January 12, 2014 Finders Seekers Exodus 3:1-6
We were at a pastors meeting earlier this week, and for part of the time, we were talking about the passage that we’re looking at this morning, this story about Moses and the burning bush.
It’s a story that’s always been hard for me to get. There’s not a lot of action to it, and it’s so far outside of my experience, that it makes it hard to put myself in the story.
I’ve never seen a bush burning- period.
Not to mention a bush that burns without being consumed.
Nevertheless, the burning bush is a story that’s important to many Christians, including many pastors, because it’s a story of call.
And for many of us, the subject of ‘call’ is very close to our hearts, right?
We want to know what God might be saying to us.
We want to distinguish between the things we want to do, and the things that God wants us to do.
We want to hear the voice of God clearly, because we somehow think that if we know it’s God’s voice, it will be easier to obey, am I right?
Have you ever wished for a burning bush of your own? A point on your journey where God spoke so clearly, where something happened that was so obviously God, that you had no doubts as to what you were meant to do?
I think that’s a common longing. Most of us, at some point in our lives, we wish we had a burning bush to guide us. We want a sign.
Well, at this meeting, eventually the group started talking about what might have happened if Moses had missed the sign.
What if he hadn’t turned aside to study the bush that burned but was not consumed?
Would he have missed his sign? Would he have missed his ‘call’?
Would the Hebrew people have remained in slavery?
Would he have been content watching sheep for the rest of his days?
None of this is productive conversation, because the truth is, he did turn aside. He did take note of the awesome thing that was happening along his path. He did hear the voice of God speaking through the bush, and he did remove his sandals when he realized that he was standing on Sacred ground.
So we’ll never know how things would have played out otherwise.
But here’s the thing.
As we were talking last Tuesday, I had to wonder, what if we’re looking at this story all wrong?
What if what’s so special isn’t that this one particular bush was burning and Moses found it?
What if rather, we started to see the whole world as burning with the glory of God?
What if every bush is aflame with glory? What if this is just the one that finally caught Moses’ attention?
What difference might it make, if we started seeing every bush aflame with the unmasked glory of God, and all ground as sacred?
Let’s back up a couple of chapters to get our bearings.
Exodus is a book that begins with the Hebrew people in slavery.
They were slaves in the land of Egypt.
And an interesting thing about the word “Hebrew”, I might have shared this with you before, but it’s likely derived from an even more ancient semitic word “Hap’iru” which is used to refer not to any particular tribe or people, but more of a social class. The Hap’iru were something like nomads, wanderers, people without a home. The Hap’iru were kind of the misfits, the loners…the ones with no resources, no ability to take care of themselves, they were the ones who were left to scrape by as best they could on the margins of civilized life.
These were the people who had fallen through the gaps in ancient times.
This is why you read so often in the Old Testament about God calling them from the ends of the earth, gathering them together, forming them into a people…it’s because they literally were not a people, they were literally scattered, they literally did not have a home or a nation or even an identity together.
(It’s interesting, isn’t it? that these are the people God chooses to be “His Own”?)
Anyways, these Hebrew people were the slaves in Egypt.
But what had happened was, that the Hebrew people, this slave population of homeless nomads, they kept having babies.
And the harder Egypt worked them, the more babies they had.
So after awhile, it got to the point where the Pharaoh himself feared his slave population, because they were just so numerous.
He feared that they could revolt, or that in a time of war, they would join with Egypt’s enemies.
So he issues a command to the Hebrew midwives to kill the boys.
They wouldn’t listen so he issues another, more general command to kill the Hebrew boys.
It was a dangerous time to be born.
All the Hebrew boys are supposed to be thrown into the river.
So that’s basically what happened to Moses.
His mother hides him for awhile, but when hiding him becomes too difficult, she puts him in a basket and gently places him in the Nile, where Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and decides to raise him as her own.
So the story of Moses is a story of adoption. He’s born into a dangerous situation, and his birth mother courageously finds a way to protect his life in making one of the most heart-wrenching decisions she could make.
Anyways, after some time, after Moses has grown and becomes responsible for his own actions, he goes out and sees an Egyptian guy beating a Hebrew.
He must have known his story, he must have known where he came from, because he becomes enraged, looks around to make sure nobody can see him, and he kills the Egyptian guy and hides the body in the sand.
His actions are discovered, he flees to Midian because he’s afraid, he saves the day for a woman trying to water her flock, marries into her family, and you get the sense that his life kind of comes to a rest.
Moses, the troublemaker, the rabble-rouser, the nomad without a home…he does what any mother wants for her son.
