Cloister Thoughts

July 31, 2017

 

Moses is called of God, on an ordinary day, at an ordinary place, while doing ordinary tasks. Moses is not called at a retreat, at worship, or while doing ‘religious things.’ Moses is not called at a ‘holy place.’ The place is holy only because God is there.


What does it mean to be called of God? On the one
hand, it is to receive a message directed very personally: no
“Boxholder,” no “Occupant.” To be called means that you are
taken seriously, in all your individuality and all that is, even
embarrassingly, you. To be called means that you cannot be
shamed or strong-armed into believing what you do not be-
lieve.

 

In Wilhard Becker's marvelous phrase, ‘While we are often as if occupied by a foreign power, the Spirit of God is no alien might.’ To be called means that you are also an authoritative text. We are each God’s word made flesh, quite as much as Jesus, and each an authoritative text. To be called, then, means that except as God’s Word is addressed to you - your flesh, your gender, your childhood, your DNA, your child’s attention deficit disorder, your job prospects and your friend- ships, and except as Word speaks to the pictures, the scenes you carry about with you, you are free to hang up and should - hang up on the Bible, hang up on Jesus, hang up on the Spirit. Otherwise, even if it is ‘Jesus on the line,’ the call is not for you. God is no alien occupying power. Hang up.

 

Addressed, called, spoken. All very verbal. But what if to be called is also to see God? The call of Moses, while stress- ing the spoken word, is also importantly a matter of appear- ances: “Appearance makes a difference to words.” Visualize the divine amid the ordinary. ‘God-talk’ around church is over- whelmingly just that - God-talk. Luther called the church a “mouth-house” (Mundhaus). But, initially, when God called Moses, God put in an appearance, and only later, when it was clear that Moses got the picture (if wrongly), did God speak. And God’s speaking, in turn, improved Moses’ vision: “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” The hearing aid of new glasses!

 

Can God call us through the visual, you and me? In a society saturated with contrived images, computer graphics, close-ups, fades, and allele to market or persuade, is God pre- sentable? If you have an eye for God - where is there a bush burning, luminous with the presence of the Holy One? And do you take off your shoes, and do you pause and let what you see soak in? Overwhelm you, blind you? Or do you run for your video cam, literally or figuratively? Moses hid his face. When last did we? Is such a God passé? Or do we now high- five God? Moses hid his face. It has been said that there are those who would drive to the gate of heaven and honk. Moses hid his face.

 

To be called of God is to honor God’s appearance and God’s word to you - your name, your person, your childhood, the street where you live, the picture world you inhabit and, as John Ciardi would say, the word in your ear. To be sure, God’s appearance to us is founded upon earlier appearances. God authenticates God's self to Moses, or to us, by building upon earlier theophanies, that is, earlier showings: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Sarah, the God of Rebekah, the God of Rachel, the God of your grandmother, of a friend, of someone you admire. The God of those larger-than-life role models: Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Julian of Norwich. The God of our Lord Jesus Christ - the God of Mary. The early church understood the burning bush that was not consumed as a prophecy of Mary. Who, for you, is it who is aflame with God and illumines God for you? Who, for you, makes the place where you are holy? Whose Abraham are you, whose Sarah? Whose could you be? Scary, isn’t it, wonderfully? Enough to make you hide your face.

 

When God called Moses, God called him personally, “Moses, Moses.” Yet hearing may begin with seeing - or touching, or tasting, or smelling. In another prophet’s call (and Moses is also a prophet), Isaiah’s call in the great temple scene, when the smoke cleared, the place smelled of God. Moses is called beyond self and home, bedroom, nursery and school. Beyond faith as a ‘bed and breakfast club.’

 

For us, the center of redemptive suffering is Jesus Christ, the New Moses, giver of the new law, the Sermon on the Mount, and the one who, in Luke’s phrase, leads us in our de- parture (Greek: exodus) from Jerusalem. But the call of Moses also reminds us that the call to discipleship is also a call beyond self and home, bedroom, nursery and school. It is a call to hearing, and obeying, God today in the public misery of our time, and God’s will for liberation. It is a call to the on- going exodus.

 

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