Sermon Oct 22, Pent 21, yr A, 2023

Some of you may have seen in office an icon of Moses at the burning bush.   The Icon I have is of Moses as a young man; And he is standing in front of the burning bush removing his sandals.  What I saw in this icon immediately…what drew me in, as a seminarian facing a difficult and unknown future, was his facial expression.  The face of this young, beardless Moses confronted with God in an unexpected place clearly spoke volumes and what it said was:  Please, please make the bush stop talking…he looked petrified!  Not a clue what was going on!

Now we have been reading the story of Moses in Exodus for several weeks now, following the journey of the captive Israelites; from Passover, to the flight through the Red sea, to their time in the desert wilderness.  It is such a rich story, such a truly human story and such an incredible story of God’s relationship with the people of God.

I’ve often thought that we, that is the Church these days, are living in a time of exodus.  However, instead of leaving behind the slavery of oppression we are leaving the slavery of Dominance.  Being in power has never gone well for the church, when in position of cultural dominance the collective head of the church begins to swell and soon we find the church is more concerned about it’s power and position rather then being imitators of Christ.

We have left that time of dominance, of the good ol’ days of memory and now are, like the Israelites of exodus in the wilderness …praying for a promised land and struggling to find out who we are if we are no longer in charge, if we are no longer the church we remember.

But one of the great joys of being a people of faith, is that if we find ourselves adrift in a time unknown and heading in a direction we are unsure of…you can be sure we’ve been there before.  Thousands of years of faith and change, relationship and journeys guarantees we are retracing the footsteps of those who have gone before us.

The journey of the people of God through the wilderness is one that the church has echoed many times, and it is one we echo now.  We can see ourselves reflected in the story of exodus that we have been reading these past weeks.  Some weeks ago we read of Israels deliverance across the Red Sea, and the jubilation and rock solid faith that followed.

“Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So, the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” 14:30

But as God’s people began to journey through the wilderness that exultation gave way to disappointment and fear…things were not going as expected.  Too much time passed and Moses had not yet lead them to the promised land and the expectations of God’s promise were not being fulfilled as quickly as the people hoped.   So, we hear chapter 16 about the Manna and Quails

“ The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."” 16:2-3


We read that God heard the complaints of the people and provided manna in the morning and meat in the evening, but their response was more disappointment and confusion than joy.   I can’t really blame them.  Manna…we are told was a fine, flaky substance, as fine as frost.  Now remember that Egypt is the bread basket of the known world and no offense meant to God, but fine and flaky stuff compared to fresh baked bread…miraculous or no it wasn’t a change easily borne.

Then after a time they reached Mt Siani where Moses with the leaders spent a lot of time with God in discussion of how to be a new people, what their new identity would look like.  But whist the leaders were up the mountain sorting stuff, the people were left in the dark, not knowing what the plans were, not knowing what was coming next, likely wondering if they’d be stuck in this wilderness forever.

They became anxious and defaulted to what they knew best, trying to fit the old square peg they understood into the round hole they found themselves in.  The Golden Calf, it didn’t go well.

                        Then we have todays reading from exodus…the people are still in the wilderness.  Moses is still in the wilderness.  The good intentions and good will of the people is quickly drying up. They know that they need to move on towards the place where God is calling them, but this journey isn’t what they expected. There is a lot of anxiety.  In the people and in the leadership.  Emotions and thoughts that I’m sure we could echo. 

                        Things are changing for the church, and for us…from a position of security to a journey full of unknowns.  We have faith…we know God is with us…leading and guiding and good things are happening without doubt! but we also had expectations; plans, timelines, we had an idea of what this merged St. Andrew’s would look like and perhaps it’s not panning out exactly as expected.  We are in the wilderness of ‘in between what was and what will be’ just like Moses and the people of Israel…

                        We have journeyed, sacrificed, experienced change, and have brought two communities together because we believed God promised that it would be better together than appart.  We believed we were following God’s path.   We believed, though perhaps we didn’t used same words God did to Moses, that we would eventually be lead to “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—” 3:8

                        But after a year together, although we have journeyed far and well together, we are still in the wilderness.  We are still figuring out who we are, where we are and what direction to go in.  We may have been given Manna, but it’s not the bread we are used to and although we are grateful, we are not always happy.

                        We have journeyed, like the Israelites from one identity in search of another; now we are reaching a major landmark in our journey.

                        For Israel the turning point was Mt. Siani, the giving of the law and the start of becoming a people of the law.  For us, we are approaching one year together and the promises written in our covenant are coming due and for those who came from St. Chad’s… a time of celebration, and a time of mourning is just around the corner.  And the question on the mind of some of us is…what happens next? 

