That nagging feeling that there’s more to life, the burning suspicion that maybe you are fabulous after all, the quiet longing to serve humanity compassionately… these are the hungers which God longs to address. This Sunday, jazz songstress Emma Jean Foster joined the Dave Scott Ensemble and Rev. Victor as we listened with Moses for God’s call in the wilderness.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ [God] said, ‘I will be with you; 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.’
Prayer for Illumination
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free,
I wish I could break all these chains holding me,
I wish I could say all the things I should say,
Say ‘em loud, say ‘em clear, for the whole round world to hear.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of every heart be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
I don’t know how it works, but singing makes me vulnerable enough to preach, and that’s what this sermon is about: becoming vulnerable enough to answer God’s call.
Called in the Wilderness
Moses escaped Egypt after killing a slavedriver who had beaten an Israelite. Now, in Exodus chapter 3, Moses is on the lam.
Maybe you haven’t exactly committed murder, but you’ve had those moments—I know I have—when I confess that “I can’t believe how horrible I just was, and I call myself a person of faith!” All those things are forgiven, you know, that’s why we start our services with a weekly Confession and Forgiveness. The old ways must die, giving way to new life. That’s what the Lenten journey is about: how God can use us even and especially despite the past.
So, Moses-the-homicidal flees Egypt for the land of Midian on the Arabian side of the Gulf of Aqaba. There he takes up with Zipporah, a preacher’s daughter, and, after meeting at the local watering hole, they hook up. Moses settles in as a family man in this alien land, and Zipporah’s dad Jethro (aka Reuel) the universalist priest proceeds to welcome Moses into the family business: sheep-herding.
Perhaps shepherding prepared Moses to lead the Israelites, but this was not Moses’ plan. Moses had come to Midian for a simpler future—maybe expand the wool sweater business to the hill country next fall. He was minding his own business, when who shows up but God’s messenger, and everything changes. I think God wants us to hear this: “When you least expect me, expect me.” I AM not concerned with the stability of our comfort zones.
The Push & Pull of “Call”
In verse 4, God calls to Moses who answers, “I’m here. Do you see me?” —stepping closer.
“Not that close!” God says. (verse 5)
If you are grappling with answering the call, I bet you’ve felt that same pull and push.
The pull is about how God calls us to do what is good: kindness, humility, justice, to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. But we hesitate. We try to hide. About Moses getting pushback from God, Rabbi Samson Hirch says “do not come any closer” means “stop searching for me in visions of a burning bush.” Back off, and surrender to this awesome moment.
The current push back from doing “what is right” is staggering. Our presidential candidates, who are self-described people of faith, try to outdo one another at pushing us to fear our neighbors and to banish from our land the people who do not worship the God of Abraham in a way familiar to the dominant culture. These would-be rulers are mistaken in their arrogance and power grabs, tempted just as Jesus was tempted by the devil with dominion over worldly kingdoms. Rather than rulers, God calls liberators to give voice to vulnerability—that’s true freedom. Already at work in us, God calls us to respond by doing something to help transform the world from that which is to that which ought to be.
Kick Off the Kicks
God gets particular in verse 5 telling Moses, “Ease off your sandals, and stand on the ground of holiness.” Why then, I wonder, do we not remove our shoes when we worship God? The Buddhists and the Muslims remove their shoes. Why don’t we? I even have church shoes.
No Shirt, No Shoes = Ready for the Call
As a young child in Southern Appalachia, my Aunt Ella Ruth had a rule: children may not go outside with bare feet until after May 1st. Her rules were non-negotiable. If we children went outside without shoes during the springtime before May 1st to walk on the fresh-cut grass and play with the garden hose, may God have mercy on our souls should we come down with a cold or step on something like a bee, which, of course, would not have been there for us to step on after May 1st. Our feet were so happy feeling the rough wet grass, playing in the backyard, getting dirty. Holy ground.
As a teenager in the Deep South, I became accustomed to signs that read: “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” I assumed these signs were about public hygiene—not so. According to the Society for Barefoot Living, the earliest instances of these signs date from around 1970 in response to the San Francisco hippie culture.
The “No Shirt No Shoes No Service” signs were posted to put off “those people” just as the so-called “religious liberty” signs going up today all over the country, reviving the Anita Bryant crusades of the 70s and safeguarding wedding cake bakers from “the gay threat.” Exclusion, fear and intimidation are the opposite of God’s call to liberate and to love not only the powerful, not only the loudest—but everybody.
Wrestle Until Blessed
Richard Rohr ties it all Exodus by saying this: “In Israel’s growth as a people we see the pattern of what happens to every individual and to every community that sets out on the journey of faith. Israel is the ‘womb of the Incarnation,’ for it is in [Israel’s] history that the whole drama is set in motion… Little by little, human consciousness is prepared to see how God loves and liberates us. But we will face plenty of resistance, revealed in the constant hostility to Jesus even and most especially from religious people.”
While I’m agitating, may I introduce an Osage First Nations theologian Robert Warrior, who asks: Did the people of Canaan welcome Israelite refugees from Egypt? Or, did God conquer Canaan for the Israelites? Was Canaan becoming a melting pot of syncretic culture, with diversity and differences as strengths? Or, is it the harsh truth that the same power “used against the enslaving Egyptians [was used] to defeat the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan?” What are we to do with these questions? Come to a Calvary Bible study this week!
