Exodus 3: 1-6; 13-15; John 14: 1-11
My daughter, Jenny, has a pet beta fish named Sam. I didn’t know what a beta fish was until she got him. Sam lives in a clear plastic tumbler most of the time, or in a mason jar with holds punched in the lid when he travels. He is very low maintenance; I have been in charge of feeding Sam when Jenny was away one time, and just gave him 5 pellets each day. How easy. I wonder if I get up close and look at Sam, if I must look like that eye on the first page of our bulletin? What does a giant face, and even closer, a giant eye, look like to a small fish? I wonder, if God were to look at us in our world, if it would be like a person looking though a clear tumbler at a fish: eyes of love, eyes of wonder, eyes of curiosity? But God chose to not just fill our minds with images; God let the divine voice be heard and let the divine heart be known, particularly in our two passages today.
One of the signs of a theophany, or an appearance by God, is fire; we learned that a few weeks ago. Keeping with that human understanding, the first time God spoke to the central leader of Israel, it was through fire. “Moses … Moses!” The reader knows who the recipient of the message is; but who is the giver of the message? “Do not come near; take off your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is Holy Ground.” Now we know the speaker; only God can make common ground holy! God chose to have a rather personal relationship with Moses, a good idea when the request God made was so demanding. God even gave Moses a trump card, so to speak: the person name or God- YHWH- so that if anyone got up into Moses’ face and growled “Who says?” Moses could tell them the name of the true God in stark contrast to the many Caananite gods in that region. Moses was told to say: “The God who is who he is and will be who he will be” sent me. In sharing our names, we feel like we allow ourselves to be more known and to know others. When I first came here to this congregation, I worked to know names of those in the flock. And we struggled with the right fit: first names, last names with titles: Mr. Mrs. Miss, or Rev.? If we know each other, and call each other by name, walls come down and bridges get built. Being personal has its risks, but also its benefits. God risked sharing a personal voice and a personal name with Moses. We can get lulled into a sense of knowing someone who doesn’t know us thanks to television and radio media. We hear a voice or see a face, say of a newscaster or a celebrity or even a preacher, and we think if we were to meet them they would know us; but then we catch ourselves and remember: all we’ve seen is an image or heard a voice; they’ve seen nothing but a camera or a microphone; it just seems like they have looked right at us! Some have even been disappointed when they met the celebrity of their choice and found them gruff, distant, or unresponsive. All those years of cheering for, pulling for, and idolizing the great pitcher, Bob Gibson, and upon telling him that at an autograph session, he just looked at me as he handed the autographed cap back to him that I’d just paid $19.95 to get! What a disappointment. Being personal, physically being in the presence of another, can bring either comfort or a discomfort that media sources, including text messaging, blogging, and face books cannot replace.
A number of years ago, Bette Midler made a song popular called “From a Distance.” In it was the claim “God is watching us from a distance.” But God is more personal than that. Christian theology says that God is with us even now, immortal but also invisible. God came down to earth as the Word became flesh according to John chapter 1. Christian Theology says that God in Christ later left the Holy Spirit for us on earth to teach and comfort us. And Christian theology teaches that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) God also longs for relationship.
Later in John 14, we learn from Jesus how personally God cares. Jesus told his disciples a story that he superimposed over Jewish wedding customs. After a father of a boy and the father of a selected girl decide on a price to pay for the daughter’s hand in marriage to the son, the father takes the son away for a period of time, and only the father gets to decide how long. During that time, the bride waits and prepares, the bridesmaids stay ready, and the father and son build a room on the father’s house where the new couple will live. The father teaches his son as they build, about supporting, caring for, and loving his new bride. In this story, the church (the bride), is invited to be the honored guest of the father under his roof, along with his son, to live there and be under his protection, and in return, to honor her new husband and thank the father for the gift of living under his roof as family. Jesus said to his disciples, in so many words, “You know that story. Now trust that my Father wants that for you; and oh, by the way, like some of you look like your fathers, so, if you have seen me, you have an idea what my father looks like. Do not be afraid.”
Things that are unknown can be frightening: an exodus; feeling alone. God speaks to us in many personal ways. One way that God’s love and Christian teachings are shared with the world is through missionaries. Today we are blessed to personally have our missionaries with us. They bring the Gospel of Jesus from another country, through another language, but it is the same God who is worshipped and the same Jesus who is Lord. Meet them, share with them; pray for them as we support them. Perhaps in seeing them today, and hearing why they felt called to be missionaries for the Lord, you too might be called by God in even new ways. When God has work to do, in this city, this country, or in another and asks in holy pondering, “Whom shall I send?” perhaps you can say: “Here I am Lord! I will go if you lead me; I’ll hold your people in my heart.” They did. Thanks be to God. And so can you. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 4, 2007