OT 22 -14th Sunday After Pentecost

September 3, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Exodus 3 1-15 —God appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells Moses to go to Egypt to set the people free. God says “I AM.”

Psalm 105 — God’s wondrous works. God fulfills God’s Covenant, God’s promise to be there for us.

Romans 12. 9-21 — “Let your love be genuine, and overcome evil with good.”

Matthew 16.21-28 — Jesus foresees his death at the hands of the religious authorities. Peter objects, but Jesus scolds him. He says “take up your cross and follow me.” Save your life and lose it; lose you life and find it.

Preaching Thoughts

       We think of the burning bush as a sudden, dramatic revelation. But Moses would have to have stood there a while to notice that the bush wasn’t being consumed. There’s something contemplative about it.
       God says “I know my people’s suffering” —“know” is the same word as in “Adam knew Eve”— you know, sex. That is, God is intimately close to our suffering. God feels our pain.
       God calls Moses to lead the people out of slavery. This is what God does. God liberates. God sets us free from oppression, from the power of our anxious ego-centered fears, from social strictures, from sin, from the power of death. (Notice how many of Jesus’ miracles have an overtone of Exodus or liberation about them.) God’s freedom doesn’t mean individualism, or permission to do whatever we want; it means having whatever we need to live deep, abundant, beautiful life.
      God is opposed to all injustice and oppression. But God’s doesn’t end it. That’s our job. God’s gift of freedom for us call us to work for freedom for others from social in justice and oppression. We don’t wait for God to intervene. We are God’s intervention.
       God calls Moses to go back to Egypt. Back to where he’s a wanted man. Sometimes we’re called not to be pioneers but to go back so as to bring others forward.
       Moses asks for God’s name, maybe as another stalling tactic. But maybe it’s an honest question, and a good one. Which god do you serve? The god of capitalism? The god of conformity to social systems of privilege and exclusion? The god of love? When we do or say things “in God’s name” we should be specific.
       God says, “I AM.” Or, maybe “I will be what I will be.” Or maybe “I be Being.” YHWH. The sound of breathing in and out. The sound of Ah! The sound of Awe. God’s “name” is not a name. It’s a nickname at best. Like the Trinity it’s not only a mystery, it is mystery. It’s not a concept or idea, nor a puzzle that can be solved or a key that can be used. It’s a mystery, beyond our comprehending, infinite in its own way. The ancient tradition of substituting “The LORD” (kind of like “He who shall not be named”) reminds us we’re just using a euphemism for a metaphor for a mystery. I’m not fond of the word “Lord,” with its sexism (“lords and ladies”) and coercion (“lord it over you”) but I like being reminded that there is actually no good language about God, only language to God. The only truthful name for God is “Thou.”

       This is a very different picture of what it means to be a Christian than someone who thinks Jesus is the son of God. It’s someone who shows love, hope, patience, prayerfulness, generosity, empathy, harmony, humility, non-violence, forgiveness, love of enemy and the will to overcome evil with good.

