Year A, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2023
Year A: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
As we come together this Sunday, I’m struck by the energy and passion with which our region, church, and community brought the Good News to the Shenandoah County Fair and Shrine Mont this past week.
Our region might be the smallest by the number of churches and clergy, but we had 16 confirmations and seven receptions, and there were 218 people at the Shrine. We rocked it!
Funnel cakes, fried Oreos, corn dogs, barbequed chicken, laughter, and livestock contests might seem like an odd segue to talk about today’s reading, yet there’s something profoundly sacred in meeting people amid their everyday lives.
It’s easy to miss God’s ‘still, small voice’ amidst the clamor. Yet, just like Moses, we are called to stop, look, and listen. Speaking of unexpected places where we hear God’s call, let’s turn our attention to the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus.
In Exodus, Moses encounters God in the form of a burning bush. The bush is on fire but not consumed, a paradox that prompts Moses to investigate. God calls him, “Moses! Moses!” he responds, “Here I am.”
Consider Moses’ response. He does not say, “Who are you?” or “What do you want?” Instead, he simply says, “Here I am,” presenting himself as fully available to the divine call, even before he knows what that call is.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls Peter the “rock” upon which Peter will build Jesus’ church. Peter, a simple fisherman, is overwhelmed by the divine vision Jesus lays out for him. Yet, Peter also responds, even though, invariably, faith and failure mark his journey. Still, the call transforms him.
Let’s bring this to our context—Woodstock and Mount Jackson in 2023.
The world around us is filled with noise, distractions, and, quite frankly, many burning bushes, literally and figuratively.
So, how do we discern God’s call in our lives?
It starts with being present, just like Moses was when he said, “Here I am.” It’s about carving out moments in our busy, over-stimulated lives to listen for the divine voice. The County Fair was noisy, busy, and chaotic at times, but didn’t we also find God there? Watching two little boys eat their very first corn dog ever or the wide eyes of children seeing the carnival – were these not burning bushes in their own right?
Our ‘burning bushes’ are often overlooked or misunderstood in today’s fast-paced society. Sometimes, they come to us, not in grand visions or miraculous occurrences, but in the gleaming of a child’s smile, the encouraging word from a friend, or the unexpected opportunity to show kindness to a stranger. These are the everyday burning bushes that invite us to pause, to be present, and to engage with the divine in our midst. When we tune in, we find that these moments are infused with a sense of the holy, opening us to new possibilities of grace and transformation.
Answering the call often involves stepping out of our comfort zones. Peter, a fisherman by trade, was called to become a “fisher of men.” Our involvement in the fair was not just about fun and games but stepping into the messiness and joy of other people’s lives to share the transformative love of Jesus Christ.
We may stumble and doubt like Peter, but that does not nullify our call.
Now, how do we respond?
“Here I am” is not a one-time answer. It’s a continuous commitment to be available for God’s purpose. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt but kept listening to God throughout that journey. Peter became the rock of the Church, but he continued to wrestle with his human limitations. Their initial “yes” was followed by a lifetime of choices that sought to align with that first divine call.
Just as Moses had to navigate the challenges of leading the Israelites through the wilderness, and Peter had to confront his doubts and weaknesses, we, too, face challenges that test our readiness to say, ‘Here I am.’ It’s not a once-and-done statement but a daily reaffirmation. Whether we are in line at the grocery store, at the dinner table with our families, or in a contentious meeting at work, we can renew our commitment by pausing to listen, and if we listen well, we hear God’s still, small voice amid the clamor of life.
For us, the divine call is not confined to the sacred walls of this church or the boundaries of the fairgrounds. It extends into every area of our lives—our jobs, relationships, values, and ethics. God’s voice is not limited to the moments when we are ready to listen; the burning bush, the I AM, can ignite at any time in the most mundane or unexpected places.
I absolutely believe that God speaks to us in the most ordinary of ways when we listen for and to God. As tired and overwhelmed as I sometimes feel in this world, when I look around me when I looked around that fair, I know that we are being called to draw nearer to God, to turn our fears over to God, to remember that the love of God is before our eyes.
I once read an excellent book, “Why Not Become Totally Fire”. It contains many beautiful examples of the Bible’s powerful, sustaining imagery of fire, particularly fire as love and fire as the symbol of the Holy Spirit. To be totally on fire is to be enveloped in the love of God.
God’s love is amazing. Often, we miss the mark when it comes to showing other people this amazing love that has been given to us so freely, so unconditionally. I think we hit the mark this week.
To set ourselves on fire in our lives as Christians is to live into the practical list of how to love one another that Paul gives us in today’s readings from Romans. “Let love be genuine…live in harmony with one another…do not repay evil for evil.
And in living that way, we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus to live in that way of love.
Jesus knows that we are imperfect and fragile creatures. Jesus knows that we, like Peter, will falter but can pick ourselves up because Jesus is there with us.
Today’s readings do not offer an easy path in God’s eyes. Taking up our cross and following Jesus isn’t the easy way; it isn’t the hard way; indeed, it’s the only way. It is life-giving and meaningful.
There is so much good news in today’s readings.
The good news is that we, in our own communities and lives, can be the bearers of the cross, striving every day to hate what is evil and love what is good, to do what Jesus would do in a particular situation.
We can be totally fire, glowing with the love of God.
We can do our utmost to live our lives by the example set for us by Jesus.
Jesus shows us the way. Jesus shows us that doing right by God doesn’t depend on any exceptional talent. Everyone has the opportunity to carry the cross. Last week, we brought the cross to Shrine Mont and saw those 23 people confirmed and received into the Church of God. This week, we carried the cross to the Shenandoah County Fair.
We were present. We were open to the call that comes in simple acts of kindness. As we go from this place today, may our eyes be open to the burning bushes around us, and may our hearts be ready to say, “Here I am.”