Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · February 26, 2012
The First Sunday of Lent
Litany of Praise
Based on Psalm 25
We lift up our hearts to you.
Do not let us be put to shame by those who work evil against us.
Make us to know your ways and teach us your paths.
Lead us in truth as we wait for you all day long.
Confession and Pardon
Let us confess our sin and brokenness to God:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought,
word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors
As ourselves. Have mercy on us and forgive us.
God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. The old is gone, behold the new has come. We are free and forgiven!
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
(Adapted from a prayer by Christine Sine)
During our Lenten season, we are offered a time of self-examination, inwardly reflecting, reviewing, and renewing our relationship with Jesus. Let us condition ourselves in the next moment, to enter into silence, where the chaos and noise of our lives are stilled in an invitation of our hearts to listen for God.
Loving Savior, help us to follow you on the pilgrim path of Lent, as we journey with you into the wilderness. Move us beyond the ordinary, so that we may discover your unexpected sacred places.
Gracious Spirit, wash our hands and purify our hearts. Teach us to thirst after righteousness and to hunger after justice. Create in us a humble soul to reveal in us our heart in a new light.
Almighty Creator, we desire to walk with you no matter how challenging the path, learning to be patient with darkness and growth, willing to live without knowing, until your seeds take root and sprout into life.
This we pray in the name of the one who taught us to pray saying...
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
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.
Moses in the Wilderness: Encountering the Holy
Lent is a story that we’ve created to take us someplace. And the place it takes us is through wilderness. In that one respect, it parallels the journey of Jesus, as he went into his wilderness experience. We are determined that if we follow in his footsteps, we might face our challenges with the same courage or the same faithfulness. In the end, we hope to become more like the one we have followed there.
So, this Lent, we are trekking through wilderness. You may notice that we have the signs of wilderness around us [in the sanctuary]. Out in the narthex, on the wall, you will see some art from Jan Coffman based on wilderness sojourners and Lent.
We are going to be exploring biblical stories of wilderness, all leading to the story of Jesus in the wilderness – his fast, his testing, and the confirmation of his calling.
Our first stop in the wilderness itinerary is in the foothills of Midian, there where Moses is tending the sheep of his father-in-law. Moses fled Egypt, because he had murdered a cruel taskmaster and buried him in the sand. He barely got out with his neck. And there he is, in his quiet corner of life, tending his sheep. He finally found some peace, some quiet, out there in the hills. But, his life was about to be changed forever.
Notice: Moses didn’t set out in the morning saying, “I think I’m going to have an encounter with God today.”
He is not heading that direction by intent at all. He doesn’t have an appointment. He’s not fulfilling a mission. No. He’s on the way to someplace else when he stumbles upon – when he notices out of the side of his eye – a bush that is burning but is not consumed. It is not burned up. It is a bush that is casting light. It’s glowing. It’s flame is eternal but not burned up. And so, he draws aside to check it out. Everything we have from the story says that it is probably just curiosity. “I wonder what that is? I think I should go take a look.”
It seems to me that God shows up in life very much like that, all the time. It is not when we have programmed it to be that way, but found on the way to someplace else. Perhaps that’s the message, that the more we try to program God or manage God, the outcome is going to be different. The more we will find traces of God someplace else. Moses is not necessarily looking for God, but he finds God. At least, he has enough wherewithal, at that moment, to take a detour to find out what it’s about.
Who can notice things like this? And if you do notice, who can stop and look? And if you do stop and look, who can contemplate? All of this reminded me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her poetry.
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Book VII)
I fear that I am a blackberry plucker too much of the time, missing the many ways that earth is crammed with heaven and the many burning bushes that litter my pathway, if only I would see.
Once upon a time, there was a school of fish. The school of fish was debating very high-minded things. They were debating what is the meaning of life. What is water? What is the source of life? This went on and on. Finally, one fish said, “Why don’t we swim to the great, wise fish in the far parts of the ocean?”
They said, “Yes.”
So, they swam and swam until they found the great, wise, ancient fish in the far part of the ocean. They asked him, “Great Fish, we are debating the meaning of life. What is water? We have heard of it, but we can’t confirm it. We can’t prove it. We don’t know.”
The great, wise fish blinked his ancient eyes and said, “I want you to go and find me anything that is not water, and bring it back to me now. Then I will tell you.”
So they went and searched high and low for miles and great distances, but they could not find anything that was not water. They came back to the great fish and said, “We couldn’t find anything that wasn’t water, Great Fish.”
And the fish said, “Everything is He.”
The fish, as though awakening from a great slumber said together, “The water’s veil is water! All is He! All is He! All is He!” (From The Tale of the Fish by Nas Rollah Pourjavady)
Moses looked through the veil. “All is He! All is He! All is He!”
“Earth is crammed with heaven, and only those who see take off their shoes.”
It seems to me that is our task, to find the hidden God in every bush that becomes the burning bush, to remove the veil, to find heaven hidden in the earth, to take off our blackberry-plucker shoes and slip on the bare feet of wonder.
