Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ablaze with Passion

Scripture for the 3rd Sunday in Lent includes Exodus 3:1-15; I Corinthians 10:1-13; and Luke 13:1-9

The St. John’s Bible tour bus is on the road. Our first stop today is a desert hillside at Horeb, where Moses is minding his own business, tending his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. They’ve just been spooked, and Moses turns to see why.

A bush is blazing, and of course it is: an angel of the Lord is working that thicket, flashing about, trying to catch the attention of Moses, to whom this messenger of God has been sent.

It is tough, the work of an angel. No body to show for it, this kind of being that manifests itself best in the air, but sometimes must land to catch the imagination of near-sighted humans.

But landing is no easy thing. Crashing through the atmosphere is a trip in itself, and the nearer one gets to that crusty surface of earth, the greater the friction as one kind of being slices its way into the realm of the other, the physical. Watch the homeland security alert for angels rise from yellow to orange to red, as even one celestial messenger flashes its way to a landing. Well, more a hovering, as close as an angel gets. And the best this one can find is a thicket, a bush, for heaven’s sake.

Moses’ eye is caught. “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, why this bush burns but is not burned up!”

“Unbelievable!” mutters the angel. “That’s all he can see? How promising can this shepherd be? I know I’m just the messenger… but the Nameless and Holy One does tend to pick the odd ones, little imagination, fearful types… They all need teaching about sacrament, outward and visible signs bearing inward and spiritual grace… But here, this one’s getting close enough for encounter…”

And it is then that the force-field changes. The angel conveys the voice of God, calling by name the gawking shepherd, “Moses, Moses!” And proper introductions follow.

Now, if you don’t cotton to angels, I understand. Even the Bible itself at this point dismisses the angel and has Moses dealing with God directly. I suspect the ancient story tellers would laugh at us, though, for drawing any distinction between God and how God manifests (which can be any way God chooses).

Even as the story changes, I see the fire keep blazing, because the fire is the passion in the belly of God.

Granted, God has no belly… which is why, in the fullness of time, it should be so useful for God to be manifest in one who is both Son of Man and Son of God, Jesus Christ. If one thing is clear from the theological history over the millennia between Moses and Jesus, and in turn over the millennia between Jesus and now, it is that God must reach us through our bellies as well as through our imaginations. Famines must be survived, manna must be found, multitudes must be fed, God’s presence must be revealed as water flows from a rock in the desert, God’s generosity found in the flow of milk and honey, God’s deepest mystery known in the breaking of bread.

But all these affairs of the belly are outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace, to those with eyes to see and ears to hear and imaginations wide open. And what that inward spiritual power is for, what it yearns and burns to accomplish, is the just and merciful saving of life. That is the fire in the belly of God. In Holy Week, we will see that fire in the passion of Jesus, whose radical preference for the poor advances them in the kingdom of God while simultaneously consigning him to a death sentence.

And in the old days of the Hebrew Bible, nowhere does the passion of God flash more brightly than in the Exodus rescue of Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt, fulfilling God’s promise to make of them a nation that would be a blessing to the world.

But this is the moment, at that place of fiery passion, when God tells Moses, “I need you in order to fulfil my promise. I who am what I am have the fire within me that must light the torches that lead my people through their darkest night and out into freedom—but yours must be the hands that carry this fire, the feet that travel such distance, the presence that confronts evil, and the heart that carries my people.”

Fair warning to us on the Bible tour bus: to stand this close to that burning bush is to hear the same need of God who observes the misery in Haiti, hears the cries from Chile, sees the oppression that perpetuates homelessness and a host of other injuries and injustices right here in this county. And needs our help manifesting presence and passion.

Before Moses could let the holy flame of God burn away the shame and fear and self-preoccupation fueling his resistance (“Who am I that I should go? And what if I don’t know how to do what you give me to do?”)… Before Moses can let all that light of God cross the short vast distance between bush and brain, the first leg of the Exodus… Moses must take off his sandals and spend some time alone with God. He must recognize that the ground of this present moment if holy with grace, power, presence that will be sufficient for every day and every task.

Doesn’t that sound like the invitation of Lent? To take off your shoes and spend time with God-- it’s early enough yet to start one of the Lenten guides at the foot of the aisle—and let God’s light cross that short vast span between source and self, the first and gracious step of renewal.