Moses keeps appearing in our lectionary on the weeks that I am assigned to preach so I decided that I just couldn’t ignore him this time. It’s time to talk about Moses. And in any case, this morning’s reading from Exodus is wonderful. Moses with the burning bush is an iconic image from our Bible. The story is so rich that different things strike me each time I read this passage. This time I was struck by the conversation between God and Moses. It isn’t a quick conversation with simple yes and no answers, but a drawn out back and forth. Their conversation actually extends further into the book of Exodus, but we will just focus on what we heard this morning.
To really focus on their conversation, I took out everything in the passage except for the dialogue and changed the wording. It reads like this:
"Yes I’m here."
“Don’t get any closer! You are standing on Holy Ground. I am your God. I know my people are suffering and I have decided you are going to help me free them. How does that sound?”
“Well gee, I’d like to help, but I’m not sure that I’m qualified for the task.”
"I will be with you to help you.”
“OK but why will anyone follow me? Why will they believe that You sent me?”
"I am who I am." Tell them that 'I am has sent me to you.”
What strikes me about this particular conversation is that God is inviting Moses to respond. God wants a thoughtful response. Moses doesn’t just say Yes sir, he expresses his concerns and God addresses them. They speak almost as peers. God doesn’t say, “Hey Moses, your fear and self doubt is absurd, get over it and do what I say.” God listens and gives a real response. This kind of conversation is a real gift. Because God really responded to Moses, he can now go and do what God has asked of him.
This conversation between Moses and God reminded me of Brene Brown’s latest book “Rising Strong.” For those of you who aren’t familiar, Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her groundbreaking research has been featured all over, and her 2010 TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks. She also happens to be an Episcopalian. In “Rising Strong” Brene shares a story about a conversation between herself and her husband.
One summer, she and her husband Steve took a vacation with their kids near a lake in the Hill Country of Texas. One morning the two of them go for a swim in the lake, and feeling inspired by the moment Brene says something sweet to her husband.
"I'm so glad we decided to do this together," she says. "It's beautiful out here."
Brene was hoping for an equally sweet response but instead he replied.
"Yeah, water's good."
Brene was embarrassed but tried again.
"This is so great," she said. "I love that we're doing this. I feel so close to you."
This time all she got was a "Yep, good swim."
Brown was upset and remembers thinking, what is going on here?
Before they got out, she asked him to stop — saying that she kept trying to connect with him and he kept blowing her off.
Then, instead of being aggressive and self-protective, she opted for being kind and responsive.
"I feel like you're blowing me off," she said, "and the story I'm making up is either you looked at me while I was swimming and thought, Man, she's getting old. She can't even swim freestyle anymore. Or you saw me and thought, She sure doesn't rock a Speedo like she did twenty-five years ago."
After a little time, Steve replied. He explained that he didn’t mean to be distant but that he had been trying to fight off a panic attack the whole swim.
He explained that the night before, he had a dream where he was with their kids on a raft when a speedboat came screaming toward them, and he had to pull all the children into the water so they wouldn't get killed by speedboat. He didn't even hear what Brene was saying to him while they swam; he was just trying to concentrate on his swimming and make it back to the dock.
Suddenly, it made sense to her: People on the lake do tend to get drunk on boats, and everybody who grows up around water hears about tragic boating accidents.
After a little more conversation, it became clear to both of them that they were stuck in their own stories and didn’t understand what was going on with the other person until they talked.
This story is so relatable. Instead of just getting mad at her husband, she tried to have a conversation about what was going on. She wanted to be heard and she wanted to hear her husband. This could have gone very differently. She could have blown up, been angry and stormed off. But instead they had a conversation. A conversation much like the one between Moses and God in our reading from Exodus, were questions and concerns are really heard and get real responses.
There is something holy in this type of conversation. In fact, last week when we went the church of the Epiphany in D.C., which hosts a free breakfast for 200 people every Sunday morning, with our J2A group, part of our training was how to have conversation with one of their guests. This seemed simplistic to me at first but then I realized that it is a huge deal. Having a conversation with someone means that you are acknowledging someone else’s humanity. The staff at Epiphany told us that 80% of Americans will never have a conversation with a homeless person. So these conversations that we had with the guests of Epiphany were important and holy.
So why are conversations so important and holy? Conversations are how we work together. God and Moses had to work together to save Israel. God could not do it alone, He had to work through Moses. This conversation from our reading this morning was the beginning of their working relationship. In the same vein, Brene and her husband needed to have a conversation to keep their marriage going. Our youth have to learn how to have conversations with people whose housing is insecure otherwise how can they help them?
We have to make space in our lives for conversations like this. And more importantly, we have to make time in our lives for conversation with God. Prayer is our time to talk to God. And it doesn’t happen without us. We need to start the conversation. Amen.