March 12, 2017
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
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
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.
we can go on our way, doing as we please and God will not disrupt us.
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
There is good news here.
In spite of the great loneliness
that so many people feel,
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
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
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,
oppressed by our sufferings,
hampered by our failings,
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
“I have come down,” God tells Moses.
“I have come down to deliver [my people]. . . to bring them to . . . a good
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
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
Moses catches on that God's call is a demand on his life
Real dialogue begins.
This is where it begins for us as
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.
Who am I that I should go to
What shall I say when they ask your
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,
is courage where we are fearful,
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
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.