The Call To Curiosity

Exodus 3.1-14

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness and came to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up our of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honest, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. Now go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “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 is his name?’ What name shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.”

God can be so frustrating.

There are times, maybe you’re better than me so you don’t know what I’m talking about, but there are times when I jump into the strange new world of the Bible and I just want to say, “C’mon God! Really?”

Moses is a good-for-nothing shepherd. And he doesn’t even have his own flock to look after. He’s working for his father-in-law. So we’ve got this guy, who needs a handout from a relative, working out and around Mt. Horeb, which means wasteland, and he encounters the burning bush. 

Or, better but, the burning bush encounters him.

Does it ever surprise you that the Lord needs numbskulls to bring about God’s will?

I mean, just take a cursory glance at just about any book in the Bible and you liable to come across someone who has no business being in God’s business and yet, that’s how God runs the show.

And that’s not even mentioning who God calls upon outside of the Bible.

To bring it close to home, there are 29 portraits of pastors right underneath us and there’s a better than good chance that the vast majority of them never thought they would have their picture up on the wall of a church.

And yet, here we are.

Sometimes I wish God would start calling better people for God’s purposes. Surely, the world could do to have the best and the brightest working for the kingdom. 

But, then again, if God only called the best, then I certainly wouldn’t be here, and neither would any of you.

John Calvin, who gets quoted across the street far more than here once said, “God is so great, that God is able to condescend to miserable people just like us to accomplish God’s good.”

How odd of God.

And, notably, it’s important to notice the distinction between “I found God,” and “God found me.” Throughout the strange new world of the Bible, people do, indeed, go looking for God but they usually go looking in all the wrong places whereas God shows up in the unexpected places.

Contrary to how we might like to imagine it, or even here about it in church, God is not the object of our religious journeys, waiting for us to finally have enough sense to take the right  steps or read the right book or get the right job or make the right choice. God is, instead, the instigator of God’s journey to us. From Eden, to the wasteland, to Bethlehem; God finds us.

And that’s why we keep reading these stories week after week, year after year. It’s why we prepare for Vacation Bible School and read scripture at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We keep listening to the story of how God reveals God’s self to people who otherwise would have never known who God was or is.

And (!) to further complicate the confounding nature of the God who speaks from bushes and books, particularly as it pertains to preaching, is that only God can tell us who God is. It has to be revealed to us.

Listen – All is well in Egypt until it isn’t. 

God’s people grow in such size and strength that Pharaoh grows fearful and subjugates them. They are forced to work under the tyrannical rule of the empire and yet, they continue to prosper in power and number.

Pharaoh then decides to order the murder of every first born male among the Hebrew people. A young mother, fearing for her son’s life, places him in a basket and lets him float down the Nile river and, oddly enough, the basket is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter who chooses to raise the boy and she names him Moses which means “I drew him out of the water.”

Raised in the confines, and under the protection, of Egypt’s ruler, Moses is given access to a life that none of his kinsmen will ever know. And yet, one day, he sees an Egyptian taskmaster whipping a Hebrew slave and, overcome with emotion, Moses reaches out and murders the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand.

Moses flees for his very life, already a recurring theme, and he settles in the land of Midian where he marries Zipporah, the daughter of a priest, and begins to work for his new father-in-law.

So why, why in the world does God call to Moses from the burning bush? What’s so good on his resume, what kind of references did he list while seeking out employment with the Lord?

Moses really only brings three things to the table:

He’s in the middle of his mundane work, guiding the flock in the wasteland, when he turns aside to see the sight of the burning bush. In short, Moses is curious

That’s not much, all things considered, but to the Lord it is the difference that makes all the difference. Moses turns to take in something unexpected, and rather than lowering his head and getting back to the menial realities of life, he takes a further look.

He is like the proverbial worker surrounded by countless cubicles mindlessly typing away at a keyboard for a job that means nothing when a suddenly flickering in the window draws him up and away from his featureless desk toward the unknown.

It is good and right to maintain a healthy diet of curiosity, of keeping our eyes and ears tuned away from monotony. Be it a strange movie or meal or moment, God tends to work in the unexpected places in unexpected ways.

Or, as one of my favorite authors Haruki Murakami puts it, “If you only read the books everyone else is reading, then you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

After Moses’ curiosity draws his gaze toward the bush, the next thing he does is wonder. The strange fiery foliage isn’t enough on its own, Moses wants to know why it burns but does not burn up. He is not content to let things be the way they are simply because they are that way, he probes further.