I’m not really sure which comes first in the sacred story of God, the holy chicken or the holy egg. Does God give us sight so that we’re prepared for a vision? Or do we prepare ourselves so that God gives us the vision? I’m not sure which that is. But one thing I do know. Every time there is a divine insight that comes, it is accompanied by a catch. It is a kind of divine bait and switch. Moses sees. Moses takes off shoes. But then, after he is reeled in, he finds out there is more. He isn’t given the vision just to fill him with all kinds of fluttery, warm, burning-bush feelings. “I have the best burning-bush experience.”
That isn’t why it was given. Why was it given to Moses? It was given with a purpose.
Moses hears and he discovers that the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the God of his fathers has been hearing all along. God has been hearing the crises of God’s people in bondage. And because God’s business is liberation, freeing the oppressed, God has news for Moses. He is to go back to Egypt, where he just came from. He just narrowly got out with his neck, and he is to go back to that. And not only to go back to Egypt, he is to become a primary actor in God’s drama of liberation.
Moses does not like this. He is not a happy camper. He is not happy any more than you and I are happy when we discover that we are compelled to take on some challenge that is bigger than we are. It looms over us. “How can I take on that cause? I’m too small. It’s too big. I don’t have the resources. I’ve been creating my quiet, little life here, and now, more is required of me. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I want to step up.
That is the problem with the burning bush. If we open our eyes to the burning bush of God, something else is always coming along with the deal. You have this world-shattering experience, this insight, this perception of God and the bush burning, glowing. You will never be the same again. So, you just can’t sit at home and say, “What a grand thing that was.”
How many times can you say that? How many times can you journal about it again? How many times can you write a song about it? How many times can you call your grandmother and tell her one more time?
We are out taking care of our father-in-law’s sheep one minute, and we are heading down to Egypt the next. Be careful what you see by the side of the road. A glimpse of God could just ruin your life.
Jesus tells his disciples stories of the kingdom of God. Their eyes are opened. But the next minute, his face is turned to Jerusalem, and he is asking them to follow and come with him.
Be careful what you see, because there is something else with it as part of the deal.
That’s the way it goes in our wilderness wandering. Something is revealed in your life and then the going gets tough. You might actually have to do something about it.
In our sister church in El Espino, El Salvador, they caught this vision of reaching out to people with disabilities in their whole community. How to do this? Where to start? With what resources? Well, they just didn’t know. But from their burning bush, they headed to Egypt with a job to do, trusting that God would provide along the way.
It’s like the dwarf, Gimli, in the Lord of the Rings. Facing unspeakable odds, he says, “Little chance of success, certain death? What are we waiting for?”
At Broadway, we’ve also faced challenges that came as the result of a vision: Develop a full-scale ministry for children with disabilities? Create a comprehensive community garden? Retire the debt? Form a life-giving relationship with brothers and sisters in El Salvador? Start a whole new worship service?
There is a time, right after the vision, but before you go, when you wonder if you can do it. It’s the Moses response. It is right after the vision. It’s the doubt that always accompanies a grand vision, a God sighting. Can I do this? Do I want to do this? Am I willing to go the distance to do this?
There is one thing that stands between us and retreat at a moment like that. It is a promise. It is rather undefined. It is fairly vague. It doesn’t have too many specifics. But this promise holds exactly what we need. Here it is: “I will be with you.” That is the voice that comes out of the burning bush. “I will be with you.” It is just a few words, but it is all we’ll ever need. Because if we know that we are not alone, if we know that we have access to a strength that is not our own, if we know that we are ultimately on the right side of history, we will have more than enough to be about those liberating purposes of God.
And Moses asks, “What shall I call this mysterious power that comes to me through the burning bush that is not consumed?”
The name that he gets is something more like a riddle than anything else. “I Am that I Am. Tell them that I Am sent you.”
Say that kind of thing too often, and they might be sending you in for an evaluation.
What is the meaning of I Am? It has to do with Being, with a capital B, with existence. The source of life is not just one being among many beings. No! It is the source of the bush that burns but will not be consumed. Being, I Am, the power of existence itself. I Am is the power in which we live and move and have our being. It’s earth crammed with heaven, the holy ground in which our roots are planted.
And if we combine that name, I Am – the power of Being, with the promise, I will be with you, then we have something really powerful: I Am … will be with you. And for us the connection with Jesus just gets clearer and clearer, because Jesus participated in, he was a part of, he was the son of, he pointed to this I Am, the power of Being. And that is why we call him Emmanuel, God with us – the incarnate one – God known in the flesh. He is the One through which we are turned to the great I Am.
You see, when the power of death did not prevail, when the meaning and presence of his life was resurrected into the world and into the hearts of all who would receive him, He became our burning bush. Jesus became our burning bush.
And when we see, and listen, the call is still the same: “Go and set my people free.”
“But, how Lord?”
With the same promise, but this time from the resurrected burning bush to his disciples, giving that commission: “Remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Thanks be to God. Amen.
May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.