Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 30, 2020 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost
I don’t know how many times I have been asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” but I’m sure it’s more than the average for all people. I am also sad to say it’s been a while since anyone asked me.
Lightening could strike one more time. You never can tell. Part of the joy of a calling is the surprise…the look backwards wondering how it came to this…the excitement that a page of life has been turned…and the page is blank.
When that happens is time for you to put on your thinking cap… downsize…and move the rest.
Lightening strikes Moses this week and it is one of the most famous stories in all of human history. He is in hiding. His life has completely come apart. Once Pharaoh’s stepson… now tending his Jewish father-in-law’s herd…at night.
He leads the herd…in search of pasture…to Mount Horeb…the mountain of God. This mountain is also known as Sinai, and the fact that it has two names suggests, once again, that two separate tribes have come together…to share their stories…and their separate histories have become the history of one people. E Pluribus Unum was alive and well, 4,000 years ago.
In fact, Bruce Feiler calls Moses ‘America’s Prophet’. In a Washington Post opinion piece he wrote:
“The Pilgrims described their flight for freedom as being like that of Moses. George Washington attributed the success of the Revolution to the same deity who freed the Israelites. American slaves made "Go Down, Moses" their national anthem.”
The thing they all had in common was that the vision they were drawn to as impossible…incredible… amazing. It could not turn out that way…but it did…and it did…every one of those times.
Feiler points out that Moses is present…even in our pop culture. “In 1938, two bookish Jews from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, modeled their superhero on the superhero of the Torah. Just as baby Moses is floated down the Nile to escape annihilation, baby Superman is launched into space to face extinction. Superman's original name was Kal-El, Hebrew for Swift God.”
He continues, “Part of Superman's appeal was his vulnerability. Kryptonite rendered him weak-kneed. Moses, too, is a man of vulnerabilities. He stutters; he's reluctant to lead; he's plagued by self-doubt. From Washington to Lincoln to FDR, America's greatest leaders have understood their weakness and surrounded themselves with strong allies.”
So, you see, when we read about Moses it is really about ourselves that we are learning. The great yearning of Moses’ story is still the great yearning of all the world, from Hong Kong to Belarus Manila…to Jerusalem …still, Jerusalem…to Washington, D.C.
We yearned for freedom, liberty, living in community in a way that strengthens each of its members …and reduces the need…for external controls…and for outside supports. We yearn for it still.
So who are we…as Americans… these days? We are under siege from a virus…from foreign powers… from media networks…social media…and the loss of face to face human contact…no handshakes… no hugs…no singing…wear face masks.
We are slaves to a virus.
Everyone on TV…or the Internet…has something to tell us that will make us see things their way…buy their product…watch their programing…join their online community. We are being sold…as completely…as the Israelites in the land of Goshen.
We are slaves to those who entertain us.
Our own wealth oppresses us. News has become entertainment and our entertainers all have a cause. There are so many good things we can experience that we have to keep a Bucket List to make sure we don’t miss one before we die
We are slaves to our Bucket List.
Last week at Rotary we had a speaker who had spent a year studying in Peru. The thing he was most struck by…the great ‘aha’ he received…was how poor the people are…so poor it made him feel guilty …and how happy they were.
We have become slaves to pleasure. The virus makes it worse, but maybe the problem, as Hamlet put it, is not in our stars but in ourselves.
We had a wonderful day as a church last Thursday. We put on our third or fourth Welcome Back, Teachers lunch at Bigfork Schools. Because of the virus we could only prepare the food and drop it off, but it gave me many chances to talk to their food service manager.
Roger Vanlandingham is a man on a mission. His job is harder than ever …and more important than ever. He knows what it means for children and young people to get proper nutrition and make friends …and acquire the 3 R’s they need… to find their way in this world.
He is going to do his job and he is going to succeed. That is his promise to students, to staff, to the community…and to himself.
The daunting challenge that has been thrust upon him has only redoubled his determination. It isn’t an easy thing…it is a great thing…a crucial thing…and he gets to do something about it every day.
He is a food service manager, but he is more than that…and very few people will see the difference he makes. That’s the way things are supposed to be…and they are. But without Roger…well, it might turn out differently.
I hope I don’t embarrass them too much, but we could say the same thing about Jeff Whitney and Don Julian who are spending a lot more time than they ever thought they would reimagining our AV system.
What they have been asked to do is not easy…but their labors have held us together far better than we had any right to expect. We are still E Pluribus…Unum.
I thank our Trustees and Re-Opening committee, too. I was bowled over last week when our friend Su DeBree came to worship with us and told me, with some excitement, that it was the first time she had been in a live worship service since March.
We are just little old Bigfork…but somehow we have managed to do a lot. It would be nice to do more… and we are looking for ways to do just that. But someone noted in the meeting we had with our District Superintendent this week we want to do more, but if we do, some people might stay home.
But it’s like Roger was telling me about the school, we are going to do everything we can and be all we can be to our community. Then it is in God’s hands…until God calls us back to the burning bush again.
It is a ‘Calling’ that is upon us now… an invitation to step into a new space with new grace. The symbol in Chinese writing for crisis is the same symbol they use for opportunity. We have a great opportunity calling us.
The Liberty Bell was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 and it hung in the tower of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written.
Those were even more precarious times than the one we face. The outcome was even more uncertain for them than it is for us now, but hope and justice were their lodestars. So they inscribed on it: "Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the Inhabitants Thereof."
That comes right out of the Book of Leviticus and it urges the Israelites to tend to the needs of the suffering…to uplift their poor.
Isaiah exhorts an Israel in exile to “proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” Jeremiah scolds his king and his nation, speaking for the God he chose to serve, “You yourselves recently repented and did what was right in my sight by proclaiming liberty to one another, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name.”
We have it tough these days, but not as tough as it is for other people and not as tough as it was for those who carried the Word to our day. Sure, we have a pandemic, but they had World War II and the real threat of Nuclear Annihilation to contend with, and your cell phone is more powerful than the onboard computer that guided astronauts to the moon…and back.
We need a challenge…an impossible dream…a way we can change the world for the better so it will never snap back to its gloomy old self again…something like ending human hunger.
Then, when people 500 years from now realize there was once hunger in the world and ask what happened to change that, others will say, “Oh, that was the Americans back in the early 21st Century. And you know? It really snapped them out of the funk of luxury they were in.”
So here we are at the burning bush this morning. God is telling us to go to the most powerful oppressor in all the world and demand that they do the right thing.
Are we listening? Are we willing to give God a chance to use us is some amazing way…even though we are not perfect…and vulnerable?
We may not live to see it, but no one will even get a glimpse of what we could make of the world – together – unless we start it.
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked Moses's death on the night before he was assassinated. "I've been to the mountaintop," he declared. "I've seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land."
That’s leadership. That’s what God asked Moses to do…and Washington to do…and Lincoln to do…and that’s what they did.
Feiler wrote in that Washington Post op ed that “As we once more face trying times, Americans would once be well-served to consider the leadership lessons of the world's greatest leader [Moses].”
He didn’t write it this week or this month or this year. It was published on December 22, 2009.
It was the Great Recession then. It is the Great Infection now. The challenge is the same for us now… and it was the same for Moses then.
He closed with these words:
“Moses understands that the highest stage of leadership is to make yourself unnecessary. It's not about you. You may fall short, but your chief legacy is to prepare your followers to succeed without you.”
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day?” Amen.