It is good and right to wonder about the workings of God. 

It does my ego good to remember that none of you come here with the great desire to hear preachments about the Lord, but instead you are here to daydream about God, to wonder, to ask questions, and rest in whatever answers you discover.

A couple weeks ago one of you asked me, after church, about the Apostles’ Creed and why we say, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” I won’t out you, but this person said, “Why do we say that? We’re Methodists, not Catholics.” And I gave the typical response, “it’s the lower-c catholic which means universal, we’re just saying we believe in the church writ large.”

This kind of question pops up all the time, but what struck me most this time was the fact that the person then said, “I’ve wondered about that my whole life, and I’ve never had the nerve to ask.”

Faith is a strange and wondrous thing that necessities wonder. That’s why the disciples are forever asking Jesus to elaborate on the kingdom of heaven, they want to know more.

Moses is curious and Moses wonders about this strange sight in the wasteland, and when the Lord sees Moses’ curiosity and wonder the Lord says, “Moses, Moses!” And he says, “Here I am.”

In short, Moses responds.

“Kick those sandals off your feet, we’ve got holy business to attend to. I am the God of your people, and the time has come to set them free and I have just the person for the job.”

“And who might that be?”

“You, silly goose.”

“Are you out of your mind? You’re a talking bush that’s on fire! And you want me to deliver the Hebrew people from Pharaoh?”

“Have no fear Moses my dear, I will be with you.”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me fiery fig tree, or whatever it is you are, even if what you’re saying is true, no one will believe me when I tell them. I don’t even know your name.”

God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

The rest is biblical history.

When it comes to the question of “Why Moses?” It doesn’t really matter. Sure, there are some bits to his history that make him a prime candidate for paradigm shifts, he spent time in Pharaoh’s court. In the end, who he is doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is that God is the one doing the calling.

You see, God does God’s best work making something of our nothing, of making a way where there is no way whatsoever, of making the impossible possible.

We, today, tend to view ourselves and one another through failures, mistakes, shortcomings. It is the negative that we carry around day after day. But to God, each and every one of us has a potentiality that can be made manifest in the kingdom of God.

Or, to use a very old adage, God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.

Think about Moses! In just a few short chapters this would-be shepherd in the wasteland will be taking care of the flock of God, standing up to the tyranny of Pharaoh, delivering the Hebrew people to the banks of the sea waiting for the God of impossible possibility to do something.

It’s fun to pick on Moses, he’s an easy target. The rest of his tale paints the picture of his relationship with God like an old married couple who constantly bicker and fight and eventually reconcile. For what it’s worth, we read more about Moses than any other person in the Bible with the exception of Jesus. And yet, Moses’ story isn’t even really about Moses – it’s about the One who calls him.


I love how quickly Moses moves from “Here I am,” to “Who am I?” His curiosity and wonder and response are all good and fine until he hears what the Lord wants him to do. And immediately, Moses has reservations. Who am I to do all of that?

Who am I?

Who are you?

Whatever it is your experiencing in your life right now, whether you feel like you’re wandering through the wasteland or making moves on the mountaintop, God calls miserable and merry people like you and me all the time. It might not be to deliver God’s people from the oppressive rule of a dictator, it might be as simple as the nudge to call someone who needs to feel loved, or the feeling that there’s something we can do to make a difference in this community. And it might not come through a burning bush, it might be as simple as the words of a hymn, or the silence of a prayer, or any other number of possibilities.

Or, as Paige Anderson so wonderfully put it to me this week, “Sometimes all we need in life is the tiniest sign from God to remind us of our purpose.”

What makes the story of the burning bush so good is the fact that, in the end, the call of Moses is a wild and ringing reminder that we don’t have to be saints to be of use for God’s kingdom. If we need anything at all, it’s a little bit of curiosity, wonder, the tiniest smidge of faith.

Faith not in ourselves or our abilities, but faith in the God who is able to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine.

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough, that’s fine. Because God is good enough for all of us. Amen.

