First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
September 3, 2023
Exodus 3:1-15 / Romans 12:9-21
In 1990, Bette Midler released an album entitled Some People’s Lives – the 7th track on the album was a cover of Julie Gold’s song “From a Distance.”
Midler released the song amid global conflicts like the Rwandan Civil War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the ecological disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic – into the cacophony of the world’s fears, Midler’s “From a Distance” reminded listeners that God was not distant from the creation – rather, God was invested in the creation.
The songs refrain spoke into this litany of the world’s catastrophic events:
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
From a distance.
Listeners were encouraged by the notion that God sees – even if from afar.
One might recognize this “watching-from-a-distance” God from this morning’s Exodus text.
Today’s reading from Exodus 3 – often referred to as Moses’ call story – signals a turning point in Moses’ life.
While Exodus 3 is important, its value becomes significant when we recall its context:
Zooming out, we remember:
Now, in Exodus 3, adult Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep and has a theophany (theos = God / phaneia = manifestation…to show) – a theophany then is a manifestation of the deity.
Alone in a field, Moses sits, probably pondering the world and life in general … then, he is visited by God.
According to the writer(s) of Exodus 3:7-10, the Lord explains to Moses that as a result of observing the misery of the Israelites, this god will deliver them from the Egyptians and relocate them to a better place.
As the story goes, Moses miraculously leads the Israelites out of Egypt– they enter the promised land – eventually establishing themselves as a vibrant monarchy.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … (Exodus 3:7-8).
The Hebrew found in Exodus 3:7 is a verb form which signifies intensity, emphasis, or certainty of verbal action.
The phrase may be translated as my really seeing or my observing.
A few other biblical translations, get at this when they translate the phrase:
I have indeed seen (New International Version)
I have marked well (Jewish Publication Society)
I’ve clearly seen (Common English Bible)
From this we surmise, God is not caught off guard or startled by the Israelites condition living under pharaoh’s oppression.
Rather, God has been paying attention.
Even if God’s engagement has been beyond the Israelites perception … God has been watching.
How might our interaction with the world around us change, if we, like Moses, began to live in ways which saw God as close enough to observe and act – yet somehow far enough to remain out of reach – and who is calling us to join in the justice work toward healing and wholeness?
If we knew God was observing, how might that change the way we interact locally, nationally and internationally?
Would we use our resources differently if we believed God was watching us?
Would we use our time differently?
Would we use our words differently?
Would our prayers change if we believed that God was watching us from a distance – yet still able to hear our cries and act on our behalf?
How would we tend to see our response to God’s call if we believed that God were asking us to join in the journey toward justice, healing, and wholeness?
This is our theological task – as together and individually we study about God in order to live into who it is God knows we can become.
According to a classical definition, theology is fides [phi-dace] quaerens [qwair-ens] intellectum [intellect-um] “faith seeking understanding” (Anselm).
It is faith venturing to inquire, daring to raise questions.
It is a willingness to engage in conversation with the divine as we seek to understand who and where God is calling us to be the hands and feet of loving actions at work in the communities we find ourselves (whether they are local, national and international).
Faith is never to become a sedative for glossing over what is happening around us, nor is it a grab-bag of cliché responses to the complex nature of life’s deep questions.
Instead, faith prompts us to ask questions; activates inquiry; resists the urge to accept things as they are, and calls us to seek together, with each other and God, what our faithful response as God’s people might look like.
It is about finding the connection between our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy.
Between what we believe and how we practice our beliefs in tangible ways.
How do we proclaim what we believe by living what we believe?
Perhaps, this is where Paul’s words to the Romans offer some guidance.
In this morning’s verses from Romans 9, Paul is shifting the community’s focus. Up to this point in Paul’s argument, love is something that only God or Christ has performed (Romans 5:5, 8; 8:35, 39).
Paul is now shifting toward the redeemed vision of humanity – the ways in which Jesus’ followers will live in response to God’s grace.
Genuine (unpretentious) love is to become the standard by which the community enacts their reasonable worship and renewed thinking as they discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect response to God’s call upon their lives (Roans 12:1-2).
