Sermons 2007

To Stand on the Mountaintop, Lent 3C, 11 March 2007, Exodus 3:1-15

Home | In the Beginning was the Word, Christmas Day, 25 December 2007, John 1:1-14 | What's Missing? Christmas Eve, 24 December 2007, Luke 2:1-20 | Joseph, the Forgotten One, Advent 4A, 23 December 2007, Matthew 1:18-25 | Come with Joy, Advent 3A, 16 December 2007, Matthew 11:2-11 | Darkness or Light? Advent 1A, 2 December 2007, Matthew 24:37-44 | What Kind of King is He? Proper 29C, 25 November 2007, Luke 23:35-43 | Predictions and the Horseman of the Apocalypse, Proper 28C, 18 Nov 2007, Luke 31:5-19 | Just passing through? Proper 27C , 11 November 2007, Luke 20:20-38 | Not like others? Proper 25C, 28 October 2007, Luke 18:9-14 | "We are bold to say", Proper 24C, 21 October 2007, Luke 18:1-8a | "The ten lepers", Proper 23C, 14 October 2007, Luke 17:11-19 | Proper 22C and Holy Baptism, 7 October 2007 | A taste of cool water, Proper 21C, 30 September 2007, Luke 16:19-31 | We hear what we want to hear, Proper 20C, 23 September 2007, Luke 16:1-13 | "Lost -- but found!" Proper 19C, 16 September 2007, Luke 15:1-10 | "Who is coming to dinner?" Proper 17C, 2 September 2007, Luke 14:1, 7-14 | Doors and narrow gates, Proper 16C, 26 August 2007, Luke 13:22-30 | "Fire to the earth", Proper 15C, 19 August 2007, Luke 12:49-56 | "Do not be afraid, little flock', Proper 14C, 12 August 2007, Luke 12:32-40 | "How much is enough?" Proper 13C , 5 August 2007, Luke 12:13-21 | "Lord, teach us to pray" Proper 12C, 29 July 2007, Luke 11:1-13 | "The Better Part?" Proper 11C, 22 July 2007, Luke 10:38-42 | The Good Samaritan -- the Summary of the Law" Proper 10C, 15 July 2007, Luke 10:25-37 | "Travel Light!" Proper 9C, 8 July 2007, Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 | "Independence Day" Proper 8C, 1 July 2007, Luke 9:51-62 | "Three Questions", Proper 7C, 24 Jun 2007, Luke 9:18-24 | "In or Out?" Proper 6C, 17 June 2007, Luke 7:36-50 | "On Grace", Proper 5C, 10 June 2007, Luke 7:11-17 | Trinity C, 3 June 2007 | Pentecost C, 27 May 2007 | "Unity and Diversity" Easter 7C, 20 May 2007, John 17:20-26 | "Come, Holy Spirit, Come" Easter 6C, 13 May 2007, John 14:23-29 | "What is this thing called love?" Easter 5C, 6 May 2007, John 13:31-35 | "Numbers and Sheep", Easter 4C, 29 April 2007, John 10:22-30 | Virginia Tech, Easter 3C, 22 April 2007 Revelation 6:8-10 | Thomas Doubter and Believer, Easter 2C, 15 April 2007. John 20: 19-31 | ""Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Easter Sunday, 8 April 2007, Luke 24:1-10 | Good Friday 6 April 2007 | Maundy Thursday 5 April 2007 | Why are we not surprised? Palm/Passion Sunday C, 1 April 2007, Luke 22:39-23:50 | Party or Pout? Lent 4C, 18 March 2007, Luke 15:11-32 | To Stand on the Mountaintop, Lent 3C, 11 March 2007, Exodus 3:1-15 | "Ways Not Taken", Lent 2C, 4 March 2007. Luke 13:22-35 | "Liminal Thresholds and Lintels", Lent 1C, 25 February 2007, Luke 4:1-13 | Ash Wednesday Meditation 2007 | "Transfiguration and Transformation, Epiphany Last C, 18 February 2007, Luke 9:28-36 | "Weal and Woe", Epiphany 6C, 11 February 2007, Luke 6:17-26 | "Who, me?" Epiphany 5C, 4 February 2007, Luke 5:1-11 | "Filled with rage!" Epiphany 4C, 28 January 2007, Luke 4:21-32 | "The Spirit of the Lord is upon us," Epiphany 3C, 21 January 2007, Luke 4:14-21 | "Weddings and Miracles," Epiphany 2C, 14 January 2007, John 2:1-11 | Schism and Epiphany, Epiphany 1C, 7 Dec 2007, Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Lent 3C Exodus 3:1-15

I suppose that like most people I have had mountaintop experiences on numerous mountaintops around the world. Or at least high up on mountainsides. From the window of my bedroom in the farmhouse in which I grew up I could look across ordinary fields of cotton, corn, and wheat and see, on a clear day, the Great Smoky mountains of the southern Appalachian chain as they turned toward the west and north Georgia and Alabama where they ended. And my earliest memories involved time spent in those hills and mountains.

