First Presbyterian Church – Lafayette, Louisiana
August 28, 2011 – Ordinary (22A)
Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? It’s not so bad if it’s a song you like. Somehow it seems to me that it is more likely to happen with a song I don’t like. I must admit that I take a certain pride in dropping a line or phrase from a song that will make another person continue to think about the song until it gets stuck in their head. Do you know what that’s called? Earworming.
An earworm is a word or phrase intentionally planted in your mind in a way that compels your thoughts to center on a given topic. It works best when the bigger idea is simple and connected to experiences and emotions. Why, all I have do is say something like The Lord of the Dance or AmazingGrace, and some of you will be off to the races!
For me, one of the biggies is the hymn, Here I Am, Lord. I’ll admit that over the years I have had a love/hate relationship with this hymn. I think that is because this hymn is so beloved by an institution that is both very human and very divine at the same time. I think it is because, when I am truly honest with myself, I realize that there are times when I have sung these words sincerely and failed to back them up with my life. I think it is because I know that I have had times when I have denied God’s voice because I did not see a burning bush, or because I did not think I was good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough.
I’ve asked a few friends to help me reflect on these types of experiences with you. They are going to share with you now a Reader’s Theater piece from the book, The Next Voice You Hear: Sermons We PreachTogether. This story is called, Here I Am, Send Claude.
Reader 1: The thing about burning bushes is –
they get our attention!
It’s not that Yahweh God
Loves showing off,
Or anything like that.
Reader 2: “For my next trick, I present – a burning bush!”
Reader 1: Burning bushes come in many forms,
In all sizes and shapes.
We are going about our own business,
Like Moses there at Horeb,
And suddenly our attention is captured…
Reader 2: By the number of homeless ones in town,
Or the treatment of the misfit at work,
Or the weeds in the church garden,
Or the suffering of a good friend,
Reader 1: We see a need,
By George, someone ought to do something!
Golly, someone has got to start caring!
We can stand it no longer;
The problem cannot be ignored.
It will not go away by itself.
Something must be done.
And lo and behold, we are there,
Standing at our burning bush.
God has captured our attention,
Pinpointed a particular need,
At work… in the neighborhood… at church
In the family... in the world…
Someone has to start doing something!
That is clear at burning bushes.
But who is going to do it?
That is not so clear.
Who will tackle the job?
This is the part of the message
We have trouble understanding.
The need is clear,
But the name we keep hearing
As we stand by that bush,
The name of the doer God has in mind,
Must be a mistake.
It is our own name.
Reader 2: Moses! Moses!
Reader 1: Here I am.
Reader 2: Moses, go down to Egypt Land;
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.
Reader 1: Right, Lord, something must be done in Egypt;
Someone must help your people there.
Thank goodness you see the need.
It is about time you got around to acting.
Congratulations, Lord. I am all for the project.
Here I am, Lord,
But send Dottie.
Dottie: Here I am, Lord,
But I am already serving on three important committees;
Gladene: Here I am, Lord,
But I have a house full of reweaving to finish;
Carol: Here I am, Lord,
But working full time, and running a hotel for relatives,
Is all I can do;
Dave: Here I am, Lord,
But I’m completely tied up in the World Wide Web;
Sue: Here I am, Lord,
But I’ve got to find a job;
Bill: Here I am, Lord,
But it is not in my job description;
All: Who’s Claude?
Reader 2: Here I am…Send Claude!
It is natural, one supposes, to feel somewhat inadequate
When confronting burning bushes.
It is natural, one supposes,
When we really have our attention
Directed to a crucial need in human life,
To feel our own resources are not sufficient.
Reader 1: At burning bushes, we empathize with Moses,
As he shouts out…
Reader 2: I am not religious enough for this job, Lord.
I can’t go to Egypt; I am a wanted man there.
I am not a public speaker.
Here I am, but
Dottie is friendlier;
Dottie: Gladene is more conscientious;
Gladene: Carol has been a member longer;
Carol: Dave is taller;
Dave: Sue has seminary training;
Sue: Bill has more experience;
Bill: Here I am, Lord;
All: Who’s Claude?
Reader 1: The trouble with burning bushes is
They don’t go away.
At burning bushes, we see a need.
We may feel inadequate.
We may be sure someone else could do it better.
We may not want to be bothered.
