Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

Sermon Series: Is it I, Lord? Stories of following God's lead

“Moses: A Burning Call”


Sunday, April 18, 2010

 

 

Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder

I am sore. Yesterday was our Great Day of Service and they sent us young people to Meridian Park to plant trees—some of our youth and me—and I used muscles I hadn’t used for a few years. I came back to my office because I had an appointment and after my appointment I feel asleep on the office floor… that’s how hard I worked.

I want to say thanks to everybody who was part of our Great Day of Service yesterday. I don’t know what our final numbers were, about 125 people, from 3-years-old to over 70. We spread throughout the city and did things that would touch lives. I am grateful to our Mission Council and to Amihan Jones, our US2 Missionary, for all the organizing they did. Some of our youth and I planted trees for the organization Washington Parks and People. I know people served at various food programs throughout the city and at Emmaus Services for the Aging, and about a dozen ministries. Thanks you.

Here’s a United Methodist News Service story by Suzy Keenan I need to read to you this morning:

A United Methodist minister, a priest and a rabbi walk into a ballpark on Opening Day.

And they bless the baseballs prior to the Philadelphia Phillies’ home opener at Citizens Bank Park on April 12.

No joke. This is the third year of a ritual that has heralded the rebirth of championship baseball in Philly.

The Rev. Jeff Raffauf, pastor of West Lawn United Methodist Church in Reading, joined Rabbi Greg Marx and the Rev. Joe Campellone, president of Father Judge High School, in praying over the baseballs. The ceremony was organized by the host of the John DeBella Morning Show on WMGK 102.9 FM, a classic rock station in Philadelphia.

In his prayer, Raffauf implored “the God of baseball fans everywhere” to bless the baseballs about to be put into play.

“Now, with your blessing, may our beloved Phillies prepare to pitch these baseballs for many strikes. May our golden-gloved heroes snare every batted ball,” the pastor said, before asking help for the home team’s hitters “to beat the cover off these balls.”

Raffauf said he was wary about participating in the blessing when it was first suggested to him in 2008.

“But I was nominated to do this by members of my church who listen to this station, as the congregation I serve knows of my love for the ‘Fightin' Phils.’ So this has turned into something fun for me and for the church, and I do believe that God has a sense of humor,” he said.

The pastor added he is “amazed at how many people have heard about this, pat me on the back about it, or recognize me in public because of it. I even heard from my nephew in Denmark who listened to the podcast online! And for what it's worth, I've done this for three season openers now, and the first two have been pretty fantastic for the Philadelphia Phillies!”

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and made it back to the championship series in 2009 before losing to the New York Yankees.
In his blessing, Raffauf said Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel is prepared to lead his team back to the promised land of the World Series.

“So bless these balls and our beloved Phillies, so that we will vanquish our NL East competitors, slay the overpaid Yankees, and once again dance on Broad Street.

“Amen!”

I am not saying that the prayers turned the Phillies, who used to be the “losingest” team in baseball, into pennant winners. I am suggesting that we Nats fans are in no position to be theological purists about this.

We want to think together about the story of Moses this morning.

We are looking at biblical stories of God’s leading or calling people right now.

There are lots of stories like this in the Bible. I selected six particular stories to talk about because they involve different sorts of people at different stages in their lives: older people, children, teenagers, men, women, couples.

And the question I am inviting us to ask ourselves is: does God still do this today? Does God still lead and call people to do things, to take certain paths in our lives, to live in certain directions? Might God be trying to lead your life or mine in a certain direction?

Because if God is still leading or calling us, knowing what God is leading or calling us to do would be a pretty big deal. If God is leading us or calling us, it would be the sort of thing we’d really, really want to know. It would not be something we’d want to blow off lightly.

On the other hand, people have sometimes thought God was calling them to do some whacky things, so we also want to be careful.

So my goal in these talks is to pay attention to these particular six stories from the Bible, to try to read them as though I were reading them for the first time, and to see what we might learn about this idea of God leading or calling people.  

Today it is Moses, and I think two things at least went into Moses’ call. One is objective and the other is subjective.

The objective situation: God decides to fix an injustice

The objective part of Moses’ call is that God had heard the cries of the Israelite slaves in Egypt and decided that what was happening there was intolerable. God had decided to do something. God had decided to fix a problem, to remedy a wrong.  

Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.  So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:7-10)

The story says God heard the cry of the Israelite slaves and decided something had to change.

The story in Exodus suggests that the crying of the Israelite slaves intensified God’s sense of urgency to do something. The cry of the slaves moved God’s heart.

God says: “I have heard their cry… The cry of the Israelites has now come to me ….” Articulating the pain of injustice, according to the story, seems to make a difference.

God also verified the truth of the cries. God says, “I have also seen how the Israelites oppress them,”—God checked it out—but it was the cries of the slaves that got God’s attention and moved God.

The articulation of the pain of an injustice seems to make a difference. The best way to preserve an injustice is to be silent about it.

