Labor Sunday 2008
Interrupted by God
Based on lectionary selection Exodus 3:1-15 and Romans 12:9-21, Year A, Proper 17
Moses is out tending the sheep of his father-in-law, minding his own business. It’s just a typical day in the hot and dry hills of Midian: sheep, sun, dust, brush and, hopefully, a little breeze. Just an ordinary day, or so it seems.
Then Moses sees a bush that is on fire and, on closer inspection, he notices that it is not being consumed by the fire. This is remarkable and Moses turns aside to find out what is happening. His attention has been captured. He stops what he had been doing, puts his own agenda on hold, and even neglects his sheep while he investigates.
It is only after he has turned aside, and looks beyond his own plans for the moment that God calls to him: “Moses, Moses.” And Moses, surely bewildered, responds out of trust and faith, “Here I am.”
God has big plans for Moses. Moses the shepherd is to become Moses the liberator of his people, Moses the law giver, Moses the prophet. But it all starts when Moses notices something that shouldn’t be happening, something out of the ordinary, and turns aside to investigate. He is paying attention and is ready to be interrupted by God. His ordinary day is turning out to be a very extraordinary one.
There is much more to come in this story: plagues, famines, drought, death, the parting of a sea, a 40-year journey through the desert, the liberation of a people. But it all begins when Moses pauses, turns aside from his ordinary business, and answers “Here I am.” It’s true: the longest journey begins with a single step, and the first step may be the most important one.
So what does God ask Moses to do? God knows the sufferings of God’s people in Egypt. God had heard their cries. God says “I have come down to deliver them.” Note that God says “I” have come down to deliver them. It could hardly be clearer. God will deliver the Israelites but Moses will be God’s instrument to bring this about. Moses’ actions will bring God’s justice to God’s people.
Does God still call people, today, in the midst of our busy lives? Are we willing to stop what we are doing, to put aside our plans? Are we ready to be interrupted by God? Or are we too preoccupied with what we want to do? Too intent on checking off the next item on our to-do list? Are we too focused on our own agenda to pause long enough to hear God’s call? Do we talk so much or listen to so much TV that we cannot hear when God calls? Have we walked or driven right past the burning bush without seeing it?
Paul’s letter to the Romans lays out some of the things that God might be calling us to do. Love genuinely. Rejoice in hope. Extend hospitality to strangers. Live in harmony with one another. Associate with the lowly. Overcome evil with good.
On this Labor Day Sunday, is it possible that God is calling us to participate, even to help lead, another journey of liberation? Is God waiting for us to notice something – right here in plain sight – that should not be happening, to pay attention, and to respond?
• To see the people held in the chains of poverty and to free them.
• To hear the cries of those who work but don’t still can’t get by and to seek justice.
• To liberate those working in unsafe or abusive environments.
• To increase the minimum wage so a job will lift workers out of poverty, not keep them there.
• To ensure that everyone can freely choose whether to join a union without being fired or suffering retaliation.
• To lobby for better enforcement of our labor laws so that workers will receive all the pay they earn.
• To stand with those who work hard all week but still don’t have sufficient income to pay for food, and rent, and medicines, and gas.
These are not good times for American workers. One-quarter of all jobs pay poverty-level wages, a wage so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. One in every 10 people who want to work either cannot find a job or can only find part-time work when they want full time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). One out of every eight people (and one in every six children) lives below the official poverty line, a higher share of the population than in any other industrialized country, and more than double the levels in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland (Economic Policy Institute and U.S. Bureau of the Census). Wage theft – failing to pay wages in accordance with U.S. labor law – is epidemic. In violation of U.S. law, workers are not paid for all the hours they work, do not receive overtime pay when it is due, or are paid less than the minimum wage (see Wage Theft). There is much that should cause us to pause, to turn aside.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century prophet, had a successful and busy career as a theologian until he was interrupted by God and turned aside from this path. He was executed in 1945 after attempting to assassinate Hitler and end the Second World War. In Life Together (written in 1938) he wrote:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks…When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross… God’s way must be done. ... [D]o not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God (p. 99).
This Labor Sunday, may God open our eyes, unstop our ears, and slow our pace. May we really see the custodians who clean the floors of our office buildings. May we hear the cries of the hog and poultry processors who slaughter and cut up our meat. May we walk the picket line with those seeking more just working conditions. May our schedules for the day be disturbed by the workers who do not receive their fair share of the resources God provides to be used by all of us. May we live our lives ready to be interrupted by God, ready to say “here I am” when God’s calls our name and asks us to be part of God’s action for liberation.