Sermon – 28 August 2005

One of the few non-work things that I managed to achieve this week was watching a film on the television.

It was Sliding Doors. Some of you may have seen it ? it doesn?t matter. I?m not going to preach about it, however something about it made me think quite a lot.

The basic idea in the film is that early on the action splits into two. We get two stories with the same characters and situations intertwined with one another. And all through the film, you are wondering which is the real version ? which of the two stories is going to come to a resolution. (And of course, the resolution is true love!).

In preaching this morning, I am conscious of trying to do something similar. For I want to preach 2 sermons and intertwine them. And they each have something of the truth within them. At first glance they appear to be mutually contradictory. However, let us see.
I want to keep the focus on Moses this morning, and particularly on God?s call to him.

For we might presume and suppose that if God communicated with people in particular ways then, perhaps God will communicate in the same ways now.

The first sermon that I want to preach is this: God speaks to us in the ordinary and the mundane. God speaks to us within the sphere of our everyday lives. Look at Moses ? he was shepherding Sheep, so God spoke to him in the dust and the dirt of the Sinai hillside. God is nearer to us than our latest breath.

And the second sermon that I want to preach (and intertwine around the first) is that God speaks to us through the utterly uncanny and the extraordinary. Look at Moses ? he was minding his own business tending the flock by Sinai?s great mountain when he encountered the abject holiness of God. A presence. A voice. An encounter through a bush of fire which was unconsumed.

It is clear to me that God speaks within the ordinariness of everyday life. This is one of the great truths that religion has to offer. The point of our faith is that God knows what it is to be human ? to struggle and strive and to be let down by friends. The whole of the stories of Jesus are to be understood to be all about this. God came. God encountered it all. From grubby stable to barren cross, God knows what it is to be like us. And no despair that we can feel can take us beyond the extreme passion of Christ on the cross. That is its point. That Christ came and identified utterly with us. God knows what being human is all about.

But can we ever know all about what God is about? Can we ever fully comprehend God?

For that is one of the questions that the Burning Bush encounter calls us to answer.

For when Moses met God it was an utterly uncanny experience. Moses met God in that which was odd.

It was as though God knew that the only way to get through to him was by appearing in a way that was so odd that it would have to be noticed.

And in listening to other people over the years and in listening to my own sense of God?s calling I know this still to be true. People do experience God in what they notice when uncanny or unexpected or unplanned things happen to them. This is an experience which is not lost in the mist of time, it is an experience that real people have. It is an experience that I have had.

God meets us in the ordinary.

God meets us in the extraordinary.

God meets us in the mundane.

God meets us in the uncanny.

These two intertwining ideas which can be seen twisting around themselves in the burning bush story are there to be encountered all through the bible and all through the experiences that God?s people have of God.

So common is this that these ideas have ended up with names.

The technical name for God?s nearness in the ordinary things of life is immanence. God can be utterly known and know us utterly.

The technical name for meeting God in the unexpected and the unknown and the unknowable is transcensdence. God can never be utterly known ? there is always more that we can discover about God.

These two ideas immanence and transcendence run through the spiritual traditions which we inherit as people of God, as people of Christ, as inheritors of the traditions of Israel, as children ultimately of Moses himself.

God is near to us. God is far from us.

God is known. God is unknown.

Sliding doors open and close. How do we bring these two ideas together? It is one of those paradoxes which make the Christian faith come alive. If you think you have grasped it all, I can assure you that you?ve not quite got it yet.

In closing though, let us go back to Moses on the hillside. God speaks to him and tells him to go off and do something ? to set his people free.

It is a message which was not just for Moses.

And God spoke. And the fire burned. And the bush was not consumed.

But some things were.

Burning in that bush were all of Moses own preconceptions. Burning in that bush were Moses?s own ideas that he was unworthy, or past it or worthless in God?s eyes.

He learnt that day that his preconceptions about God had just gone up in smoke.

He could be a leader. He could serve God. He could encounter the living God. He could bring change to the people. He could set people free.

The God of Moses is the God who says to people, ?Yes?.

He is the God who says, ?Yes, you can do it.?

He is the God who says, ?Yes, you, yes you too can set my people free?. Amen.

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