But He Looks Back

Exodus 3:1-15 – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 28, 2011

“. . . and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’” (Exodus 3:13)

With sandals again strapped to his feet, did Moses gaze back toward the burning bush after his encounter with the Holy?

You know what happened in the fiery confrontation between Moses and God. Aren’t we grateful Cecil B. DeMille happened to be there with his camera crew and Charlton Heston conveniently served as a body double for the handsome Jewish shepherd? (As an alternative to Mr. Heston, I’ve placed an interesting YouTube link at the end.)

Whether possessing deep faith or no belief, whether a Christian, Jew, Muslim or even if you’re the solitary member of the church of Me-Myself-and-I, you know something about a desert shrub that flames couldn’t consume.

The sacred chat between God and Moses wasn’t short, covering most of chapters 3 and 4 in Exodus. Once Moses removed his sandals, his best and worst sides were revealed. He’s a clever enough fellow and talked God into revealing the divine name. And yet he also whined about how he couldn’t speak well—even as he speaks well to the Holy Flame—and implied the Lord God Almighty should choose a sweeter-tongued servant to deliver the Children of Israel from bondage.

You know this.

You can thumb through your Bible and “read all about it.” Or you can watch a clip from the TEN COMMANDMENTS, feel slightly guilty for taking the easy route, but could still convey the basics of the Holy/human chat beside a glowing plant.

What is a nickname you have (or had) that reveals something about you?

This is the moment of Moses’ call. What will he do when confronted with a new path, a new task, a new way of seeing himself? Will he acknowledge his gifts and God’s invitation? Moses in this moment is every person. This passage is not anchored to one religion or one period of time. Are you engaged in what brings you great joy? In my first year of seminary, a fellow student declared, “You better feel the call to ministry. Do you really want to serve God?” He asked those questions with more conviction than any of the clergy who were on the endless committees guiding my ordination process. But it’s not a question unique for clergy. You better feel the call to teach, fix cars, defend clients, drive a bus, raise a child, sell stocks, repair toilets, insert catheters. Whatever it is you do, do you want to do it? Have you seen the burning bush, or are you still wandering in the wilderness, eyes averted, life avoided? This question should haunt us. Honestly answering it dares us to declare who we are.

Moses receives God’s name. There goes the divine privacy. Once, during a get-to-know-you exercise at a conference I attended, the facilitator invited participants to work in pairs. Instructions were provided about what to ask. One question involved nicknames. I revealed a few of my friends, ones known for a long time and whom I trusted, called me “Lar” rather than Larry. I further shared that when “Lar” was used, it confirmed a deeper bond. For the remainder of the conference, my table companion called me—you guessed it—“Lar.”

I didn’t have the gumption to tell him it bothered me. Though I revealed a special name, I never gave him permission to use it.

As the bush burns, God gifts a name. A relationship. An intimacy.

Exodus 3 and 4 asks a hard question about how I spend my time. Am I called to do what I am doing?

Those verses also declare names are a treasure and a responsibility. How do you feel when someone uses your name? As a child, if Mom or Dad said, “Lawrence George Patten, come here . . .” I was in trouble. When a friend called me “Lar,” I sensed trust. When an acquaintance misused “Lar,” I wondered if anything I revealed had been heard.

What did Moses do after he walked away?

I imagine him retreating, stumbling once or twice, eyes fixed on the bush. Eventually he plops onto the ground and ties the sandals’ leather straps around his feet. He stands, trudges away. Since this day began with tending his father-in-law’s sheep, he searches the horizon for the scattered flock. Obligations have four hooves and are stupid.

But he looks back. One. Last. Time.

Moses spots where he just stood, feet bare and soul trembling. Or is it the right place? There’s only an old bush, its green branches barely surviving the harsh environment. Did he dream God’s demands, longings and name? Moses strokes his beard, fingering individual hairs to determine if any are scorched.

Now it’s up to Moses. Will he dwell on the past, analyze it, deny it, rationalize it or keep it secret? Or will he turn toward his uncertain, unlikely future?

Are you engaged in work that births joy, in you and for others?

Do you know how precious your name is?

Sweat trickles down Moses’ cheek. He needs a swig of water for his parched throat. A lamb bleats. The shepherd smiles, turns toward his future, his soul aflame.

He knows God’s name. God knows his.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TQYrWBbSg0

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