CMC Worship in Place | August 30 | Exodus series

Sermon Text: 

Today’s scripture is about how to talk to a plant.

Step one, go out in the wilderness.  Some sheep for companionship are optional. 

Step two, when a flame of light reflects just so from the leaves of a bush or tree or from a blade of grass, then it’s time to turn aside and walk toward it, that’s the one.

Step three, when the plant calls your name, you say “Here I am.”

Step four, take off your shoes and settle in.  You’re not going anywhere for a while. 

Feel your feet pressed onto the ground.  Feel it holding you up.  Know that the plant has pressed its feet even further than yours, deep down into the earth.  There are things, wondrous things, going on down there you’ll never see or know.  

Now you’re ready to listen.

Plants like to talk about responsibility and freedom.  You’re listening, and it speaks: “Your people are in misery and they need you.  You must lead them.  You will lead them out of bondage into a broad and beautiful land.  A land of abundance.”   

To a plant, responsibility to one’s purpose, and spacious freedom are the same thing.

You may not like how serious this has become so quickly.  The plant is not particularly concerned about your feelings on this one.  It’s met your kind before. 

For your part, you need a little more.  A little more…assurance, clarity…What is it that you need?  A name, you need a name.  “When they ask who sent me, what should I tell them?”  You know, asking for a friend.  “What’s your name?” you say.

The plant has an answer.  It has to do with God. 

Plants like to talk about God.  Or, plants are messengers for God.  Or, if you prefer, God is speaking out of the plant.  “I will be who I will be” the God/plant says.  That’s its name, it says.  Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  “I will be who I will be.” 

“And who are you?” says that God/plant back to you. 

Who am I? you ask yourself. 

Settle in, don’t rush that answer.  The plant is in no hurry.  God will wait.   

Earlier this month our family spent a week up at my brother Luke’s cabin on Lake Michigan.  On the one calm day, no waves at all, we took our first ride in the double kayak he had made.  Eve in front, me in back, Ila in the middle.  We paddled north and I made the ambitious goal of going all the way to the nuclear power plant just south of South Haven that uses the water of the lake to cool its internal workings.  About 8 miles roundtrip Luke guessed after we got back.   “We’re going all the way to the power plant,” I declared multiple times when the rest of the crew questioned when it was time to turn around. 

We made it there, much to my satisfaction.  Much to Ila’s disappointment, it did not live up to her expectations.  Rather than a magnificent, powerful, green wonder of creation, all it was was a big concrete dome surrounded by metal pipes.  When you’re expecting a power PLANT, and instead get a POWER plant, it is indeed a great disappointment. 

The power plant didn’t have anything to say to us, and we paddled back mostly in silence.

Today’s scripture is about an Exodus in the making. 

Exodus is what we might call a meta-story, an archetype.  The pattern of Exodus, like so many stories starts with a certain kind of order – Hebrews enslaved in Egypt under the heavy hand of Pharaoh.  Followed by disruption of that order – Yahweh wreaking havoc on the Egyptian economy and social fabric through 10 plagues; Moses, Aaron, and Miriam leading the people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, the same body of water that wipes out the pursuing enforcers of Egyptian order.  And re-order – a new community of liberated persons living liberated lives under the laws of Sabbath rest, within an economy of enough, manna and daily bread for all.

Order  Disruption, or disorder  Re-order

In his daily meditation Richard Rohr recently highlighted this three part pattern along with other ways of naming three part movements:

Garden of Eden  the Fall  Paradise.  The arc of the biblical story

Orientation  Disorientation  Re-orientation   — a model for how good education works, and, according to Walter Brueggemann, a model for how a good worship service works.

Orientation  Disorientation  Re-orientation. 

If you haven’t experienced disorientation yet, I’m trying my best in the sermon.

Life   Crucifixion  Resurrection – the pattern of Jesus’s existence

Construction  Deconstruction  Reconstruction   A philosophical approach, or, what seems to be happening more and more as climate change produces more hurricanes and catastrophic weather events and, dare we say it – plagues.

These are all ways of naming a three part pattern like the Exodus story that scales all the way up to planetary cycles, empires and nations, and all the way down to the personal spiritual journey.
If the ten plagues represent the earthquake that brings massive disruption to Pharaoh’s order, last week’s sermon by Rev. Jack Sullivan highlighted the early rumblings beneath the crust.  The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, in what might be the first recorded instance of civil disobedience, refuse to be keepers of the order Pharaoh sought to impose.  And not only them, but Moses’ mother, and sister, and Pharoah’s daughter commit acts of disruption by sparing lives Pharaoh wished to snuff out.  Pharaoh was paranoid about those baby boys but apparently it was the women who posed the real threat.

Today’s passage is about a singular life, Moses, that gets drawn in to the Great Story, the God Story, the only story where responsibility and freedom are one.  It’s the early rumblings of a great Exodus. 
Moses gets drawn in through a plant revelation.

Moses had, in a sense already made his own Exodus – The child hidden by his mother in that papyrus basket, watched over by his sister, discovered and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  As an adult Moses had discovered his Hebrew heritage, witnessed the oppression of the people who gave him birth, and unleashed his anger by murdering an Egyptian guard who had been beating a Hebrew.  Moses had fled Egypt because his life was suddenly in danger.  He had made his Exodus and thus preserved his own life.  He had met a woman, married, he had joined his life to the household of the priest of Midian.  And he is shepherding sheep in the wilderness.  He is free. 

Out of Egypt, into the wilderness.  Sounds familiar. He’d already arrived in body, but he had some deep soul work to do before the big Exodus could take place.

Enter the plant ablaze with God.  The burning-but-not-burned-out bush.  The counselor.  The life coach.  The spinner of mystery and calling.  The power plant that conjures sustenance out of wind and water and light, in which dwells God.

Moses is out in the wilderness with his father-in-law’s sheep.  His task is managing this flock, leading them to water, keeping them safe.  Morning, day, evening, night.  Repeat.  Order.

When one day, there’s a disruption.  There, off in the distance but well within view is a bush.  It’s on fire, or maybe the fire is on it, or in it, possessing it, temporarily passing through it. 

There’s no one else around, but the text records Moses saying these words to himself: “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

For Moses to actually see and encounter this bush and whatever that fire is within it, he has to turn aside.  And he apparently has to kind of talk himself through it.  He’s going to allow himself to be disrupted, turned aside, and have an encounter with this plant. 

And as we know, the plant talks back.  The plant talks back. 

It has some things to say.   

Settle in Moses.  It’s going to be a while.  It’s time for an education.  It’s time to unlearn.  It’s time to turn aside from the present order.  It’s time walk toward the disruption.  It’s time to listen to what the God/plant demands.  Do not be afraid, Moses.  There’s an Exodus in the works.  Out of one death-dealing order into a new life-giving order.   

It’s time to take off your shoes.  A mighty disruption is underway, and there will be no going back.  “I will be who I will be” has spoken.

It’s time for the flame that blazes from within to spread from plant to person.  Now you will be aflame with God.  You will be who you will be.

When the God/plant calls your name, you say “Here I am.”