Third Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Martin Elfert


Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8


This is a story about you.

In the book in which the story is written down, the lead character is given the name “Moses.” That’s because stories are easiest to tell – and easiest for you and for me to hear – when the hero has a name. If you are going to tell a story about someone going on a journey into a wilderness and towards a promised land, your listeners will probably follow that story and connect with it best if you decide on a name for the one who journeys. So, “Moses” it is.

But the storyteller could just as well have chosen the name Paul or Maya or Whit or Jessica or Becky or Charles. That’s because, like all great stories, like all archetypal stories, like all stories drawn from the great ocean of myth (think of the stories of Luke Skywalker or Frodo or Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen or Pippi Longstocking or Alice in Wonderland) the story of Moses is a universal story. If the story of Moses is about anything, it is a story about you.

This morning, then, let’s tell this story together a second time. Except this time around, instead of the lead character being named “Moses,” the hero’s name will be your name.

Are you ready to begin?

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, you were caring for animals that belonged to a loved one. And you took them for a walk. Somehow, the walk lasted longer and covered more distance than you expected, so that your walk not only took you and the animals into wilderness, it took you still further, up a mountain, to a place that really doesn’t have a name.

In the text printed in our leaflets this morning, we hear that this mountaintop place is called “beyond the wilderness.” When the King James Translators tell this story, they make the wonderful and strange decision to call this place “the back side of the desert.” When the Celts speaks about this place, they call it a thin place, somewhere in which the great song of God is ready to burst through the surface of things. When Shel Silverstein speaks about this place, he calls it “where the sidewalk ends.”

Regardless of which name we give it, the reality is the same: you have found your way to a place in which the people the rules that normally govern your life not in full effect. The people who enforce the rules are on some kind of cosmic coffee break. As a consequence, this place is a place of danger. It is a place of possibility.

The first thing that tips you off that you are beyond the wilderness is the silence. No birds, no wind, no voices. Even the animals who are with you are silent. The only sound is that of the blood rushing through your own body, the air filling and leaving your lungs.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

The second thing that lets you know that you are beyond the wilderness is the bush. You first spot it in your peripheral vision. Small and wild, rooted by itself in the hillside, its rough leaves reaching out to the sun. The bush is burning with a raging fire. And yet it is not consumed. When you are not beyond the wilderness, this is the sort of thing that surprises you. But here on the mountaintop, somehow nothing is all that unexpected. You turn aside to look at the bush and the fire and you say:


You step off of the path, then, off of the road that leads you back from where you came, not leaving so much as a string or a trail of bread crumbs to lead you home. And you walk towards the bush, towards the heat.

It is from within the fire that a voice calls out to you. It calls your name. The animals do not react to it. For them, as near as you can figure, the absolute silence continues. You wonder: if another human being were here, would she hear your name called from bush? Would she hear nothing? Or would she hear her own name?

The voice in the bush calls your name. And so you say:

Here I am.

Come no closer. Says the voice in the silence. Take off your shoes. For you are standing on holy ground.

You kick off your shoes. And there you stand. In the dust. In your bare feet. Before the bush and the fire. And then the voice again:

I am God. The God of your mother and your father, the God of your ancestors. 

Some old instinct makes you cover your eyes, your hands suddenly before your face as though to ward off an impact, as though to shield you from an impossibly bright light.

I have seen your people’s pain. I have heard your people’s cry. I know your people’s hurt. And so I have come. Come to bring freedom.

There is joy and reassurance and love in these words. Even as you stand on the mountaintop covering your eyes, you are reminded of being someplace wonderfully safe. Perhaps you remember a time when you were a child, held in the arms of one who loved you absolutely. You can’t say for how long you stand in the safety and the silence and the dust. Perhaps it is for forty days and forty nights that you the fire that leaves the bush unharmed.

Part of you wants to stay here forever.

But then the voice that has called your name goes on:

Now go. Go that you may lead my people to freedom.

Is it because you don’t want to leave that you argue? Or is it because of something else: because of an old fear that God could never have a purpose for someone like you, that God could never call someone like you, that perhaps God could never even love someone like you?

Who am I? You ask. Who am I to lead? Who am I to shine? Who am I say “yes” to you?

And the voice within the fire says:

I will be with you.

And you know that is enough. You know that it is enough. But still you argue.

When I come to your people and say, “The God of our ancestors has sent me,” and they ask, “What is God’s name?” what shall I say to them?

And so God answers:


That is my name forever.

And so, you go. Back to the path, back to the animals, back through the wilderness, back to civilization, back to the place where God has given you responsibility. You walk back, the fire receding behind you, the silence receding behind you, the noise returning.

When you face the people whom you are called to lead into freedom, when you begin to tell them the good news, a handful of them respond with joy. But many don’t. Some respond with indifference. Others respond with hostility. And many others respond with a worn-down cynicism: what you have to share is too good to be true.

Maybe you are about to give up hope then. But then you notice. That all of them – all of them ­– are saying the name of God. They have been saying it since the day that their lives began. They will say it on the last day of their lives. You have been saying it too, with every breath:




And so with the confidence that God is with you, that God is will everyone, you begin to lead.

This is a story about you.

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