Rev. Bonnie Campbell
Moses is acting as the steward of Jethro’s sheep. Moses, who came to Jethro after committing murder, steps aside to satisfy his curiosity about something he sees. And, Moses, in all his humanity is invited to remove his shoes because this is a holy place. God doesn’t want barriers between Moses and the divine. One wonders what barriers Moses had placed between himself and God. Well, murdering a fellow human being would be one. Later in the story, the Israelites don’t want to see the glory of God on Moses’ face and he wears a veil so they can have a barrier between themselves and the divine. One wonders what barriers we place between ourselves and God. Isn’t that what Lent is about--removing barriers that separate us from the love of God?
We also have Paul’s view of the Israelites in the wilderness. All were guided by the cloud by day to the places they needed to go and they all received salvation from the oppressive Egyptians by passing through the sea. Paul notes that God was not pleased with most of the Israelites and they were struck down. Idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and complaining were their sins even though they drank from the spiritual rock that Paul equates with Jesus the Christ. Paul writes that all these Israelites who were struck down are an example to us. They were placing barriers between themselves and the divine. Paul says we need to persevere but God will provide an escape so we can make it.
And the Luke passage includes more disasters befalling people. Jesus notes that the people killed by the Romans during the Passover festival were no more sinful than anyone else. Yet, he warns his listeners to repent or have the same happen to them. The people killed by the fall of the tower at Siloam did nothing to deserve it. Yet, we all must repent or the same thing will happen to us. Is Jesus also speaking of barriers between humans and God?
The question has often been why do bad things happen to good people. The people who were killed at the festival were doing God’s bidding--why did they die? The people building the tower at Siloam were working for the Romans to provide water for Jerusalem--were they right or wrong and if they were wrong, is that why they died? Jesus said they weren’t any worse than anyone else. Yet, Jesus says anyone who refuses to repent will also perish. It is almost as if Jesus is saying bad things happen all the time to all kinds of people. As noted in Sojourners, by Jason Byassee, Jesus doesn’t seem very pastoral here.
In the story Paul relates to the Corinthians, good things happened to ALL the Israelites. They all escaped the Egyptians, they all were guided through the wilderness, and they all received water and food. Yet those who did not repent perished. Those who placed barriers between themselves and God did not get to enter the Promised Land.
Yet, here is a God who will invite a murderer to remove his sandals so he can be in intimate contact with the divine. And, here is a God depicted by Jesus as a gardener who will give a tree a new chance by providing fertilizer and root space and wait to see if there is fruit. Isn’t this part of the story saying that good things happen to bad people--to all people? These stories also exhibit the generosity of God. [Jason Byassee in February, 2016 edition of Sojourners magazine]
I guess I will continue to struggle with these stories. I will continue to wonder what happened to that fig tree in the parable. What barriers do I have that hold God at a distance? Where do I wear sandals instead of arriving in bare feet? What do I try to hide from God? What do I try to keep from God?
I love the story of Moses stepping aside to see the burning bush and then interacting with God when he got there. One of our Japanese maples looked like a blaze of fire last fall and I really enjoyed it. I took several pictures of it and it reminded me of Moses’ story. I like the idea that Moses had to go out of his way to satisfy his curiosity and found God there. The remarkable thing wasn’t that the burning bush was not consumed by the fire but that God talked to Moses once his attention was obtained--that God wanted that conversation to be intimate. I have wondered at times if there were others who walked on by but I do believe it was Moses God was after. So, perhaps one of our barriers is inattention to the holy. Inattention to the unusual and the mundane. Inattention to those around us and what God would want us to see in them--in ourselves.
When Jim and I visited Christ Church in Anacortes this week, one of the priests there and her husband took us to see the narthex that was added to the church since I was there last. We stood by the baptismal font and looked out the front windows and she related a story. She was inside the church preparing for a baptism service which would bring guests and she noticed an empty beer can in the grass right by the sidewalk in front of the church. She watched one after another of several parishioners walk right past the beer can. No Moses in the bunch to turn aside and note the unusual--or, perhaps the mundane. So, she finally turned to the Eucharistic Minister and said, “It is not in your job description but would you please go out and pick up that beer can?” Now there was action. I’m not saying picking up the beer can was essential for the service to go forward but we do need to care for the environment and empty beer cans should be properly placed so they can be recycled. Being stewards of our church property is a holy act--perhaps we should do it barefoot.
When I was baptized the second time when I was 12, I took it upon myself to make the world I encountered as orderly and tidy as I could. I would have picked up the beer can then and I would most likely pick it up now--unless my hands were already full. So, those mundane things we see in the world, and the unusual, can bring us closer to God if we see both as a means to serve others and the planet.
God is in here, God is in our hearts, and God is out there. God is in whatever we encounter. Perhaps the barrier we need to remove most is our inattention to burning bushes and to beer cans on the ground. If we attend to what we see and hear, we can see and hear God in the world. No barriers, no sandals--just intimate conversation in the presence of the divine.