The Corner Office
Water from a Rock - When the Fire Is Lit
Transcript of sermon given at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on Sunday August 28th, 2011:
Scriptural Text: Exodus 3:1-15
[after brief personal introduction]
So here we are together, considering the calling of Moses. Last Sunday, you all explored the calling of the women who became the foundation upon which Moses came into life. We will mostly focus on Moses this week, but you will see a theme you may remember from last week. These callings, especially when they brings us into opposition with the powers of the world, can be dangerous. They will involve some risk on our part. However, for us this week, the focus will not be on what we are called to, but the moment of the calling itself.
Let us consider where Moses was in his life at this moment. He knew of the plight of his people in the work yards, and he could not bare it any more. His rage overcame him, and he killed an Egyptian he found beating an Israelite. It wasn't until he found out that everyone else found out that the he did what he thought was in secret, that he realized he needed to make himself scarce. So he ran away. He tried to disappear. He tried to take himself out of the story so as to avoid further drama, and specifically to avoid his death.
Funny thing, whenever a called person tries to take themselves out of the story, God has this way of bringing them right back into the thick of it. Whenever we try to hide, God always seems to find us. Moses thought he had disappeared, until one day he turned a corner to see THE FIRE.
One day when I was in high school, I saw the FIRE. It was not an actual flame. There was no bush either being consumed by fire or on fire but not consumed. God spoke with more subtlety to me. You see as I grew up in West Texas, I stood out from the crowd. Not only did my fiery red hair distinguish me from my peers, but I also had an eccentric sense of humor. I would also randomly sing to myself, I have an uncanny ability to memorize lyrics of completely unnecessary songs. Other youth around me would spare no effort to remind me that I was different. I distinctly remember one popular girl who walked straight up to me, and said very slowly and deliberately, "YOU ARE STRANGE." Of course, the implied message was, YOU DO NOT BELONG.
The I found a youth group at a local Presbyterian church. They took me in. They showed me that what made me different, also made me special. What made me weird, also made me beautiful. What made me strange, also made me valuable. They showed me that I BELONGED. Eventually I learned that when someone told me I was weird, I should take it as a complement. How's that for transformation?
One summer, at a youth conference in the Texas Hill Country, I was struggling to pay attention to a scripture lesson in the heat of the afternoon. My thoughts revolved mostly around who I was going to flirt with later, when I'd get to swim in the river again and what trouble I was going to get myself in that week. Turns out, God had other ideas with my attention.
That afternoon, the Bible study illustration revolved around a young woman recognizing the humanity of a homeless man. That's when the Spirit decided to nudge me. "Hey! Hey, pay attention!" Once I shrugged off my other concerns, and opened myself up to what the Spirit had to say to me, then it began to sink in. The message that my youth group gave me, the nurture that the Church showed me, the way I belonged at summer youth conferences, that is what I can give to others. THAT is how God wants me to help people, and there glowed a fire.
I recently read about the time a divine fire began to glow in South Africa. Desmond Tutu tells the story of demonstrations during the South African elections of 1989. Leading up to the day, a coalitions of civic and religious antiapartheid groups led a campaign of civil disobedience. They took to the streets all over the country. Now most of the people of color were familiar with the apartheid government response to demonstrations, pure brute force. However, in the Central business district of Cape Town, where Tutu was bishop, the protesters were people of all races. The violent tactics of the police came as a shock to them.
By that time, Desmond Tutu was a Noble laureate, so the government had to be crafty and devious in their violent suppression of protesters. They would remove recognizable leaders from the area, detaining them for hours until the media and the cameras had left. They knew that images of an internationally known bishop being beaten would bring down immediate condemnation. Once the reporters had left the police charged on the crowd with merciless batons.
In the townships outside of the city where most protesters were not white, the police shot to kill. As usual, the state accounts of casualties were conservative at best. According to the word on the ground, numbers of deaths were far greater. The anti-apartheid community reeled in surprise.
In the days following, as Tutu recovered from the shock, something else began to speak through him. Tutu called that something, a "God-pressure." This "God-pressure" told him to call for another march. Despite the danger of further deaths at the hands of the police; despite there being no agreement from the antiapartheid organizations; despite the logistical nightmare of organizing people again, Tutu called upon the people to march again.
He attempts to illustrate "God-pressure" in his own words:
"There is a physical sensation, breathlessness, and a sense of being weighed down by a heavy burden. But neither of those is the main thing. The main thing is the sense of compulsion. It is a loving compulsion. But 'God-pressure' is a feeling of being compelled to act, even against the voice of reason."
I would like to refer to this as, "When the Fire Is Lit." For me, this fire also brings a kind of tingling to the skin. Moses felt this tingling, this breathlessness, this compulsion as the flame of the bush burned on in front of him. Beyond all reason, he soon found himself in front of Pharaoh... COMPELLED. For Moses, in addition to the bush, the fire within was was also lit.
I felt that tingling that afternoon at the youth conference. For a moment, my breath was taken away. I feel this fire now when I meet students at UIC. I see their eyes light up in the midst of a conversation. I see them yearning for a connection, a relationship to a community, for engagement. So the bush burns, and I am COMPELLED to engage. God is calling me to live this message for the UIC community. Those who are told they are different, are the ones who are special. Those who are told they are weird, are the ones who are beautiful. Those who are told they are strange, are the most valuable. With Agape House, they BELONG. When the fire is lit within me, God works through me beyond any goal I might have set. Sometimes, in a completely different way than I imagined.
When Desmond Tutu brought the coalition back onto the streets the week after election day, he had not realized that the leadership of the government already began some transformation. The new president ordered all police to remain off the streets. The mayor of Cape Town became the first South African official to grant permission for a protest. The number of demonstrators exploded onto the streets of South Africa. That year went down as the last apartheid election South Africa would ever experience again.
You see, when the fire is lit, our eyes are opened. When the fire is lit, God's plans become your plans. When the fire is lit, an ordinary situation becomes EXTRA-ordinary. Your burning bush doesn't have to call you to lead the people out into the street to dismantle an apartheid government. Not all of us are called to stand before Pharaoh and announce the end of an oppressive regime. The Spirit might nudge you while you're at the grocery store. The Spirit might nudge you while you're eating dinner with your family. The Spirit might nudge you while you're in class, while you're at work, while you're at... the bank (psst, he's talking about money).
When the fire is lit, you decide not to carry out unjust orders and kill off Hebrew babies. You go to Pharaoh with cheek and say, "but these Hebrew babies are so hardy, they're born and hidden before we get there. What can we do?" When the fire is lit, every meeting with another person becomes a chance to nurture a relationship and to be a blessing to those around you. When the fire is lit, your community will catch on to your energy, and they will want to join you on your journey. God will join you too. The Spirit will nourish the flame within you. Together we will join in the work of bringing God's commonwealth to reality on this earth.