       I don’t think Jesus foresaw the future, nor was it Jesus’ “plan” to get crucified. He just knew how Power works. Those who fight for justice know the likelihood of persecution and even death. It was easy and appropriate for Matthew to put this “prediction“ on Jesus’ lips after the fact.
       Peter’s objection to Jesus is the first defensive salvo in the fight against the “war on Christianity.” Even Jesus engaged in a war against Christianity: he knew he would be persecuted, and expected his followers to be persecuted. To complain about that is un-Christian, or, as Jesus says, to set the mind of human and not divine things. The point is not our own privilege or security, but loving others, even at our own expense.
      “Deny yourselves.” It doesn’t mean to neglect yourself, belittle or diminish yourself, needlessly endanger yourself, or abandon who you are. It means to let go of the insatiable desire for power, security and privilege, demands of the ego that always wants to shield and protect yourself, separate from others. It means to abandon the illusion that you are even separate from others at all. You are part of all of us. It means to renounce your self-centeredness and allow yourself to be centered in God. Trusting that you are part of the living Body of Christ, you can risk and even suffer for the sake of love and justice.
       “Take up your cross.” The cross is not an annoyance, like an uncle who talks too much. (“Sigh… that’s my cross to bear….”) The cross is an instrument of state-sponsored terrorism. The cross is the price of love in a system that rewards selfishness. The cross means willingness to suffer for the sake of love. Jesus calls his disciples to radical self-denial and sacrifice, to the point of willingness to give one’s life. Giving your life doesn’t just mean dying; it’s any experience of self-giving or surrender to the call of love. Bearing your cross doesn’t mean believing in Jesus. It’s not something inside your head. It’s not for you. It’s to love others. The call to take up your cross is like God’s call to Moses in the burning bush: “I want you to help my people be free. It will cost you, but it’s worth it. I’ll be with you. Go.” When we take up our cross it isn’t really ours: it’s really Jesus’, and he’ll be there carrying the weight all the way.
      “Cling to your life and lose it; let go of your life and find it.” A Christian koan. When we’re wrapped up in protecting ourselves and our security, power and privilege we shield ourselves from love, from deep relationships and deeply experiencing life—we cut ourselves off from real life. Only when the shields come down, when we’re vulnerably, lovingly present, do we really engage in life. The life that we control is small enough to fit in our hands. Small indeed. But the life we receive from God is infinite. Eternal. This is resurrection: when we surrender our life to love, God gives us new ones.

Call to Worship

Leader: God, you have heard the cries of your people.
All: You know the pain of those who suffer injustice.
You have called us to help set them free.
You have invited us to take up our cross and love despite the cost.
Give us compassion to hear the cries of the oppressed.
Give us courage to follow Jesus.
Speak to us, that our hearts, too,
may burn and not be consumed.

2. (Psalm 105.1-4)
Leader: O give thanks to the Holy One! Celebrate God’s wonderful deeds.
All: Sing praises to God; tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Seek the strength of God’s presence.
May our seeking for God give our hearts joy.
God, who called Moses, calls us all.
We listen, we hear, and we answer.
We worship with humility, joy and gratitude. Alleluia!

Leader: Loving God, Fountain of Life, Eternal Source, our very being flows from you.
All: We sing your praise, with all Creation.
Your heart is among us in Christ. Your hand is upon us in the call of Jesus.
We rise to your call, humble and longing.
Your Holy Spirit stirs in us.
We breathe deeply of holy courage, divine grace, infinite life.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: God of freedom, you have brought us up out of Egypt.
All: You have set us free from what enslaves us.
Come to us again, and liberate us anew.
Set us free by your love, and call us to bring freedom to others.
We remove the sandals from our feet, and attend. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Loving God, Voice of Life, you call to us. You appear to us in many ways—in burning bushes and subtle hints. By your Spirit in us, open our eyes to notice. Open our ears to hear. Open our hearts to follow and obey. Amen.

Eternal God, Moses saw a bush burning in the desert, and he turned aside to look. Jesus is a burning bush. And so we draw near. Your presence radiates in this world; your grace shines in our lives; and so we turn aside to look, to enter upon holy ground, to be in your presence. Speak your living Word to us, O God; our hearts are open. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

The bush that burns is just a little thing:
your glory, in this present moment.
I turn aside.
I take off my working shoes.
I listen.
You Are.
I listen.

Prayer of Confession

God, we confess that we cling to our lives.
We protect and provide for ourselves
We do not love perfectly, afraid of the cost.
Forgive our selfishness, heal our fear,
and deepen our trust in your grace,
that we may let go of our lives,
take up the cross of love,
and receive true life from you.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1. [ Mt. 16.24-25]
Leader: “Those who want to save their life will lose it.”
All: I confess my attachment to power, privilege, security and esteem.
I confess I seek my own well-being separate from others.
I confess I would rather be safe than loving.
“But those who lose their life for love’s sake will find it.”
Give me faith to risk for the sake of love.
Give me courage to choose justice over my security.
I give you my life, God, that you may give life back to me,
new, and free and infinite.
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
God, give me grace to follow Jesus,
by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

          We believe in God, the One Who Is, the One who is there for us, creator of all things, and yet mindful of us, who knows our suffering, condemns the forces of oppression, and sets us free.
          We follow Christ, in whom God is there for us: he healed and taught, he opposed injustice, and he accepted the cross in nonviolent love and forgiveness for the sake of our healing. He died, and rose again; and he lives among us, and calls us to follow.
          We live by the Holy Spirit, God’s love, trust and courage alive in us, which empowers us to care for the suffering of the world. We live as one Church, the Body of Christ, trusting in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, and the presence of eternal life. We desire to follow Jesus in lives of gentle and courageous love, and so we pray that by the grace of God we might learn from Christ, and take up our cross and follow.

