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18 June 2011

When Blazing Blackberry Bushes Beckon

 Marc Chagall: Burning Bush

In Exodus Chapter 3, one of the readings for Trinity Sunday, Moses is being called into the ministry from that Burning Bush at the Mountain of God.  He is called into the ministry by a mysterious voice that is both revealing and hiding, comforting and challenging, friendly and intimidating.  The God of Israel who will not be put into a box (though many folks have tried) calls Moses into his service, and much like other folks in Scripture, he doesn't like it.  Not one bit.

Who me?, he says. “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God responds with a long explication of the divine name: “I AM WHO I AM", adding “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you'. Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations'."

In celebrating God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we use three separate names for the one God -- not only on Trinity Sunday. The Old Testament uses at least seven names for God, and each is based on God's deeds. When God judges his creatures, he is called Elokim. When he wages war on the wicked, he is called Tzevakot. When he tolerates humankind's sins, he is called El-Shadai. When he has compassion on the world, he is called Ha-Va-Yah. Similarly, we Christians attribute certain deeds to the three persons: the Father creates, the Son redeems and the Spirit sustains.

But ... the name under which God reveals himself at the Burning Bush is completely different. This name of God is not about what God does, but who God is. What our translation renders as “I AM WHO I AM” is a rough translation of the Hebrew eh-he-yeh asher eh-he-yeh (אהיה אשר אהיה). It also can mean “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE” or “I WAS WHO I WAS”. This divine name is built on the Hebrew verb “to be” and is related to the divine name used frequently throughout the Old Testament, “Yahweh”. In the Jewish tradition, this special name of God is considered so holy that it is not to be pronounced in prayer or worship. Where our modern translations put the word “Lord” in capital letters, in the Hebrew original it says YHWH.

YHWH -- this new name of God is not about God's deeds, but about God's being. God's answer to Moses' question “What shall I say is your name?” is something like this:

Tell the children of Israel, that my name is eh-he-yeh. Where was I all these years? With you. I am being, I am existence, I am reality. I am in the groan of a beaten slave, in the wail of a bereaved mother, in the spilled blood of a murdered child. I am not in some distant heaven, holy and removed from your existential pain. I am there with you, suffering with you, praying for redemption together with you. If you cannot see Me, it is not because I am lofty and distant; it is because I am so real. I am as close as your next breath. (
Moses will be able to teach the children of Israel a whole new way of looking at God -- but first of all, this new concept of God is an answer to the questions he has had about his own life. He is a fugitive, having killed an Egyptian while defending one of his fellow Israelites. He had been rejected by the Egyptians, but more importantly, by his own people as well.  And so he was making a living by taking care of the sheep for his Midianite father-in-law -- with the feelings of being defeated and being homeless as his close companions day in and day out.

The encounter at the Burning Bush has changed all that.  Once defeated, Moses has a new mission; once homeless, Moses has his home with God. Moses becomes powerful because he surrenders his powers to God. When it comes to our own lives, we can draw power in one of two ways:  by trusting our own power, or by surrendering to the power of God.  I call the first the strength of Pharaoh, and the second the strength of Moses.

On one hand, you can choose the strength of Pharaoh, which is selfish and based on having power over others. It is the strength politicians use; it works because it teaches you to walk over dead bodies to get what you want. This strength stands and falls with the human ego that fuels it.  Pharaoh and his army embody this strength – and when Pharaoh and his glorious army drowned in the Red Sea, the whole world saw that something out there was stronger.

On the other hand, you can choose the strength of Moses, which is selfless and based on sharing power with the universe. It is the strength that comes out of love; it is the strength scorned by the mighty ones in the world, yet the only strength that will last forever. This strength has nothing to do with the human ego; it excludes the ego. Moses embodies this strength, as God offers him this strength in the words, “I will be with you.”

 Salvador Dali: Burning Bush

When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek”, he means a meek person is one who does not exist as an ego. A person who does not exist as an ego any more cannot be conquered, defeated, or destroyed. Such person has gone beyond. By going beyond the ego, you go beyond death. By going beyond the ego, you go beyond defeat. By going beyond the ego, you go beyond powerlessness. This is a totally different concept of power – the power of Moses.

We are called by the One who remains a mystery, who pulls us out of our little lives into the ocean of his own reality. Elizabeth Barrett Browning reminds us that God still calls from the various burning bushes of this world:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God; 
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, 
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Have you seen a blazing bush lately? Chances are that you have, if not literally than in some other way. God is always out there calling us into service. The question is whether you let it stop you from whatever else you were doing. The question is whether you want to keep on eating blackberries, or whether you will take off your shoes and listen to God. I give thanks for the blazing bushes that force us to find our selves, our journeys, and the mystery we refer to as God.

When Blazing Blackberry Bushes beckon, it's up to you to hear the call.

Exodus 3 

1 comment:

  1. Greetings Fritz

    In light of your statement:
    "In celebrating God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we use three separate names for the one God -- not only on Trinity Sunday."

    I recommend this video:
    The Human Jesus

    Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you in your quest for truth.

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor