Moses Moses Moses
September 3, 2023 – Proper 17A
Church of Peace, Rock Island
Moses, Moses, Moses; Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Once every three years, in the church lectionary, a semi-continuous reading of the Exodus saga comes up. This is the profound account of the liberation of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, led by Moses, travel through the wilderness and come to a new location and establish a culture and nation as God’s people. It is a document containing stories of God’s intervention. It is the basis of a religion and the key part of the books of the Torah. It is a nation forming narrative. It is scripture. And it is generally all Moses, all the time.
Other nation forming narratives also exist. We are at least acquainted with Homer’s Odyssey and Aeschylus; formers of Greek culture. And the Latin Aeneid of Virgil, the founding narrative of Rome. Other nation forming bodies of literature exist as well, of which I at least have very little knowledge – such as Confucius and the Baghgahad Gita.
One of the most radical things we do as church is to examine a body of ancient history and literature, the Bible, on a regular basis and ask the question, “What does this mean for our life?” Reflect on our life as individuals, as a congregation, a church and a nation. The hymns today each reflect in some way to the Exodus narrative:
- Here I am, Lord.
- Take, take off your shoes
- In Egypt Under Pharaoh
- Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread
Here I am, Lord. The particular account for today, Moses and the Burning Bush is classified as a “call story.” Moses is called by God in a very particular and dramatic way to lead the Hebrew slaves out of bondage in Egypt by Yahweh. He is out tending sheep, his attention is focuses on a burning bush, a voice comes out of the bush and gives him a task to do. And he enters into dialogue. He had been drawn up from the river Nile, raised in Pharaoh’s palace and now is in exile in the Land of Midian. Quite a story. It is connected to the Gospel from Matthew also read today, by Jesus’ call to his disciples, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And we connect it to our call, in baptism, to live a life called to serve God and others through the church. And that is the theme of the hymn “here I am, Lord.” And just as the burning bush appeared by night, so too, we may have heard God calling in the night to some particular moral duty.
Take, take off your shoes. I have included Jim Manly’s “Take, take off your shoes,” because he premiered it out in chapel when I was present, in seminary back in the 1970s! He too reflects on today’s account of the burning bush in light of ecological awareness. This seems pretty apt 50 years later in light of global warming. We get to come back again and again to the well of scripture to guide us in light of our current circumstance. And while I do not think that environmental issues are the most central part of the Moses Exodus narrative, Jim Manly’s song is a legitimate reflection on the scripture.
In Egypt Under Pharaoh. African American people have harkened back to the Moses story of the Exodus again and again as they saw their story reflected in scripture. They too were enslaved and looked to God for liberation and freedom in existential terms. Where Manly’s song may be tangential, the identification of African American enslaved people with the Exodus account and the building of a nation in liberated terms seems very central. Another element of African American church life can be found in prayer, and the beginning of many prayers in the Black church, “O God, I thank you that you woke me up this morning.” When I first was taught this many years ago, the notion was that the master may have controlled most aspects of the enslaved person’s life, their housing, their work, their food. But God alone gave the gift of life, and that they woke up with the gift of life was even more central to their existence than all these circumstances; it was God’s good gift.
Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread. According to our New Testament, Jesus was in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover with his disciples at the Last Supper when our Communion sacrament was established. And the Jewish Passover is the yearly commemoration of the Exodus, the liberation from slavery to freedom; the formation of the culture and community with God. And that Jesus returned for a resurrection banquet with the disciples is proof positive of the validity of Jesus mission and teaching. And we are still here, following Jesus way in community.
Is there a point here today? We return again and again to the well our foundational faith narratives for refreshment in our daily walk with God. There remains fresh water in that well. God is still speaking. Freedom still beacons. Sometimes the word we hear is tangential, yet good. Some times the word we hear is profound and life giving. And it is a good thing we wake up each Sunday, every day in fact, and hear “the word” and do our best to understand it more fully, and sometimes even in new ways.
Amen and amen.