Thirst Trap

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 9.53.50 AM

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Combs about the readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent [A] (Exodus 17.1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5.1-11, John 4.5-42). Alan is a United Methodist pastor serving First UMC in Salem, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including scriptural introductions, Christian Twitter, Old Testament preaching, the wilderness of Sin, the “back in Egypt” committee, MewithoutYou, the best parts of the communion liturgy, faith vs. faithfulness, the living water on the cross, and secret snacks. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Thirst Trap

Life After Christmas – Sermon on Matthew 2.13-23

Matthew 2.13-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord though the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”


A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

After the magi had spent time with the baby Jesus, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they left. The new parents were now alone with their relatively unexplained child, forced to fend for themselves with this baby Messiah. Christmas had come and gone in that tiny village of Bethlehem and life after Christmas was starting to settle in.

One night an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, because Herod was after the child. And so, following the commands of the Lord yet again, Joseph took his family and went to the land that God had called him to travel to. There he waited until Herod died.

The wise men, on their way to meet and greet the baby Jesus had shared the news of this newborn king with Herod, who asked to learn of his location and identity after they found him. Because of a dream telling them not to return, they withheld the information regarding the baby Messiah to which Herod was infuriated. He gathered together hordes of soldiers and commanded them to travel to Bethlehem in order to kill any child under the age of two in and around the village.

Later, after the death of Herod, Joseph brought his family back to the land that had been promised to his ancestors, but traveled to the area of Galilee and settled in Nazareth, which would become the boyhood home of Jesus.

When I was 17 years old, I spent a lot of time at my home church. If I wasn’t practicing drums with the worship band, then I was at a boy scout meeting, or helping with youth group, or immersed in a bible study, or running the sound system for worship services, funerals, and weddings. Every Christmas Eve the church would hold multiple services and I would sign up for multiple shifts in order to have the sound system function properly for one of the highest attended services of the year. When I was 17 I was blessed, and I mean that ironically, to run the system for the 3pm and the 11pm services.


The 3 o’clock service went as well as could have been expected. It was the family friendly service with a cacophony of children all running around and climbing over their pews while their parents attempted to listen to the sermon and not lose their place while singing the hymns. The sermon was spot on about the depth of Christmas and the graceful coming of God into the world in the form of a baby in a manger.

The 11 o’clock service was the complete opposite.

Instead of families with young children, the sanctuary was filled with older adults sitting scattered throughout the dozens of pews. Instead of children climbing over pews and dropping pencils everywhere, there was a profound silence within the worshipping body; a completely different sense of reverence. The sermon was the same, though it felt a little dull with the patterns of repetition throughout the afternoon and evening, however, you could feel a sense of wonder and awe flowing throughout the people that night, as they gathered together to celebrate God’s coming into the world.

By the time I was able to leave, it was already past midnight and I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was drive home, get in my bed, wake up, and open presents. As I drove back to my house I made my way down the George Washington Parkway with the Potomac River on my right thankful for the end of another Christmas Eve.

Right after I turned off the parkway to head up my street I saw flashing red and blue lights underneath the bridge that went over the road I had just drove on. I’m not sure why, (maybe it was the eagle scout in me) but I immediately pulled my car over and ran down to the road to see if I could help.


The details of what I saw there on the road that night will stay with me for the rest of my life, and there were things that I should never describe from the pulpit. Suffice it to say that, before I arrived, a terribly sad man had been standing on the edge of the bridge for sometime. The drop was nothing to speak of, maybe 13 feet, so he just kept standing there, waiting. He waited until he saw a large SUV coming toward the bridge, and when he felt that it was just the right moment, he jumped.

The SUV was carrying a family on their way home from an 11 o’clock mass from one of the Catholic churches in Old Town Alexandria, a family excited for the prospect of heading home after a wonderful service to get the milk and cookies ready for santa, a family ready to go to bed in order to wake up for Christmas morning, a family whose lives would be forever changed.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but one of the police officers made his way over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Go home, and try to forget ever seeing this.”

Life after Christmas can be one of the best, and one of the worst, times of the year. Its that strange time that often never meets our expectations. After weeks of preparation, hanging all the lights, decorating the house, wrapping all the presents, planning the meals, sending all the Christmas cards, Christmas comes and goes. We wake up and before we know it the holiday has arrived and departed. And for all the prep that we do, our expectations can almost never be met perfectly. We never receive all the gifts we want, we never have the perfect interaction with our family without fights and arguments, we never get to experience God and faith exactly the way we expect and hope for.

Life after Christmas can be a real shock if we’re not ready for it. We build up this wonderful holiday moment through the songs on the radio, through the worship services of Advent, and even with the sales promotions at all of our favorite stores.

