Turning Aside

This is my sermon for today to kick off the Lenten season.

Exodus 3 (New Revised Standard)

1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “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, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey,

As many of us here do, I work in downtown San Francisco. I’ve pretty much seen it all. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of daylight weed smoking, a woman carrying a live chicken in a plastic grocery bag, a woman walking around with a parakeet on her finger, people yelling at each other, or themselves or no one in particular. Usually when I see someone who appears to be talking to themselves I play a little game I like to call “blue tooth or crazy?” Homeless people, discarded objects, wealthy people, garbage, animals, clowns and street preachers. One thing I’ve never seen is a tree that’s on fire but not being burnt up. That I haven’t seen. However, the world in which I work and move every day is blazing with God’s activity and every day I walk by, nonchalantly, and miss the whole thing.

In today’s passage we see Moses heading off to work, watching his father-in-law’s sheep, and he sees what is described as a flame of fire out of a bush. He makes the intentional decision to turn aside and see what’s going on. I wonder if he was the first person to see this. Moses’ father-in-law was a local priest with a lot of assets and there were a lot of people roaming around, including servants and extended family. Someone else may have seen it, we don’t know, but Moses is the one the story is about because he turned aside and took note of this extraordinary thing. God likes to intervene in the world and change things, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in smaller ways. Yes, a bush that is on fire w/o being burned is kind of a big deal, but God could have really rocked it by setting afire the entire mountain. He just needed one person to see and act on what he was about to do.

Next, he is asked to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. I really pray that this is not saying that there is something bad about shoes, because we all know how much I love my shoes. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think that the shoes weren’t bad at all, but rather a momentary impediment to the full experience of God. At that moment, the ground around the bush that held the presence of God was sacred, and Moses needed to soak up every bit of God to be able to do what he was about to be asked to do.

Finally, once Moses had turned aside and removed the obstacles, God revealed Godself in a new way and gave him a job to free God’s people from slavery. Whenever God does something new, God often involved unlikely people, people who are frequently quite surprised and alarmed that they have been chosen. Later in this passage, Moses comes up with all kinds of excuses why he can’t do this, and God deals with every one of them. God asked Moses, and God asks us to trust God in new ways, to put aside our natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it’s going to work out. That is what God is asking us to do this Lent. Seeking to encounter God without thinking we know what God is going to say requires humility. We have to put on hold our initial reactions be prepared to hear new words, think new thoughts, and live them out. We come to our relationship with God with our own sorrows & frustrations, our own baggage. God will deal with them in God’s own way, but God does so as part of a much larger and deeper purpose. Who knows what could happen if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God in a new way, finding ourselves open to new thoughts and caught up in God’s rescue operation?

Today I’m setting us up for the time of year known as Lent. On Wednesday, we gathered and shared some time considering things that burden us and keep us from our experience of God. What is your experience of Lent? What is a typical Lenten practice for you?

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, so I came to the practice as an adult. Over the years, I’ve taken a few different views of Lenten disciplines. Sometimes I’ve given things up, sometimes I’ve taken on a new practice, and sometimes I’ve done nothing at all. Either way. these all were about me, not about God. Spiritual practices aren’t about the things we do for God, but rather about acknowledging our need for God’s provision and protection for us.

This season, all of us who are sharing the word with you will be focusing on different spiritual practices. I will be posing on our facebook page some suggestions for practices and for readings. Feel free to contribute your own thoughts and ideas.

What I want to encourage us to do here is to see God’s activity in the world during this season and we’re going to take time in each of our gatherings for you to share something from the week that showed you something God is up to in the world. It could be something small like seeing the cherry trees blossom to a significant conversation with a friend or stranger. Either way, I want us to get into the practice of seeing God at work in our every day lives. Let’s approach this season with humility and reverence as we seek to see what God is up to in the world. Amen.

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