One of the most powerful commandments that God issues us is to resist turning away from encounters with “the other” and instead to turn toward each other.
This past Sunday in our Time for All Ages I sat with three children. During this time in the worship service the kids and I talk with each other and with the adults in the pews, some of whom say that the Time for All Ages is the moment they remember, even more than the sermon.
On Sunday, we read a version of the ancient story of Moses and the burning bush. I love to read from the Archbishop Tutu’s interpretation of the Bible for young children because in the back of my mind I am always thinking how his experience in South Africa informs his re-telling of the Bible stories. Or maybe it is the opposite—how his reading of the Bible stories informed how faithful and courageous he and so many people were and still are in South Africa. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a challenging and transforming model for confronting, not turning away from, life no matter where we are or how old or young we are.
We were reading about how Moses was startled by the bush that was burning while the leaves continued to shine green. The contrast of burning and growing frightened Moses, yet his desire to see the bush overcame his aversion. God called to Moses and gave him an even scarier thing to do which was to directly approach the Pharaoh and demand that the Pharaoh let the Hebrew people go out from slavery.
Moses the stutterer must have stuttered and stammered his way through his encounter with this totally “other” experience. But Moses did not turn away; not from the bush, from the voice, or from his calling to do the impossible with the help of God.
We talked on Sunday about the things that children and adults are afraid of and how it is easy to run away. We talked about how God’s great love keeps pulling us back together. Our ability to go toward rather than run away is founded on the Grace of God who does not turn anyone away—so why should we?
We are living in yet another time for all ages where we are being called to come toward each other, even as we are pulled apart; by fear, by hate, by ignorance, by habit, and by our temptation to cling to the familiar rather than run into the arms of the Impossible Possible.
I am thinking now about the shootings in Las Vegas, and the rally earlier this summer in Charlottesville Virginia and the Nashville Statement. The first continues to be an impossible to grasp act of violence that we are all still reeling from. The second are two real-time experiences of people in my time and place rejecting rather than embracing “the other.” In both of those public events, one being a “rally” in favor of white nationalism and another a public statement rejecting LGBTQ people from the Christian church, I recognize Moses and the rest of us being called to speak truth to the powers that be.
I am grateful for a big story to put my story in so I can make sense and find strength and courage and direction, which for me is toward rather than away. I pray every day for the ability to stay with encounters and to find ways to stand with God rather than stay with my fear or gut reactions. I trust that the Spirit of Truth and Reconciliation will guide us and help us to confront fear and hate for what it is and lean into love and justice for all. After all, God does not turn away, so why should we? And I pray that the children who are hearing all these stories will hear a good word in the middle of hard times.
Photo by Marguerite Sheehan.
About Marguerite Sheehan
Rev. Marguerite Sheehan is a United Church of Christ pastor presently serving Trinity Church, an ecumenical church in Shelburne Falls MA. She blogs at reverendmarguerite.wordpress.com and also writes a pastoral column for the Shelburne Falls West County Independent newspaper. She is a pastor, preacher, wife, lesbian feminist, mother, friend and grandmother.