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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Here I Am; Where Are You?

Scripture                             Exodus 3:1-6

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.



Here I Am. Where are you?


“Here I Am, Lord.” It’s the hymn we’ll sing in a few minutes. A lot of people really like it. Probably because it’s the only contemporary hymn in the Blue Hymnal that’s, you know, good. It can be sung. In English. Good song, except for that tricky pause that always catches someone coming in too soon. (“I thuh, oops.”) (Who will it be this time?) That’s typical of Presbyterians. We’re Calvinists. We’re very suspicious of anything too easy or too joyful. No one deserves a life without suffering, and we’ve got just the hymnbook to prove it.


Presbyterians also pride ourselves on order. Robert’s Rules of Order. Moses, Jesus, the Blessed Saint Robert. We’re big on plans. God’s got a plan. From the very beginning to infinity and beyond. It’s all predestined. You’ll reap what you sow. And your sowing is always so-so. Hey, I don’t make the rules. They’re Robert’s rules. God’s plan. And ignorance of the law is no excuse. You sinner.

Deep down, I think everybody’s a Calvinist. We’re just the ones who made a religion out of it. Weird stuff happens, and what’s the first thing you ask? “Where’s my phone? I’ve gotta get this on video.” OK, the second thing. “Why?” “Why’d that happen?” Closely followed by, “Whose fault is that? Who let this happen?” Because everything bad is somebody’s fault. Why? Because order. Because plan. Because guilt.

And if we can’t figure out whose fault it is, we get suspicious. Somebody’s covering something up. Usually the President. It’s a conspiracy. It’s a hoax. It’s a scam. Like that Nigerian prince who keeps sending me email. Or the NFL.


When your world moves by cause and effect, there’s not a lot of room for mystery. If you see an effect, but you don’t know the cause, it’s because you haven’t looked hard enough, or close enough. Everything happens for a reason that’s built on the rules that follow the plan.


Except when it doesn’t.


And that’s when we find ourselves asking, “Here I am, Lord. Where are you?”


A couple of Sundays back, we were having a Communion. A very solemn and wondrous time. And then the fire alarm went off. Remember that? I have to confess, my first thought was not the same as Moses. “I must turn aside and see why the church is not burned up.” No, my first thought seriously was, “Whose cell phone is that? That’s the loudest ringtone I’ve ever heard. Must be one of those new iPhones. The Supersize. A Mega Phone.”


But then because I’ve worked here long enough, and heard the alarm go off just enough, I went, “(Sigh). I’ll go try to reset it before the firetrucks pull up. Something else they didn’t teach me in seminary.”

It’s a very good thing Moses was on the mountain and not me. First, because I probably wouldn’t have noticed the burning bush in the first place. Too busy answering a text about where the water spigots and buckets are. And if I did notice I’d likely think, “The high school Youth Group’s trying to prank me.”


“Haha, he’s stomping on the bush.”

“Haha, his pants are on fire.”


We live in a world where kids grow up with Photoshopped pictures and movies where trucks turn into very realistic-looking robots destroying the earth. There’s very little fantastic left to fire our imaginations. The unexplainable isn’t a sign of God any more. It’s a sign of the opposite – of demons and dread that terrorizes us and makes us want to go hide in a cabin or dress our kids in hazmat suits and body armor.

A burning bush? How quaint. When you’re ruled by order, when there’s always a reason, when you suspect conspiracy, I’m not sure how God can keep up.


Here we are, Lord. Where are you?


And if you are here, how would we know?


Today we’re ordaining and installing elders you elected to serve on Session. The Presbyterian Church in its wisdom calls them, “Ruling Elders.” That always makes me think of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings. Like they’re the high council of elves and dwarves who decide how, “the fires of Mordor shall never again ring alarms in the church hallways.” Ruling Elders keep us in order. They form committees and go to meetings. No wonder we elect other people to do it. They worry about practical matters, like, leaks in the roof, maintaining the budget, organizing festivals, choosing curriculum, making sure the nursery is watched and the kids aren’t running wild through the halls. And thank goodness somebody does this stuff. It’s important. Even Moses had to tend the sheep.


But what we’re really electing them to do goes beyond the practical. What we’re really electing them to goes beyond the order, beyond the rules, beyond the reason. What we’re really calling them up the mountain to do is to look for the burning bushes. And to listen for what God might be saying in those times and places that don’t make sense.


Because – and I’ll bet you’ve found this to be true, too – it’s in those times, in those situations that defy everything we expect, defy everything we know, in those times that confound our hearts and confuse our minds – it’s then that we hear God’s voice.


“No, I’m not a special effect.

“No, I’m not a chemical imbalance.

“No, I’m not a delusion,

“No, I’m not something you just haven’t figured out yet…

“I am.

“I am the God the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

“I am the God who speaks through Ruling Elders, who speaks through infants’ cries,

“the God who is reflected just enough when you people who call yourselves the church get it right and mercifully, sometimes even when you get it wrong.

“Here I am. Where are you?”


And that may be the most bewildering, the most irrational, disordered thing of all. That we think we’re answering God with our “Here I am.” When really it’s God. It’s God answering our prayers. It’s God saying, “Here I am.

“Now. Where are you?”