It always cracks me up when I tell people where I work, at a church on the corner of Military and Cherry Hill and they have to pause, before they remember that there is a church on this corner. Humans have a tendency of adjusting to people, places, and circumstances, not really noticing what’s around us.
Who knows why the burning bush in our reading from Exodus burned all the time and was never consumed? It’s one of those questions that religious people have pondered for ages.
One midrash, suggests that the burning bush always burned and was never consumed because it was waiting for Moses to notice it. Perhaps Moses had walked past the burning bush for years. But Moses, being preoccupied with his work, his day, wasn’t looking, wasn’t paying attention, and simply missed it. Until one day when, for whatever reason, he saw it.
It reminds me of Gerald May’s description of the spiritual path in his book, “Awakened Heart.”
He describes the spiritual journey as a process of:
yielding and stretching,
Moses finally pauses and notices a burning bush. He’s startled, which opens him up, stretches him, and he discovers he is on holy ground. Responding to God within the fiery bush calls him to yield to the mystery of God’s presence and then to have the courage to follow God on a sacred journey.
This reading encourages us to think about the spiritual awareness God asks of us. The burning bush reminds us that God waits for us, for as long as it takes, until we turn and take notice of God.
Until our eyes are opened and our hearts awakened.
So, of course this thought begs the question:
In what ways are we walking by God, failing to see God’s presence in our lives or in the world around us?
With the Renaissance Strategy initiative we are looking at the ways we are being called, to learn from others, to be stretched, to take notice, to see in a new way – reaching out beyond the walls of this church –
to meet people where they are,
to have the courage
to follow God
to reflect the image
of God in the world.
In our Gospel reading Jesus is talking to the disciples about their ministry in the world and once again he will not be stymied by Peter’s efforts to stay safe and comfortable.Instead Jesus pushes all of them outside their comfort zone, he describes it as “taking up the Cross.”
Note that Jesus doesn’t say “take up the cross” nor does he say,“take up my cross” – he says the disciples must “take up their cross.”
To take up “one’s Cross” is what happens when one chooses to care for the marginalized and disenfranchised members of the world.
It’s what happens when we strive to follow our baptismal covenant to follow the mission of Jesus.
The mission that Jesus calls us on is:
to do justice,
to respect the dignity of others.
To follow the mission of Jesus means to go out in the world and serve others.
So a man has a dream. An angel of God gives him a vision of the afterlife.
First he is shown a great hall with a long banquet table filled with the most fabulous food imaginable. Each person sitting at the table is equipped with a three foot long spoon, but no matter how much they contort their arms,
thrusting their elbows into their neighbors’ faces, their utensils are too long to maneuver even a single morsel into their gaping mouths. They sit together in mutual misery.
“This,” says the angel, “is hell.”
The angel then takes the man into another room and he sees an identical banquet table filled with the same delicious food and the same impossible silverware. Only here the people at the table are happy and content.
“This,” says the angel, “is heaven.”
Confused the man said, “What’s the difference?”
“In heaven,” said the angel pointing to a person as they lifted the long handled spoon and fed their neighbor across the table, “In heaven, they feed each other.”
(Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch, “Remarkable Recovery”)
Taking up my cross, is like picking up that spoon. It can be a weight that wears me down and starves me. Or it can be the means by which I feed
and am fed.
Taking up our cross is responding, becoming that sign,
the living body of Christ –
noticing that beacon of light
yielding to God’s call
which can not be ignored,
outside of the walls of comfort,
responding to needs in the world.
God gives us the very sign we need, puts it right in front of us, and waits for us to notice its potential:
a building with lively ministries and beautiful land,
ministries of feeding kids with backpacks
and a pantry for hungry families:
a sacrament of sharing holy food:
in mind, body, and spirit.
Portions of this sermon were influenced by John Shea, “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” Volume One, Year A of the series, “The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers.”
a reflection on the readings for Proper 17A Exodus 3:1-15 and Matthew 16:21-28