My friends, I am struck as I look over the readings for this week of how they lay out well what each of us needs to know in attempting to live as a Christian—a follower of our brother, Jesus. Additionally, this week’s readings seem to clear up some false teachings that many of us probably grew up believing, and this is true from the Old Testament in the selection from Exodus and on through the New Testament gospel from Luke and Paul’s letter to First Corinthians. The Psalm selection is the only exception. Let’s take a look.
Today’s psalm, 103 lets us know that our God, “is kind and merciful.” With that in mind, we can reflect back on God’s words to Moses from the burning bush—”I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt.” And this God who is “kind and merciful,” calls on Moses to help and basically says, I will be with you—you won’t need to do this alone. Moses answers in the way that is needed at this time— “Here I am.”
And so that Moses realizes that this is a serious, sacred request, God says, “Where you are standing is holy ground.” Now, upon first reading these words, we think of the surface meaning—yes, God is here, thus the ground is holy.
But looking at this, “burning bush” moment, can’t simply be done in a surface way. Moses’ God chose to involve him in a venture that simply put, was “all about love,” because God had heard the peoples’ cries, and Moses is being asked to be God’s envoy to a stiff-necked Pharoah, holding Moses’ people, who also belonged to God, against their will.
Now, if Moses has truly gotten the picture, either at this point, or at some time in the future, he will realize that the “holy ground” is not only the physical ground where God seems to be but is ground upon which the Israelites in Egypt stand and the ground upon which we all stand! Each of us is “the stuff” of heaven and of God, here, having a human experience.
Now Moses, like most of us is concerned about the surface things—who he should tell the Pharoah it is, has sent him. And it is almost as if God is teasing him—say, “I AM” has sent you. And to this day, exegetes still quibble over whether God meant, “I AM who I am” or “I AM who I will be.” Now this probably made no more sense to Moses that it does to us, unless we simply conclude that God is not Some One or Some Entity that can be explained to our satisfaction, so let’s perhaps look at the “why” this encounter is taking place, rather than “who” has come to Moses in this “burning bush” moment.
If we recall once again the psalmist’s words, “Our God is kind and merciful,” –one who has heard the peoples’ cries; then the “why” is really more important than getting stuck on what name we should give this caring God. We see additionally that God comes to Moses as God comes to each of us—there is a need in our world and God asks, “Who can I send—who will go for us?” Hopefully, each of us can see at times, the “holy ground” and the people standing upon it, and do our part, saying, “I will go.”
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians seems to struggle a bit too with describing the full picture of what is going on with the Israelites and their freeing from Egypt. He gives us an image of a somewhat “frightening God” and that we better, “watch out” lest we fall, like some of the Israelites did. Perhaps because Paul never knew Jesus, our brother, in his earthly life, he either wasn’t aware of, or had forgotten Jesus’ teachings from the gospel selection in Luke today.
Jesus is teaching against the notion that God causes “bad things” to happen to us because we have done “bad things.” Through the lovely story of the fig tree that bears no fruit and the owner who is willing to cut it down in punishment, we instead see the love of our God, through the vinedresser who says, “Let’s give it another chance.” Rather than God causing a bad result, it is probably more true to say that when we make bad choices, the result is a bad outcome.
My friends, as the story of the fig tree seems to indicate, Jesus our brother and our God is strongly encouraging us to change our ways if our end results aren’t what we had hoped for. Unfortunately, that old theology that wrongly taught us that the only purpose for Jesus’ coming among us was to save us from our sins, didn’t allow us to see the goodness of our God who would again and again give us chances to change and become our best selves.
A sister of St. Joseph and a Scottish scholar, Sister Mary Beth Ingham, put it this way: “The Incarnation was not plan B (because something went wrong in the garden)—it was always plan A.” My friends, God in Jesus became one of us out of love, to show us in no uncertain terms—how to live and how to love, and so perhaps we could say, in that case, Jesus did, “save us,” but from ourselves.
God looks on each of us with love—we are “holy ground” as a result, and so are all others, and this same God then, asks us to love in return—first God and then, others. Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century German theologian says it like this, “The eyes with which you will look back at God will be the same eyes with which God first looked at you.” You might want to think about that a bit, but to me, that is why it is so important that the Eucharist that we celebrate each week here, and partake in, doesn’t stop here. Or, as we say in faith, “This is Jesus, the Bread of Life, how blessed are we [to receive it] and become the Bread of Life for the world.”
My friends, my challenge to each of you and to myself is to always strive to see beyond the words on the page as we read the Scriptures—I am quite sure our God wants us to go deeper so that more “burning bush” moments happen, that is, when we can see God, “in our midst.” When we can all work toward creating a world where all are seen for their basic goodness, instead of in racist, sexist and all other diminishing ways, we will be able to truly say that we are “standing on holy ground.” Amen? Amen!