Saturday, August 27, 2011

Burning bush revisited

I'm not preaching this week, though the reading the clergy at Saint John's have chosen to preach on is from Exodus, Moses' encounter with God through the burning bush. Below I have reprinted my sermon on this text from a few years ago. In seminary, this sermon garnered a little bit of infamy. It was inspired by an interview I heard with Padgett Powell, who wrote a book called The Interrogative Mood, a novel that asks questions only. At the time of this sermon I did not want to read the book because I didn't want it to influence my approach to the text. Now I am reading the book and I love it. The experience is not unlike deep study and exegesis of Holy Scripture, that is, it makes one rethink reading itself and the effect of a text on oneself. {as an aside I am really working up a weird book on what I have learned about reading the Bible from reading difficult books like, Finnegans Wake, , Cerebus, anything by Tom Robbins, The Invisibles, Testament, etc.}

I think this method is worthwhile, indeed my spiritual director (a PhD in Literature) suggested I do something like this seasonally. So I guess I am saying, people of Saint John's, get ready. Here's the sermon:

What do you seek?

How is God connected to this burning bush? When did the bush stop burning? When, and if, it finally did stop burning, what happened to the goat that nibbled on the burning bush? Did the goat die? Did it not die, as in ever? Should there be such a thing as a picture of the burning bush? Doesn't that go against the whole idea of a burning bush? Can there be an icon of the Unknowable?

Why am I only asking questions? Why won't I make a statement? Can an entire sermon be written in the interrogative mood? Does English have an interrogative mood, or just interrogatory words? Given your own life, would you rather have God talk to you out of a burning bush or something else that burns, "yet is not consumed"? What would it be, a car, a desk, a professor? What defines Moses? Is Exodus in the Old Testament? Did the writer of Exodus think that his or her writing would ever be "old"? Why do you think God chooses these counter-intuitive ways to speak to people?

Shouldn't there be some form of introduction? What defines me? Is it that I am Josh Bowron, that I am a husband and a father, and a seminarian? Am I who I am because I am from Atlanta? Why do I love this Mountain? Is this a good idea? Would you like to know me better? What do I seek? Can we know a person by the questions they ask? Shall we continue?

What does it mean in the Old Testament when it says LORD, in all caps? What does taking off shoes on holy ground mean? Why don't we take off our shoes in church? Who were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Why does it matter? Should I care that I don't care? Can God hear? If so, does God hear with ears or is he psychic like that lady in the X-Men? What's so great about milk and honey? If they flow, you know, out of doors, won't they spoil? Wouldn't it stink?

What will happen to all those people that are already living in the land? Is God advocating for ethnic cleansing? What about all those Canaanites, and Hittites? I know some Israelites, but where are all the Amorites? Is "I AM" really God's name? How do I read the Bible anyway? How does the Church read the Bible? Do we have to think the same thing as the church? What happens when the church disagrees? What is my obligation to the church?

Is there anything outside the text? Am I a text? Can I tell my own story? Is telling my own story like biting my own teeth? Does the church read me? Am I on God's night stand?

What do you seek? What does this story of Moses and God in the Burning Bush mean? What is going on, back then and over there? What's it got to do with us, or, more importantly, me? Does God call people? Why does everybody talk about God calling us? Can God nudge? Can God hint? Does God ever say..."pssst!"?

Does God speak in tectonic plates?

Do you assume that I know the answer? Given all the characters in the Bible that God calls, is there a single one who was not offensive or messed up in some way? What is going through Moses' head? Was he afraid, was he nervous? Why do you think God chooses these counter-intuitive ways to speak to people? Why does God continually insist on calling the unrighteous and the broken? Can this shepherd be a liberator? Can this yokel be face to face with God? Did it happen? Did it not happen? Does the difference scare you, energize you, leave you flat, or something else altogether? What was Moses seeking, up there, on the mountain? Was he simply curious or did he have any idea whatsoever that he would encounter the long lost God?

What's God's voice like? Is it a tornado, an atom splitting? Is it a Big Bang or more like Yoko Ono? When you look at stained glass do you notice the colors first or the story? Who here will end up depicted in a stained glass window? If God can come to a person as a burning bush, why not as a chunk of bread and a sip of wine? Would the story of Moses and the Burning Bush have been possible without Moses? What I mean is, in any sacrament, we are there, so can a sacrament be a sacrament without us? Do we make it sacred? How important are we to God? Who's we? Why does God bother? Is He serious? Given the apparent cheapness of life, what is sacred?

What do you seek? What is going on with us? I mean me and you right now in this big marble room, are we o.k., you and me? Where, whence, whither, and how does the time go? What are the fundamental differences between Moses and me? Why do you think God chooses these counter-intuitive ways to speak to people? Why does God continually insist on calling the unrighteous and the broken? Is there some ulterior motive on God's part for talking to us through stuff, why does matter matter to God? What will tomorrow bring? Did Moses know how to be a patriarch? Do I know how to be an adult? Do I have to be an adult? Did God show Moses how to be a patriarch? Did you ever wonder why there is such a close etymological connection between adult and adulterated? What is my agenda in bringing that up?

Is God a micro-manager? Is God a. . . C.E.O.? Are you tired of questions? Does God tire of questions? Does God tire? Ought there be a moratorium on the word "God," as Bishop Spong suggests? Can you argue both sides on that issue?

Can a sermon consist of nothing but questions? What will my preaching teacher say? Will you tell on me? This is just silly, didn't Desmond Tutu preach here? Should I make a point and sit down? What is the cumulative effect of this barrage of questions? Will I ask a certain question just to get a laugh?

What is air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

What is the what, anyway? Who tells the truth more in Shakespeare's plays, the priests or the Fools? In terms of strict literary definitions, is the Bible a comedy or a tragedy?

Given the state of nature and society why do we still get our hopes up? Is that too pessimistic a question? Another way, given the changeability of life, why do we seek security? Can we remember life before life? Is anybody else here attracted to, and at the same time, utterly repulsed by post-modernism? What's the rush, where's the fire? No really, Church: Where's the Fire!? What's stopping you?

What do you seek? How can we proclaim a mystery? What is the use of experience? What defines you? If we talked for an hour could we come to an agreement on the taste of vanilla? Should we? How do we come to believe? Why do you think God chooses these counter-intuitive ways to speak to people? Why does God continually insist on calling the unrighteous and the broken? Is there some ulterior motive on God's part for talking to us through stuff, why does matter matter to God?

How will you meet God at this Table behind me tonight?

What do you seek? What does God seek? What do we seek?

Will we know it when we have found it? Can I find God at this table?

Will God find me at this table?

God, find us at your table.

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