– OT: Famous encounter between God and Moses at Mont Horeb / A flame of fire in a bush, “The bush was blazing yet it was not consumed”.
I love it that Moses, the author of the Law, the recipient of the Torah meets God in such a fabulous, disturbing, epic way. It says a lot. Moses does not encounter a God who tells people what to do / wants them to behave and obey. Moses encounters God as fire.
If you have watched the news this past week, you probably have a lot of images of fire in your mind that aren’t that positive: Fire bringing devastation, distress and destruction.
The image we have in the OT is very different though, a fire that keeps burning but that does not consume / destroy.
A lot of theologians have associated this image of fire with the love of God / the love God has for God’s people. There are also many images (especially in the catholic tradition) of Jesus showing his heart to his saints, telling them that his heart is consumed with love / burning with love for his people.
Fire is associated with desire, passion – inability to be contained (Actually Jesus is believed to have said to one Saint: “My heart is unable to contain the flames of my love”)
This love though is not a mere feeling. God does not just look at God’s people and loves them from afar. Quite the opposite, with Moses in the book of Exodus, it’s actually the first time that God decides to intervene in History. God takes action. God’s love is sensitive: God says that God “has observed” (the misery of God’s people), God “has heard” (their cry), but God defines also God’s love by taking action: God “has come down to deliver” (…) “to bring the people up” and finally is sending Moses.
God gives God’s name to Moses and in the meantime refuses to give God’s name: “I am who I am”. We say here at Christ Church that we can’t put God into a box. This is true. God does not want to define who God is by giving a list of qualities, God defines Godself and we learn who God is by seeing how God’s love act in God’s people’s lives. Maybe even by living our lives. There is a saying that goes: God comes to you disguised as your own life.
God is always acting / always at work. There is not a place where you cannot find God. You find God by living and living in witnessing the work of God is your life and in the world:
“Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, all embarrassment into laughter”
Now the question for most of us (at least for me!) is: Why is it that so often it does not work better?
If God is always at work, how come that we may encounter so many difficulties, struggles, opposition? Why is it so hard to understand God’s will and to do it?
Well, we may have the beginning of an answer with today’s Gospel. Jesus rebukes Peter harshly, it can be shocking to us. Yet Jesus rebukes him for a very specific reason: Peter is a “stumbling block” / “setting his mind on human things and not divine things”
Peter, by telling Jesus how things are supposed to happen for him, how it will all work out, by trying to second guess God’s will, is standing in Jesus’s way. And it makes Jesus really mad because by doing so Peter prevents God from doing God’s work.
Well when I was reading that I thought: How often is it that we do the same thing? Standing in God’s way, being a stumbling block for the God who “turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, all embarrassment into laughter”
Christians – we are so preoccupied with doing God’s will / thinking about what God wants us to do. And like Peter, it often all comes from good intentions / generosity of our heart. But as Jesus reminds him today calling Peter a Satan: The road to Hell is also paved with “good intentions”. We have to do more than being well meaning / for Jesus: We have to let God do God’s work.
We have to let God do God’s work and maybe that’s the hardest part for us. Because of our insecurities, feelings of unworthiness, fear of suffering / being hurt or disappointed, we stand in the way of God’s grace. We pretend we know how things are supposed to happen and what is supposed to happen. We struggle a lot, and gain next to nothing.
Jesus = We have to let God do God’s work. Sometimes it’s not so much about all we need to do, sometimes it’s more about doing what seems like just doing nothing. And I think it can be very hard / frustrating for us. It was probably very hard and frustrating for Peter who had just acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, has been told by Jesus that he was the “Rock of the church” (cf last week’s readings) and so now he wants to do the work, of course! But Jesus tells him he has no idea what he is talking about. Peter has to let God do the work of salvation through the cross, even is he really wants things to happen a different way.
So how do we do that? Letting God do God’s work? How can we avoid being a stumbling block?
I’ve been struggling with that for many years: Between running in every direction trying to make things happen or staying at home doing nothing hoping God will make something happen?
Yet, we have a response in our readings today and I think this is what Paul is writing about in the Letter to the Romans. This is how it looks like, I think, to let God do God’s work:
“Let love be genuine” and “Hate what is evil, hold on fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection” and so on.
The only work God ask us to do / or better the way we can collaborate / enable God’s work in the world is doing the work of love.
Now this is a broad term right? There are many kinds of love. The love Paul is talking about is a love that is “genuine”, it is a love that does not pretend to be something it is not, it is a love that acts, do the best for others, it is a love of compassion. Compassion is the characteristic of God’s love. What happens in our first reading, in OT, is God having compassion on God’s people’s suffering and to help God, Moses is invited to have compassion at his turn, compassion not only in his heart, but a compassion that leads him to act to deliver the people. Moses found refuge in the desert because he killed an Egyptian – he did that because he was very angry at the way the Egyptians treated the Hebrews – but this killing led him to nowhere. It is not his anger towards the Egyptians that can bring God’s healing, it will be his love / his compassion for God’s people that will lead him to go back to Egypt and deliver them.
We can let God’s work happen only in basking in God’s love. Peter does not get it yet. He does not show compassion for Jesus, denying the possibility that Jesus could suffer. He wants his friend – and his God – to be strong because that’s more reassuring for him. On the other way around, Jesus is ready to do the work of compassion, he wants to be with his people to the end, embracing the suffering of the least of his people. After a life spent doing good to the ones suffering, Jesus decides he wants to share the suffering, to be there with them. How many billions of people throughout the ages have found comfort, healing and hope by looking at the cross – knowing that there was nothing they went through that could not be redeemed and sanctified.
We have to let ourselves be transformed by God’s love / by the way God wants to love the world, wants to love us and wants us to love. This is hard work / real work, because indeed we have to be transformed, but it’s not a work that should be exhausting or distressing. God’s fire does not consume.
“Just assume the answer to every question is compassion” – this includes compassion for yourself. Peter had to be saved before he could save others. But that will be a discussion point for another sermon!