This is the "sermon" I "preached" the night after the VA Tech shootings, and I'm only bothering to post it now because I'm still thinking about it. Yeah, I know this isn't exactly your typical three point sermon-- but that's sorta what this class has been about-- pushing the text. We've been using the Everett Fox "The Five Books of Moses" Translation and this is straight from Exodus 3. Everything God says in this dialogue is what God says in the text, according to the translation. I had (have) so many questions following that tragedy, and here is what came out.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Kim.
I know it’s been a while. But here I am--I’m working with this text—a wonderfully rich, beautiful text about you appearing to Moses in a bush.
God… where is my burning bush? For that matter, where is OUR burning bush? Or maybe it doesn’t even have to be a burning bush. Maybe it could even be something much smaller. It wouldn’t have to be this huge, grand, cinema-worthy theophany… but something God, something!
We’re thirsty, God—it’s been a long time since we’ve heard your voice. All of the people in this class have willingly put their lives in your hands—dedicated their whole beings to your service. We’ve uprooted families, left lives past, and even gone half way around the world. All this so that we could go out into YOUR world to proclaim YOUR good news.
But as we share our stories, I hear such a deep desire for a word from you. You’ve surely heard the things that we’ve dared say aloud to each other: the questions about the future, the frustration about the process, the uncertain conditions of our loved ones. And surely, God, you’ve even heard the questions and fears we can’t dare give words to.
You told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing in your midst—told him that he was standing on HOLY ground.
Are WE in your presence? Are WE standing on holy ground?
It doesn’t feel like it, God. Over thirty people lost their lives, just yesterday—all because one person felt un-loved. There is a children’s home across the street where children have to live because their parents can’t find appropriate ways to care for them. And yeah, the middle east has become what must surely be a living hell.
This doesn’t feel like holy ground at all. Are you with us? Are you? And for that matter, if all this is going on, WHO are you? Are you a god who just watches as this happens?
I AM the God of your father, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzhak, and the God of Yaakov.
Ok, that didn’t exactly answer my question. I wasn’t asking for a list of credentials. I wasn’t asking whose God you have been since the formation of the Earth. I was asking, instead, if you are OUR God.
I have seen the struggles of my people, their cry have I heard in the face of all the wrong that hits them full on.
I have known their sufferings!
That didn’t answer my question either. If you have seen all this, God, what are you doing about it? Are you just watching, and waiting?
I have come down, to rescue my children. I have come to take them out of that war and violence torn land, to take them to a safe place. A rich place. The place of those before them. The cry of the children of the World has come to me, and I have seen the oppression they face.
So now, go, for I send you to deliver them. Bring my people, the children of the World, a word of hope!
And I, myself, will be there!
God, How can we proclaim you to these hurting, suffering, weeping people? People are going away from the church faster than we can figure out why they are leaving, much less how to figure out to bring them back. Who shall we tell them you are?
“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh—‘ I WILL BE THERE HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE’.
Say to them “ ‘I will be there’ sends me to you.”
“I Will Be There”? That is who we are to proclaim? What kind of name is that?
But if I were honest, it isn’t the “HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE” part that bothers me… it’s the I WILL BE THERE. Will you be there, God? Will you be even here? Will you be with them? Will you be with us?
Say this to my children all over the world:
YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzak, and the God of Yaakov sends me to you.
I love how you never simply answer a question. I asked if you would be here, and you tell me again that you are the same God who watched over Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov. But will you watch over us?
Why are you feeding me the same words you fed Moses? In the generations that have passed since Moses walked the Earth, have you no new word of comfort or liberation? Am I to believe that the same things you said in the interchange with Moses are the words which you have for me?
That is my name for the ages, that is my title from generation to generation.
Go, gather my people, and tell them about me. Say to them “I have seen the same God who watched over Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov, and that God watches over you, saying ‘For I have taken account of you and what is befalling you. I have declared that I will bring you out of the violence and war-torn land, to a safe place. A rich land. The place of those that have gone before you.”
They will hearken to your voice!
They will hearken to my voice? That’s fine and dandy, but will you hearken to them? I’ve been working in Exodus, and I just preached the passage right before this, the passage which seems to be a prologue about the things that you are getting ready to do in the lives of your enslaved children. In that passage, the writer says “God hearkened to their moaning. God called to mind his covenant with Avraham, with Yitzhak, and with Yaakov. God saw the children of Israel. God knew.”
I proclaimed you to a congregation of older folks facing end-of-life issues—I proclaimed you as the God who Knew. The God who hearkened to them.
Do you know, God?
Will you hearken, God?
I have to stand in a room full of preachers tonight, and you have, in some way said to each of them “They will hearken to your voice.” While somehow that’s what every preacher needs to know, it’s not enough for us right now. Because the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t especially matter whether our congregations will flock to hear us preach. That’s not what it’s about and you know it. We will be faithful preachers even if we preach to a crowd of only two or three. We will still preach even if some have fallen away, calling us heretics because we have preached your radical message of grace. We will be faithful, and we will go out and preach to anyone that has ears, if only we know that YOU are with us.
All preachers have probably heard the story about Mother Theresa, and how she didn’t hear a peep from you for fourteen years while she was working in the streets of Calcutta. Maybe that’s why she was made a saint. Maybe she had some kind of superhuman ability to feel sustained even in the midst of what must have surely felt like a spiritual desert.
Be we aren’t her, God. We at best are stumbling, questioning disciples who have said we will go. We are in our own deserts, and like Moses, our mouths are dry. Our hearts cry to you for some breath of life, some drop of fresh water.
What is your word for us, God? Do not send us away empty, but give us something. We will go, if you are with us.
Will you hear the cries of our people? When they sit down to weep thinking of the glory of the days past, when they are forced to sing songs in a land of captivity—will you weep with them?
Will you be in the midst of their struggles? Will you be in the midst of ours?
Will you hold our hand, especially when we have nothing else to hold onto?
I WILL BE THERE HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE.
That doesn’t sound like much for us to hold on to. That sounds like a whimsical promise of a whimsical god.
Will you be there?
I will be there.
I WILL be there.
I will BE there.
I will be THERE.
Yeah, that’s cute. But is that enough for us to wrap ourselves around? Is that a promise we can cling to? We will go if you will come with us.