Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wandering Around The Ass End Of The Wilderness

Rating: GT, SL, V (biblical, but still, violent)

3rd Sunday in Lent 2007 [Revised Common Lectionary]
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Baruch a-ta adonai elohenu
Blessed are you O Lord our God
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
For you have been my helper,
And under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

Questions.
I have a lot of questions.
None of them are answered by these stories.

It’s not surprising; these are stories, and reflections on stories—human responses to stories. The Bible is not a manual about how to program your universal remote, although it can be just as confusing and difficult to understand, and then your wife or husband or roommate or lover comes in and watches you, and then finally takes it away from you and tells you you’re doing it wrong, and then your kids come in and roll their eyes at your total dumbness, and then there’s the screaming fights and the past grievances that come to mind, and pretty soon everyone’s too mad to watch television anyway and no one wants to even be in the same room with one another.
OK, maybe there are some similarities.

We started out today wandering about with a shepherd in what was–literally translated—the ass end of the wilderness; and we ended up digging in the dirt and spreading poo around the base of a fruitless fig tree.

Some days it’s not so hard to understand why the world thinks we’re crazy.


Moses saw something happening that he knew could not be happening. He continued to see it. Which allowed him then to hear God speaking to him. Moses accepted that the information he received by means of his physical senses and the concept of its impossibility supplied by his reason were both true. It is impossible. It is happening. I think we must reclaim Moses' ability to apprehend the truth that exists in apparent contradiction, to believe that the fire and the bush are both present, that the bush is not consumed by the fire, and that the laws of physics are still in operation, all at the same time.

Moses had to make a conscious decision in order for this to happen. It’s given to us in slow, painstaking detail: Moses sees the bush burning and that it is not burned. Then comes the decision: “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

I must turn aside.
Turn.
Aside.
Stop what I’m doing.
Change direction.
Drop my Day Runner with today’s agenda and To Do List.
Turn aside.
Look
At this great sight
See
Why
The bush is not burned up.

It’s a decision. It is deliberate.
Moses is able to see the burning-not-burned bush because he decides to.

And that’s when it happens.

God calls Moses by name, initiating relationship.
God tells Moses the history of that relationship, claiming the relationship between the Israelites and God.
God expresses to Moses the nature of that relationship, identifying with the enslaved and suffering.
God reveals the Divine Name naming who God is.

God initiates by calling Moses by name. Not “Hey you,” not “Mortal,” but by his name, given him by the Egyptian woman who rescued him pulled him from the river when he was a baby, and raised him as her own

God claims relationship with Moses: Hello there, young Moses. I knew your father. I’m the one your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Jacob, and his father Isaac, and his father Abraham, used to talk to.

God identifies with Israel: "Indeed, I know their sufferings," God says. The Hebrew word used here is yada’, meaning "know" in the active, transitive sense: it is the same verb as in “and Abraham knew his wife Sarah.” God claims intimate relationship with Israel; God enacts God’s choice to be in relationship with, to be vulnerable with, to be wounded and suffer with Israel.

God Names God’s self to Moses: the first revelation of the Divine Name.

The Hebrew proper name of God is related to the word
hayah – the closest equivalent in English is “to be,” but that doesn’t give us quite the complete idea, because Hebrew and English are such different languages.
“I am who I am” in English is passive – the Hebrew verb is active and dynamic: “I will be what I will be,” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be.”
“I have been and caused to be, and am being and causing to be, what I will continue being and causing to be”
“I am be – ing”
“Say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you…”

Moses has asked God what he should say to the Israelites when they ask him the name of this God that spoke to him. Which is interesting, because up to this point God has been called any number of titles—El, Elohim, El Shaddai, Adonai—but has never given out a proper name as God’s own. The name God tells Moses is not a name any of them will have heard before, so how is that going to shore up Moses’ claim, give him any legitimacy?
Here's the thing: God has already given Moses the claim to legitimacy by saying to him, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Moses may still be stuck on the question, but God is not. God, active and dynamic, reveals the Divine Name to Moses, which has never happened before.
God is doing a New Thing. Not in order to prove something to someone else, but in relationship to Moses— and through Moses, to all of Israel—God reveals God’s name and nature and being.

And all because Moses chose to turn aside, to see this great sight.

1300 years later – give or take – Jesus is responding to what people around him are saying about some horrific deaths that have just taken place.

Why are you talking about these events as if these victims are somehow different than you? Do you imagine that you must be a better person than they were, because nothing this horrible has happened to you yet? Here’s a newsflash: everybody dies. Including you. This attempt to convince yourself that you’re safe, that nothing like that could happen to you, that you are somehow different, is delusional.

If you want things to be different,
You have to do things differently.

You must repent—turn aside and see this great sight. Turn aside and look at this sight that you’ve never seen before: this bush engulfed in flames, burning yet unburned; this man who touches lepers and is not defiled; who serves God by healing the sick and wounded on the Sabbath. Turn aside and look.

If we want things to be different, we have to do things differently. It’s been three years with that fig tree and there are no figs to be had. It’s time to try something else.

If we want things to be different, we have to do things differently. We have to turn aside. We have to choose to turn aside before we know how it will turn out.

But the good news—the good news is
There’s an aside to turn to.
There is a great sight to see.
There is the voice of God calling us, and when we stop to listen, we shall not listen in vain.

The good news is, Jesus has already done a new thing.

The good news is, the Holy Spirit is already doing a new thing.

The good news is
God is already
And always
Be-ing
Who God will be and causes to be
God
God who has been and continues being
Our Helper
And under the shadow of whose wings, brothers and sisters,
I am convinced
We shall rejoice.

yours in the struggle,
Max

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