True North?

Proper 17A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“The Lord said [to Moses], ‘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…’ (Exodus 3:7, 8). God is touched by human suffering and moved to action. This God whose name can be translated “I am who I am,” “I am what I am,” and also “I will be what I will be” can’t be pinned down. God is like the wind, dynamic, ever-changing, and mysterious, a presence in all times and places. And yet this God also waits for us close at hand, attends to us, hidden among us and in nearby things.

I still have a belly ache after watching two weeks of political conventions, layered upon the police shooting of Jacob Blake, and violent vigilante groups. Because I am a person of faith, I am particularly upset at how religion is being used not only to justify our politics but to vilify those we disagree with. If the gospel is in the eye of the beholder it begins to lose all meaning. How are we to discern God’s will for us and our nation against the angry backdrop of competing claims and recriminations we find ourselves in today two months from the presidential election?

I wonder, how did Moses do it? Moses fled to the wilds of the eastern Sinai desert to escape justice. He had just begun to make a new life for himself. He was married. He had meaningful work tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. He started a family. He was setting down roots. He had a belly full of politics already. He grew up in Pharaoh’s court quietly seething at the injustice and oppression of his fellow Israelites.

Moses protested God’s call. It was preposterous. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t a public speaker. He stuttered, and if all that were not enough, didn’t God remember he was a murderer on the run. He couldn’t go back to Egypt if he wanted to. It’s true. It would be hard for an independent observer to see what God saw in him. Still, God persisted. God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt.

Moses had a decision to make. It was a big decision, one that would change the course of his life, interrupt his family, and put him in harms way. The smart thing might have been to turn away and keep walking.

Moses’ encounter with the living God in that burning bush caught him by surprise. Moses encountered the angel of God, and the God of his ancestors, on his way to work. I wonder, how many times Moses had passed by this blazing bush before he finally saw it? According to Jewish midrash, the bush had stood there burning at the foot of Mt. Sinai for four hundred years already, or ever since the Jewish people became slaves in Egypt.

Moses was just going about his daily routine, like all the rest of us, when he noticed something unusual from the corner of his eye. When he turned aside to see it, he beheld the glory of the living God that is always, already, present in all fullness filling to overflowing all our days and places with the mystery, wonder, and power of grace. When he saw it God told Moses to take off his shoes, because he was standing upon holy ground. (We are ever standing upon holy ground.)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must begin our search for answers upon the holy ground God prepares for us in prayer. There –in the corner of your eyes—God is just waiting for us to turn aside to see! God sees your anguish. God has observed your suffering. God is ready to lead us all into a better future regardless of Pharaoh or Caesar. God will point us in the right direction out of the storms of chaos and division.

“We can hope for justice because God Is. We can extend gracious hospitality to the stranger, compassion to the suffering, and friendship no matter what because the God who declared, “I Am” partners with ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things. Moses was full of doubt, but God said I Am. The grammar of this God is action in the present tense, be-ing, [now] and evermore. Humans have the privilege and responsibility to act and be in concert with God.” (Kristin Swenson, Virginia Commonwealth University)

I think this is what Jesus, the incarnation of “I Am,” was trying to tell his disciples when he said he would have to suffer and die –and that they would too. “For those,” he said, “who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Briefed on God’s grand plan for personal and cosmic transformation, Peter spoke for the disciples and for every Christian ever since when he quietly took Jesus aside and told him, ‘No! There’s got to be some other way.” There has to be an easier way than the way of the cross. It doesn’t make any sense. They’ll kill you, Jesus. They’ll throw your body on the trash heap. Everything you stand for will be forgotten. Everything we’ve worked for will be wasted.

Jesus said, ‘No.’ Jesus says no to us. Just as God gently and persistently said no to Moses. The cross says no. The cross is God’s no to our small self and a pathway to a greater self that includes God and God’s love for the world. The unconditional gift of God’s love is powerful medicine. It comes with a sharp rebuke for the way we live now. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)

In these confusing, conflicted, covid-afflicted days, we, like Moses, discern what is good and acceptable and perfect by turning aside to God in prayer. Standing or kneeling in our socks or bare feet in holy encounter with God we open to God’s love of ourselves and of strangers. Walking in the way of Jesus’ cross, we learn how to be neighbor even to our enemies. We learn where to look for the truth to guide us. Get close, be humble, pay attention to one another.

As Moses learned at the burning bush, and as Jesus revealed by walking the way of the cross, real lives being lived now is our compass. God attends to human suffering. The truth God cares about is revealed in lives people live every day. Injustice reveals itself in suffering. Grace reveals itself in loving. Mercy reveals itself in reconciliation. We know the truth when we see it when our theology and our faith traditions are clouded with divisions because we can read it on people’s faces– people laughing, or crying, or angry, or joyful, or despairing, or hopeful now. Love always points true north. Thus, I’ll move and live and grow in God and God in me. (ELW # 798)