2. [Romans 12.1-2, 9-21]
          God of love, by your mercy we present our whole lives to you as a living sacrifice, seeking not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our mindfulness, so that we may discern what is your delight, what is good and life-giving and whole.
           Therefore let our love be genuine. May we turn from what is evil, and hold fast to what is good; may we love one another with mutual affection and honor others. May we not lag in zeal, but be ardent in spirit, serving you. By your grace may we rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. Help us by your Spirit to contribute to the needs of the saints and extend hospitality to strangers.
          We bless those who persecute us; we bless and do not curse them. We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. We desire to live in harmony with one another; we seek not to be above others but to associate with the lowly, not claiming to be wiser than we are. We will not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. By your grace, we will live peaceably with all. We take no part in vengeance: if our enemies are hungry, we will feed them; if they are thirsty, we will give them something to drink. We will not be overcome by evil, but by your grace we shall overcome evil with good.
          This is our spiritual worship, and our faith. For this life in Christ we give you thanks, and we ask your blessing. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
God, we thank you.
You create us; you love us and claim us; you walk with us.
You set us free from all that oppresses us.
As you called to Moses to work for freedom and justice,
you call us as well, that all people may be free.
This table is your burning bush: you appear in glory;
you call us; you change and direct our lives.
Therefore with all who are oppressed,
with all who love you, and with all Creation,
we sing your praise.

            [Sanctus, spoken:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [Sung. Tune: Finlandia):]
God, Holy, Holy, Holy One, we praise you.
The universe is glorious with your light.
O loving God, we sing Hosanna to you,
and thank you God; and sing and live our praise.
Blest is the one who comes and bears your mercy.
Hosanna, God! We thank you all our days.

Blessed are all who come in your love,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He loved and taught and healed,
and asked us to follow him in setting free the oppressed.

He entered into the suffering of the world and was crucified,
but you raised him from death to life.
He calls us still to take up our cross and follow.
[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
                  [Or sung:]
       Your Christ has died. Your loving Christ is risen.
       And Christ will come again in faithful love.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
rejoicing in hope, patient in suffering, serving and blessing,
weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice,
living in harmony, overcoming evil with good,
for the sake of your will for the freedom of all people.

          —or —
         All praise to you, forever and forever!
         All praise to you. Amen. Amen. Amen.

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have appeared to us in this burning bush and called us to help you bring about justice and freedom. By your Spirit that we feast on in this meal, strengthen and guide us for the work ahead, in the grace of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Communion song (Tune: Finlandia)
[There are Eucharistic responses to this tune in Easter Eucharistic Responses.]

You call us, Christ, to take our cross and follow,
but first you bring us here to feast with you,
Our gifts we bring, to celebrate your loving;
our lives we give, to die and rise anew.
Feed us your grace, your Spirit of compassion,
make us your Body now, your will to do.

Calling Me (Original song)

Dear God, Creator eternally, you call everything to be.
How are you calling me, even now?
Who do you call me to be?
Where is your image in me, calling me?

Jesus, lord of the fishermen, calling your children,
you call to me once again, even now.
What will you lead me to do?
How can I witness to you, calling me, calling me?

Spirit, power of love in me, how do you set me free,
what gifts are you giving me, even now?
I am a vessel for you.
Humbly I listen to you, calling me, calling me.

I Take Up My Cross                (Original song)

All: Letting go, I am held. I take up my cross and follow.
1. Jesus, you call to me, and draw me into your life.
2. I will endure loss to love alone.
3. By your grace in me I touch the suffering of the world.
4. Bearing the cross with you, I die and rise with you.

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