Sermons

Irresistible Force, Immovable Objects

16th Sunday after Pentecost    August 31, 2008    Exodus 3:1-15

Thursday I never got to the office, because Thursday, an irresistible force met an immovable object, and chaos ensued.

It was early, and I was not quite awake, but I could hear the quiet sounds of dog breakfast being readied and I got out of bed, because I always turn up in time to help give Molly her pills. I went into our bathroom and decided to rinse out a piece of hand-washable laundry in the tub, then went back to the bedroom. Suddenly I heard my husband come tearing up the stairs from the kitchen, and we met in the hall.

Although the water had been turned off, it had escaped the drain and was now pouring through the kitchen ceiling! An irresistible force, indeed, and one that left me playing the part of the immovable object, waiting all day for the plumber to arrive.

Wikipedia, the online Encyclopedia, tells us:

The Irresistible force paradox, also the unstoppable force paradox, is a classic paradox formulated as follows:

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?
Common responses to this paradox resort to logic and semantics.
•    Logic: if such a thing as an irresistible force exists, then no object is immovable, and vice versa. It is logically impossible to have these two entities (a force that cannot be resisted and an object that cannot be moved by any force) in the same universe.

In other words, if the water kept pouring long enough, it would move the ceiling, by breaking down its components, by disintegrating it, even destroying it.

So this is one of those concepts that sounds great at first but really makes no sense.

•    Semantics: if there is such a thing as an irresistible force, then the phrase immovable object is meaningless in that context, and vice versa, and the issue amounts to the same thing as, for example, asking for a triangle that has four sides.

That may all be true, but I’m not so willing to let go of the idea of the irresistible force, and I can definitely identify with the immovable object, having been that sort of thing myself on more than one occasion, too stubborn to let go of a preconceived notion or too afraid to take a risk.

The key to this logic puzzle, this exercise in semantics, is partly will and partly faith.

Faith is, of course, a paradox itself, a belief in things we cannot see, a belief born of stories like the burning bush, of people like Moses who had a special visitation policy with God.

Do you remember the Saturday after 9/11? Pure Luck and I had been invited to the wedding of one of his college friends. In Maine that day the weather was gorgeous. We were on the water not far from Blue Hill. It was a week in which my understanding of God seemed inadequate. It was a week when I rather wished for God to be more like the Greek god Zeus, to come down off the mountain raining thunderbolts at all the bad people in the world. If God was anywhere and could do anything, why wasn’t God there grabbing those planes out of the air and stopping the destruction? It felt wrong to be safely in the midst of such beauty when a few hours south of us rescue workers were sifting through sodden ash hoping to find someone still alive.

After the wedding ceremony we walked along the shore of Eggemoggin Reach. I was looking west, feeling flat and hopeless, when I heard a voice. Could it really be a voice? What was it saying? It was a reassuring voice, saying "Come here. Come here."

Now you have to understand that Pure Luck doesn't much believe in mystical moments. But for some reason that day he paid attention to mine and on the way he took me to the place I had seen to the west, to look back across at where we had been, the view a sweep of ocean and island and faraway beaches. I guess you could say Mount Battie is my burning bush, a reminder whenever I see it of the day I stood on Holy Ground.

What happens on Holy Ground?

On Holy Ground, there is a sign of God’s presence. For Moses it was the burning bush; for me it was the voice I heard calling.

On Holy Ground, we discover that God knows us and understands the troubles of humanity. God talked to Moses for quite a while; God knew what a hard time the Hebrew people were having in Egypt, and God cared very much.

And on Holy Ground, we find out God wants us to address the troubles.

When you’ve been on Holy Ground, it’s hard not to have faith, but that doesn’t mean you will be moved to action. Remember, it’s a paradox, and it is *partly* faith.

It is also partly will.

This week both my sons leave home, one for his senior year in high school and the other for his first year of the rest of his life. My boys are both movable objects, and their growing up is an irresistible force, and suddenly I am the immovable object, and their imminent departure moves over and through me like waves against a rock.

Last week’s lectionary told the story of the birth of Moses and his adoption into the Egyptian Royal Family. This week we leap ahead, but let’s take a moment to recall the chapters in his life that came in between. Moses grew up knowing of his Hebrew heritage. When he was a young man, he noticed an Egyptian guard mistreating a Hebrew slave. Seeing no one watching, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. But when he later tried to stop a fight between two other slaves, they asked if he was going to kill them, too! This is how Moses learned that his secret really wasn’t one, and in fear of Pharaoh, he fled.

On his travels, Moses defended the seven daughters of the priest of Midian, helping to water their flocks when other shepherds tried to drive them away from a well. They told their father about his help; gratefully, he made Moses part of the family, marrying him to one of the daughters, Zipporah.
Moses doesn’t particularly want to leave his new life working for his father-in-law, Jethro. Of all the turns his life has taken—being left in the bulrushes by his mother, then raised in the Egyptian court as a prince and finally, after learning of his Jewish heritage, murdering a guard and fleeing—probably the last thing he expected was to go back to Egypt, for any reason. He’s a wanted man, unfamiliar with his biological family and alienated from his adoptive family. Why would he want to take such a risk?

Marc_chagall-moses_and_the_burning_bush
Even after Moses believed, even after he saw proof of God such as you and I are unlikely ever to see, Moses still resisted moving in the direction God commanded. He will have plenty of excuses for God, but God, I AM WHO I AM, doesn’t give up on him. God makes the case, convinces Moses, first with exclamations and in chapter 4 with the power to do magic, to turn his staff into a snake and other “moves” that will impress Pharaoh and his advisers.

Finally, Moses goes. Finally Moses moves, an act of will inspired by faith.

The truly immovable things aren’t made by people. The truly permanent and immutable things come from God, from the nature God created both for us and in us. God made us with a will to choose, freely, whether to be moved or not. So perhaps it is not a paradox, after all, a word game or a logic puzzle.

Perhaps it’s a relationship instead.

Moses, in the face of God talking to him from a bush that burned without being burned up, stood without his sandals on holy ground, and yet he managed to ask a question. “Who shall I tell them sent me?” he asked.

I AM WHO I AM!!

I AM WHO I AM.

Have you been to the mountain? What did you see there? What did you hear?

Where is Holy Ground?

Holy Ground is any place we know the Irresistible Force.

You'll know you've found it when something tells you to take off your sandals, to pause and listen, to wait and watch—then you will know you are on Holy Ground.

But you can’t stay there, no matter how much you might like to hold onto that moment. No, you can’t stay there. Sooner or later, and usually sooner, you have to strap on your sandals, gather the flock or go back to the reception, wondering what just happened to you.

And sooner or later, often later, you realize you met the Irresistible Force, I AM WHO I AM. Whether or not you make the next move is up to you. Amen.

(Marc Chagall, "Moses and the Burning Bush")

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