Lent 3 March 7, 2010

Exodus 3:1-15                                                                    

1 Corinthians 10:1-13                                                       

Luke 13:1-9


“We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the secret sits in the center and knows.” – Robert Frost

 I’ve been thinking during my Lenten prayers about how much time I spend on Church and how little time I spend on God. How much time, to use Robert Frost’s marvelous image, I spend dancing round in a ring and how little I spend trying to sit with the secret in the center which is God.

If I made a pie chart, God would be just a little tiny sliver. Of course, Church is my job. But I expect it’s the same for you: that sometimes it seems as though for all the Church stuff – the meetings, the planning, the projects, even the liturgy each Sunday – God gets lost. And though God needs Church – Jesus called together disciples in order to spread the Gospel – Church is nothing except as it helps us relate to God. So let’s this morning spend a little time sitting with God, because that’s what the readings are all about.

One of the things we discover about God, if we spend even a little time sitting with his secret, is that we can’t pin him down; his very nature is to remain “secret,” ultimate, beyond us. The story of Moses and the burning bush is the great account in the Bible of God’s ultimate mysteriousness. Moses is wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. He’s been defeated in his attempt to lead his people back in Egypt. And something catches his attention.

The story says it’s an angel, appearing to him in the midst of a bush that burns but is not consumed. But of course those are just images. What they try to convey is beyond their grasp, as it always is when we humans try to talk about God. Everything around us, if we stop to notice, is a burning bush, an angel of God. Everything is full of wonder and mystery, beckoning us to step aside. In everything, God is calling out to us.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is built on this realization. As you noticed in the presentation this morning, the Catechesis doesn’t give children “facts” about God to memorize or “get right.” It offers presentations that disclose something about God, that beckon or invite, and about which the children are asked to “wonder.” Their wondering leads them to discover truths about God, leads them into the secrecy of God.

The God whom Moses encounters in the burning bush – the God whom we encounter when we take time and space to wonder about the beckoning mysteries of life – has some special characteristics. First, as we might put it, he’s a God with a past. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God revealed through his actions in history, his presence with people in times of old. That’s why we read the Bible: so we get a sense of who God has been, because this will help us understand who God is now and will be in the future.

Second, this God is a God who listens to us and responds to what he hears and sees. He’s a living, interactive, “personal” God. God tells Moses that he has heard the cries of the enslaved and suffering Hebrews and has come to deliver them. Now this God doesn’t do his delivering by magic, reaching down some heavenly hand. He works through people. In the Exodus story, he works through Moses. In the presentation on the Eucharistic Presence, the children are learning that God works through them.

God works through us too. But like Moses, we always want to know up front how God is going to work. We want proof and guarantees. “I want to know your name,” says Moses to God. Here we need to name what we’re dealing with: idolatry. Idols are things made by humans – not just statues of gods, but anything in which we put our ultimate trust that is less than God: money, medicine, government, military might, human intelligence, science, the Church.

Moses wants to learn God’s name, which meant in the thought of the day, to gain control of God. He wants to turn God into an idol in other words, so that he can be assured of just how God is going to work through him. But God works this wonderful little trick, preserving his ultimate secret. My name, God says is I AM (YHWH). In other words, I will be present with you as I work through you, but I will remain ultimately beyond you – because otherwise I wouldn’t be God.

And that is how God works with us. In the gospel reading, people are asking Jesus why bad things happen to good people. Do you see how that’s basically an idolatrous question? It’s assuming that we, what is bad or good in our personal terms, are the ultimate standard of badness and goodness – in effect that we are God. And Jesus, like God in the burning bush story, flips that idolatrous question around. Don’t make yourself the center of the universe, he says. I am the center. So your job is to repent, clean up your own life, do justice, bear fruit for the kingdom. Stop worrying about yourself and start thinking about God or you will surely perish.

I urge you to take the time to follow our on-line Lenten study project on “Belief in an Age of Skepticism.” It’s been quite fascinating, the reactions and resistances people have had. Really, I think, it all comes down to what we’ve been talking about. “Skepticism,” in all its various forms, is simply an expression of people wanting a God to suit themselves, wanting a life that puts themselves at the center. “Belief” is simply accepting the reality that life isn’t like that. That however much we wish it otherwise, we remain dancing round in a circle while God sits ultimately secret in the center.

 Except . . . there is this connection between circle and center: Jesus Christ. Jesus who is both “in on the secret” and, with us, out in the circle. He it is who came to reconcile the secret and the circle, to reconcile us to God as our center. Lent is a time to reflect on that reconciliation, to turn from our idolatries and re-center ourselves on God through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

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