I took a vacation last summer, and of course I visited a church. It was a mainline church, which meant (among other things) that the Scripture readings for each Sunday were prescribed.In the best of circumstances, set readings motivate preachers to dig into a Bible passage not of their own choosing and to listen there for the voice of God. In the worst of circumstances, preachers discover some phrase in the text that reminds them of something else they'd rather talk about—a joke, a favorite scene from a movie, some therapeutic insight from a self-help book, or some political agenda.The first Sunday I visited that church was among the worst of circumstances. It was the Sunday of the church year devoted to celebrating the Trinity. The Old Testament reading from Exodus 3 told the story of Moses at the burning bush. There God reveals to Moses how he plans to fulfill the pledge he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by using Moses to liberate their descendants from slavery. God not only renews his pledge in this story, he reveals his ineffable name. This is a pivot point in the Bible, a hinge on which the door of sacred history swings.But the preacher existentialized and trivialized it. He talked not about the doors of history but of life's stages. Moses was afraid to walk through the door set before him, the preacher said, but he walked through it anyway. We too face doors that we must walk through. End of message. No God. No divine plan revealed. No theophany. Just stages in the life cycle. The bulletin promised a different preacher for the next Sunday, so I came back.The next Sunday's Old Testament lesson recounted the voice of God speaking out of the whirlwind to Job. In Job 38, God asks Job if he knows who "shut in the sea ...

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October 23, 2000

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