Exodus 3:1-5 (CEB)
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The LORD’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, ‘Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.’
When the LORD saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”
Then the LORD said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”
March 11, 2018
Fourth Weekend in Lent
“Being Present to Our Lives”
Over the last few weeks, the Scriptures we have used around our Lenten theme of, “Nurturing the Spiritual Roots of our Faith,” have guided us in feeding our spiritual roots in an effort to deepen our own faith and show and share God’s love with others.
We stay in the Old Testament scriptures and visit the book of Exodus today. This book begins with stories of the oppression of the Israelite people. A new pharaoh ruling Egypt is upset that the Hebrew people are multiplying and becoming more powerful than the Egyptians. So, the Pharaoh cooks up a plan for the Egyptian midwives to kill any baby boys born to Hebrew women. When that does not work, Pharaoh commands all his people to throw any baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River.
The Scriptures then tell about the birth of Moses and how his mother hid him from the Egyptians and then carefully placed him in a basket and sent the basket down the Nile River. Baby Moses is rescued and adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh.
Moses is then raised as an Egyptian in the house of the Pharaoh. As a young adult, Moses witnesses an incident in which an Egyptian man is beating a helpless Hebrew slave. Seeing injustice taking place, Moses kills the Egyptian and has to flee Egypt out of fear for his own life. Moses is now a murderer on the run from the world’s greatest superpower…the Pharaoh.
Moses settles in the land of Midian, has a family, and a livelihood tending sheep for his father-in-law.
Our story today has Moses tending the sheep in the desolate and barren land around Mt. Horeb (not Wisconsin!) when he sees a bush out in the middle of nowhere that is burning but not being consumed. When he goes to investigate, from the burning bush he will hear the voice of God and receive his commission to return to Egypt and lead the Hebrew people out of slavery to the promised land.
(Read Exodus 3:1-5)
In our story from Exodus, Moses, like many of us, is busy with his work and life. And yet he takes the time to watch a bush burn long enough to determine that it is burning and yet not burning up. He is not so busy that he is unwilling to stop and look at something that will eventually change his life.
As I worked with this story from Exodus this week, I wondered whether I would take the time to stop and investigate if I saw something as unusual as a burning bush?
So, I figure this week’s OT story is for me, and perhaps for you too, because we know what it is like to be burdened with busyness. It is probably safe to say we all need to learn from this man named Moses, who turned aside from what he was doing and encountered the living God.
We live in a day when more than ever we need to stop, look, and experience the Holy…we need to have those places where we are compelled to take off our shoes because we are standing on holy ground.
The site of the burning bush experience is set beneath Mt. Horeb, the mountain where Moses is said to have also received the Ten Commandments. Mt. Horeb is also referred to as Mt. Siani and St. Catherine Monastery is there and has been one of the world’s great centers of religious pilgrimage for over 15 centuries.
St. Catherine Monastery is one of the defining features of the Holy land and people travel from all over the world to visit the monastery and see the site where Moses is said to have had his encounter with God through the burning bush.
The monastery’s spiritual center is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, which according to the oldest traditions, sits on top of the roots of the bush that Moses saw burn with fire but was not consumed. A few feet away from the chapel is the bush itself. This type of bush is a species native to the area and extremely long-living. Today it is very large in size and is cared for by monks and nuns that are residence of St. Catherine Monastery.
When I was at this Monastery on a visit to the Holy Land several years ago, it all seemed pretty “touristy” to me and I wasn’t really “moved” by the site of the bush. Some people were literally falling to the ground in worship-like fashion upon seeing the bush.
The site, however; did cause me to wonder and to think…could this have been the place and what must that have been like?
A bush bursts into flame, but is not consumed. Then in the flame, there is a voice. How would you have responded to such a sight? If you saw a bush burning and not being consumed, you’d stop and look, wouldn’t you? No matter how busy we were, we’d stop and look, right? At least I think we would.
But I also know that if I’m honest with myself, and you probably know this too…if we’re honest with ourselves, we have a great capacity to keep going…to pass on by, even something as unusual as a burning bush.
