Fire & Idols
3rd Sunday in Lent (Year C) - March 24, 2019
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 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 out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, 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. So come, I will send 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 worship 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 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 also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, '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, and this my title for all generations.”
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Rough Sermon Notes
The Bible often uses fire as a sign of God's presence.
“In the ancient world, fire was a mysterious presence from another world, a corridor between heaven and earth. It was fire which consumed the sacrifice, taking it to God’s abode” (Pray As You Go, app, 23-24 March 2019).
Throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the Law given by Moses on Mt. Sinai ( featured in Exodus - Deuteronomy), Israelite worship involved sacrifices in a tabernacle or Temple. This meant burning something people have worked for (grain, oil, wine, meat) to give to God. Some of these sacrifices were "whole burnt offerings," meaning they burned it completely to ash and didn't use it for any other purpose. In the ancient imagination, the sacrifice entered the fire and was transported to God's presence. All that remained was ash.
Moses first meets the LORD, God of Israel, in the fire of the burning bush. After Moses leads the Israelites across the Red Sea to escape Egypt, the LORD God guides them through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. Again, fire means that God is there.
We still use fire in our worship today to signify God’s presence to us. Candles decorate our altar. The red candle that hangs over the Tabernacle is called the Presence Candle. It means that Jesus is present because there is Holy Communion reserved there, Jesus’ Body and Blood.
Imagine Moses' awe when he saw a fire that did not consume or destroy the thing that burned -- like no oil draining from within the candle; no melting wax; no blackened, withering wick; no smoldering firewood.
Moses encountered a fire fueled not by physical materials, but by the very love and presence of God breaking into his life.
“A burning bush on God’s holy mountain serves as a powerful reminder to Moses of a forgotten truth -- that God is here, with us, in our world, seeking to draw men and women into relationship with Himself” (Pray As You Go, app, 23-24 March 2019).
What does God’s presence mean for our lives? Why is God here?
God steps into our world because, God says, “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 out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, ... The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.”
God responds to oppression, to slavery, to abuse. God steps into our world with a purpose. God wants to bring liberation, freedom, and relief to those who suffer. God is our ultimate rescuer and Savior.
St. Paul reminds us that despite God’s presence, the Israelites who followed Moses didn’t always get it. They had been saved from bondage and were walking together toward freedom, but they did not trust God. They may have known God as Liberator, but they didn’t trust that God continued to have their best interests at heart. So they turned to idols for comfort. And we often do the same thing.
What are the idols in our lives? What prevents us from seeing God’s presence in fire and throughout our days? What prevents us from accepting God’s saving help in our times of need? What sacrifices must we make in order to know and believe that God is with us? What must die so that God can raise us up to new, holier life?
Lent is a time to remember God’s promises. God will be with us. God will hear our cry and liberate us from oppression. God will be faithful.
But it’s also a time for us to examine ourselves. We must look honestly at the things in our lives that hold us back and let go, trusting that God will carry us if and when we fall. God did this for Moses and the Israelites, and God can do it for us. Amen.