“Moses said to the LORD, "See, you have said to me, 'Bring up this people'; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.” 33:12

                        We know that God is here, but we long for more information.  Where are we going? What will it look like?  We like our familiar loaf of bread…do we now have to deal with Manna everyday?               

                        Yes, we are grateful that we are here, but we are also anxious about the future.  The journey we are on has not landed us in the promised land…it is good, but perhaps our expectations of where we would be by now have not quite been fulfilled.  We are like Moses and the people of Israel…grateful for what we have, but anxious, tired and full up with emotion.  We are certainly willing to move forward but we long to know that God goes with us.  That we are headed in the right direction.

“And Moses said to God, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.
 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?” 33:15-16

                        We are speaking these words to ourselves, behind closed doors.  God…if you are not on this path…if we are going the wrong way…let us know.  If we are…let us know!  For how can we move forward unless you are with us?

                        The people of Israel had a huge journey in front of them.  They knew that everything familiar was gone and they believed that God would lead them to what was promised…but for now they were in the wilderness and that is not a comfortable place to be.

                        And Moses, good ol’ Moses fills me with such joy… his humanity, his relationship with God which doesn’t prevent a very real lack of confidence from time to time give me hope.  Moses was a leader who was leading his people to literally God knows where and he, along with the people of such great faith, are aching for proof, for certainty that they are doing the right thing.  That Moses is leading in God’s direction…and that God will go with them.

                        The faithful, then and now are very similar, we don’t know where we are going.  We don’t know which direction to go in.  We aren’t sure how to provide for the people as we travel.  And now, like then, the people and the leadership are anxious, nostalgic and complaining…not out of malice, but out of the overwhelming changes and stress that goes with endings, beginnings and figuring out who you are as a people in the wilderness.    And today as if to reassure us that we are not alone we read of Moses’ doubts, challenges and desire for reassurance.

                        “Now If I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know” 33:13

                        “If your presence will not go (with us), do not carry us up from here. ” 33:15

“How shall it be known that I (we) have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?” 33:16

And right with Moses I cry “ show me your glory, I pray!”   Prove to me that you, O Lord are indeed here with us…guiding and directing.  Not just me, but all your people gathered…show us the way!  Promise you are with us.  Prove that you will provide and care for us.  Show us that you journey with us and that we will arrive to whatever it is you have planned.

                        Throughout the book of Exodus we travel with ourselves.  A people millennia apart with a million differences, but at the core… a people journeying to find a new faith identity.  In a world that is so different from what we are used to… we walk in faith…just like the people of Israel before us.

                        This journey we are on is not new.  We like Israel, look to God, knowing that the path we walk is well trodden.  The exodus.  The growth of the Kingdom of Israel and temple worship. The destruction of the temple, exile and the birth of synagogue worship.  The coming of the Messiah and the birth of the Church.  Church persecuted to Church in power.  The height of Christendom and colonialism.  Now the disempowerment of the church and a transition into something new.

                        We are changing identity once again, but our core identity as people of God has never changed.  Our relationship with God is still strong, still relational and still fundamental to who we are. But we like Moses, yearn for assurances…we beg for proof that we will not journey alone.

                        “show us your glory, I pray!”   Show us that you are with us and everything will work out in time.  Moses gets his answer and see’s God from the cleft of the rock…but even Moses sees only in part.   Even Moses, whose relationship with God was so unique that he was one of those who appeared at the Transfiguration with Christ…even Moses didn’t get a full revelation. 

                        We see in part.  We don’t get the whole picture.  But God does respond.  It may not be the bread we are used to, but God does provide us manna.  We may not see God’s face, but we do see God!  We may feel like square pegs in a round hole, but God is a potter and Christ was a carpenter and we can be re- shaped.

                        It took Israel a generation to leave the wilderness, it took a generation to form new habits and a new identity.  To evolve from a people of freed slaves to a people ready to build a nation.  It will take us time to form our new identity together, one people of God.  Square pegs in round holes.  Children of the carpenter.  Children of the creator.  People of faith.  Inheritors of the promises we read of today.       “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” 33:14

                        We do not journey alone.  We are people of faith and in faith we journey…not knowing exactly where we go, but as confident as we can be that God is leading us to a place that is good, flowing with milk and honey.   Becoming a new people of faith together, journeying into the church that God is calling us to be.

                        Step by step…year by year…generation to generation… into the future that God is calling us into…a living people, ever moving, ever evolving until the day when Christ comes again.

“I will go with you and I will give you rest” God tells Moses.

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will refresh” you says Christ                           

We are not alone, God provides, it is God’s path we travel…together into God’s future.