Ed. Note: this Reflection was offered at the 8:30 a.m. service only. The annual Blessing of the Pets service (without Reflection) was held at 10:30 a.m.
When Murray Pierce heard that I enjoy phantasy novels like TheLord of the Rings and Harry Potter, he introduced me to a series of books called The Eye of the World. That’s what I have been reading over the summer.
As I was walking Jack yesterday morning in the fairgrounds, the sun was shining through the mist over the water and I was keenly aware and deeply appreciative of the huge difference between the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – and the power source in most phantasy novels.
Our God has no equal opposite, is not fickle or dangerous but is a faithful, creative energy that is the true source of light and love and healing. And ours is God who will not be contained, controlled or misused by anyone – not even God’s chosen people.
Though I’m not keen on the war imagery, this come through clearly when Joshua is approaching Jericho, looks up and sees a man standing before him with a sword in his hand. Joshua asks, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ The man replies, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ This, of course, is the Archangel Michael, who tells Joshua to remove his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground. But that’s a story for another day.
Last week, I asked you to think about, who is Jesus for you? What are your expectations of him? This week, I would like you to think about “Who is God for us? What are our expectations of that God?” and, “Who are we in relation to that God?”
In a roundabout way, this is the conversation going on between Moses and God in our first reading.
So, to catch us up, last week we heard how the Israelites cry out to God when they become slaves in Egypt. God hears their cry and responds with the birth of Moses. As with Jesus, we don’t hear a whole lot about the early years of Moses’ life. We are told he is born in Egypt and adopted into Pharaoh’s court but runs away when – as a young man – he kills an Egyptian guard who is abusing an Israelite slave. Moses flees to the land of Midian, where he meets and marries Zipporah, one of the daughters of Jethro, the local priest. Jethro is a priest of the old order whose people did not go into Egypt and he proves to be an invaluable resource for Moses in the days ahead.
When we meet Moses this morning he is tending his father-in-law’s sheep near Horeb, a mountain known for encounters of the holy kind. After getting his attention with a burning bush, God introduces the God-self to Moses by reminding him of the sacred history of his people: I am the God of your father- the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and I have chosen you to lead my people to freedom and the promised land, says God.
Moses, who knows the situation in Egypt better than anyone, is reluctant to return. But God insists that its good idea. Moses then asks two very important questions: Who am I that you would ask me to do this? In other words, not only is Moses reluctant to go, he feels unworthy of the task. His second question – Who shall I say has sent me? – is not just about making sure people know that this is not just some hair brained scheme of Moses, it also presumes a polytheistic world. So, of all the gods out there, which one are you?
And God answers with that famous line, I am what I am or I will be what I will be. In other words, this is the one true God, the mysterious source of all life that cannot be contained.
As we follow this story, we are going to learn some things about the people’s evolving understanding of God and their relationship with this God. And that will hopefully encourage us to think about our evolving understanding of God and our ongoing relationship with that God. To encourage you in this, there is a copy of our first reading for you to take home and ponder. (Ed.: in the bulletin of the day).
Now we turn to poor Peter who was such a hero last week when he named Jesus as the Messiah, son of the living God. But when Jesus then starts talking about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Peter objects strenuously. This is not what he expects from God’s Messiah. He’s hoping for something a little more like the Moses story, with a successful liberation of Jerusalem that would make them all heroes who live to enjoy it.
And that’s when Jesus says, Get behind me Satan, …You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. And we all do that from time to time. We want God to act according to our expectations, to play into our idea of success. But God will not play that game. And that’s a good thing.
God’s goal is to inspire and encourage us to set our hearts and minds on the way of Jesus and the peace and justice of the commonwealth of God. God wants us to strive for a world that is good for all creation. Everything else is just a stumbling block that gets in the way.
It’s so hard for us to not want God to favour us and our plans and our group without much thought for “the other”. But that’s not the kingdom way. This is not some tribal God we worship. This is the creator of the universe who has concern for all the children and all creation.
The good news is that Jesus did not cast Peter out when he messed up. God knows that we, like Peter and the rest of the disciples, are imperfect beings prone to stumble along the way, and loves us anyway. With the help of the Holy Spirit, our task is to keep on trying.
God of all pilgrims, bless our journey together and keep us on the path you place before us. Fill us with courage and strength to travel where you lead. Give us wisdom and insight for the journey and compassion for all your people. Amen.