by The Rev. George Glazier
During the 3rd to 6th centuries in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia, a movement of spiritual seekers was happening. Christian monasticism was beginning to flower. Some of these men and women lived as hermits while others lived in communities. Either way they learned from the silence, from the desert, from the intentional time with God and sometimes from each other. This story comes from that time and speaks to something implied in our story from Exodus today.
“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Moses is watching over the sheep of his father-in-law when sees a flame shooting out of a bush in the desert. He is curious – a bush burning but not burned up. He goes closer to observe it and finds himself on holy ground, in a conversation with the God of his ancestors.
Now up to this point, there is no special relationship between God and Moses. Moses is born as an Israelite but grows up in Pharaoh’s palace due to a brilliant scheme to save his life cooked up by his sister, Miriam, and his mother. As a young man, with his dual lineage as Hebrew and adopted Egyptian, Moses sees an Egyptian overseer mistreating a Hebrew slave and he murders the Egyptian. Moses is a murderer. In fear that Pharaoh will find out, Moses goes into exile and finds a home among the Midianites who are distant cousins. He takes a wife, starts to raise a family and has a job – shepherd. But here comes God, burning like a controlled fire, to call Moses. God has seen and heard the oppression of his people and God is going to act by first calling Moses. The first sign is the flame.
This is not Moses’ intention but it is God’s. Moses seeks to find a way out and, if our reading this morning were longer, we would hear all of the objections he offers to God as to why he is NOT the one. God answers each objection because God is sure that Moses is the one. If you will, you can become all flame.
God is not God if God sees and hears and does nothing. What may be surprising is that God chooses to use us to accomplish God’s purpose, in this case to bring about the freedom of God’s people. This should make us both alert and uncomfortable because all it takes is one weird bush burning to set us off on God’s way.
When I came to be Rector of St. Stephen’s in Columbus, during the search process, I was asked if I would be active in a local social justice agency called B.R.E.A.D. I said that it sounded interesting and I would. I had no idea that would be as much work as it turned out to be. I had no idea how much it would change me. I had no idea that I would end up being co-president of B.R.E.A.D. four times. I had no idea that there would be certain politicians who would develop a keen dislike for me because they found me to be rude. I had no idea that I would be caught up in decisions around things like pay-day lending, housing for the poor and affordable health care. I had no idea … I am greener than Moses but no less transformed. I am a different person today because I said “yes” back then. My fingers will not turn to flame but there is something inside me that is lit up for justice in way it was not sixteen years ago when I came to Columbus.
What the call of Moses is telling us as individual Christians is that when something holy grabs your attention, pay attention, stay with it, even it the going gets tough. Unlike Abba Lot who prayed a little, meditates a little – don’t be afraid to go over board, put your whole self in and God will be with you.
There is also a call here to the church as it relates to the community. If we feel called to ministry in the community, then let the call transform us. Go for it. Jesus in rebuking Peter makes it clear that it is less about who he is and more about whether who he is leads his disciples to take up their cross, to jump in with both feet. If we do, then we will find our life as a congregation. If we do not, we will eventually lose the meaning and purpose of our church. God will still love us but we will not become the flames of God’s love that church was in its beginning at Pentecost.
Holy ground is meant to lead to holy people, not just sight seeing. Understanding the name of God is meant to lead us into actions in the name of God – justice, love, forgiveness. The church community is meant to be inspired people on fire to share hope with those beyond our doors.