Turning Aside

a sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

When Moses saw a bush burning in the wilderness but not being consumed, he turned aside to see what was going on.  We’ll never how long that bush had been burning – how many centuries, how many shepherds passed by without ever stopping…until the day Moses followed his inquiring and discerning heart.

Let’s begin today’s sermon with a song about our Old Testament reading:

God spoke to Moses from the burning bush…. “I am the Lord your God.”
The bush kept burning but was not consumed…. “I am the Lord your God.”
Take off your sandals, you’re on holy ground…. “I am the Lord your God.”

The story about Moses and the burning bush is probably one of the most famous stories in the Bible. I suppose it’s always been popular, but I think most of us probably first heard about it from the movies: either “The Ten Commandments,” if you’re a old fogey like me, or “Prince of Egypt,” if you’re a young fogey. Both movies have pretty cool scenes and neat special effects when Moses comes upon the bush.

Of course, the actual place where the burning bush was supposed to have been is a desert. The desert is a pretty boring place, and Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep and goats. And things were pretty quiet out there with nothing much to do than sit and watch and let your mind wander.

One day, as Moses was tending the herd, he noticed something a little out of the ordinary. It wasn’t something big that hit him like a bolt from the blue, but something small. In fact, the Bible says it was something off to the side and Moses had to turn even farther off the beaten path to see it. It’s like when you see something out of the corner of your eye that you just might miss, unless your curious enough to stop and ask yourself, “what’s going on here?” Moses notices a strange bush, out in the middle of the desert, burning. It was burning, but it didn’t burn up.

Now, Moses was a smart kid. After all, he grew up as a prince of Egypt. He went to the best schools, and had all the best books and educational toys that his step-father, the Pharaoh, could give him. And he was destined a great leader of the Egyptian people. Until one day, he saw an Egyptian soldier beating a Hebrew slave. That made Moses angry, so he killed the soldier and he had to run away. He was hiding out in the wilderness, so far away that nobody knew who he was. He was afraid and hiding.

But when he saw this bush, burning but not being consumed, his curiosity was peaked. He turned aside to see what was going on. And perhaps more importantly, the bible tells us that God notices Moses turning aside. Of course, we’ll never how long that bush had been burning. How many centuries, how many shepherds passed by without ever stopping? How long had God waited until just the right shepherd came a long, a shepherd with an inquiring and discerning heart , a shepherd who was curious enough and thoughtful enough to go out of his way to check out this amazing thing. We’ll never know long it was before Moses came along.

But God notices that Moses turned aside. God notices that he has an inquiring mind and discerning heart, two qualities God wants in his leaders. So God calls out from the burning bush and tells Moses that he’s the one to lead God’s chosen people out of slavery.

And Moses responds pretty much as you and I would respond. “Are you kidding, Lord? I’m a loser. I’m just a shepherd. And in case you haven’t noticed, Pharaoh’s trying to kill me. Who am I to do something that amazing?”

Who am I indeed? That’s really the question we all ask, isn’t it? That’s the question we all ask throughout our whole lives – from the time we are tiny infants until the day we die. Who am I to do such a great thing? Who am I to ask my boss for a raise? Who am I to ask that special person to marry me? Who am I to hold my friends, my Church, my priest, my government accountable? I’m a nobody, just one of the herd.

This is where the story of Nicodemus comes in. Like Moses, Nicodemus had been a big shot in the Jerusalem. And like Moses, Nicodemus was afraid, just like we all are afraid sometime or another. But also like Moses, he had an inquiring mind and discerning heart. So he goes to see Jesus under cover of darkness. His inquiring mind and discerning heart keeps nudging him forward. It causes him to “turn aside” and find Jesus to see whether he’s really who he thinks he is: the Son of God.

And like Moses, Nicodemus is confronted by the same question: Who am I? Or maybe more specifically, whose am I? Because Jesus lays it out very plainly that unless he’s reborn of water and the spirit, Nicodemus can never enter the kingdom of God.

Of course, God tells Moses something. God tells him that it doesn’t matter who we are, Moses. All that matters is who I AM. I AM WHO I AM. I AM the very ground of being that you are standing on. I AM your life. I AM your God. I AM everything that you need. It doesn’t matter who you used to be, or who you are now, because I AM with you every step of the way.

I AM WHO I AM is all we need to know about who we are. It says that God is with us, and strengthens us, and fills us, no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether we are a prince of Egypt or a shepherd, we are defined by our relationship with God, a relationship established in the waters of baptism. Through our baptisms, we are born again in water and the Spirit and we become children of God.

In just a few minutes, Nathan and Morgan will be become the newest members of the body of Christ. They will come up with their parents and godparents, and they will be baptized by water and Spirit just as we heard in the Gospel reading. And we will be preparing them for a time in their lives when they will have many questions about who they are, and they will spend many years wandering in the wilderness, just as we all do. And at some point, when they turn aside and ask the question we all ask, “who am I,” we pray that they will heard a voice that says, “I AM WHO I AM. All that matters is that God is with you.”

And after their baptism, and after we ring bells and sing the First Song of Isaiah, and we’ll say a special prayer for them. We’ll thank God for blessing them with gift of grace and forgiveness and we’ll ask that they be given “inquiring and discerning hearts, and the will to persevere, the spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” So that when they find themselves lost in the wilderness, they will be confident in turning aside and ask, “where are you Lord?” And hear the voice of God say, I AM with you, always.
Thanks be to God.

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