The late Dr. Benjamin Mays, the civil rights leaders and president of Moorehouse College, said the only way that segregation managed to survive for almost a century in America after the civil war was because of a power arrangement between Whites and African-Americans that preserved a myth that African-Americans were content with segregation. One of the conditions of getting the best jobs available to African-Americans, he said, was that they told their white employers what they wanted to hear. White Southerners became convinced they and only they really knew the minds of Black people.

It was only after African-Americans began to articulate their discontent that segregation could begin to be dismantled.  

The problem with “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which has become the unofficial policy of the United Methodist Church and which is still the unofficial policy of some of our families back home, is that naming injustice apparently motivates God. Don’t ask, don’t tell gives the impression that we don’t have a problem; there is not a serious injustice.

The articulation of injustice seems to move the heart of God.

Whatever else you might think about prayer, a lot of people for a lot of centuries have thought prayer helped get God’s attention and helped energize God. Bearing the pain of injustice silently doesn’t seem to help.

One of my favorite stories Jesus told about prayer is the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18. There was a judge, Jesus said, who didn’t care about justice but a widow just kept bothering him until he did what was right because he just wanted her to let him alone. Jesus actually says we ought to pray that way.

Articulating injustice seems to move the heart of God.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,”
Martin Luther King Jr. said.

Here’s what I think. This is another way of framing this. I think the cries of injustice accumulate in the universe like humidity accumulates in the atmosphere and when temperature and humidity are right, it rains.  In fact, different kinds of rain are a frequent Old Testament metaphor for God’s spirit.

I think the universe becomes charged with the electricity of the cries of injustice until it accumulates and conditions become right and there is lightening and thunder. Thunder is another biblical image for the presence of God.

I really think there are moral processes in the universe that have some of the same characteristics of the natural processes that cause rain and thunderstorms and snow and storms. If humidity gets too high it rains. If the pain of injustice gets too heavy, a civil rights movement is born.  

So the objective aspect of Moses’ call was that God had decided to do something about an injustice in the world; the electricity of the cries of injustice had accumulated in the universe until it reached the right circumstance for thunder and lightening to explode.

Last week I said Abraham and Sarah’s call was born out of God’s desire to do something new. Moses’ call was born out of God’s decision to address an injustice. The objective part of a call is what God wants to have happen in the world at any particular moment in history.

The subjective situation: Moses’ experience

The subjective part of Moses’ call was his experience. Here’s what Exodus says:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then 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." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3: 1-6)

The back story on this is that Moses had been born to a slave family but adopted by the Egyptian king’s daughter. He was one of the slave people but he grew up in privilege. When he became an adult and tried to help his people, they rejected him and his leadership.

He left Egypt and made a highly successful life for himself in a foreign country. He did well for himself. He had everything anybody could want in life but one day he saw a burning bush in the wilderness.

Why a burning bush? I think the burning was really within himself. What Moses saw projected onto the bush was a burning within his own soul.

I think there are those of us who have an awareness of injustice in the world, and no matter how much we try to ignore it and make a good life for ourselves, the awareness of injustice burns within us. We may manage to ignore it, repress it and suppress it, but when we are in wilderness places in our lives, it appears.

This is why some of us need to keep so busy… to avoid the burning inside us.

Moses was far away from the cries of the slaves. He could not physically hear them. But I think the cries of the slaves in Egypt fed the fire inside Moses even though he could not literally hear their cries.

The electricity of injustice in the atmosphere can feed the burning inside us even when we try to avoid it.  

Until we are alone in a wilderness place in our lives. Then the burning can appear to us.

Do you know how community organizers start to organize? They go talk to hundreds of people in the community they want to organize and they find five or 10 people who have fire in their belly. That’s all you need to organize a community. Five or 10 people who have a sense of the pain of injustice in their bellies.

The burning inside Moses that he saw projected onto a bush was an angel, Exodus says. There was an angel inside the burning. The literal definition of an angel is a messenger from God.

The burning inside Moses was a messenger from God. The place where Moses becomes aware of the burning inside him is holy ground. The place of Moses’ consciousness is holy ground. Wherever the subconscious message that we are trying to suppress becomes conscious is holy ground.  

There are many different ways that calls happen. One of the ways is a burning inside that you or I may even be managing to successfully ignore or repress or suppress. But it is still there.

When the injustice that is the source of that burning becomes charged enough and when we are in a wilderness place in our lives, it may appear to us. But the call is always there.

So does God still call people today? Is there still injustice?

Here is an Associated Press story about Haiti from before the earthquake. I understand it is even more true now. My wife Jane ran across this—

Haiti’s poor resort to eating mud as prices rise
It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable
shortening have become a regular meal.

Dirt cookies become bargains
At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

An unpleasant taste
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti's health ministrySermon text.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."

If the cries of injustice ever caused God to call people, I doubt that God has stopped now.  There may be some of us here with a burning inside. We may think it is indigestion, or depression, or ADD. But maybe it is an angel.

Benjamin E. Mays, “A Plea for Straight Talk Between the Races” at http://www.theatlantic.com/past/issues/60dec/mays.htm.
 

 

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