Actual mountaintop experiences in those days involved two particular mountains in North Carolina: Mount Mitchell, supposedly the highest point on the eastern seaboard, and Mount Montreat, rising high above a church retreat center. Psychologists might well assert that I wa influenced by the strong Old Testament orientation and religiosity of a Presbyterian Church in a small rural town in the deep and highly religious South Carolina in the 1940s and 50s. They could very well be right. After all, no less an authority than Albert Schweitzer a century ago concluded that God comes to each of us in a very personal way and different way in the midst of the mystery of faith.

I found an ancient Jewish legend about this Exodus passage that relates to this sort of thing: “A young man asked his Rabbi "Why does your daily prayer say, ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob? Why does it not simply say, ‘God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?’ " The Rabbi replied, "because, my son, Abraham’s God and Isaac’s God may not have been Jacob’s. Each generation must find God for itself, indeed, each person must find his own God."” (1)

There have been other mountain tops in my life: the rockbound hills and mountains of the Hudson Highlands around West point, New York, Mount Rainier in Washington state near my graduate school, and Nui Ba Den, rising abruptly from the lush green rice plains of the Saigon River basin in South Vietnam.

I always felt closer to God standing on a mountaintop than almost any other place except right here. And so when on of my favorite Seminary Professors, Murray Newman, legendary for his basic Old Testament required course, spoke of events in the Old Testament that involved mountain tops and high places on mountainsides, he had my rapt attention. It was not hard for me to be there in my imagination and see it happening through the eyes of faith.

Two of the most important events -- and the earliest two – in the salvation history of ancient Israel and also of those who call themselves Christians were two theophanies high up on mountains. Theophany comes from two combined Greek words, theos – God — and phainesthai – to appear. The dictionary defines a theophany as a supposedly visible appearance of God or a god to a human or humans. The first of those theophanies was the one which we read in our Exodus Old Testament lesson for today: the self revelation of God’s name by God high up on Mount Horeb and the instructions to Moses to set God’s people free. The second was the Sinai Event and the presentation of the Ten Commandments – a story for another time.

I have always loved the story as it was portrayed by Charlton Heston in Cecil B. deMille’s “The Ten Commandments” movie. I have always preferred a stalwart, rugged Moses to the weak and whiny Moses portrayed in the Walt Disney production of “Moses”. Alas, the Moses portrayed in Scripture is more lie the Disney Moses – always whining about his God-given task, always trying to argue with God and escape his mission, fearful of the consequences of obedience. No wonder God didn’t let Moses enter the Promised Land forty years later.

But the story isn’t so much about Moses as it is about God. The choice of Moses to deliver God’s Chosen people from Egypt and pharaoh simply reinforces hat we already know from ancient and recent experience: God often chooses people to be his instruments of deliverance, freedom, and justice that we humans would not likely chose even in our most reckless moments. God takes the weak willed whiny Moses and makes him an instrument of mighty acts of God. It really isn’t a good idea to argue with God – we won’t win in the end.

But what really makes the Horeb event about God is that God chose this moment in salvation history to reveal something more about God’s self: his name, a simple sounding name, but one filled with mystery and power. It’s called the Great I AM. “I AM Who I AM. It seems so simple. A better translation is I AM who, what, that which IAM; I will be who, what, that which I will be.” But I’m not sure it helps us much except to reinforce the ineffable mystery at the heart of what we understand about God. Again Webster: “Ineffable: too overwhelming to be expressed or described in words; too awesome or sacred to be spoken, as in God’s ineffable name.” Indeed, traditional Judaism does not speak the name of God.

In a high and holy place, God began to tell us about God’s self. And God still is.

1. Found in a sermon by John W. Cobb “Remembering the Name of God”, at eSermons for Lent 3C.