her baby. Her husband and dog stayed behind for fear of armed looters.

    Notice how our hearts automatically open to those in the path of the storm. We don’t stop to ask what political party they are from, or whether they practice faith as we do.  We all feel like Texans this week because we are.  We have learned nothing new, only remembered what was always so. As we witness people desperately trying to save one another, our common humanity comes right to the surface. We remember the total sacredness and fragility of human life, and not just human. I heard a report this week about the Houston zoo, which made it safely through the storm, and of the International Whooping Crane Foundation, a key link in the attempt to save those birds, which has now been totally destroyed.  I think of the meadows and wetlands, that, had they been preserved, could have absorbed significant amounts of the water, holding it like a sponge for slower release into the Galveston waterway.  It is all so connected, the parts so reliant upon one another to survive. Seeing it come apart strikes right at the heart.  

    Moses, who will one day pass through waters, gets his start in the desert in today’s passage from Exodus. It is there that he meets God in a burning bush. A traditional interpretation is that this is an extraordinary event, and there is something to that interpretation. Moses seems to be receiving a unique call.  There’s another interpretation, however. What’s special is not that the bush is burning with the presence of God, but rather what is special is Moses’ recognition of God in the bush.  The mystical teacher Matthew Fox writes, “One does not have to travel to Mount Sinai to encounter the Divine in a burning bush—every bush is a burning bush, every leaf, every stone, every fish, every bird, and every person.”[1] The great contemplative Thomas Merton puts it this way, “The whole world is secretly on fire.”[2]  

    Our calling turns out to be exactly like Moses’, to recognize the sacred in all things.  That Call to Worship we did earlier, it was a splicing together of words from the 139th Psalm, perhaps familiar to you: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me…Where can I go from your spirit… If I ascend to heave, you are there; if I make my bed in the deep, you are there.”  “Where can I flee from your presence?”  That Psalm is spliced together with a refrain from the Quran, the sacred text of Islam: “Whichever way you turn, there is the face of God?”  Please, before anyone rushes to point out examples of when that refrain is not lived up to by certain Muslims, let us remember that we could match every instance with an example of Christians not living up to our own tenets. We must not compare our ideals to their worst failings. The lesson here is that each of our traditions claims God’s ubiquitous presence. We must simply recognize it.

    Interestingly, our Scripture bears the tradition of people hiding their faces in the presence of God. Moses does. I know the belief was that if you saw the face of God, you would die for the overwhelming glory, but I wonder if there’s more going on here.  I wonder if we hide our faces from recognizing God, particularly in the other, in part because it would so dramatically change the way we treat one another, and the world around. I wonder if we are not ready for that kind of change.  There is a quote going around among Christians, as Christian leaders are becoming increasingly concerned and vocal about what is happening in our nation:  “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”   It’s attributed to Nietzsche, not who you’d expect Christians to be quoting, but, as they say, “every bush is burning.”  Jesus said to love our enemies, presumably, in part, because he knew we would have some.  We must oppose others at times, but how we do is to be characterized by the recognition that the ones we are opposing also bear the likeness of God, however distorted.  Whoever fights monsters should see to it they do not become monsters. Instead they must remember the sacredness at hand.

    In 1981, Harvard law professor Roger Fisher offered a proposal in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, namely that the launch codes for nuclear weapons should not be kept in an easily opened briefcase, but instead in a capsule implanted in the chest of someone who would accompany the president at all times.  Also on hand would be a butcher knife, which the president would have to use in order to retrieve the codes, literally striking right in the heart, so whoever wielded that power would have to experience face to face the taking of innocent life.[3] The hope is that in striking at the heart of another, he, or she, would be have their own heart touched and therefore changed.  Incidentally, this is part of what was being the ancient system of animal sacrifice by our ancestors.  Before taking life for food, the priest had to look life right in the eyes, to be reminded of the required reverence of encountering the sacred in all things.

    We come forward in a few moments for communion.  The founders of our tradition were clear this is merely bread, merely juice.  Of course, when you see like Moses no longer is anything, or anyone, “mere.”  Come and be reminded we are all on fire with the divine presence. Come to be ready for the change that will follow, the change we must make because our survival depends on it.  Amen.



    [2] http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/09/27/thomas-merton-in-silence-2/

    [3] https://boingboing.net/2015/12/11/proposal-keep-the-nuclear-lau.html