Have you ever wondered who chose the lessons for the lectionary and why do they group the readings as they do?
The readings in Lent are chosen to prepare the community to prepare the community for the yearly remembrance of the passion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and the implications for life since then.
- The Gospel readings are stories in the life of Jesus which point toward the Passion, the Cross and beyond.
- The Epistles are reflections on the meaning of the Cross, or the believer’s participation in salvation by baptism.
- The reading from the Old Testament tell of the events from Israel’s salvation that are seen as “types” that “prefigure” the Easter event.
In the reading from Exodus, we one of the great events of salvation history. It is so powerful that it has entered the popular expression, “having a burning bush experience.” How did Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter come to be in the Sinai wilderness? Moses killed an Egyptian who he caught beating a Hebrew slave. When this became known he had to leave town in a hurry. He left the Nile valley and wandered in the wilderness. There he found a wife, the daughter of Jethro, a name more familiar from the “Beverly Hillbillies” than scripture. It was there in the wilderness that it happened.
Moses has joined the sheep-herding business of his in-laws and was minding the sheep one day when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared in a flame in the thorn bush. Moses saw that the bush was burning but yet it was not consumed, so he burned aside to see this strange thing.
At this point, Moses displayed the one thing required to serve God: RECPTIVITY. Instead of saying, “Isn’t that strange,” and going on about his business, he stopped and to investigate. Then a voice spoke from the bush and Moses did not run away; he simply said, “Here I am.”
Moses has joined the sheep-herding business of his in-laws and was minding the sheep one day when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared in a flame in the thorn bush. Moses saw that the bush was burning but yet it was not consumed, so he burned aside to see this strange thing. At this point, Moses displayed the one thing required to serve God: RECPTIVITY. Instead of saying, “Isn’t that strange,” and going on about his business, he stopped and to investigate. Then a voice spoke from the bush and Moses did not run away; he simply said, “Here I am.”
The voice tells Moses that God has a mission for him. He is to go to Egypt and bring the children of Israel out of slavery to Pharaoh. Moses was not thrilled with this assignment. He said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses did not have a great self image. He had no confidence. He had a speech impediment and was terrified of public speaking, let alone, gently break the “good news” to the God-King of Egypt that Yahweh, God of the Israelites instructs him to free the children of Israel. “Who, me, I don’t think so,” he said. Moses wouldn’t be our choice for such a project.
In the book, “The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said,” Philip Steifter, superintendent of schools in Barrington, Rhode Island is quoted, “After finding no qualified candidates for the position of principal, the school announces the appointment of George Smith to the post.” To paraphrase Mr. Steifter, “After finding no qualified candidate for the position freeing the slaves, I announce the appointment of Moses to the post.” Could God not do better than that?
That, of course, is precisely the point. God does not have to do better at all because this is not about the chosen, but about the chooser! Martin Buber in, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (p. 47) – “Moses said to YHVH (Yahweh), “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” YHVH provides the assurance “Indeed I shall be present with you,” and he promises Moses a “sign” which at first seems strange to us. The sight is that when the people come out of Egypt they will worship YHVH at the mountain. In other words, what is now only existent in words will take on real existence.”
Then God makes the promise that echoes down the millennia since, “I shall be,” I shall be present, assuring Moses that He would remain present amid his chosen, …” God promises to be present with those chosen by Him, to remain present with them, to assist them. … I am and remain present. YHVH is not like the Gods of Egypt that must be invoked, begged, and coerced. It is superfluous to invoke YHWH because He is already there before He is called.
Moses continues, “If I show up in Egypt and say the God of your ancestors sent me, they are going to want to know who/what I am talking about. Then God said, “tell them that, I AM WHO I AM, sent you.” What does that mean? Buber continues, (p. 51) “This is usually understood to mean, “I am that I am” in the sense that YHVH describes Himself as the Being One even the Everlasting One, the one unalterably persisting in His being. … the very in the Biblical language does not carry this particular shade of meaning of pure existence. It means, happening, coming into being, being there, being present, being thus and thus; but not being in the abstract sense.”
This is the ground of Exodus the Gospel reading for today grows. Is God the enemy of those people that bad things happened to? Those who the tower fell on or the Galileans who Pilate killed in the Temple. Were they the worst people I town that this happened to them? Jesus said, “no, they were no worse than anyone else, and besides that is not the point; but if YOU do repent you will perish as they did.
Then he told the parable about the unproductive fig tree. The owner wants to cut it down but the gardener asks that it been cultivated and fertilized and given one more chance. If at the end of that year there is still no fruit on it cut it down.
The call is there. The call is always there. As God said to Moses, I AM He who shows up and keeps on showing up. The question is not how reliable is God, but rather how willing are we?
A story is told of Innocent of Alaska, an early Russian Orthodox Bishop in Alaska. A deacon asked him, “If God is infinitely merciful, how can he deprive anyone of his heavenly Kingdom? “And why do you keep twisting your head about from side to side?” Innocent countered, “Why don’t you sit still?” “Because the sun keeps hitting me right in the eye and just won’t leave me in peace,” the deacon replied. “There. You’ve answered your own question,” the bishop laughed. “God doesn’t deprive his heavenly kingdom from sinners who do not repent. They themselves simply can’t bear its light – any more than you bear the light of the sun.” St. Innocent of Alaska 1797-1897
The Lord will give a second chance, and third, and a fourth. In the parable there is a definite limit to what may be done for the fig tree. If it still fails to produce, even the gardener who cares about it will agree to its removal. God’s patience is infinite, but we are free to refuse it forever. The day of grace will someday come to an end.
God has promised to show and to keep on showing up. However, He will not force us, because He created us genuinely free. The same steadfast love of God was finally displayed on the cross and manifested by the resurrection of our Lord. God is everywhere, with us in whatever we are in.
“A pagan once asked Rabbi Joshua ben Qarehah, ‘Why of all things did God choose the humble thorn bush as the place from which to speak with Moses?’ The Rabbi replied, ‘If He had chosen a carob tree or a mulberry tree, you would have asked me the same question. Yet it is impossible to let you go away empty handed. That is why I am telling you that God chose the humble thorn bush — to teach you that there is no place on earth bereft of the Divine Presence, not even a thorn bush.’”
The same God who promised Moses that He would show up and keep on showing up is still showing up. In the first century, He showed up in the person and ministry of his Son, Jesus. Since the day of Pentecost, He has been showing up in the person of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit is here today in you and me and in the sacrament of bread and wine. The question is, will we show up? That part is up to us. The good news is that when we do show up God is already there!