The burning bush – would I have noticed?
Sermon for Adel Parish Church, August 30th 2020
Exodus 3: 1 – 15
I am notoriously unobservant.
After a couple of months as curate in Whitkirk, talk turned to the possibility of using the grand piano instead of the organ to accompany a service I was planning.
“Where is the piano?” I asked – only to find I’d processed past it at the start of every service…a grand piano…
So, rereading that familiar story of Moses – I had to wonder…would I have noticed the burning bush?
I began to look at this story differently some years ago – when during a discussion of the passage someone said, ‘I wonder if the bush had been burning for years…but no one noticed…’
With that thought, the story changes. No longer God more or less forcing his call on Moses, at that particular time; could it be that God called – and waited for someone ready to receive the call? Or maybe it was always Moses God was calling…for years before he was ready to notice, to respond.
I suppose a burning bush should be even more difficult to miss than a grand piano. But it got me thinking about where we tend to look for encounters with God, and how we perhaps ignore things that threaten to take us out of our comfort zone.
We could hear this story as an encouragement to be ready to receive God’s call. And we might try to do this by spending more time in prayer, in meditation, in church. I know from experience that all of these bring me closer to God…and when I’m closer to God I’m probably more ready to hear his call.
But this could also lead us to expect the call to come, the burning bush to appear, when we are praying, meditating, or in a holy place.
Reading the passage this week though, I realised something new. Moses was at work when he spotted the burning bush. He was a shepherd, tending the flocks of his father in law, and had led them to Mount Horeb, presumably looking for good grazing. This, for Moses, was an ordinary day at the office. His mind would’ve been on the safety of the flock, the availability of food and water.
I wonder how ready we are to spot the burning bush, the call from God, when we’re about our daily work, paid or voluntary. We’re part of a Christian community, we pray, worship and study to deepen our relationship with God. But we live out most of our lives at home, work, in the wider community. These are where we’re called to be followers of Christ, so it shouldn’t be too surprising if this is also where God chooses to speak to us, where he puts the burning bushes. The question might be whether we’re ready to notice them…or, having noticed them, choose to investigate.
Moses saw a bush that was blazing yet not consumed by fire. It was something outside his experience or expectations. It stopped him in his tracks, forced him to take a second look. Then he had a choice – he could have hurried on. Things totally outside of our experience can be scary, they hold the promise of lives changed.
I’m pretty sure there’ve been times in the past when I’ve seen a burning bush; something that was beyond my expectations, not part of my plans. And I’ve hurried by, for fear of getting involved, in trepidation of where it might lead me.
Moses, at this point in his life, seems ready to take the chance, “I must turn aside to look at this great sight”, he says. This turning aside gives God the chance to speak to Moses, to show how Moses can become part of God’s work on earth. And Moses finds himself on holy ground, face to face with God himself.
In some ways, I suppose, Moses had it easy: the actual voice of God; God so present he had to hide his face; at least he was in no doubt to whom he was talking. I suspect it’s unlikely ever to be so clear for any of us. But living in the expectation that God may speak to us in our everyday lives is a start…
Then, when the burning bush appears, we have to be ready to turn aside, to look. We have to be ready to join God’s plans, possibly even to have our lives turned upside down. Which means we are ready too, to have life in all its fullness, life as God intends for us.
I’d like to finish with part of a poem I came across by Jan Richardson, which captures the challenge and the joy awaiting us in the burning bush.
You will have to decide
if you want this—
want the blessing
that comes to you
on an ordinary day
when you are minding
your own path,
bent on the task before you
that you have done
a hundred times,
You will have to choose
whether you will attend
to the signs,
whether you will open your eyes
to the searing light, the heat,
whether you will open
your ears, your heart
to the voice
that knows your name,
that tells you this place
where you stand—
this ground so familiar
and therefore unregarded—
is, in fact,