Paul is offering theological scaffolding for the community as they live out the result of their theological work in real time. Their fides [phi-dace] quaerens [qwair-ens] intellectum [intellect-um] “faith seeking understanding” – a faith which is evidenced in practicing genuine love…hating what is evil…holding fast to what is good…loving one another with mutual affection…outdoing one another in showing honor…being enthusiastic in spirit and serving the Lord…”
They are beginning to understand the reality of faith – together we care for each other while extending that same care and hospitality to the people around us – the church is never to become an exclusive club … the church is to be a welcoming community.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin captures this poetically when he writes, “…God awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which God is at the tip of my pen [and] my brush – of my very heart and of my thought.”
To live then as the hands and feet of God at work in this world, is to recognize that “…we encounter the risen Christ” as de Chardin puts it, “when we write [and] when we paint.”
It is to understand that wherever we are – whatever we are doing – we are called to be the hands and feet of God at work in the world as we bear witness to the love of Christ at work in this world.
The communion table is a tangible reminder of God’s grace at work in our lives and our grateful response which prompts us to take this same attitude into the places beyond this worship time.
To paraphrase Roman Catholic theologian, William Cavanaugh, “[We are] the wafer [at work] in the world.”
As Christ’s body we gather around Christ’s body to remember God’s first incarnate love Christ’s body so that we are enabled to become God’s ever-inviting incarnate love at work in this world.
In the From a Distance music video, there is a point where Bette Midler sings, “God is watching us from a distance,” looks upward toward the skies, smiles and waves.
It is as if she recognizes God in the distance.
Then she sings,
From a distance, there is harmony.
And it echoes through the land.
And it’s the hope of hopes.
It’s the love of loves.
It’s the heart of every [hu]man.
On this weekend when we pause to remember the contributions of workers, we recall the church’s work is to be a people who bear witness to God’s love at work in this world – wherever we may be.
This is the church’s call – to be a people who engage in faithful conversations to discern where and how God is leading us to be the hands and feet at work in this world by sharing and showing Christ-like love.
A parent was reading the Sunday paper as their young child kept tugging at their sleeve to come down on the floor and play with them. This parent kept indicating one more minute – one more minute – let me finish the paper. The child was persistent. The parent, having an idea to buy more time to read, took one page and tore it into many pieces and handed it to the child saying, “put this page back together and when your done, then I’ll play with you.”
Well, within five minutes, the child was tugging at their sleeve saying, “I’m done. Let’s play.”
With skepticism, then astonishment, this parent looked to the floor and couldn’t believe it – the paper was back together in perfect alignment.
“How did you do that so fast?” this parent quipped.
“Oh, it was easy,” the child said, “on the back of the page was a picture of the world and when I put the world back together the rest fell into place.”
Let love be genuine.
Love one another with mutual affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.
And, the world will fall into place.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore. Alleluia and Amen.
W-5.0105 Christian Vocation
We respond to God’s grace through our Christian vocation. In Baptism we offer our whole lives in service to God, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts for ministry in Jesus’ name. Therefore we are called to honor and serve God at all times and in all places: in our work and play, in our thought and action, and in our private and public engagements. Such service and love is an act of gratitude for God’s grace.
This has been a particularly important theme of the Reformed tradition: the life and work of every Christian can and should give glory to God. As we honor and serve God in our daily life and labor, we worship God. Whatever our situation, we have opportunities each day to bear witness to the power of God at work within us. Therefore, for Christians, worship, work, and witness cannot be separated.
 The exposition of Exodus 3 is taken from Kimberly D. Russaw’s commentary on Exodus 3:1-15 found at workingpreacher.com the September 3, 2023 publication. Russaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
 See Dan Migliore’s book “Faith Seeking Understanding,” page 2 for this discussion of Anselm’s fides quaerrens intellectum, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1991.
 Taken from David H. Jensen’s book Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1991, p. 74.
 Taken from Kimberly D. Russaw’s commentary on Exodus 3:1-15 found at workingpreacher.com the September 3, 2023 publication. Russaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.