Of course we praise God for delivering people from slavery, but what about the colonization of Canaan? Thinking locally, how about the gentrification in our city today ? Ask an elderly San Franciscan facing eviction, or a person of color who feels like the last black face in the Western Addition. Read the Exodus story over with a heart for the Canaanites, remembering that in the Bible, Israel is not a place but a people, a movement of progressive social transformation. Applied to a group, the name Israel means “the people who wrestle with God” recalling the story of Jacob, aka Israel, who struggled with God until he was blessed.
So, it’s in our spiritual DNA to wrestle with God from slavery to freedom, from greed to generosity, from fear and violence to hospitality and peaceful coexistence — from that which is to that which ought to be.
More Light from the Word
Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors ‘has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’
God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’ אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה,
God said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”
This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.
Now, ehyeh does mean I AM, but also means I WILL BE, I AM BECOMING and other English variations on present and future tenses. If you wrestle with these words long enough, you will find all the hope you need. It worked for Moses, and it can work for you. This is a mediation I learned from Rabbi Michael Lerner. Perhaps you’ve encountered this before, but like the bush, this meditation will burn forever and will never be consumed.
Breathe deeply and ask, “Who sends me to make the world as it ought to be? What is this God’s name?”
And the answers comes (repeating after me):
“I AM who I AM…
I WILL BE what I WILL BE…
I AM BECOMING what I AM BECOMING…
I SHALL BECOME what I AM…
I AM what I AM BECOMING…
I SHALL BECOME what I AM BECOMING…
I AM BECOMING what I SHALL BECOME…” 
That’s a beginning. Spend time in quiet and wrestle this phrase “I AM that I AM” ad infinitum, says Rabbi Lerner, and we’ll be transformed by the Great I AM into the Great WE ARE BECOMING. Those words held all the hope Moses needed. But.
Moses had to choose: a) will I believe this voice telling me that I will successfully challenge Pharaoh’s Egypt, the greatest empire on earth, or b) will I listen to common sense?
As it turns out, common sense was overrated. Thanks be to God.
 For this, the final Sunday in Black History Month, a song recalling the Civil Rights Movement toward liberation, written in 1963 by Billy Taylor and made famous by Nina Simone, 1967.
 Psalm 19:4
 Arnold Horshack, Welcome Back Kotter
 Micah 6:8
 Mark 12:28-31
 John Parsons, Hebrew for Christians, “The Call of Moses” accessed online at <http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Shemot/Call_to_Moses/call_to_moses.html> (February 24, 2016)
 The recent “pig’s blood” comment was, in my opinion, despicable. <http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20160226/PC16/160229440/muslim-leader-condemns-donald-trump-x2019-s-remarks-about-killing-muslims-with-bullets-dipped-in-pigs-x2019-blood> (February 26, 2016)
 See the preceding two weeks of sermons at Calvary from Revs. Joann and John.
 Liberation Theology, a movement in Christian theology, developed mainly by Latin American Roman Catholics, that emphasizes liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of ultimate salvation.
 Rabbi Michael Lerner’s phrase
 A Shout-Out to the Lenten Alleluia Police: Reformed worship, as in the Presbyterian tradition, begins with all of us realizing in whose presence we stand and then worshiping the One who gives us breath. Because we are called to be always reforming, this year at Calvary, we’re suspending the old Catholic practice of banishing Alleluias from Lent. Sundays are “in Lent” and not “of Lent.” Sundays are Lenten cheat days, mini-Easters releasing us from our Lenten practices of fasting and penitence. Why? In order to worship God with the full spectrum of praise.
 Bob Neinast, Society for Barefoot Living, blog, 2010, accessed online <https://societyforbarefootliving.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service-its-really-fairly-recent/> (February 25, 2016) Due to internal conflict, the Society for Barefoot Living has suspended its wiring of this blog.
 Mark Harris, “The Flowering of Hippie Culture” The Atlantic, September 1967, accessed online at <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1967/09/the-flowering-of-the-hippies/306619/> (February 27, 2016)
 “Order, Disorder, Reorder” by Richard Rohr, accessed online at <http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=42e345cc-8038-4a53-8c2c-f2d30d25272f&c=339e17e0-24ef-11e4-8aca-d4ae528eaba9&ch=33a34800-24ef-11e4-8aca-d4ae528eaba9> (February 26, 2016)
 American Indian
 Robert Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians” Christianity and Crisis, 49 (September 11,1989): 261- 265, downloadable at <https://instructure-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/account_70000000000010/attachments/29429102/Warrior-%2522Canaanites%252C%20Cowboys%252C%20and%20Indians%2522.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJFNFXH2V2O7RPCAA&Expires=1456726347&Signature=s9vKF6UpIC1qfzVqyE%2B6iIiU0zA%3D&response-content-disposition=attachment%3B%20filename%3D%22Warrior-%5C%22Canaanites%2C%20Cowboys%2C%20and%20Indians%5C%22.pdf%22%3B%20filename%2A%3DUTF-8%27%27Warrior%252D%2522Canaanites%252C%2520Cowboys%252C%2520and%2520Indians%2522.pdf> (February 1, 2016)
 Rabbi Michael Lerner’s phrase, tikkun.org
 Genesis 35:10
 Dennis Praeger, “Israel means ‘Struggle with God’” (2012) accessed online at <http://www.jewishjournal.com/dennis_prager/article/israel_means_struggle_with_god_20120530>
 Mona West, The Bible and Homosexuality, accessed online at <http://mccchurch.org/download/theology/homosexuality/bibleandhomosexuality.pdf> (February 26, 2016)
 Rabbi Lerner led this meditation at the Pacific School of Religion and First Presbyterian Church (USA) of Palo Alto where I was fortunate enough to be present.
 Online interlinear Bible, http://scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/exo3.pdf