Sermon Sunday, August 28, 2011

Exodus 3:1-15

Recognizing The Holy, Even When It Is NOT Blazing Right In Front Of Your Face!

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris

To listen to this podcast, click HERE:  110828SermonPodcast

To follow along with the Keynote Presentation (formatted for PowerPoint) click HERE:  110828SermonKeynote

Much has been said about this text over the years.  It is one of the most compelling stories in the Bible, in large part because of its dramatic quality.  Moses is the chief actor in this story.  Moses, who, as a baby, was saved from certain death through a fortuitous series of events AND the smart and bold moves of five women of deep compassion.  Moses, now an adult in Pharaoh’s court, in a move of righteous anger, kills an Egyptian task master upon witnessing his brutal treatment of a Hebrew slave.  Moses, now bereft of his princely privileges and on the run from the law, happens upon a most uncommon site in a most common place.  A bush, one of thousands he’d seen or passed in his lifetime, is on fire… and yet was not being consumed by the blaze.

This is surely a most dramatic text.  It is here, on this bush, that I want you to focus your eyes and your hearts.  I want, today, to show you three facets of this story which, I believe, God calls us to recognize and live into in our day, in our own calling.  We are called to seek out that which is holy, divine, sacred, blessed in that which is all-too-often seen as the most common, plain, ordinary, familiar, and even overlooked.  I believe God is calling all of us, demanding even, to see Holy Places, Holy Faces, and Holy Graces.

Holy Places.

Domenico Feti, 1613-14, Oil on canvas, "Moses Before The Burning Bush"

Now, I am quite aware that many of us find God quite easily in certain places.  Some of us find an easy spiritual awareness in sanctuaries that are built to invoke feelings of reverence and awe.  Then there are other places, also designed by human hand, where it is a simple step to acknowledge God’s presence permeates that place.  And then there is nature, in all its amazing beauty and simplicity, where it seems the God’s presences is purest and most easily accessed.  There are even some structures made by human hand that elicit not just an consciousness of God, but outright awe and breathless wonder.

But I don’t think our text today is calling us to find God, the sacred, the holy in the simple to find nor traditional places.  Moses could have gone to dozens of places to witness the work of God, from the amazing Nile River which brought life to great swaths of land and people, to the humanly-wrought wonders of his day, the pyramids (although he may have been too painfully and keenly aware upon whose backs those wonders of the world were created).  In any case, it was not the usual places that Moses came face to face with the holy (or the Holy can face to face with Moses, more aptly).  It was in the common, the everyday, and the usual.  A bush.  A bush that was burning and yet not consumed by the fire.

I have spent the last few years of my life on a quest to help folks understand that while the Holy most certainly is found in nature, a la How Great Thou Art’s “From lofty mountain grandeur, and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze… THEN sings my soul… How great Thou art,” the Holy is not only found in nature.  I have found in my own spiritual experience, which is to say this isn’t just a head-only idea but a deep heartfelt awareness, that God is justas present in the midst of the urban, the completely humanly crafted, the city.  I believe that nothing shows God’s sacredness than in the divine ability to use we fragile, fickle, and all-too-often flawed human beings to create spaces and places which evoke beauty,

Washington, DC, 2008, Allen Harris

amazement, and possibility.

Who but the God of the universe could have such disparate people, packed too tightly into a small piece of ground like Manhattan, Chicago, Toronto, Washington D.C., or Cleveland, live and work and play and worship in as much harmony as we do?  How could we human beings create such intricate works of art, from the skyscrapers that tower above us, to the patterns of metal, or concrete, or wood that lay underneath us?

I think that this dramatic scripture, of Moses being confronted by God in just one more bush in the desert, is a chance for us to look for the Holy in the most common, the most familiar, the most mundane places of life.  If we truly were seeking the Holy where God might be found, we would be taking off our shoes every chance we get.

Holy Faces

Now, this is harder.  I think the story of Moses at the burning bush is also a story about our need, if we are to follow God faithfully, to seek the divine in the faces, the people, of our lives.  Now, it is well known that to no one did God reveal the divine face, not even to Moses.  Yes, he did finally convince God to reveal a glimpse of the divine glory, but the best description we get from that is that it was God’s backside and not God’s face!

But what I am more intrigued by is that in the confrontation with God at the burning bush, Moses did not recognize the holy in himself!  When it becomes apparent that God is calling him, Moses begins with a whole series of excuses as to why he’s not the right person and isn’t qualified to do the job.  I understand in this text, God is calling us to seek the Holy in the faces of those around us, even our own.

Now, it seems easier, at least in most churches, to simply say that you can see the Holy in those who are called by God to the ministry.  I beg to differ.  You may, also, after looking at some photos of these, men and women in our congregation who are supposedly “called” by God!  No, I do think we can see God in those who are called and give their lives to service to God.

But we must also just as quickly and completely, be willing to look for and see the divine in others around us.  I have put together a quick slideshow of just some of the faces of folks in Franklin Circle Christian Church.  This is not comprehensive (it was done very quickly this past week).  There are many others in and beyond our congregation, in fact, I would maintain, every single one of God’s children throughout all time and history, can exhibit the holiness of the divine.  Sometimes we reflect God’s glory easily, and sometimes we are a bit more resistant.  In some people we witness God’s beauty quickly, for others we have to work at it a bit more.  But in every single case, there is the essence of God in who each person is, for truly we were all “created in God’s image, male and female, God made them all.”

As you watch this brief slideshow I want you to look for God’s beauty in each and every person… but especially in those who you find it harder to do so!

…. slide show of faces…

Holy Graces

And here is where I want to end up.  At the encounter in the desert with God, Moses was confronted both with understanding that Holy Places and Holy Faces are anywhere and everywhere.  It is how we look for, perceive, and understand God at work that makes a plain place sacred and an enemy a servant of God.  But both of these, holy places and holy faces, are in the service of Holy Graces.

The purpose to which Moses was called, to lead a people out of liberation into freedom, was so important that God could not risk anyone being confused by pretty places and beautiful faces.  God knew that the mission, liberation, redemption, freedom, hope, and love, could never get tied up in arguments about monuments or personalities.  A simple bush and an imperfect man met one day in the wilderness, and in the end a nation was freed from slavery and God’s will was done.

So, people of God, this is our quest every day, as individuals, and especially this year as a community: What is the Holy Grace to which God is calling you this day?  What is the Holy Grace, built on many Holy Graces from generations past and found in many varied and unexpected Holy Places through many diverse and unusual Holy Faces, to which God is calling this congregation known as Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cleveland, Ohio in the year 2011 and following?

Let THIS be God’s Holy Place!

Let US be God’s Holy Faces!

Let NOW be God’s Holy Grace!