Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
August 30 2020


We have been reading our way through the story of the people of Israel this summer. We have covered the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now Moses. The Exodus story is the foundational narrative of the Jewish people. I have had several rabbis tell me that there is no story more important to a Jew, then or now and I believe it is important for us to know about that. Passover one of their most important celebrations comes from this saga. The practices that define Rosha Shana and Yom Kippur grow out of this story.

Today we have the famous story of Moses and the burning bush. This is what we call a theophany, an in-breaking of God, of the holy into our world. Now there are several aspects of this that deserve examination. The first is the idea of thin places. Places where we encounter God and the second is the concept of call and answering God’s call.

First of all the bush that burns, but is not consumed. Moses notices this strange sight and says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Then he is told, come no closer, take off your sandals for this is holy ground. Now Moses experiences being in a holy place and I wonder if this is a first-time experience of this for him. He is on Mount Horeb which will later be called Mount Sinai when the exiles return and he is given the 10 commandments. This is holy ground.

In my experience there are places where it is easier to encounter God. These are what some people call thin places. These are places that seem different and cause us to pause and wonder, what is special here? I have encountered them in many places but for me especially they are on the coastline, in woods or mountains. I have not spent enough time at Camp Allen yet, but I’m sure I will find them there. People have told me where they have encountered them. It is important to be open and to seek these places even if they show up while you are doing some mundane task. One of the things I was very conscious of when I took my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago was looking for thin places, holy places and holy people. You see you can miss them if you are in too much of a hurry or preoccupied with life. I have found that they are often in unexpected places. A part of me wonders if others passed by the bush and were too busy or pre-occupied to notice. As I watch people walking down the street with their heads buried in their cellphone I wonder what they are missing by not putting them down once in a while. That’s one of the great things about a silent retreat, your phone is off and you are focused on God with no distractions. By the way that is really hard for some people. You might try just taking a walk and not have ear buds in or music playing just walk, listen and notice.

Then there is the aspect of call in this passage. Being called by God to do something is a constant theme in the bible. All of Moses’ ancestors have responded to a call with a yes. Peter and the disciples have responded to a call from Jesus to follow him. I know people who are terrified of responding to a call from God. “What if God asks me to do something that I don’t want to do?” they cry. Well nobody said living a faithful life is easy. Being a person of faith is not easy and often it is counter cultural. Besides God would not call you to do something you cannot do.

You do notice that Moses has his reservations about this whole deal. Moses basically says, “You want me to do what? Let me get this right, I’m to go back to Egypt where Pharaoh knows I murdered somebody and tell him that I AM WHO I AM said he had to let his entire slave work force go? Are you nuts?” Then for the next entire chapter he gives God a list of reasons why he can’t do that. Yet what does God do? God answers all those reservations with the basic promise that God will be there with Moses the entire time.

Often when talking with someone with a boatload of problems or challenges I will hear “At least I know that God will not give me more than I can handle.” At which point I always tell this story. There was a woman in the hospital with a raft of medical issues. I was serving as an on-call chaplain. She said, “Pastor, is it true God doesn’t give you more than you can handle?” I started to answer but she said, “Because if it is, I wish he didn’t have such a darn high opinion of my capabilities.” Then I assured her that no that isn’t what the Bible says. That statement in not in the bible. What is in the Bible is the promise that God will give us what we need to face what the world and life gives us. He will equip us if we are willing to face anything.

I believe what everyone who has accepted a challenge, a call from God knows is that God does not call the equipped; God equips those who are called. That is a huge difference. Let me say that again. God does not call the equipped but equips those who are called.

We live in very challenging times. There are things that I am faced with now that nobody ever thought about when they put together my seminary training. There is a huge Facebook page for clergy that is called Things they didn’t teach us in seminary. After this service I’m going to work with John Aherns on our new video system. Facebook live, YouTube all those things are growing edges for us. How to be church in a time of pandemic is leading us in new ways. Dealing with the racial tensions in our world today is on a level our diversity training never covered. Yet if we watch and listen, God is there in all the muck and fury. God is there calling us to make a difference. The question is will we and how will we respond to the call to be the hands and feet of Christ, to do the work of the kingdom right here right now.

I want you all to take a moment and look at the words of the hymn from Wonder Love and Praise that the choir sang before and after the Gospel. Really look at the wonderful and challenging words of this hymn. There is a section where the time signature changes to 5/4 which means if feels awkward. That is intentional, to make you look at the burning bush in this hymn of challenge to answer the call.

Notice that at the beginning of each verse is a question that is followed by the words “and never be the same.” One of the challenges in following a call is that you will never be the same. Answering God’s call will always change you, help you to grow, but change you it will.

God is calling us, Jesus is calling us, will you come follow him, he is calling your name.

Below are the words to the hymn cited in the sermon.
Wiil you come and follow me from Wonder Love and Praise #757
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my Name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ner free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “You” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me.

Christ, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.