Its no wonder therefore why there are more incidents of hospitalizations for depression, and attempts at suicide during the next few weeks, than any other time during the year. For all the joy that we muster together on Christmas Eve, life after Christmas can hit hard and low.

Life after Christmas for Jesus was filled with trial and tribulation as well. In the wake of his birth in one of the most inhospitable of places, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to flee to Egypt in order to avoid the wrath of Herod. It is curious that we receive little detail regarding Herod’s desire to kill all of the children in Bethlehem, only that he was infuriated by the deception of the wise men. It would seem that Herod feared for the loss of his position of power and control and he then decided to eradicate any remnant of this supposed “Messiah king” that could usurp his power.

If we only read this story on the surface, hearing about the new family’s retreat to Egypt, their patient waiting for Herod’s death, and their inevitable return, then we will be stuck with the devastating imagery of Rachel weeping for the children, the imagery of Herod killing innocents babies in Jerusalem, and a family’s terrifying experience of fear and isolation. But the story contains so much more.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes to be understood as the new Moses. He will deliver a sermon on the mount with his commands for the ways we are to live our lives, just as Moses stood on the mountaintop to deliver the ten commandments to the wandering Hebrews. It is important for Jesus to be understood through a Mosaic lens because he will also deliver the people out of slavery – not slavery in Egypt to foreign pharaohs, but out of slavery to sin and death.

Here, in this story, we get the beginnings of Jesus’ connections with Moses.

During the time of Moses’ birth, the Pharaoh in Egypt had all of the young males murdered in order to maintain the reigns over the Hebrew slaves. It was during this child massacre that Moses was saved by his mother. In a similar way, Jesus was saved from Herod’s massacre of the children because of the warning from God. Just as Moses would come to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, Jesus would eventually return to Galilee from Egypt in order to begin his ministry.

I wonder what it must have felt like for Mary and Joseph to raise that baby under such circumstances; to be told to leave all that was familiar, to enter a foreign land, because a ruler wanted to see your baby murdered. I wonder what could’ve sustained them through the days, weeks, months, and years of unknowing, the periods of fear and isolation.

I wonder what it must still feel like for that family that hit the man on their way home from church. What kind of emotional roller coaster does Christmas bring for them each year? What sustains them through that time of year when joy is so intertwined with fear?

Christmas, for us, is the reflection of that great event where God came to be with us. That time of year where we attempt to set aside all of our disappointments from the past, and look forward to that new beginning that we can hopefully emulate in our own lives.

Why is life after Christmas less ecstatic than the weeks leading up to it? Why do we let ourselves fall into states of sadness and the blues when we were just singing Joy to the World, and Angels We Have Heard On High? What is it about this time that makes it so much harder to get out of bed every morning, and get back into the routines of life?

opt-the-day-after-christmas from Life Magazine Jamie Wyeth

Life after Christmas is almost never easy; not for us now, not for that family driving home, and it certainly wasn’t easy for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As we continue to step forward into this uncertain time let us not hold fast to the decorations, and the pomp and circumstance, and the presents, and the meals, and all the other elements that make Christmas what it appears to be, but instead let us hold fast to the hymns we sang together as a church, let us hold fast to the fact that Christ is the light of the world that shines in the darkness, let us hold fast to the faith that we have in Jesus Christ as the Lord of all.

When you really get down to it, Christmas isn’t just a day, or even a time of year that we celebrate. As a faithful community, Christmas happens every single time we gather together. Every worship service, every bible study, every quilt for a cause, every Men’s club meeting, every UMW gathering, every youth activity, every thing we do reimagines the Christmas message for us. To be the church, to be the body of Christ for the world, means that we are continuously celebrating the fact that the greatest thing that ever came to be, came to be with us.

The fact that God humbled himself to be like us, for us, and with us, surmounts everything else in the world. For all the disappointments that we might face, for all of the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory, nothing will ever compare to the love of God in Jesus Christ manifested in a man’s life who changed the world.

It is okay to feel hurt and sad during life after Christmas. It is okay to feel the emotional tide that comes and goes while we rest in the awkward time after celebration. But we must never forget that though death, and suffering, and fear are real, they do not have the final word. God’s glory and grace surpasses all things. God’s love for you is eternal, it extends beyond all things, and is present in the ways that we love one another. Jesus, our Moses, came to deliver us from the bonds of the world, to help transform the way we live, and to share with us life eternal.

And so, If we take seriously the faith that we confess in Christ, then life after Christmas should really be the most wonderful time of the year.