Continuing with my current series, “Grab & Go”, I’m thinking a lot today about the power and promise of hope. Today was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. Yes – a big deal in our house. Five years ago, her birth family in Ethiopia named her “Netsanet” because it carries a great significance among this special people group. In Amharic, Netsanet literally means “freedom”…and for her birth family, the name carries with it the weight of endless possibilities, including the opportunity for a real education. In a word, “Netsanet” means hope.
As Netsanet and I stood in line outside the elementary school this morning, waiting for her name to be called and to receive her welcome instructions before entering the building, I caught a glimpse of the American Flag – Old Glory herself – waving valiantly and appearing aflame in the reflection of the school’s front door windows. It was as if God was reminding me of the great freedom we experience in this country – the very freedom that permits my daughter to give movement to her dreams. The power and promise of hope swelled in me and became so palpable that I could taste it. The hope that was infused into my little girl since birth was being materialized right before my very eyes.
In the classic teenage movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein plays the straight-faced monotone economics teacher who calls the roll each day at the start of class – “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…Bueller” – completely undeterred until someone finally answers and tells him: “Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”
We laugh at such ridiculous stories, but there is indeed something significant about the calling out of your personal name in the open air. When we hear someone announce our personal name – we turn instinctively to see who it is who knows us well enough to say our name aloud.
In what Frederick Buechner calls one of the greatest moments in Old Testament history, Moses, a stranger in a strange land, hears his name called – not once, but twice.
As the story goes, a bush in the wilderness of Mt. Horeb bursts into flame, and within the mysterious fire, Moses’ name is called out by God Himself. “Moses, Moses!”
Moses, “the stranger and exile, stood there with the muck of the sheep on his shoes, guilty as hell of a man’s murder and listened and answered” (74).
“Here I am,” Moses said.
Then God instructs him, “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Buechner comments: “that scrubby patch of upland wilderness that the sheep had mucked up, that patch of no-man’s-land that Moses had fled to for no motive holier than to save his own skin, was holy, the voice said, because it was as aflame with God as the bush was aflame with fire” (74).
If the ground that Moses stood on was holy, then the little patches of ground where churches stand are holy too. The whole earth is holy because God makes himself known on it, which means that in that sense a church is no holier than any other place. God is not more in a church than he is anywhere else. But what makes a church holy in a special way is that we ourselves are more present in it. What I mean is that if we come to a church right, we come to it more fully and nakedly ourselves, come with more of our humanness showing, than we are apt to come to most places. We come like Moses with muck on our shoes – footsore and travel-stained with the dust of our lives upon us, our failures, our deceits, our hypocrisies (75).
And just as Moses received clear instructions from God, many of us who order our lives by faith, have responded to the same voice of instruction – “GO! BE! LIVE! LOVE!”
Yet, Buechner asks:
Is it madness to believe such a thing? That is a serious question. Is it madness to believe in God at all, let alone in a God who speaks to us through such obscure and fleeting moments as these and then asks us to believe that these moments are windows into the truest meaning of mystery of the cosmos itself? It is a kind of madness indeed (76).
Maybe Buechner is right. Maybe a life of faith is a bit crazy, but then again…
All communities of faith are erected on the belief that however you choose to explain Moses’ story of his burning bush experience, it is somehow true. Something extraordinary took place then and the countless church communities throughout time bear witness to this ancient proposition. And if we are attentive enough, we may even still experience the reverberations of that awesome event.
When it came time to walk my daughter into the lobby of her school, there was a real sense of holiness to the moment – the hallowed grounds where her first steps of kindergarten were taking place. We held hands just for a few moments until the teachers of her group called out again, “Netsa, are you ready?”
“Yes I am,” my brave one responded as she let go of my hand.
Watching attentively as the group of “kinders” walked down the long hallway to continue their new journey together, I felt the power and promise of hope swell in me again. Surely this was the same hope that birthed the very etymology of Netsa’s name. Perhaps this was the same hope, full of power and promise, that gave Moses the confidence and strength he needed to continue his journey as well.
I think it is hope that lies at our hearts and hope that finally brings us all here. Hope that in spite of all the devastating evidence to the contrary, the ground we stand on is holy ground because Christ walked here and walks here still. Hope that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives he will call us by our name to the lives he would have us live and the selves he would have us become. Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment of each of us and of our world he will come at last to heal and to save (81).
Grab & Go This: May God break through our stone hearts in whatever miraculous way necessary and call out our name. And may we heed His instructions to be the person He created us to be: To Go – To Be – To Live – To Love.