Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 3 September 2023.
• First Reading: Exodus 3: 1-15 (Moses and the burning bush – you are standing on holy ground – I am the God of your father)
• Epistle: Romans 12: 9-21 (Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another)
• Gospel: Matthew 16: 21-28 (Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me)
They had the Messiah. This was their high moment and the future was already singing with promise and prospects.
They would be known, respected and rewarded for having stayed with Jesus. The visions of welcome and acclaim were so appealing and promising. And so the miasma of glory and wonderment continued – until it was severely and sharply reduced to human reality.
No rewards – at least not now or here. But there would be a new reality which would change the world. Death would be sure enough – but there were realities beyond death and these they would know, even from their place or personal scorn and rejection.
It would be time to start again all right, but what kind of start and what kind of development?
This is where we have to look at Moses.
He had been a fugitive, now a wandering herdsman in the wildernesses of Sinai. He was a man of absolutely no name and no prospects beyond a simple family and some sheep.
Then it caught his eye. Something burning. It would go out soon enough, but didn’t. What was going on? It was out of his way but he made his path to it anyway. Still burning but not going out.
A new kind of power? A new wonder to behold? Burning and giving heat and light but never exhausted. The bush still intact, branches and leaves, awash with flame.
And then it spoke to him. It called him by name. BY NAME?? Holy ground he could just about appreciate, but a bush that not only burns but speaks?
Burns but not exhausted, speaks out directly and personally – and then summons him to a task beyond his wildest dreams. Lesser men may have run away. Maybe some did.
Like Abram who was summoned to a life-changing journey just as he was about to retire, so also Moses, no longer a youngster himself, was now being sent into a new future.
Surely his adventures were over? He was already getting stiff, eyes and ears not quite as sharp, even if his interest and intellect were as keen as ever.
A new mission and a new future.
Definitely not the one he had imagined for himself. Certainly not the acclaim and appreciation for a job well done, with all its rewards and provisions.
No, Moses was being sent back – not to fulfilment but to self-giving and self-emptying. Total reliance on God, and none other. The workings of politics would do nothing for him and he would face rejection by Pharoah and by his own people.
Not really the career move that most people of his age might expect. But God was not going to be denied. Not this time. He had spoken to Moses by name, called him, reassured him, given Himself to him.
When we look again at the gospel, this too is about self-giving and self-denial. There is nothing in the way of public relations in being denied, rejected, falsely accused, flogged and then crucified. And the absurdity of the execution gibbet becoming the logo for the new movement was beyond belief or parody.
But then this was the kind of discipleship to which Jesus was calling them. They would find themselves in Jesus Christ and not apart from Him.
What He had known, they also would know. Their lives would be utterly transformed by His death, and death would never be the same again to them.
It would be stripped of its power and terror. They – and we – may wonder at how and when we may die but death itself is stripped and powerless.
So they would enter the truth in a new way. Not a personal, self-defined and self-validating truth. More the truth of the things of God.
The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the fulness and completeness of His atonement, His victory over condemnation and darkness, of sin and human rebellion.
A new law without the legalism. Life becoming vitality rather than existence punctuated by procreation.
Finding self by losing it, knowing life by living it for others and for God.
All those performance indicators, those status symbols of management and seniority which consume and then really do turn to ashes, those market indicators which go down as well as up.
Now there is a new dynamic. A new purpose and a life that gives light and heat, which others can see and wonder about, maybe even turning aside to see what the fuss is all about.
Oh yes, take up the cross – that symbol of rejection and torture, but in which and beyond which there really is life of a new kind. Life in its fulness, joy beyond all expectation and understanding that far exceeds the philosophies and life-trends of our time.
This is a life that burns but does not consume or reduce to ashes. It is a life that yields its own kind of fruit, its own purpose and which reaches far beyond the corruptions of the grave.