Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

Exodus 3:1-15
Matthew 16:21-28

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

It was a day like any other day.

As he lay in a field of grass, he slowly became aware of the pitch blackness shifting to a new day as his closed curtain of eyelids registered a faint light seeping through.

He groggily opened his eyes,
noticing that the sheep were already alert and grazing all around him.

For Moses it was simply another day just like hundreds before this…
living day to day,
tending the sheep of his father-in-law….
mostly peaceful work,
sometimes spiked with moments of danger.

Along the trek that led Moses beyond the wilderness and into the mountains, he came across a bush that was blazing.

Seems a bit odd, but perhaps it was midday with dry, crisp air and a blazing sun, having seen no rain for weeks.

An occasional brush fire wouldn’t be out of question.

As he walked on past, it suddenly dawned on him that there was something very odd about this situation.

The bush was on fire,
but it was not consumed by the flames.

So he turned back
and took in the sight.

God then calls to him, “Moses, Moses!”

I guess hearing God call to him from the burning bush was no more disturbing than watching a bush encased in flame that was not being burned up!

So, Moses simply responds, “Here I am.”

When Yahweh identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses hides his face, hoping that by turning his own face aside that maybe, just maybe, those flames won’t engulf him as well!

I want to pause here, because while this seems like a simple story – albeit not a daily occurrence – it is packed with details that we might not normally notice.

Yahweh does not speak to Moses until Moses actually stops
and takes in the sight of the bush.

“When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.”

This summer I had the opportunity to read some books that weren’t related to a class or sermon. One such book was Thoughts without a Thinker by psychologist Mark Epstein.

As I was preparing for this sermon I remembered his reflections on one of his silent retreats.

He was on a 2-week silent retreat in New England during the dead of winter. He knew that his tendency would be to stay inside all the time where it was warm and cozy, but he also knew that he needed to get outside and get some exercise.

So he vowed to go for a walk every day for an hour.
He decided that each day he would walk in a slightly different direction.

He would set out on his walk, and at the halfway point he would just stop and take notice of his surroundings before he headed back to shelter.

After a few days of this routine, he thought it was remarkable that whichever direction he decided to go that when he stopped after walking for half an hour, the sight that he saw was just incredibly beautiful.

He wondered why, at exactly a half-hour walk from his starting point, that his surroundings should take on such exquisite splendor.

And then it dawned on him that if he had stopped after walking 7 minutes or 10 minutes or 16 minutes, his surroundings would have been just as remarkable.

He realized that the problem was that he was so intent on walking a set distance before stopping that he failed to notice anything else on the way there or back.

How true!

We are all so busy getting somewhere else
that we fail to notice where we are
or who is with us along the way!

God did not speak to Moses until Moses stopped and noticed the burning bush.

I’m guessing that if Moses had just kept on walking because he knew he had to get those sheep to a certain place, God would not have spoken.

But that does not mean that God was not present until Moses stopped.

It means that Moses would not have given God the opportunity to speak because he was too busy to notice God’s presence.

Last weekend I began my 2nd year of training as a spiritual director, and in one of the readings, called “The Art of Spiritual Direction” by Madeline Birmingham, r.c. and William Connolly, S.J., the authors say this:

Most of us are not accustomed to standing and looking.

We are attracted by the majesty of mountain views, the swirling power of blizzards, the gradually deepening color of high clouds as sunrise approaches, and by God.

But we tend to glance at them and quickly turn out attention to other objects or other concerns.

We give a moment’s attention, but we turn away before we can become absorbed enough in what we see to be more than superficially affected by it. (from Human Development, Volume Eight, Number One, Spring 1987, p. 18)

“Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’

“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.’”

Moses took notice.
Stopped.
Listened
and made himself present
and available to God….

Here     I     am.

Thus ends Act I.

Act II….

Yahweh tells Moses that he has seen the suffering of God’s people in Egypt and has heard their cries.

His solution?

Words Moses wasn’t so excited to hear:
“Come [Moses], I will send you.”

I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.

Oh… thanks for the compliment, Yahweh, but I’m not qualified.
I just tend a herd of sheep.
You must have mistaken me for someone else.
You just keep that bush burning, and someone better will come along.

But, Yahweh tells Moses that he will have all the qualifications that he needs:
“I will be with you.”

Yahweh is not sending Moses out by himself…God will be right there – the whole time!

Now, aside from the fact that I think we tend to miss God’s presence in the world because the demands of our work and school and families clamor so loudly (and not unimportantly), I think we also tend to rush on past the burning bush because we’re afraid that if we really stop and attend to God’s presence that God might just ask us to do something that we don’t think we’re capable of doing.

It can be downright frightening to tend to the presence of God in our lives.

In today’s Gospel passage Peter is so afraid of God’s demands that he rebukes Jesus for saying that Jesus must undergo great suffering and be killed.

That’s just not possible!

But, in God’s economy Jesus’ suffering and death is possible and even necessary to overcome evil and death.

Jesus, in his strongest rebuke of anyone in the Gospels, says to Peter:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is distracted by earthly power and glory…those are the things that catch the attention of his mind and heart.

God draws us another direction….toward humility and service and forgiveness and love.

But first, we must pay attention to God’s presence in the world and in our lives…
and not just a mere nod
but full, rapt attention
so that the very presence of God enters into our thinking
and hearing
and speaking
and living.

I invite you each day this week at some point in your day to just stop.
Look around you.
What do you see?
Who do you see?

You will see and hear things you have never noticed before.

If you see joy or pain, anxiety or peace, sorrow or beauty…God is there.

And if you hear the still, small voice of God calling to you…listen.

What is God saying to you?
What is God calling you to do?
If it something you are frightened to do or feel ill-equipped, know that God is with you — always.

Be still,
and know that I am God.

Amen.