Moses was minding the sheep of Jethro, the priest of Midian, who was also his his Father-in-Law. They came to Mount Horeb which was also known as the mountain of God. While they were there, an angel of the Lord called out to Moses from a bush that appeared to be on fire. The bush appeared to be blazing with fire, yet curiously it did not burn up. Moses started to come closer to see why the bush wasn’t consumed, but God called to him from out of the bush: “Moses, Moses! Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Like many people in this and other times and places, Moses probably feared that if he actually saw God, it would cause him to die, so when told to do so, he stood where he was. The voice of the Lord continued, “Moses, I know the misery of my people who are in bondage in Egypt and I have heard their cry and their sufferings. I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. Today, I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians. I will bring the people of Israel to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses protested by saying, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses replied: “I will be with you; and I will give you a sign that it is I who am sending you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall find yourselves worshiping me on this holy mountain.” But Moses was not as yet willing to take this bit of divine prophecy to the people of Israel. He replied, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What’s his name?’ what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am!” “You shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.” ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:”
“This is my name forever,” says God, “and this to be my title for all generations:
The real God, the God who exists and from whom all true love is the primary source, our God, is an infinite being, and because God is an infinity, we could know nothing about God’s existence unless he were to find and initiate a way of showing himself to us. We could know nothing about him or her (whichever is your favorite pronoun) because the fact is that theoretically, within an infinity, there are no defining boundaries. There is no beginning and there is no end. God has revealed, God did reveal, and God will reveal himself to us in ways that only he (or she) can create. Through the dreams and visions and actions of many people, friends, prophets, teachers, deacons, priests, bishops, pastors and others, God continually chooses to reveal himself to us in ways that hopefully we can begin to understand and choose to accept, emulate and follow.
For those of us who have learned the truth as believing Christians, we understand that the coming of Jesus Christ was and is the central and most necessary act of God’s self-revelation to mankind. Jesus is the One presented to us in God’s self-revelation as his incarnate Son, the only One of us who can, by his own birthright, call God Father. In Christ, we who become living members of the Body of Christ through Holy Baptism also become Jesus’ adopted sisters and brothers with God who becomes our Heavenly Father through adoption and grace.
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He emerges in our awareness as something, someone within the life of God the Holy Trinity that is proclaimed to be the source of all genuine love and affection. Among other things, Jesus is revealed as the key and the channel to our adoption by God the Father in Holy Baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as his beloved children and ongoing spiritual companions.
Many of us, probably most people, have some instinctive awareness of and a need for a sensitivity to the divine presence within us. We look inwardly into our own hearts and outwardly into the business of life going on around us. We look for some semblance of a light to guide us, and perhaps especially we look for a Creator who has not only created us out of his infinite love, but in that love is willing to show us and share with us the purpose of life. We have a need to deal with our awareness of self, our understanding of our place and importance in the universe, and our relationships with our relatives, friends, colleagues, loved ones and neighbors.
The Psalm we read this morning gives us some wonderful words that I find to be a great encouragement for us to continue our praises to Almighty God, who Has given us so much in the way of caring and creation, in both the world of the Spirit and also in the world of material concerns, and the potential and opportunity we have been offered and given for friendship, fellowship and love.
“Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;” begins the Psalmist, “make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, and speak of all his marvelous works. Glory in his holy Name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. Remember the marvels he has done, his wonders and the judgments of his mouth, Oh offspring of Abraham his servant, Oh children of Jacob his chosen. Israel came into Egypt, and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham. The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; he made them stronger than their enemies; Hallelujah!
From a hopeful and encouraging psalm, we move to Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, a letter which seems to ring with ways to move into the joy of the divine truth and presence: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
But then, after dealing with so much in the way of hopeful positivity, we come to today’s Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus has begun to inform his disciples about future events. He begins painting a summary of what is going to happen for himself and for his disciples and followers which will be far from pleasant. When Peter takes Jesus aside to argue against what he has been saying, Jesus rebukes him. The salvation of the world will come at a great cost. This Jesus, the Messiah, will be the Priest who offers the Sacrifice necessary to atone for and wash away the sins of the world. This Jesus the Messiah will be the necessary Sacrifice offered by Jesus the Priest to atone for and wash away the sins of the world. The story of the cross is a sad and horrible tale, and yet as we contemplate the body of Jesus hanging from the cross, we begin to see and understand just how much our Creating, Saving, and Empowering God loves us and how eager he is to pour that saving love upon us.
I understand that for some people, they find the image of Jesus Christ hanging upon the cross too negative; too offensive. It is too easy to see it as a horrible defeat.
As I look at a crucifix, if I see only Jesus Christ as a victim upon the the cross, which he certainly was, then I am prevented from also seeing him in that same image as the Priest making the offering. Yes, Christ is the Victim, the One, the Perfect Lamb being offered, but above all, he, Jesus, is the One doing the offering.
Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, whatever you may choose to call him, is no kind of winner. I imagine that he, Satan, saw Jesus on the cross and thought that he, Satan had won. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. The evil one thought that he had bested God, but with Jesus on the cross, he, Jesus is the winner. He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are the one and only God who exists. There if only One God, and he cannot be divided. The Easter celebration we make, the Victory Party we celebrate on Easter Day is the obviously joyful celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but the crucifixion itself was the victory.
We are living in an unsettling time. After forty four years as a Priest, I feel that I have received a virtual mountain of blessings, graces and friendships. Tom, I don’t know if this is perhaps the last chance I get to preach before you leave, but if it is, I want to say how grateful I am that David and I decided to be worshippers and members here at the Cathedral. When we returned from living in Florida, largely due to medical conditions and an onsetting illness, the welcoming and acceptance we received, in which you played a major role, was wonderful and made us decide to make the Cathedral our spiritual home. You have been a true and wonderful Dean, Christian brother, friend and pastor to us, and I shall be eternally grateful. May God always bless you and those you love and care for as richly as God has blessed us for having you here.