Every great movement starts with curiosity; the act or response of a person – one woman, one man, one body. Indeed, it is often in that wonderfully rich metaphorical description of space called “beyond the wilderness” – in that space that somehow defies description – a place pregnant with creation – there is a hush, a pause, a breath…and then something new. A new thought, or you notice something different and it makes all the difference.
In those moments someone notices something and turns and sees and is drawn to the irresistible. They say “Curiosity may kill the cat,” but curiosity begins every journey towards God’s kingdom.
Moses saw the bush. He went over to look. And God saw that Moses saw. God was waiting for Moses to see, to turn and look, and come.
Dorothy Day saw the burning injustice of the condition of workers, of children. God was waiting for someone to notice.
Kathleen Norris noticed a sense in her own heart as she stood looking out at the Dakota plains – she had to write a book. God was waiting for her to pay attention.
A son notices that his father is a drunk and is drawn to act. God was waiting and hoping because it is time.
A woman sees another life that is possible and so leaves the abuser. God was waiting, couldn’t have forced her to do it.
A man sees his date in a whole new way across the table at a restaurant and KNOWS, this is the one. God was waiting, delighted.
A college freshman notices how beautifully Emily Dickenson uses language, and now is a Pulitzer Prize winner. God was waiting, waiting for her to follow her curiosity.
A few members of this church were curious about the changing demographics of the Heights and about how to be a welcoming community and keep the housing stock up and the neighborhoods stable, and Forest Hill Housing Corporation got started, and Diana Woodbridge became our Moses. God was waiting for someone to be curious.
It is about curiosity and then engagement which leads to action which moves the universe.
Conversely, however, every injustice and every act of oppression is caused by inaction, the refusal to be curious and to look and to find out more.
I read a horrifyingly wonderful book this past summer: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. It was set in Berlin in the mid-1930s. America knew what Hitler was about. Europe knew what was to come. But nobody really wanted to do anything.
President Roosevelt turned away a boat load of Jewish refugees from our shores. Nobody wanted to notice. Six million Jews were slaughtered. And many say that the holocaust proves that God does not exist.
I think the holocaust proves that humanity was too timid to act in a way that God would have wanted us to act.
“One man come in the name of love,” U2 lead singer Bono sings. “One man caught on a barbed wire fence, one man he resist. One man washed on an empty beach. One man betrayed with a kiss. In the name of love, what more in the name of love.”
Every righteousness begins with someone’s curiosity and courage to say “yes” or “no.” Every injustice and unrighteousness is caused by looking the other way. And we blame God. Or wonder where God is. Well, God is waiting for you to notice. God is waiting for me to care.
That is a provocative sentence in verse 4 that agitates me with a deep biblical truth:
“When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
The great German author and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”
The moment Moses is curious and moves towards his curiosity, the die is cast. Moses acts, which invites God to act too. That is not what I expect. God dependent upon our actions agitates me. It is not the way I expect God to work. What do you mean that God waits for Moses to act, for Moses to notice before God does anything?
God had observed the misery of the Jews in Egypt. God had heard their cry. The Lord knew their suffering. How come God didn’t do something before? What was God doing?
But only as Moses engages with the divine, only as he notices and is drawn by his curiosity does YHWH move too. That is a stunning theological statement about the relationship, the covenant, that God has with you and with me, with the people who are chosen to live a life of curiosity and care, of risk and hope.
Now that Moses had noticed; now that Moses and God get into a conversation about what’s next; now that God knows he has “hooked” Moses, now will God “deliver them from the Egyptians, and bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” Such is the relationship between God and you and me and Moses – God is somehow bound by our actions.
And then Moses talks back to God. “What do you mean? Send me? Who am I? I don’t have standing. I don’t have status. Remember, I ran away after killing an Egyptian.”
We all struggle with that sense of self-confidence: who am I do anything, to make any comment, to make any change, to take any chance, who am I to follow my curiosity. That is the great sin of our lives, I think – our own self-denial that we are not worthy, that we are not able, not good enough, not pure enough, too doubtful.
Remember those words of Mariana Williamson in her book A Return to Love.
“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. … We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Moses let his own light shine, perhaps sparked by the glow of the bush and as he turned and observed and let his curiosity take over – and he engaged God, argued with God, wanted to know more, his own act of liberation in the wilderness beyond the wilderness started a chain of events which liberated the Israelites from Egypt. And that act is still working its way out in our world and the geopolitical situation of today. All Moses did was turn and look!
The other question Moses has is a good one: “Who the hell are you? What is your name?” And God offers the name- the Hebrew is: ‘ehyeh ‘aser ‘ehyeh” the names which means “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be,” or “I will be who I am,” or “I am who I will be.” [that will cause problems in school!] YHWH makes a promise, a strange promise: “I will be with you.” YHWH gives a sign, a strange sign: a confirmation AFTER Moses had done what he is to do.
How will I know that I can finish this degree? Well, when you finish it. How can I know if my marriage will work? You will know in about 50 years. My mother is kind of like God – when I asked her, how will I know when I meet the ONE, all she could say is: “You’ll know.” Thanks Mom! You don’t get assurance of success you get promise of presence.
The Rabbis said about this text: “God made his presence lowly in order to give room for humankind to enter into a genuine conversation regarding the shape of the future.” THAT is the kind of God we serve. That is the God that Jesus shows to us.
This morning we celebrate the sacrament where God makes the divine presence lowly in order to give room to us to come forward and take and eat and converse regarding the shape of the future.
The bread – the body of Christ. The cup – the fruit of the vine, the blood of Christ. Come – if you are curious.
Edmund Burke, the British historian once wrote: “History is full of momentous quirks.” How true is that – like Moses, an escaped murderer tending the flock beyond the wilderness, stopping to look at an odd sight.
God knows, God sees, God will deliver and draw out. God waits…for you.