“Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works: through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . .”
The Collect for today seems directly derived from the readings appointed for this Sunday. It was the Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things who spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the desert of Midian near Horeb (Mt. Sinai). Moses had fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was beating one of the Hebrew slaves. Somehow in spite of his having been reared by Pharaoh's daughter Moses nevertheless felt a kinship with the Israelites perhaps from the teaching of his mother who was his nursemaid in his early childhood. Moses attempted to arbitrate a quarrel between two Israelites. They turned to Moses and asked him who made “You a ruler or judge over the Hebrew people.” They continued, “Do you mean to kill us as you killed the Egyptian?” Fearful that this action was openly known, Moses fled from Egypt away from both Pharaoh and the Israelites.
It was in the desert that Moses experienced a theophany—a visible manifestation of God perceived by a human. For Moses initially this was an arresting sight. Here in the desert was a bush that had somehow been set ablaze. That event was not necessarily unusual, but what Moses noticed was that the bush burned but was not consumed. When he paused to observe this phenomenon he was astounded when a voice spoken to him by name. Further, the voice was immediately perceived by Moses as the voice of God—until that moment unknown to Moses. God called Moses by name then commissioned him to lead the Hebrews away from Egypt. This calling was immediately resisted. “Who am I to bring the people away from Pharaoh?” Such a response to God's call is not that unusual. Everyone who serves as a deacon, priest, or bishop recognizes this reluctance.
I served on the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Through a number of meetings, we sought to listen carefully to the candidates as they recounted their “story,” another word for “call.” This is a sobering task. As a commission we sought to encourage individuals with great care. We were not surprised but heartened by the humble response, “Who are I to aspire to serve in holy orders?” The one who calls is the one who empowers each of us who hears and acts upon the voice of God perceived through many who have gone through this process before us. Some of those narratives are biblical. Many are trusted advisers both lay persons and clergy. We are not given a theophany but the encouragement of those who people the narrative that forms our “story.”
Moses had to move beyond “Who am I to the response “Here I am.” It’s a minor point, but I am intrigued when I find in the Scripture that response of faith to the voice outside oneself: not “I am here” but “Here I am.” It is as though the place of God’s message to those he chooses does not begin with the personal pronoun “I” but instead with a recognition that the place where God speaks gives rise to the response. “Here I am.” Pilgrims of every age have sought the find the place where God speaks, “Here.” Have you ever found such a place? Perhaps here in our church as we approach the rood screen and move to the altar we expect the presence of Christ in the words of the Eucharistic prayer and in the receiving of the host in our hands. To the statement, “The Body of Christ,” we respond, “Amen.” In a sense we mean, “Here I am.” If this journey from the pew to the altar becomes little more than a repeated routine requirement for the service to be ending, you might as well stay in the pew. After all, the announcement “The Gifts of God for the People of God: Take them in remembrance that Christ has died for you and feed on Him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” Evokes the commitment that in this Holy Moment, here I am. The Celtic Christians believed that God’s presence is felt in certain moments and in particular places. These are “Thin Places.” The distance from each of us to the presence of the Most High God suddenly disappears as we through faith know that in this place in this moment God is here. We do not so much seek such moments as somehow we open ourselves to Eternity where God dwells in light unapproachable but in sublime manifestation of God’s grace and mercy.
The journey of Moses to Mt. Sinai and beyond was never easy. He seemed to have thought that in spite of his best effort his leadership was questioned by the people whom he led toward the land flowing with milk and honey. His temper flared from time to time. He wondered where God was when he questioned his own belief that God was leading them. A faithful follower turned aside during the long journey to moments of unbelief, of misunderstanding how they could survive, but in God’s good time needs were met and the journey finally ended. Moses could see the destination but his leadership ended and Joshua assumed the burden of leadership.
In the Gospel narrative of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ teaching was not what Jesus sought. We get a glimpse of our Lord’s disappointment when as his earthly left was nearing its end Jesus explained to the disciples what they could expect in the days ahead: “. . .he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” With selective hearing Peter and the others missed the last part of what Jesus said. They focused upon the death Jesus foreknew, but did not “hear” the words, “and be raised.” Peter stepped forward as spokesman and said doubtless with passion: “God forbid it Lord. This must never happen to you.” Jesus then rebuked Satan, ordering him “Get behind me.” Then to Peter he continues: “You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” This was a difficult and confusing teaching for the disciples—one that they would not fully comprehend until after the risen Christ met them in the upper room and declared “You are my witnesses” those who will tell my story and set in motion events that we share today as the Risen Christ comes to us in the breaking of the bread.
What kind of witnesses will we be as followers of the Lord Christ in the 21st Century? We need look no further than our lesson from Romans in which the Apostle Paul gives us a series of Exhortations in which he emphatically urges us to do something—actually many somethings. The list in your lesson leaflet is instructive and instantly intelligible. St. Paul doesn’t elaborate on each (something well beyond the limits of a single sermon). I encourage you to take this lesson leaflet home and spend time during the week upcoming to use the exhortations as a guide to your actions as you “persevere in prayer.” St. Paul encourages us to do the right thing.
In his commentary on Romans, William Barkley described our faith as a religion of the open heart, the open hand, and the open door. I encourage us, urge us to measure our witness by these three measures of our faith. Are we individually and as a church ordering our priorities by an open heart, an open hand, and an open heart. By these measures some of what we are about has little value. Much that we do enhances the response to the Spirit’s quiet urging, “Here I am.” Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works: through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . .” Amen.