Exodus 3.1-15 & Matthew 16.21-28
During our recent holiday my wife and I found ourselves driving around the Katharo Plateau in Crete after having climbed several thousand feet up a mountain. The tarmac road gave way to dusty dirt tracks with no clear indication of directions, tracks often coming to end at an isolated farmstead.
Some people I know with a colourful vocabulary have a phrase for such a place as this!
The King James Version of the story we heard from Exodus hints at a similar place where Moses had found himself.
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
So, here is Moses. His days as an Egyptian Prince seem like a life time ago and almost not belonging to him such is there strangeness. The Egyptian he killed no longer haunts his dreams and he has long ago stopped looking over his shoulder for Pharaoh’s guards coming to arrest him.
No, thinks Moses, this will do nicely, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro and in due course to be gathered to my fathers.
Then he sees a flaming bush and at first probably dismissed it, such a thing was not uncommon, it could be a trick of the light.
But no, this bush was actually on fire, again not uncommon but as he smelt the burning bush Moses was intrigued to see that the bush wasn't being consumed by the flames.
God had got his attention!
I don’t know how God got your attention but I can certainly think to particular events before I went over to have a closer look and before I then made a response.
One event was watching the very colourful and dramatic Zeffirelli 1972 film ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’ that in many ways portrayed Francis as some kind of hippy. However I liked the Jesus that Francis seemed to follow and not the Jesus of claustrophobic religiosity offered by the established church.
I went to a Church of England Senior School which left me with a deep fascination for Jesus but no love or liking for the ‘church’ as manifested in its Worship and Services.
Back to Moses, who has now gone over to the burning bush and hears the voice of God. How exactly that voice was heard we are not told. However we do get the ‘conversation.’
And the conversation is about God having heard the plight of the Israelite s struggling under the heavy oppression of the Egyptian slave drivers.
Now is the time to bring them into freedom, now is the time in God’s plan for the redemption of the cosmos to begin another great chapter in calling out a people peculiar to God.
A God who will not disclose his name, (and although we ordinarily use HIM this does not denote any specific gender)
This God is not some local deity with a name and place in the pantheon of gods to be placated by endless sacrifices to guard against them displaying their wrath and displeasure.
Of course when we hear the words ‘I am’ - for post resurrection Christians with knowledge of John’s Gospel we will hear those words and their deep meaning on the lips of Jesus.
So, despite Moses’ declaring his unworthiness for such a task he capitulates and the hitherto quiet life on the backside of the desert is exchanged for one of momentous occasion.
But God only wanted one Moses and God only wants one of you and one of me.
And what God called Moses to do was his (Moses) very particular and peculiar calling.
What God calls you to do will equally be your own very particular and peculiar calling.
Michael Quoist writes in his book ‘The Christian Response’
‘You are a unique and irreplaceable actor in the drama of human history, and Jesus Christ has need of you to make known his salvific work in this particular place and at this particular moment in history.’
When God had put a number of burning bushes in my path I eventually capitulated and cried out, Jesus, my Lord and my God.
A bit like Moses I thought my life was heading in one direction but then it was switched all around and all over the place.
And there was a cost, there is always a cost.
But the cost isn't about buying acceptance or earning God’s love in any way. It was a response of love for what God had done, is doing and will do in my life.
A response of love for what God has done in the world is doing for the world and will do for the world.
You can read about this in the Scriptures and in particular the Book of Revelation. That great and glorious day when heaven comes to earth, when sorrowing and sighing are banished and death is no more and when all people come to judgment.
The Day we pray for regularly in the Lord’s Prayer – a prayer often on our lips but much less in our hearts and in our actions.
And you at St Mary’s, Slindon, collectively and individually are part of God’s great cosmic plan for the redemption of the universe.
But there is a cost, there is always a cost.
Francis was brought by his exasperated father, Pietro Bernardone, before the Church leaders because he simply couldn't understand the innocent faith Francis had grasped. Francis who had embraced his heavenly Father and his poor children with a deep passion gives back to his earthy father everything, even the clothes off his back and stripping naked he steps into a new life.
There is a cost, there is always a cost if love is to be genuine – cheap grace simply will not do.
The cost is spelled out by Jesus in the Gospel passage we heard.
Yes we know about the ‘easy yoke’ that Jesus offers, we know about the fullness and fruitfulness that a life with God offers – but there is a cost there is always a cost if a response to this love is to be genuine and meaningful.
Jesus refers to it as ‘taking up your cross and following Jesus.’
Crucifixion for us is an historical fact but for the contemporaries of Jesus it was a grim reality. The Romans used this brutal and very public way of execution as a terror tactic. Mess with Rome and this is what will become of you. A slow, painful, long lingering death, pinioned to a cross beam in the blazing heat while flies and birds and buzzards begin feeding on your flesh before you have died.
And despite the modesty of most depictions of Jesus’ crucifixion the victims would be stripped naked. This is part of the humiliation – Rome has absolute power and can take away from you absolutely everything – the very clothes you stand up in and your life.
This is the cost – this is the path upon which Jesus invites us to follow him. But unlike our own frustrated meandering around the Katharo Plateau this journey has a direction and this journey has a meaning and this journey has a purpose.
But what that direction, meaning and purpose will be is different for each and every one of us.
And God in His infinite mercy and grace has so ordered things that if we should respond to his great love, and if we are attentive to the overarching enterprise, we will find that together we have all the needful gifts, task and talents to bring about a realised a Lord’s Prayer.
So, what is your resolve today – are you going to turn aside and see what God might be calling you to do. Are you willing to take up your cross?
On Thursday last the Church Celebrated the Feast Day of Augustine of Hippo who said, ‘if Jesus is not Lord of all then he is not Lord at all.’
My brothers, my sisters, the world is groaning and crying out in so much travail and pain. Is this really a time to be discussing the finer points of liturgy, the music we sing on Sunday and who is on the flower rota?
Don’t get me wrong, these all have their place, but that place is surely underneath God overarching plan for the redemption of the cosmos, an enterprise in which he invites you and he invites me to participate.
However there is a cost, there is always a cost….
It also spelled out in the hymn we have just sang.
Take up thy cross, and follow Christ,
Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only those who bear the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.