He gets married, settles down, and starts a family.
You get the sense that things are going pretty well for him.
And then we read the last words of chapter 2.
“God took notice”. (those are forboding words, aren’t they?)
Let me just say, if life seems to be going well with you, if things seem to be working out for you, and if someone is writing the story of your life and they pen the words “God took notice”…then look out, because something big, unexpected, and maybe even unwelcome is about to happen!
That’s where we enter the passage we’re looking at this morning. “God took notice” not just of Moses, but of all the cries of the Hebrew people.
I wanted to go over the backstory this morning , because I wanted to point out that the story of the burning bush is a story about a guy with a history.
He starts his life from a point of loss. His birth parents make one of the most difficult choices that any birth parent can make as they place their son, tenderly hoping he finds a good home, since it becomes too dangerous for him to stay with them.
And as he matures, as he grows up, he’s conflicted, because he’s part of two worlds.
He has a love for two nations that wells up in his heart, and like anyone would, he reacts when those worlds collide, and he enforces his own keen sense of judgment.
From that point on, he lives in reaction to what he did as a hot-headed young man.
He flees the area. He moves to Midian.
He finds a nice girl, they get married, they settle down, start a family, he goes into her family business…does that sound familiar to anyone this morning?
He’s really trying to start over, isn’t he?
He’s trying to put his past behind him, he’s trying to fit in, and he’s doing a pretty good job.
And then God took notice!
And one day, Moses took the flock, and he went out.
He goes out and leads the flock “beyond the wilderness” it says.
It’s not “into” the wilderness.
It’s not “around” the wilderness.
Not even “through” the wilderness.
Each one of those words means something just a little bit different than ‘beyond’, doesn’t it?
Moses takes the flock ‘beyond’ the wilderness.
And that’s where he comes to the mountain of God.
And it was there, at that mountain beyond the wilderness, where the angel of God meets Moses in the burning bush.
If you read the passage carefully, you’ll see that the text makes a point of telling us that the LORD saw that Moses had turned aside to study the burning bush.
It’s almost like God expected him not to.
It’s almost like God is almost used to watching his people walking straight by the most incredible sights they’d ever seen without even noticing.
So, God speaks from the bush, sanctifying the ground where Moses stood.
But what if that’s not really so special?
What if all ground is sacred?
What if it just takes a little turning aside, a little listening to understand that all the paths we walk are sacred ground?
I have to think that Moses, tending the flock beyond the wilderness, he must have had some demons to face, you know what I mean?
When you risk going ‘beyond the wilderness’, the one thing you have in abundance is time.
You have time to think. Time to remember. Time to plan.
And if you put yourself in Moses’ shoes…the guy had more than enough to think about even here in just chapter 3.
Sure, his life had calmed down, he had a job, a wife, a child…he had what everybody strives for, but he also had a history he was running from. God calls him to face it.
See, if you’re on the run from your past, no matter how ‘put together’ your life might otherwise seem, God isn’t going to tell you to keep running. He’s going to call you back to face it in some way, shape, or form.
But before you even get to that point, you have to turn aside.
You have to take the time to notice the burning bushes.
I’m convinced that we often find exactly what we’re looking for.
What I mean is, if you’re looking for evidence that life is hard, that God has abandoned us, that we’re really on our own and there is no justice to be found…guess what? That’s exactly what you’ll find.
If you’re looking for evidence that you come out on the short end of every stick…you’ll find evidence that you come out on the short end of every stick.
On the other hand, if you look for evidence that God’s love permeates every situation before you even get there, you’ll find that just as easily.
Moses was at a place, beyond the wilderness, where I’m guessing he really needed to hear God speak in a tangible way. I’m guessing part of the reason he turned aside to see this burning bush was that he desperately needed to see a burning bush.
He desperately needed to walk on sacred ground.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
God is flame, and our world is alive with it. But sometimes we need to go beyond the wilderness to see it. And that’s a journey we’re not often willing to take.
We prefer to stay in the land we call home, with our family, with our jobs, with the security we’ve found in running from the past.
But what if all ground is Holy?
What if all the bushes are burning?
What difference might it make if we started with the assumption about anyone; everyone; if we started with the assumption that every place of meeting was a place where God might speak?
It’s not really a rhetorical question, because I can tell you what would happen.
It’s not really a mystery.
We would be more content. We would hear God speak more often, more clearly.
We would begin to take a few chances that we wouldn’t otherwise take.
Life would come at us more abundantly, and the world would begin to change.