It’s disbelief…it’s busy schedules, commitments, places to be, things to do, no time to stop, we’ll come back later…we have all kinds of excuses and all kinds of things that affect us from turning to look…from stopping and realizing we are on holy ground.
But Moses takes time to look. Whatever else Moses was supposed to be doing or wherever else he was supposed to be going, he decided it could wait. He left the sheep to take a closer look. And when he did, God noticed and God called to him. When God sees that we have stopped long enough to look, God calls to us too.
Could it be that if we stop and look more often God would speak to us more often?
But then, what if we stop and look, and we don’t hear God call to us…what if we aren’t really “moved” and we don’t feel anything holy? What if we don’t know if it’s God or just our own imagination?
But perhaps that’s not the point. Maybe the point is just the intentional stopping and looking…maybe the point is being present enough to our own lives that we stop to take off our shoes and say this is holy, whether it really moves us or not.
So when do we pay attention to the Holy or name something as Holy? When do you stop and notice God’s presence or think about God in such a way that it gives your heart joy?
Church worship may seem like the logical and natural place to have a burning bush experience or name something as Holy, or encounter God or simply think about God.
And perhaps you have had that experience in worship; perhaps even in this worship service today with the music and the sharing in baptisms; perhaps you have seen and felt the presence of God.
But even in worship, we still need to take time and pay attention to see the Holy and come into God’s presence.
Pastor Fred Craddock tells the story of being the guest preacher at a church one Sunday morning and after the service the pastor and he were going to go to lunch. As they were leaving the sanctuary, the pastor was picking up bulletins that had been left behind in the pews.
He picked up a couple of bulletins with handwriting in the margin spaces.
The pastor thought perhaps someone was taking notes on the sermon, but on closer look, one bulletin was a grocery list left behind and the other hand writing that said, “Shall we close the deal today?” And a different handwriting said, “But it’s Sunday.” And in the first handwriting underneath that it said, “But if we don’t close it today, we may lose it.”
Fred Craddock said it reminded him that not everyone focuses their attention on the moment, or on God, even in worship. He said, “You think you’re up there proclaiming the Word of God and opening the people to God’s presence and somebody in the pews is planning their meals for the week or working a deal.”
The burning bush required Moses to take time-out and be present to the moment and to his life. Moses could have kept on moving his sheep and just thought, “Oh, what a pretty bush.” He could have said, “Oh, the next time I’m here, I’ll have to see if this bush is still burning.”
But instead, Moses took the time to stop; he decided to wait a minute, leave the sheep and take a closer look. And when he did, we are told in the story, God noticed and God called Moses by name, told him to take off his sandals and then spoke to him in the holiness of the moment.
I have never literally seen a burning bush and my guess is most of us have not been presented with a burning bush. But what are those things or those moments that we pass by that just might present the holiness of God’s presence and offer us a glimpse into what it is we are to be doing in this life of ours?
As we make decisions in life…as we try to hear God’s call upon our lives and follow that call, what most of us wouldn’t give for a burning bush to call us by name and tell us what to do.
But, to see takes time and takes intention. So, the bigger question is, would we even see that bush burning?
Are we so busy and so focused on our to-do list that we wouldn’t even turn aside if the bush was burning? And if we did turn aside and notice the burning bush would we be like Moses; afraid of what it might ask of us or what it might ask us to do?
My guess is that intentionally or unintentionally, we pass by burning bushes all the time. And perhaps the real reason we don’t take the time to stop and notice the burning bush is because we are afraid…afraid that it might be God calling to us and it’s always scary to think of what God might say or ask of us.
So the next time we sense something might be a burning bush, even if it’s the smallest or most insignificant something; take a moment to stop and investigate and listen and take off your shoes and look for God’s presence and listen for God’s call, knowing that God says, “I will be with you,” which means that everywhere we are, God is there; and wherever we are standing it is holy ground.
As we continue to nurture the spiritual roots of our faith and as we move closer to the cross in this Lenten season, may God grant us the ability and the courage to stop, to look, to listen, and to be present in this wonderful life that is ours and may we respond with all that we are.
Thanks be to God.