Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, be with our mouths. Amen.
This past week, my Dad was in Malta, the tiny island off the southern coast of Sicily, right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. He’s on another educational trip in Italy, this one called “Paul by Land and by Sea”. The journey ends in Rome this week — they’re working their way north — and it started in Malta, that tiny island country.
And one of the first sites Dad visited was called “The Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck”. The holy shipwreck! This comes from Acts Chapter 27, when Paul crashes into this island on his way to Rome, famously saying headed into danger: “Sisters and brothers, I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (vs.22)
We build and dedicate churches, commemorating all kinds of things — sightings, miracles, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus’ birth, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s conversion, the site of Lydia’s baptism, the Protestant Reformation — but these are all bright shiny moments in our biblical and church history.
I am struck by a church commemorating a shipwreck.
Anyone ever been in a shipwreck or had a boat sink? I have not...exactly. The closest I’ve been is when my little brothers and I “ran aground” — as the book of Acts would say — crashed our sturdy little, blow-up raft against the rocks in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, once on family vacation. And that was terrifying! (Got all scratched up on those mossy, sharp rocks...) Sinking is no fun.
Building a church to praise God in exactly the spot where the ship went down, that’s interesting!
Moses has just crashed into the rocks too. (Last week Jacob had also — remember? He actually laid his head down on a rock.) This week Moses too is in a state of shipwreck. The lifeboat he’s been on: “run around”, smashed to pieces.
See, Moses had been a lifeboat from the very beginning of his life: We’ve skipped over a so much here, but Moses, I’ll remind you was placed on a lifeboat of reeds when he was a baby to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh who had ordered that all Hebrew boys were to be drowned. Population control, you see. Remember that? Then as the river he was floating down twisted around, so did the events, and it turned out that he was drawn out of the river by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him and raised him in the palace as her own son. He’s always sailed on the life boat, but now it’s run aground.
And our story today picks up just after Moses has seen one of his own Hebrew people being abused by an Egyptian taskmaster. Moses takes revenge and kills the Egyptian, runs for his life into the wilderness, and here he is in our reading today tending sheep. It’s like getting a job waiting tables or pouring shots at Starbucks or somewhere else. Just directionless, biding his time. Tending sheep. It’s not glamorous or romantic. But we know that God reveals great things to those who are leading glamor-less, romantic-less lives, particularly those tending sheep…
This is where God calls Moses...from another shipwreck-esque image: a burning bush. A shipwreck in the desert. A burning bush, but wait a second, the bush was burning but not consumed. Kind of like a shipwreck site with a beautiful church planted there. You’d think death and destruction, but in fact, that’s precisely where God chooses to show forth...and speak.
Our title for our today is “God’s Name is Revealed”. As new members join our congregation, as we continue our journey through the fall, as we enter now (already!) into October the month we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, as we trudge at times through our days looking for hope or joy or peace. Perhaps we too have “run aground” in some way. Used to be floating on a boat of life, but now, it’s about as glamorous as tending smelly, dumb sheep.
And yet this is precisely the moment at which God — doesn’t just show up, but — calls you. Interesting that God’s revealing is directly tied to calling (for Luther: justification & vocation). When God and Moses meet, Moses emerges from the desert-wilderness with a vocation. When we meet God (as we do here each Sunday), we emerge from our desert-wildernesses with a vocation, a new calling. And not a glamorous one either, I’ll remind you: a tough one. God’s name revealed is synonymous with your calling and our liberation.
Mr. Ron’s contemporary song — paraphrasing — there’s so much pain, suffering, sadness, loss, hopelessness in our lives, world...God, why don’t you do anything about it! God: “I have done something about it, I made you!”
I have done something about it Moses, I made you. Our God is in relationship with our ancestors and with us. God’s very name is tied with our creation and our call to be about the work of liberation. To have been loved so deeply...will give us some protection forever. God sends us, like Moses: “Go and tell that bully Pharaoh that I am doing a new thing!”
This reign of cruelty and oppression, of ignorance and dehumanization is over. We want freedom not only from chains, “not only from shackles and bars, but freedom from shortsightedness and callous disregard for the vulnerable and powerless” (today’s prayers). Freedom from apathy. Freedom from laziness, and selfishness. You go tell that Pharaoh, that this God draws life precisely out of the places of death.
This God — I AM WHO I AM — is calling you. You are Moses! You are here today at the burning bush, the site of the shipwreck. So we can remove our shoes and come forward. Receive God’s call here. “I need you,” God says, to each one of us. “I need you — not because of your past actions, but in spite of them — I need you to be about my work of liberation. You go tell the Pharaoh, unchain my whole creation.”
God’s name revealed EQUALS our call to go outward and cry out for justice and liberation. Where is God calling you?
Moses, throws out some excuses: “Who am I that should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? I can’t even talk good.” And God’s only response is, “I will be with you, and I will provide for you.”
Where is God calling you? Because this is the site of the shipwreck. We are being sent out this day. The church grows, precisely from the site of sunken ship, the hill with the cross on it, the place of the skull, the desert — all those places you would least expect God’s glory and grace to shine forth.
“Go,” Jesus says to you this day. “I need even you. Speak out. Speak up. Take your community of support and these tools you have with you. I know you’re not perfect, but I love you anyway. And I will always be with you.”
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, be with our mouths. Amen.