Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105 (VU 828 Matthew 16:21-28

VU 213 , 560, 701, 713

August 28, 2005

Imagine yourself in this situation: You are driving on a two-lane crowded highway. You are speeding but just a little, like 5 km per hour. Someone is tailgating you with only a few yards behind. He is nudging you to speed up or to get off the road. You could understand why some people explode in "road rage" and do something stupid, but you won’t do that. The difference between those who get into road rage and commit violent acts and yourself is that your anger is under control. Your anger does not consume you, even in such an annoying situation. Thank God for the gift of self-control. But that does not mean anger as such is bad. Anger is an important passion that leads you to fight evil and injustice. We have to be angry from time to time to do the right thing, provided that you act in a controlled manner.

There are many kinds of emotions and impulses that are important for us. Anger is one. Sexual desire is another. It lets us in an intimate and pleasurable way to express our love for the one you love very much, and sometimes lets us make babies. Appetite is another one. It lets us want food. Without it, our health will fail and eventually we will starve to death. But those strong emotions impulses can also consume us and drive us into destructive behaviors such as senseless violence, sexual crime, and over eating and obesity. Emotions and passions are not bad. But they can be the causes of evil once they take over you and become obsession. When Moses saw a bush burning without being consumed by fire, God was showing him God’s important gifts of passion and our responsibility to use them constructively and responsively.

Let me go back to the beginning of the story. When Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, he was in exile and his self-esteem almost vanished. He grew up in an imperial palace as an adopted son of a princess. He was a prince of the mighty Egyptian Empire, the most powerful nation at the time. He lived with pleasure, privilege, power, and wealth. But one day, he was driven by righteous anger and committed murder. He saw an Egyptian beating up a Jewish slave. Moses got very angry and killed the Egyptian. He tried to hide the crime, but realized that some Jews witnessed his murder. When Moses tried to stop two Jews fighting, they asked, "Who are you to interfere in our business? Are you going to kill us just like you killed the Egyptian?" Moses realized that he had no moral authority among his own people. He had to give up everything, and flee into the desert in shame. He married a local girl and had to lower himself by becoming a homeless nomad – a shepherd. What a come down, just because he could not control anger. Fire consumed the bush.

He spent days absent-mindedly watching sheep munching grass. He sustained himself by eating rats and snakes or whatever he found in the desert. He slept on the sand in rags to shield himself against the chill of the night. He was completely wrapped up in boredom, despair, misery, and self-pity. On one of those dreary days, he saw a bush fire. He went to take a look and noticed that fire was burning but bush stayed the same, not consumed. Very strange indeed. He watched it for a while trying to figure out what was going on. Then he heard the voice calling his name, "Moses, Moses!" He answered, "Hear I am." Then the voice said, "Don’t come any closer. Take your sandals off. This is a holy ground." This was how God revealed himself to Moses. God is passionate without causing harm.

The Bible is filled with wonderful stories like this. They are not just wonderful, but are full of wonders. How do you read the stories that are full of wonders? Those incredible stories give us problems in this day and age of science and technology. Many have left the church having decided that religions are just superstitions, because of these unbelievable stories. For us who remain in the church, the question is how we understand the stories like this, making it possible for us to keep on believing in religion. Many people believe that every word, sentence, and story in the Bible is factually and historically correct. Because God is almighty, everything is possible for him. God is a god of miracle. If you don’t believe it, you don’t believe in the god of the Bible. For those people miracles are the proof of existence of god, they tell you.

I do not to believe in that way. And I suspect that many people in the United Church share the way I believe. But I believe that I am a genuine Christian and a no less believer than those who believe the Bible literally. I am proud of my faith in the way I believe. However, I must make sure that I never condemn the different ways other people believe. If it is important for them to believe in that way, I respect it, so long as they do not condemn my way.

I believe that many wonderful stories in the Bible are exactly that – stories. They might have happened in the way that are written in the Bible, or may not have. But I doesn’t bother me if they are just stories either. It is not important for me to know if it happened the way they are written in the Bible or they are made up stories to make a point. Jesus told many made up stories to make his point. That doesn’t make those parables, like "Good Samaritan", any less important. It is making an extremely important point. What makes them sacred and central for my belief is what those stories mean. You have to realize that ancient people did not have language to express concepts. So, they wrote wonderful stories to express their sense of sacred. That does not diminish the importance of what they are trying to say to us. They are stories to tell us truths. They are called myths.

Unfortunately nowadays, there is a tendency to dismiss myth as untruth. I think it’s wrong to call it "untruth." We must recover the importance of myth as a way to convey truth. One of the world’s greatest scholar of English language Northrop Frye once said, "Myth is an expression of the most profound reality." Some truths are beyond words. The deeper the truth, the less there are word to describe it. How do you convey your sympathy to someone who just lost a child. Words are never enough to express deepest emotions. So we tell stories and show our emotions in our actions. That does not mean the stories you tell are lies and are not important. They could be more important and true than just saying mere words and listing some facts.

A little girl said to her mother, "Mommy, I love you. I love you so much," by describing the size of her love with hands like we describe the size of the fish we caught. The distance between two hands became wider and wider, because mere distance between two hands just didn’t describe enormity of little girl’s love of mother. So in the end she just hugged mother. The little girl loved Mom so much that she threw the whole of herself into Mom’s arms. Myths are like that. I think that often words are too shallow to describe truth.

The story of the burning bush, for example, tells more important truth than a mere strange phenomenon. Any magician can easily recreate Moses’ burning bush. Such a magic does not, for me, reveal God. Such a god is too shallow and small for me. But the god who revealed himself in the burning bush to Moses was the one who affirms passion as important gift of God by telling us that it is our duty to exercise responsibility. He was telling Moses, "It is OK to feel anger when one sees cruelty and injustice. But do not be consumed by passion. Use it constructively and patiently." That was a very profound message. When Moses saw the point, he realized that he was standing before the God almighty, who was ready to send Moses off to his enormously important mission. He was to lead a whole nation from slavery to freedom.

From that time on, Moses was a powerful but patient and wise leader of the nation. He never lost the love of people. The passion for his people never diminished. But he was ever so patient, never lost love for people, no matter how many time they betrayed him. Let us learn to be passionate in love, but also to be patient and wise in loving. Let us not waste our precious gift of passion by being consumed by it.






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