A sermon offered at OSA Bethany Convent, Arlington Hts, MA
The Good News of God is expressed in each of the three Scripture readings and the Psalm that we just heard in today’s Holy Eucharist. It is expressed differently in each of them, but that shows us how broad and deep and high the love of God is.
In our first reading for this Sunday we heard about the experience of Moses in the wilderness of Midian while he was herding his father-in-law’s sheep. As he was walking along one of the slopes of Mount Horeb he saw a bush that appeared to be burning, yet was not burned up. Out of that bush he heard a voice, which he recognized in some way as the voice of God. What a sight that must have been! I don’t think it was one of those small bushes that some houses have along the edges of their front sidewalks. I don’t think it was one of the slightly larger bushes that are in the corners of some gardens either. It was a large bush growing in the wilderness somewhere on the lower slopes of Mount Horeb on the Sinai Peninsula, “the Mountain of God,” it is also called Sinai, the same mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments after the people of Israel departed from Egypt. Pictures show it as a bare, rocky mountain. A bush having the appearance of being on fire must have stood out in sharp contrast to the bare and rocky mountainside behind and above it.
I have not been to the Sinai Peninsula, but I have seen the pictures taken by our Br. Kevin and Br. Bruce last fall when they were there on pilgrimage. Judging from those pictures it is not too much different from the Judean Desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, or some of the desert areas in Nevada, and New Mexico, which I have seen, and some in the central part of the State of Washington, which I saw as a small boy before the Grand Coulee Dam was built and an irrigation district formed.
We are told that Moses heard the voice of God speak to him out of the burning bush. This season of the Church Year which we call Lent is a time for us to listen for God to speak to each of us who believe in him. I don’t know how it was in the days of Moses, but I don’t think God’s voice is heard physically with our ears. I think that God speaks to us in our minds and in our hearts.
The Prophet Elijah described the presence of God on that same Mount Horeb as “a sound of sheer silence.” Older translations of the Bible call it “a still, small voice”. (1 K. 19:12)
There were few distractions, if any, out there in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, east of Egypt and south of Israel. Even so, God chose a spectacular and unusual way to attract Moses’ attention and get him to listen.
Here in a modern metropolitan area there are many distractions. Television and radio are a regular presence for many people. Those of us who live in convents or monasteries are spared that distraction for the most part, except on special occasions. For all of us telephones and traffic noises can be a frequent presence. For some of us Police, Fire, and ambulance sirens are a fairly regular background noise. In any neighborhood there may be barking dogs. But I think it is still possible for those who want some quiet time in which to pray and listen for God’s voice to find a time and a place that gives enough silence for quiet reflection.
The message that God gave to Moses from the midst of that burning bush was that he loved the people of Israel whom he called his own chosen people. He wished to have mercy on them and deliver them both from Egyptian slavery and from their sins. God told Moses that he had chosen him to lead that people into freedom.
God revealed himself to Moses through the sign of that bush which burned, but was not consumed by the flames. This way of speaking to Moses was an important part of the message. It revealed silently the truth that God is eternal. A bush that actually burned with the flames and was consumed by them would not show that truth because it would cease to exist once it was completely burned up. By remaining intact it was a symbol for eternity. The terms in which the message was worded were also necessary for conveying the meaning of God’s relationship to humankind. The message had to be given that way to Moses individually because after such a long period of slavery to the Egyptians the other Israelites may not have maintained a clear understanding of the presence of God always being with them. In order to speak in terms which they could understand God explained to Moses how he had seen the sufferings of the descendents of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, whom he considered to be his Chosen People. He had heard their cries for help. Now God was asking Moses to be his agent in leading them out of the land of Egypt, and to help them return to the land that had been given to their ancestors. That was a land which was described as a land flowing with milk and honey. This was a way of saying that it was a land of rich agricultural resources. I saw this last May in the fertile Jordan Valley going south from Galilee as our group from St. George’s College returned to Jerusalem.
In our own time God depends upon us to remind one another of the message of God’s love. It is by the Spirit of God working through us that we can share the message of God’s love with one another, and with those who do not know the love of God. There are many ways in which we can do this. Not the least of these is by our example of living good lives, and by showing compassion and loving kindness to each other and to other people.
God revealed his great love and mercy towards his Chosen People to Moses through this spiritual experience in the wilderness. This was part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. This plan of Salvation has been revealed to us more clearly in the New Testament. Even at that, in its fullness, it is a mystery that we need to accept on faith.
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