“Remembering God, Becoming Ourselves”

March 12, 2017

 

Exodus 3:1-15

II Peter 1:3-11

 

Intolerance and a demonic nationalism seem to be on the rise across the United States.

They raised their ugly heads again a week ago last Friday as a 39-year-old man was working on his car in his driveway in suburban Seattle. He was a Sikh, and so, as men of his faith do, he wore a turban and had a beard. A man wearing a mask over the bottom part of his face walked up holding a gun. After a brief altercation, the man said, “Go back to your own country,” and pulled the trigger.

The man shot was an American citizen. We can be thankful this time that the injuries were not life threatening. But just weeks after the murder of an Indian-American in Kansas, in the midst of ongoing anti-Semitic threats, people of good will of all faiths are struggling with what feels like growing religious intolerance in our nation.

Indian-Americans in particular — and South Asians in general — are a highly diverse community. Indians are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and other religions; they come from very different regions and backgrounds and speak different languages. Their targeting reveals that American racism can lump together people who appear physically similar in particular ways and see them as “suspicious,” “threatening” and “outsider” —and their appearance is often interpreted to mean they are Muslim and Middle Eastern.[i]

During Lent we’re exploring how encounters with other religions can help us better live out our own Christian faith. And by coincidence—or providence—this morning the adult education group explored the Sikh concept of remembering the name of God.

“Remember,” the Sikh scriptures say,

Remember, remember the One whose remembrance brings peace

And dispels pain and sorrow from the body.

Remember the One who alone upholds the universe,

Whose name is contemplated by millions.

Until I started preparing to lead this morning’s adult education session I knew next to nothing about Sikhs—and my knowledge is still extremely limited. But I learned that for Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, there is one central message: that it is only through love of the divine name that spiritual liberation is to be found. For Sikhs, the name of God is more than simply a word. It is synonymous with the very being of God.

Our own faith relies on memory as well. The Lord’s Supper, central to our worship and our lives, is based on remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as we eat and drink together. And really, this remembrance is more than memory, for it involves us in action as well as we take, bless, break and share not only the bread but our lives.

As we hear the Sikh call to “remember the One whose name is contemplated by millions,” we might hear with fresh ears the story of Moses encountering the living God whose name is revealed to him.

Together with Moses we hear the strange, puzzling name of the God who calls us by name.

I AM WHO I AM.

I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.

This is the God of infinite possibilities who is always in the process of becoming. This is the God who calls us into life filled with options and opportunity.

For many years now the United Church of Christ has made much of the idea that God is still speaking. And in doing so, our faith tradition tells us something quite different from what we usually hear.

Most of the messages that we hear—and they come to us loud and clear—tell us that we live an uncalled life:

That there will be no intrusions into our ordinary lives by the Holy.

            That we can go on our way, doing as we please and God will not disrupt us.

                        That in times of despair or weakness or indecision we are on our own.

Look at Moses, tending the sheep of his father-in-law. He has fled from Egypt, where he is a wanted man. He is hiding out in Midian.

The voice he hears, while perhaps unfamiliar to him, was known to his ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac and Rebekah. They knew it as the voice of promise, the voice of life.

The voice calls, “Moses, Moses.”

God speaks first. And calls us by name.

There is good news here.

In spite of the great loneliness that so many people feel,

            in spite of the crushing isolation of contemporary life,

Someone does know your name—and calls to you.

Certainly we listen with a very human ear. What we hear is often faint or garbled.

Still, when we stop to listen with the ears of faith, perhaps we can hear the divine voice. God calls each one of us.

We are called to a new way of life.

This is good news. Whether it’s Moses the fugitive or me or you, God generally chooses to associate with the wrong kind of people. Remember that when Jesus went to dinner, he chose to eat with tax collectors and other sinners. “I came not to call the righteous,” Jesus would say to his critics, “but to call the sinners”—that’s all of us, you know—those who are separated from God, from one another, even from the best in ourselves.

Christianity is not for those who have it made, who are confident in their own goodness and feel that they are getting better all the time. God's passion instead seems to be for those who know their sin.