We wish the bush would go away.
But burning bushes are very personal;
That burning bush is for me.
Reader 2: Not Dottie, Not Gladene, Not Carol, Not Dave,
Not Sue, Not Bill, Not Claude…
Reader 1: The burning bush I meet is my own.
It is my name I hear called.
There God calls me
To meet the particular human need I see.
No matter how I try to escape,
The name that is called remains the same.
Reader 2: Moses! Moses!
Reader 1: It is my name.
Reader 2: Moses! Moses!
Reader 1: Here I am; send Dottie.
Dottie: Send Gladene.
Gladene: Send Carol.
Carol: Send Dave.
Dave: Send Sue.
Sue: Send Bill.
Bill: Send Claude.
All: Who’s Claude?
Reader 1: But the burning bush is not for Claude;
It is for me.
Claude has his own bush.
The bush I see,
The need God puts before my eyes,
In my mind, on my heart,
Has my name written on it,
And my name alone.
Reader 2: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’
Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me!’”
Yeah! That feels good. Here I am, Lord! Send me! It is good, and right, and important to know and to understand that we are called by God. It is good, and right, and important to find some way to respond to that calling. It is also very normal and very human for us to immediately disregard a calling that tells us to let go of our need to define and control so that we can be open to God’s will for our lives. It is very normal and very human to hear God’s calling to a life that involves constant death and resurrection and to look Jesus in the eye and say, “Get outa’ here! You gotta be kiddin’ me!”
And for that Jesus calls Peter, Satan. Peter – the one to whom Jesus just said he would give the keys to the kingdom and on who’s faith he said would build his church – this Peter has become Satan to him?!
And so do we – we become Satan to Jesus in those times when we focus on our desires rather than the will of God. And what is the will of God? As we have it today, the will of God is to be known as the God who was, who is, and who always shall be. The will of God is to be known through the story of a particular people. The will of God is to be known through our willingness to let go of our needs in service of God’s needs, and it is the will of God to offer the opportunity of experiencing heaven here and now through our attention and response to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Now, I realize that all that sounds great. I also realize that it can be as comforting as an old song that reminds us of the glories of days past. Not only that, the idea of experiencing heaven here and now, well, it just doesn’t sound very practical. I mean – how do you do that, anyway? Let me give you an example.
In 2008 the Faith Christian Lions of Grapevine, Texas had secured their spot in the state playoffs for their division – private schools. It was the last game of the season, and they were playing a throw away game against the Gainsville State Tornados. Gainsville State is a youth penitentiary school, and the team was filled with players that had about as much hope in their lives as they had chances of winning that game – none.
The Tornados players were incarcerated students who had earned the right to play football. They did not have a field and always played as visitors. Their only fans were the few staff members that accompanied them, most of whom were on security detail. They entered the locker room under tight security with their heads down, and they emerged that night to find something they had never experienced and never expected.
The Faith Lions fans divided. Men, women, and children formed a spirit tunnel stretching 30 yards, complete with a banner for them to tear through at the end! The JV Cheerleaders cheered for them on their side! Programs were made just for their team. Lions Parents were given the names and jersey numbers of Tornados players, and they sat on the visitor’s side and cheered for the Tornados players by name as they crashed into their own children in the fiercest night of competition the Tornados had ever participated in. Afterward, both teams joined for prayer – and members of both teams prayed for and with one another.
It wasn’t that big a deal to the Faith Lions fans and players, but it was the first time many of the Tornados players had ever been given something to hope for. More than that, it was a particularly Christian witness of hope from a particular people of God.
It is my hope, it is my prayer, it is my belief that we are a particular people who are responding faithfully to that call. When I tell people that this little congregation of just over 100 members (and a few friends from other congregations) made over 500 gift baskets for Christmas last year, their jaws drop. I cannot wait to tell them that this year we will make 1,000!
We have a lot to be hopeful about, even in the limited programming and outreach of this small, intimate, welcoming, and vital congregation – especially when we remember the risk we are taking by following Jesus. All of us long for resurrection, but none of us want to die. Yet God’s calling is clear. Moses, the murderer, is being sent back to the scene of the crime to proclaim release. And so it is with you and with me.
May God add an even more particular understanding to all who have received these words, as we continue to seek new ways to respond as individuals and as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved. Amen!