Healing can’t wait. Freedom can’t wait. And God won’t wait—not when God’s children are suffering and living and dying in bondage. The God whose name, “Yahweh,” “I AM WHO I AM,” translates into “I am the God who is present in every moment of your history; I am the God who acts, here and now!”—this God won’t wait until a convenient time to heal us, to set us free from the chains of fear and pain and sin that bind us, that bend us over with their weight and tie us into knots and keep us from even imagining the kind of life God wants for us. Nor will this God wait until we’ve got our lives completely ordered and fixed-up before God calls us to go out and heal others, to bring good news and set others free. That’s what today’s Scripture readings tell us, I believe: that the God who called to Moses out of a burning bush and came to be born on earth in a stable and take all the worst that we humans are capable of heaping upon one another, . . . that this God won’t wait, but calls us to be burning bushes today, to be the body of Christ today, to be healed and set free today. God won’t wait, because God loves us and wants something better for all of us than the life we’ve known.
Let’s start by looking at the Gospel lesson, telling us about Jesus healing the woman who’d been bent over, crippled for 18 years. This passage shows us that God won’t wait to bring healing and freedom to God’s people, even when WE may think the timing is inconvenient, or resent the change that it represents.
First note that it’s Jesus who initiates the healing with this woman. The leader of the synagogue scolds the crowd, telling them they shouldn’t come looking for healing on the Sabbath, but it’s Jesus who decided to heal that day. Were all the sick and crippled people supposed to stay home, out of sight and out of mind, on the Sabbath, lest Jesus be moved to help them? The synagogue leader apparently didn’t want to confront Jesus directly, so he instead scolds him indirectly, through his words to the crowd. But Jesus isn’t having any of that nonsense. Jesus turns to the leader of the synagogue directly and says, “You hypocrite! If you had an animal that was tied up, hurting or in need, would you not untie it and lead it to water, to food, to whatever it needed, even if it was on the Sabbath day? Would not compassion outweigh your concern for the rules of Sabbath-keeping? So, then, why should this woman wait even two seconds longer to be healed, to be set free, to be allowed to stand up straight and look you in the eye?”
Now consider what this was like from the woman’s point of view, what she’d been through. She’s there in the synagogue, minding her own religious business, not asking for any help, nor even expecting anything. Probably she’d come to accept that this was all life had to offer her. Perhaps she’d even come to accept other what others often said, that she must’ve done something to deserve this infirmity, this crippling spirit that had tortured her so long. But Jesus insists that she’s important to God, that she’s a child of Abraham, a daughter of the covenant, and that her healing and freedom can’t wait even one more second! That here and now is the only appropriate place and time for her to be set free.
Then, let’s look at Moses’ story, showing us how unexpectedly and even sneakily God’s healing and freedom may break in upon us.
The first thing we notice is how subtly God approaches Moses (not something you associate with God in Exodus!). When we think of God in Exodus, we think of signs and miracles that were anything but subtle: the Plagues of Egypt, the pillar of fire and cloud, the parting of the sea, for instance. Here God reaches out to Moses using a lowly, measly, little bush (not a tree, even, much less a pillar of fire and smoke)—a bush which is on fire, yet not consumed, sitting on a rocky hillside. It’s just enough to stir Moses’ curiosity, to move him slightly outside the rut he’s fallen into. He’s probably told himself that this shepherding job is all there is for him for the rest of his life, that he needs to accept it and relax, that fixing the world’s problems is somebody else’s job. He’s gotten entirely too comfortable expecting little or nothing of himself. But God’s not going to wait for Moses to ‘get his act together’, to put all his childhood issues and identity questions and other problems behind him. No, God subtly, sneakily draws Moses off his path, a little way out of his comfortable rut, by appealing to Moses’ curiosity, his desire to see what’s going on with this little, minor miracle and mystery before him.
The next thing we notice is how unexpectedly God’s call comes upon Moses. God is telling Moses how He’s heard the cries of the Israelites and is determined to end their suffering and bring them out of bondage, and Moses was probably nodding along, thinking, “That’s great—you go do that, God!” But then comes the sneaky, unexpected twist. God concludes by saying, “…so that’s why I’m sending YOU, Moses, to go back to Egypt, confront Pharaoh, and convince him to let my people go!”
And then, no matter how many excuses Moses comes up with for why this is really a bad idea, God persists. God insists that Moses IS the one God wants to use for this, even though Moses is no more impressive in himself than that puny, stunted little shrub growing there on the hillside. It’s not Moses’ inherent grandness and greatness that’s going to accomplish the task. Rather, it is God’s light and power shining through Moses that will do the trick.
When Moses asks God for a name, a handle, a handy label that can be used to cut God down to size, to make the majesty of God more understandable, more familiar to lowly humans, what Moses gets instead is a description of how God operates. Instead of saying something like, “Well, my name’s ‘Jehovah’, but you can call me ‘Joe’”, God instead lays the full complexity and majesty of God’s being on Moses: “I AM WHO I AM” (or some scholars translate it, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”). God is “I AM”, the God who is being and acting and creating and healing and setting us free, whether or not we’re ready for that to be so.
What’s more, this same God of action calls us to action, to be “burning bushes”, filled with the Spirit of God from our baptism on—the Spirit which burns strong and bright within us, and yet somehow, paradoxically, does not destroy our puny, weak human selves. God won’t wait to call us to proclaim liberty, to shine a light on this world, to feed the hungry, to love the unloved, to welcome the unwelcome and unseen.
Today is the day that God calls us to be the church, to be the Body of Christ here on earth. God won’t wait for us to gain more members, or get more money in the bank, or to sort out any of the problems that we think make us ineligible or incapable. God won’t wait to heal us, to call us to stand up straight, to stand with dignity, secure in the knowledge of God’s love, and to send us forth to be light and love and healing for others in this world.