Several years ago, when my nephew, Christopher, was in the first grade, he asked me what it was like to grow up in black and white. Well, for those of you who are too young to remember those days, here’s a brief clip from “The Judy Garland Show,” originally broadcast in 1963.
This morning, we’re wrapping up a series of messages on the theme “Be. Go. Do.” It seems fitting that we would do so on a weekend when we celebrate labor. Because it isn’t enough to “be” the people of God. We are called to “go” and “do.” And this morning’s text, which is taken from a three-year cycle of scripture readings, is right on the mark.
The story is a familiar one . . .
Moses was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep. He led them out to the edge of the desert until he came to the Mountain of God. And he saw a bush that was in flames, but didn’t burn up.
And if that isn’t strange enough, a voice from the bush called him by name.
I don’t know about you, but I think at that point I might have tiptoed away.
But Moses replied, “I’m here.” To the voice in the bush.
And the voice cautioned, “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” And then the voice added, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, Jacob’s God.”
The voice went on to speak of the cries of the children of Israel, and told Moses, “Go—Go to Pharaoh and bring my people out of Egypt.”
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Moses reacted by asking, “Who? Me? Who am I to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
But God said, “I will be with you.”
At this point, Moses was trying to wrap his head around the idea of going to the Israelites and explaining that he had been talking to burning shrubbery. He might have imagined Tommy Smothers standing there saying, “So . . . you’ve been talking to a bush, huh?”
So he asked the voice in the bush, “If I go the Israelites and tell them I’ve been talking to God, and they ask, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say?”
And God said to Moses, “’I AM WHO I AM.’ Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM’ has sent you to them.”
There is a LOT going on in these 15 verses.
Now the three-point sermon has become something of a cliché, but as I mentioned before, we are concluding a worship series called “Be. Go. Do.” And this morning’s scripture reading speaks to each of these three verbs.
This story tells us that we are children of God. One reason that this is such an important passage of scripture is that it tells us about an infinite God—a God who is beyond our comprehension—revealing the Divine Self to humankind.
When you think about it, we would have no hope of knowing God if God didn’t choose to be revealed to us. But Moses was brazen enough to ask, “I’m not sure I caught your name. What is it?”
God’s reply—I AM WHO I AM—is an early form of the Hebrew verb, “to be.” God’s name is a verb, not a noun. “I AM” speaks of God’s faithfulness and God’s authority. This God is creator, revealer, covenant maker, protector, healer, savior.
And the God who is revealed in the burning bush embraces us as God’s own. The voice said, “I have heard the cries of my people.” My people. That is, God’s people.
God loves all of God’s children, but God came first to the oppressed. The voice in the bush spoke to Moses, not to Pharaoh. Just as the angels who announced the coming of the Messiah came first to shepherds, not to the governor of Judea or to the Temple elite. Just as the incarnate Christ came to us among the oppressed people of Roman-occupied Palestine.
But it isn’t enough to talk about solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.
Which brings us to the second point: Go.
The voice in the bush told Moses to go. To go to Pharaoh. To speak against injustice to those in power.
And I have to admit that this is a struggle for me. I grew up in a tradition that stressed separation of church and state. Not just that government should stay out of religion, but that churches shouldn’t soil their hands in politics.
And I think that as the church we have to approach public policy with a measure of humility. Because sometimes we get it wrong. I’m proud that the Methodist movement was in the forefront of bringing an end to slavery, and enacting child labor laws. On the other hand, Methodists advocated prohibition, and we all know how well that worked out.
But God told Moses to go Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It doesn’t get much more political than that.
So it seems clear to me that our political views should be informed by our faith. But we should respect those whose faith leads them to views that are different than ours.
God told Moses to go to Pharaoh. But God also told Moses that the ground he was standing on was holy.
You know that old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are”? I would add that wherever you’re standing, you’re standing on holy ground.
This morning, someone here may feel that God is calling them to go to Texas . . . to help meet the needs of people whose lives have been turned upside down by Hurricane Harvey. And several members of our congregation will be going to Haiti in a few short weeks.
Many of our youth have responded to needs in Winchester, Romney, Garrett County, and El Salvador, but the ground just outside these walls is holy too. We are called to help our sisters and brothers right here in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, McLean, the District. Because, as John Wesley said, the world is our parish. The ground where we are standing—wherever we are standing—is holy.
So “go.” By all means go where God is calling you. But serving God’s kingdom isn’t just something we do elsewhere—at some point in the future. Our mission field is here, now.
Having identified our mission field, we come to our third and final challenge: Do.
In some ways, this is the easiest part of this message for me. Because the people of Mount Olivet take this seriously. Years ago, when our family was looking for a church, Linda and I noticed that every time we drove past Mount Olivet, the parking lot was full. There is always something going on here.
We know something about doing. We know something about visiting the homebound, preparing meals, baking cookies, cleaning streams, digging postholes, swinging hammers, assembling backpacks and hygiene kits, and welcoming our
neighbors through community assistance. We host La Cocina, and a pre-school. We stage plays to raise funds for short-term missions.
Sometimes, we’re asked to push ourselves outside our comfort zones. I’ll never forget being approached by Pastor Nancy Childress. It was 15 years ago. We were sending our very first team of middle schoolers to the Jeremiah Project and needed a male adult to chaperone.
I didn’t know anything about working with youth, and I knew even less about construction. But I’d already told our daughter, Nora, that she needed to go on this mission trip, so I didn’t feel that I was in a position to say “no.”
This sort of thing is risky. It can lead to teaching Sunday School. Or helping to lead a youth group. It can even lead to seminary and ministry.
But we aren’t doing this alone. When Moses asked God, “Who? Me?” God said, “I will be with you.”
So “do.” And remember why. Not to give something back, but to share God’s love with the world. And remember that God is with us.
In a few moments, we are going to break bread. Because God is with us. Because Jesus is with us—in the bread and cup, and also in those in need.
And as our time together draws to a close, we’re going to sing a song, and I hope you’ll take the words to heart as you sing them:
I woke up this morning, saw a world full of trouble now.
I thought “How’d we ever get so far down?
How’s it ever gonna turn around?” So I turned my eyes to heaven; I thought,
“God, why don’t you do something?” Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of people living in poverty,
children sold into slavery. The thought disgusted me. So, I shook my fist at heaven, and said,
“God, why don’t you do something?” God said, “I did. I created you.”
In the name of the One who walked among us, suffered with us, exhausted the power of evil in his own body, and even now is working to restore creation: Be. Go. Do.