Let’s Grow

February 28, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
3rd Sunday in Lent 
Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

IMG_4036Today we heard the familiar story of Moses and the burning bush. The burning bush has become the quintessential symbol of God’s call to do God’s work in the world. In the story, we’re told that Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. He’s just doing an ordinary thing on an ordinary day. He’s taken the flock beyond the wilderness and finds himself at Horeb, the mountain of God. Then Moses sees something that catches his eye… a bush on fire, yet not being consumed. And what does Moses do?

He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t ignore it and return to his flock. Instead, he says “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” Moses TURNS and takes a closer look.

[Quick Sidebar: Remember that the root of the word repentance is μετανοέω (metanoeó) – to change direction, to TURN toward God. We are in the season of Lent, so the theme of repentance, of turning toward God, is everywhere! Even in this burning bush story!]

So, Moses has turned to take a closer look at this bush, and then it says:

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Now, that two-time calling thing is important – we only see it two other times in scripture. The first time is when Abraham has the knife poised above his son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him, and God says “Abraham, Abraham!” and Abraham says, “Here I am!” and God gives Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of his son. We also see it in God’s initial call to Samuel, and Samuel responds “Here I am!”

And today, when we hear God’s voice calling from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses!” we know that God is making sure to have Moses’ full and undivided attention.

And (Moses) said, “Here I am.” Then (God) said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”    

Here_I_AmNow, I contend that it wasn’t the burning bush that made this ground holy. Instead, it was Moses’ response to God’s call – his “Here I am” – that made this a holy place – a holy moment. Holy doesn’t mean perfect, holy means to be set-apart.  I believe that when any of us hears God’s call and responds with “Here I am” it is a holy thing!

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, “every second is filled with something we have to do” kind of society, we get distracted and don’t see the burning bush. With the bombardment of noise, coupled with our reluctance to take time for quiet reflection with God, it’s virtually impossible to hear the “Jody, Jody!” of God’s call to me.busy-life

This is the reality of today’s world. Unlike Moses, we aren’t just wandering the countryside guiding a flock of sheep. We’ve got meetings to attend, kids to raise, meals to prepare, errands to run! Who has time for burning bushes? And even if I did have time to hear God’s call, I’m no Moses!

But that’s the miracle of the story, really. Even Moses was no Moses in his own eyes! When God says to Moses that he will be used to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses understandably asks: “Who am I…?” to do this thing.

This is when we expect God to list all of Moses’ gifts. All those traits that make him uniquely qualified for this mission on God’s behalf. We want affirming words that assure Moses (and us) that he’s got the right stuff; that something he’s done in his past has equipped him for God’s call.

But that isn’t what we get. God simply replies: “I will be with you…”

“I will be with you.”

And although Moses still puts up some resistance, in the end he was able to trust in God’s “I will be with you” more than clinging to his own self-doubt.

God calls us, just as we are, to help deliver those who are suffering. Some of those who are suffering may be right beside you in the pew. Others may be in far off lands. Still others, many in fact, are right down the road from us – on the edges; on the margins of society. What might God be calling us to do on their behalf?

And what reveals that it is God’s work that Moses is doing? God says:

“… and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

I found this curious as I reflected on it. The sign isn’t just that the people are delivered out of Egypt, but that they shall worship God on this mountain.

We like the idea of worshiping God – we do it every week when we come together on Sunday. Yet, when I looked at the Hebrew word used in this passage, it wasn’t the typical word used for worship. It wasn’t the one that means “to bow down” before God. No, in this passage, a better translation for the Hebrew word used isn’t worship but to SERVE or to CULTIVATE.980_slide_cultivate1-980x360

This particular passage conveys that success is seen not only in helping others, but in leading them to serve God, too. When we serve God, we are practicing a form of worship. Our purpose is not merely to revere God, but to do God’s work in the world. To cultivate life! To spread God’s love! In this way, worship is not reserved for Sunday morning, but is an essential part of our daily life!

We see an example of what this might look like when we turn to today’s parable from Luke’s gospel. We are told that a landowner had a fig tree that he’s been checking on for three years, and in all that time it hasn’t produced any figs. The landowner calls over the gardener and tells him to cut it down, it’s wasting the soil! But the gardener says, let’s give it one more year. I’ll try some new things. I’ll do some cultivating. I’ll be more intentional about its growth. I’ll give it more nourishment. I’ll dig around it… free up its roots a bit. Then we’ll see what happens.gardener_2750464b

Now, we aren’t told if the fig tree produces anything, so perhaps that isn’t the point of the story. Perhaps it’s the gardener we’re supposed to pay attention to. The gardener is the one who changed – the gardener turned to something new. Instead of leaving things just as they’ve been for the past several years, just hoping that something new would emerge, the gardener said “Here I am” on behalf of the fig tree. The gardener would use this next year to cultivate the land, to nurture the tree in a new way – to turn attention toward it, claiming this new purpose in life.

Lent is a time when we are intentional about this type of turning-toward-God. It’s a time to evaluate what’s going well. It’s also a time to look at what in our life may be keeping us from growing fully into who and how God would have us be. It’s a time to recognize the holy ground that comes with our “Here I am.” Time to dig around a bit and free our rootedness, allowing us to take new shape.

It’s a time to keep our eyes and ears turned toward God; making ourselves available to hear the “Jody, Jody!” even at the risk of being called to something that makes me more than a little uncomfortable. And in responding, we aren’t saying “I’ve got this,” but instead, we’re saying, “God, I trust that you are with me, and YOU’ve got this” let me serve you as you see fit.

We come here each week to worship God as a core practice of our faith. It isn’t a theatrical show we attend. It’s not a performance to enjoy or critique. It’s something we are meant to participate in. It’s an act of service to God.

IMG_4042As we process into the church, we are TURNING toward God – turning our attention toward what matters. We use this time each week to re-tell our ancient story, and through it, to reignite the burning bush that calls us to God’s work. We respond with our own “Here I am.” We affirm our trust that God is with us. At the table, we share the holy meal – taking in the bread and the wine, we are strengthened and refueled – inspired – in Spirited! Then, being fortified with God’s spirit – the fire of purpose burning in us – we are SENT OUT, ready once again to embark on God’s work; the worship that is serving God in the world.

Worship is a PRACTICE of faith, and as such, it’s a gradual and deliberate process – like cultivating a fig tree; like delivering people out of bondage to new life. Much of this work happens under the surface, and while often unseen, it’s no less vital and necessary.

Lent is that time of active life-giving work that is a response to God’s call to us.

Moses turned toward the blazing bush. God called an ordinary person in the midst of an ordinary day. With no special skills, with his imperfect self, Moses said “Here I am.” Trusting in God’s “I will be with you,” Moses moved forward in a new direction – one that was toward God’s purpose for the world.

As we each continue our Lenten journey, let us consider the burning bush that has been trying to catch our eye. May we open our ears to listen for God calling our name. Take a moment to ask: What is God calling me to do at this time? What new growth is emerging in me?

And, we ask collectively: What new growth is emerging in Christ Church as a community? This is at the heart of our discernment process. The gardener asked for another year with the fig tree. I can’t help but wonder what new life Christ Church will be producing, what new direction we will be walking in this time next year.

Let us worship and serve God together, in this place and in the world around us, and just see where God leads.

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One Response to “Let’s Grow”

  1. Jim Greenwood said

    I just finished reading this Feb. 28 sermon. Really profound. Thanks. Love,

    Dad >

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