First Congregational United Church of Christ
September 7, 2014
“Let the Bush Burn”
Rev. Diane K. Hooge
In order to better understand the story of Moses, we need to back up to chapter two of Exodus which gives us some key background information. Moses was raised as the adopted son within the ruling family of Egypt. He was denied the family and cultural connections with his own family of origin. Moses was raised under the influence of the finest Egyptian palace educators, but he failed to find a place of belonging.
When Moses grew up, the text tells us that he went to his people and felt their pain and their burdens. His passionate sense of justice was stirred and he stepped over the line of his privileged life when he killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew. Traveling from the palace the next day, he found that there were witnesses to the killing. There were those who could name the time and place that they saw him scrambling to bury the Egyptian in the sand. Nobody was offering him a medal for taking justice into his own hands. His own people didn’t trust him. Pharaoh sought to kill him. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and his own people to the land of Midian.
It’s hard to imagine deleting one’s white collar ruling class resume and assuming a blue collar identity in the middle of nowhere, called the “Back of the Desert.”
It’s hard to imagine changing one’s address from The Palace to a homestead on the Gulf of Aquabah. It’s hard to imagine going from eating culinary delights in an opulent dining room to squatting by a fire while patiently turning a rabbit on a stick.
Moses no longer wore the clothing of the palace tailors. His clothes now held the labels of Sears and Carhart. Although he left Egypt and the palace far behind, he still carried Moses with him. He carried his lack of self-confidence. He carried his speech problems. He carried his anger and his role as “renegade from the ruling class.” As a foster child of wealth, I suspect that he didn’t miss being caught between two worlds.
Moses appears to have been an introvert. The desert life appealed to him. It offered safety and autonomy from the remnants of what probably seemed like a past life-time.
And then one day, with sheep dung on his sandals, dried dirt on his clothing and fresh perspiration breaking out, Moses found himself struggling to get the shoes off his feet while standing in front of a burning bush. With his heart pounding, and his mouth going dry, he was aware that he was on holy ground. He was terrified. In his awestruck condition, we are told that a voice spoke out of the bush.
Go to Egypt!
I don’t think so!
Go to Pharaoh! My picture’s on every post office wall.
Lead the people out of Egypt! I’ve got a job—it’s not much, but it pays the bills, thanks for the offer.
Our invitation to freedom—to liberation always begins with our response. When the call comes, we, like Moses, find that all the fears wrapped around old memories and old systems begin rising to the surface. The invitation by God in every form of burning bush calls for surrender. In our humanness, we fight to keep from doing the work that the call brings. Calls by God rarely fit our agenda. They always demand change. And, in our humanness, we resist transformation which, by its very nature, moves us towards wholeness. When we sift and sort through our fears; when we dare to speak our truth and to allow others to speak their own truth, we often discover where we are enslaved and where we are the oppressors. Not easy stuff for Moses, and not easy stuff for us.
As I was wrestling with this text, I thought about October 25, 2002. It was days before the election. Paul Wellstone, who had served in the Senate from 1991, was making his final flights around the state of Minnesota. The church that I served was still reeling from 9/11, when the horrific news came that Paul Wellstone’s plane had gone down. Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila and daughter Marcia lost their lives along with five others who also died in the crash… No matter what party one belonged to, the crash devastated Minnesotans. I remember that Friday night standing on the steps of the Capitol with hundreds of other folks who stood in shock and anguish over the death of this beloved leader and his equally beloved wife. When the dignitaries finished their speeches, the crowd stayed and took over. Candles were jammed into the bottoms of paper cups or wrapped in foil. A voice for those without voices had been lost. A voice for peace had been lost. Battered women had lost two significant advocates. All the folks lined up on those capitol steps desperately needed to feel and experience hope. The fear and grief over having lost an advocate was palpable.
Like Moses Wellstone’s family history influenced his ability to care for those with no voice. Born the second son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, his family name had been changed from Wexelstein to Wellstone because of the anti-Semitic neighborhood that kept the family as outsiders. It was his history –the loss of his grandparents in the Bolshevik Revolution, the family’s struggles to be respected as Jews that laid the groundwork for his hard work as a student and his focus as a professor on economic justice and poverty.
As I sat with this text I spent time sorting through what took place in our social hall on Thursday night. Our Moderator, Clark Custodio called for a meeting of the Church Council. As always, the Council meetings are open to the congregation. I announced last Sunday at both services that there were concerns from folks about the Search Committee not being diverse enough to reflect the community. We formed a large circle. It was an intense and very respectful evening, and it felt like sacred ground. Sacred ground isn’t always comfortable. It’s hard work to listen intently and to choose one’s words carefully in order to accurately express one’s thoughts and feelings. I can assure you that everyone has high regard for those who were selected through the Search Committee process to serve. The challenging part was the sharing and the listening to those who were concerned about who was left out of the Search committee. Who didn’t apply? What members do we wish had applied? The questions were raised such as “Does the committee fully represent this community?” What people celebrated around the circle is this church’s stance on inclusivity. You are being invited to share your reflections, thoughts, concerns, about the process along with your recommendations.
Transitions by their very nature are messy. Sometimes, it takes a while for a community to get clear on what they want. Even when a process, like the Church Council followed with diligent work and collective wisdom, is questioned.—it can be used by the broader community to get clearer about what is needed.
What is our burning bush mandate? What is God’s call upon this congregation? What is needed for the Search Committee to have the trust of the congregation in order to move into the work that will need to be accomplished? Who will be trusted to do the hard work of gathering and preparing the profile that will accurately tell our church’s story? This work demands that all the voices be heard. This community will have many opportunities to speak their truth. Today it begins with feedback to the Church Council, and you have an opportunity to also fill out a Music Survey. You can be assured that there will be many more opportunities to give your opinions. All of this data will be incorporated into the church profile that will be used to seek a Settled Pastor. Know that every pastor who is seeking to be called by a church is going through a tedious process of filling out their own profile.
Many months from now, when the candida ting weekend comes to this community, please know that even then and especially then, your voices are important. There will be opportunities to ask questions, hear the person preach, meet their family, listen to what their references have to say, listen to their theology. But the bottom line discernment piece will be “Is this God’s choice for you as pastor and people? Is this the person that God is calling to lead this community of faith into the next chapter.” This is why the undergirding of prayer throughout this whole process is so essential.
Minding our soul’s means attending and remembering who we are, both as individuals and as a faith community. It means remembering our own personal history and the origin of our family, our cultural origin as well as our origin in God. As we share our stories and histories, others are able to share their stories. It is in this process that we become, like Moses, agents of reconciliation for one another. In our stories are held the wisdom of what estrangement from God can bring.
All of us long for a safe place to connect with others. When we have been the outsiders, when we have been denied dignity and a place of belonging, we become passionate about the place of belonging when we do experience it. We cherish it and demand of our leaders that we expand our welcome. The mystery of our faith is told by those who have experienced the darkness being transformed by grace. We are all invited to the promised land of making a difference in the world.
Moses was sent because he understood the systems of the ruling class. Like Moses we need God and each other:
— to build bridges to neighborhoods,
–to be advocates for the earth,
–to become aware of the risks we need to take to go deeper with anti-racism work.
What is the next piece of work that God is inviting us to take on? What will Lucy Edwards share with us regarding what is going on in Honduras? What will we be called upon to support?
No matter if we are individuals or an institution, the call of God always represents a passage, an invitation to transformation and a movement towards liberation and wholeness. God promised: “I will be with you. I am who I am. This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Let the bush burn! Amen.