Pentecost 13, August 30, 2020
St. Martin, North Vancouver
May we be granted awareness, humility, courage, and faith, that we, like Moses, discover God’s holy presence in this moment. Amen.
“A Moses Moment”
This is a man born in slavery. Fostered in the household of his oppressors, he grows up in privilege. But when he discovers the truth of his heritage and sees one of his people being beaten, he kills the assailant. Then, as a criminal, he is forced to flee the country. In a nearby land he makes a new life for himself. He finds a job, marries, has children. But he is an alien in a foreign land. And God takes notice.
This background tale of slavery, race, poverty, and religion from the Hebrew Scriptures is over five thousand years old. But given humankind, it could have been yesterday. And what happens next- what we hear this morning from Exodus chapter 3- can happen to any of us. If we practise awareness, humility, courage, and faith, we too can have a Moses moment. Put yourself in Moses sandals (or better yet, his bare feet!) and walk into his story.
In the course of daily life, there are responsibilities and routines. How often do you turn aside to explore something new? Something that doesn’t fit in the ordinary? That catches your eye or your ear or your heart? A shaft of light, a shimmering, a flicker of movement. For those with curiosity, there are wonders to discover just off the path of the everyday. Moses turned aside to see a burning bush on the edge of the desert landscape where he shepherded his flock. If he had dismissed it as a figment of his imagination, or evaluated it as too dangerous, or thought that it was none of his business, he might not have encountered God. In taking the time to turn aside from our assumptions of what is important, what might we find?
It might be holy ground. Places can be holy not because they have been dedicated to the sacred, but because we are willing to allow the possibility that God might be present. A teacher in clinical pastoral education always taught her students before they began hospital visits: “You do not bring God into the room with you to the patient. You enter the room to find God already there.” Moses walks onto ground that is holy even though it looks just like the rest of the desert landscape. He is asked to remove his sandals. A sign of respect observed today in some sacred buildings. But here, perhaps there is more. His bare feet connect with the dusty earth that is part of creation. No barriers to contact. No shoes, no gloves, no mask, no gowns. Nothing between him and the God of all creation. And so the spot becomes a special place: so special that after the people of Israel are freed from Egypt, Moses leads them back here. Mt. Horeb becomes the place where God appears again, this time to give out the Ten Commandments and the Law. We each have places that are dear to our heart because of what we have encountered there. Where on this earth is holy ground for you? If you have the opportunity to go there again, do you, like me, anticipate that re-connection? It’s not automatic. Sometimes you have to be willing to wait in humility to hear the message.
God has to wait in patience for us to have courage to hear God’s voice. It’s not easy. Moses is afraid. He hides his face from the glory while he listens to God speaking. “I have observed the misery of my people… I know their suffering and 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” (vs. 7-8, 10). Moses’ first thought is “not me!” But this is not about what Moses will do, it is about what God will do. The word play in Hebrew emphasizes this. Moses asks “Who am I?” God’s response is to rebut, “who you are is not important. Who I am is what matters.” My presence with you is sufficient. Are there moments in your life when you don’t feel that you have what it takes to step up to a task? It’s not the most competent people that God can work with, but the ones who know what they lack and allow God to help out. It doesn’t take much courage to do something that you know you can do. The call is to risk learning, accepting help, and even failing, in mission.
Through this experience, we can arrive at a different understanding of God. Moses did. The most holy name that is revealed to him describes the nature of the divine. “I AM WHO I AM” is not static but dynamic in purpose. From the Hebrew verb “to be” comes a name so sacred that the people do not even say it aloud. The four consonants that represent it- YHWH- are substituted by the word Lord- “Adonai”. Just as the people are warned not to make any one image that purports to show what God looks like, God is not be pinned down in name or function like the deities of other nations. Moses will be going back down to Egypt, where many gods and goddesses were worshipped for their various roles. He carries a different understanding of One God who defines Godself and doesn’t let humans force Him into a box. At the same time, God is careful to connect the divine purpose throughout history. God is the same as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob. This is not a new God, but a new understanding. “I will become what I will become” is another translation. In time, the followers of Jesus recognized how Christ reflects the face of God in a way that all can look upon and not fear. Coming to faith in the power of God to work through me is another Moses moment.
Our Diocese is at a Moses moment in our story together. In a month’s time, we will be electing a new bishop. Our Diocesan bishop Melissa Skelton will be retiring at the end of January next year. To effect a smoother transition, we will be discerning someone to come into the role of what is called a “co-adjutor” who will work alongside Archbishop Melissa for a couple of months before becoming Diocesan bishop early next spring. After that, the provincial House of Bishops will decide who among them will next take up the role of Archbishop for the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon.
On Friday, the list of nominated and vetted candidates was made public. I ask you to pray with me for the next month for the five individuals who have allowed their names to stand: for Alan, John, Phil, Philippa, and Riscylla. They are not trusting in their own competence, but in the power of God to guide and lead. These are all experienced clergy who have turned aside to stand on holy ground, and had the courage to respond in faith to the call of mission. I encourage you to read and learn about their perspectives and their hopes for the future of the Anglican Church. Please also pray for all the clergy and synod delegates who will be listening to the Holy Spirit in the election process on Saturday October 3rd. May our diocese collectively and collegially discern who God is sending to us. And may we all have the grace to accompany him or her into the future. Amen.