This is why God loves us as we are. And because God loves us as we are, God does not leave us as we are. So Anne Lamott was able to say: “I have a relationship with a God who is so tender and so willing to keep letting me start over. I can’t blow it so badly that God doesn’t still love me.”[ii]

God desires is that we would be fruitful and effective people,

            not oppressed by our sufferings,

                        not hampered by our failings,

                                    not paralyzed by our regrets.

It is the God of passion who calls us, comes to us, that we might live fully.

God loves with the passion a parent has for a child, with the passion a lover has for the beloved.

“I have seen the afflictions of my people. . .”

“I have heard their cry . . .”

“I know their sufferings . . .”

This is not One who stands off, unmoved by the human condition. This is a Creator who is vitally interested in the creature. This is a God who, out of deep compassion, calls us to lives that are fruitful and effective.

As the Sikhs remind us, this is the God whose remembrance brings peace, who dispels pain and sorrow from the body, who alone upholds the universe,

“I have come down,” God tells Moses. “I have come down to deliver [my people]. . . to bring them to . . . a good land.”

It is hard for us in the church to hear of God's saving action toward the Hebrew people and not think of God's “coming down,” God's incarnation in Jesus, for it is in Jesus that we have seen the intimate connection that God has with human beings. It is in Jesus that we have seen the glory and excellence to which we are called.

We are called—we are constantly called—to a new way of life.

God is still speaking. So listen once more. God's action in the world depends on us.

Moses stands listening and hears the voice of God: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people.”

Remember the story of Moses. Before he stopped in front of that burning bush, he had rescued a Hebrew slave from an Egyptian. The trajectory of his life was in the direction of freedom. God's call pulled him forward.

You see, God calls each one of us—not simply to some particular form of employment but to a way of life. This is a way of life suited to who you are, because above all, it is a call to be yourself, the unique individual created in God's image that you are.

God calls out the best in us. And that gives us some idea of what the church is about—a community of people calling out the best in each other, a community of people supporting each other to live lives of faith, virtue, knowledge, mutual affection, and love.

God's purposes are fulfilled as each one of us fully lives out who we are. We are co-creators, working with God to create the good.

Of course, when Moses understands that God's involvement means his involvement,

            when Moses catches on that God's call is a demand on his life

Real dialogue begins.

This is where it begins for us as well.

The resolve of God to transform a situation meets with human resistance.

Moses hears of God's plan—I will send you—and begins to see all of the holes in it.

Moses asks:

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?

What shall I say when they ask your name?

We didn’t hear the whole story this morning. Moses also tells God: Suppose—just suppose—that the people don’t listen to me. He reminds God that he’s not much of a speaker. And finally, Moses pleads: “O my Lord, please send someone else!”

What was the name of the play? Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God. Probably so. But over and over again the Hebrew Scriptures tell of faithful leaders arguing with God—and sometimes even winning. You get the sense that God actually enjoys it: enjoys hearing our doubts, our misgivings, our frustrations with and anger toward the Almighty. At least then the relationship seems real.

Ultimately all of our arguments begin to collapse. Not because God is a better debater, or because God does indeed have longer arms, but because God promises: “I will be with you.” I will be with you as you live out your calling. I will be with you as you become whom you are called to be.

There is strength where we are weak,

            there is courage where we are fearful,

                        there is love where we would hate.

As we enter into dialogue with this God—as we argue and protest and listen—we will gain the wisdom of who we are and who God is.

The God who calls desires that we answer, that we in turn speak with the honesty with which we have been addressed.

The voice that calls usually speaks softly these days, inviting us to join in the conversation, inviting us to follow on the way that leads to life, on the way that is life.

Remember the name of God. Such remembrance that gives rise to listening and to acting is our strength in the face of all that would tear down and destroy. Such remembrance, which changes us, might also change our world.

Remember the name of the God of becoming who calls us into new life, new possibilities even in difficult days.



[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/03/07/the-kansas-murder-of-an-indian-immigrant-is-part-of-a-spike-in-hate-crimes-against-south-asians/?utm_term=.7bac21492218

[ii] Anne Lamott, Christian Century, July 28-August 4, 1999, pg. 744.