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You have to go with us

Pentecost +20, Common Lectionary Year A

Exodus 33: 12-23

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction to scripture

I’ve been midrashing this text for over a month now,
having used it as a study text in a workshop I gave
for Anglican preachers and clergy.
Gleaning wisdom together,
some in the group suggested
that the demand Moses makes of God
-“You have to go with us!”-
is one that is “for our times”,
and I wholeheartedly agreed.
So by a few days ago I had a clean and tidy,
exegetically sound sermon all outlined and ready to go.
But… I don’t know…
Moses wasn’t carefully scripted,
he was raw, on the edge, and so was God.
And, it has dawned on me this week,
so am I .
Raw, on the edge,
hanging on by a thread.

I can’t do it. I’m done!
I’ve long since burst all those colourful bubbles
on this hubristic notion I had back in 2018
that we’d be living the Dream with 2020 Vision!
Instead, seven flipping months of cobbling together
my kitchen recording studio,
around trying to cook extra food for
the household trying to raise triplet babies
while one parent is out of work,
watching my spouse spend every spare moment
trying to stay one step ahead of technology we need
just to even attempt to bridge the coronavirus chasm
that separates us from one another
and from our church building.
I can’t sit on the steps of our sanctuary with children
and thrill at their capacity for wonder and awe,
I can’t bring these lively texts any closer
into your lives than through a screen….
My heart, it’s breaking for the people
who are sick, or in the throes of
loss and transition and grief,
because I can’t do my damn job
–my call – I can’t touch, I can’t be present,
I have to set 2 metre masked limits on my ability
to ‘be there’ and care.

I’m so over all this!

And that’s nothing compared
to the brave young souls who gathered
in a Zoom sanctuary space
on Friday night with me and Martha;
parents who are hanging on by a thread,
nurses who are so much more “over” all this than I am…
they and others in our congregation or our families
who put themselves into risky contagious situations every day,
while trying to look after their kids’
and their own mental and physical health.
I walked through the village yesterday in beautiful sunshine,
thinking of those of you who live in the neighbourhood,
some of you now seven months eating alone at your kitchen table,
aching to touch a grandchild, a grown child,
scared for your health,
fearful of how you’ll even access care,
cut off from the social connections that make life whole…
Others of you finding your home cramped
by living, working 24/7 all on top of one another,
not even a moment’s peace in the bathroom!

If I dared to list the ways in which
each one of us is “over it” and “on the edge”,
it would take too long, and by the end of it,
I’d be bawling,
and you’d have turned this live-feed off
as one more “downer” you just don’t need..

That’s the context that meets
this ancient text today.
We want to say to Moses,
and the feckless souls who
erected their baby cow idol
and got God all riled up, to move over.
2020 is every bit as bad!
It’s not enough that there’s a pandemic,
but the toxic fallout of
fearmongering hatred and racism is intolerable!
It’s looming over the earth like some glowering sky,
seeping into the groundwater of our society
like some toxic spill.
And we can’t imagine what’s next,
we can’t imagine another month,
let alone a year of this!
We can’t fathom how much work and time
-generations’ worth-
it will take to heal and mend a world
cleft and shattered by racism
and rampant, cancerous inequity.

So, come on Moses, be our mouthpiece
teach us to pray like we’ve never prayed before!
Not in our Sunday best,
but in masks and PPE, rashes on our noses,
Teach us to pray with rainbow flags and
Me Too, and Black Lives Matter,
and Refugees Welcome T-shirts
worn with fearful pride,
because of the vitriolic attention they often attract.
Step aside, Moses while we take up your prayer on our own behalf:
“God, you have to show up.
If you know us, and call us beloved,
and you say you do,
You have to be here,
and we won’t go a step further without you!
And if you won’t unleash
all the furious, righteous power of your glory,
to wipe away all that hurts and maims
on holy mountains and in hollow valleys,
so be it,
but you have to show up,
and go before us with goodness,
for goodness’ sake? Okay?
Amen.” ?

There’s a twist to this,
lying on the cutting room floor of my original sermon.
It went something like this.
“Back in Moses’ day, when God’s beloved
were shackled and oppressed
and God’s heart ached for their liberation,
God’s god-ness required a Moses,
a flawed, murderous, stuttering, shepherding Moses
to bring heaven’s Dream to earth.
God needs a human Dream implementation team.

It’s the same now.
Everything we pray for,
an end to this,
a future more filled with
hope, and truth, and justice, and health
than this present time,
will happen only when God shows up,
and when we do too.
I’m so done, but God not done with me.
You’re so over this, but God’s not done with you either.
We need God, and God needs us.

So, time to huddle in the cleft in the rock,
spend the rest of this time of worship,
watching for the shadow of the light of God’s strength
and power, as it makes its fleeting presence
known to our eyes and hearts,
as it seeps like an inexorable dawn
into the darkness of these days…
And so we pray
“God, do not make us go on from this place
without your presence. Amen.”

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