In Exodus ch. 3, Moses, the Jew-turned-Egyptian-turned-nomad is wandering through the wilderness. It’s easy to imagine that this day was like any other for Moses as he tackled the arduous demands of being a shepherd in the desert. He was searching for water for his flock, on the watch for predators, and shielding his face from the heat of the desert. Just another ordinary day. But then he noticed something peculiar. Fires in the desert weren’t uncommon. Sometimes the heat from the sun was enough to ignite the scarce vegetation scattered over the barren terrain. But there was something different about this fire. The fire was burning, white-hot, exasperating the heat of the midday desert, but the bush was undisturbed. The narrator of the story treats his audience to Moses’ brilliant inner dialogue, “I will go over and see this strange sight, why this bush does not burn up.” Thanks Moses.
As Moses approaches the bush, he hears a voice calling him by name. But there’s an interesting detail that is often passed over in our own retelling of the story. V. 4 tells us that when the Lord saw that Moses had gone over to inspect the impervious bush, that he began to call out. I wonder how many days, how many ordinary days, Moses had been so focused on being a shepherd, or wallowing in his own exilic misery, or consumed by the guilt of murder that had forced him into the wilderness that the bush had burned with the same intensity and potential and Moses simply failed to notice.
The voice tells Moses to take off his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. The text doesn’t tell us anything about the sanctity of human feet, but have you ever walked on hot sand at the beach? Ouch. God has a unique way of making us just a little uncomfortable before speaking words of peace and life. The bush then identifies itself as the voice of the promise, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has heard the cries of his people. God is about to do something, and he’s about to invite Moses to help him.
This past weekend, there was a significant fire at Princeton Community Church. Our storage shed in the back of the property was set ablaze spreading to the side of our auditorium, damaging the side of the exterior of the building, some of the roof, breaking some windows and filling the auditorium with smoke. If not for the skill and courage of the first responders the fire certainly could have reached catastrophic proportions. Overall, the fire was bad but it could have been much, much worse. Right next to the shed, its branches literally touching the outside wall, are three bushes. Truthfully, these bushes are pretty ugly. Their branches look like the kind of thing that you gather for tinder to start a fire while camping. So naturally, having an ignition source for branches and being inches away from a raging inferno, the bush was completely undisturbed.
Just as the point of the story in Exodus is not the invincible bush, my point here has little to do with the fact that we have some particularly stubborn, and ugly shrubs in the back of our property. The point of the fire and the bush and the voice in Exodus is that God is about to do something, something liberating, something huge, and he’s inviting Moses to be a part of it. At our church, we saw glimpses of this yesterday. The shed and the bushes had burned. The shed was consumed, the bushes weren’t and that meant that it was no ordinary day. We were left with few options other than to take advantage of a glorious day and to have our worship service outside. Our congregation was energized with purpose and excitement. People showed up early, they wanted to be a part of that day. In some small way, we, as a church, could sense God inviting us into newness and reliance upon him. Don’t get me wrong, I am not patting anyone on the back for moving a church service outside on a beautiful, 70 degree Spring day. That is about as ingenious and useful as Moses’ inner dialogue upon first seeing the bush. But what I see is a principle.
Perhaps, as a church, we need to lift up our head, from the very real demands of our jobs, from our tendency to get swallowed up by our own circumstances, maybe even from guilt that has somehow convinced us that we are of no use to God or anyone else. Perhaps, then we would see that the bush is always burning with God’s voice of promise and purpose. This weekend was a glimpse of something pure and beautiful. The discomfort of removing our shoes was as easy as moving some cords and tables and the holy ground was not a desert with scorching sand, but a field of green grass under a serene blue canopy of God’s grace and wonder. Things won’t always be that easy. Moses eventually finds himself in the middle of a cosmic showdown with the most powerful empire in the world, a vulnerable position of complete trust that God will protect and, oh you know, work miracles like turning rivers into blood and raining hail from the sky. The more we listen to the voice of God, the more we are reliant upon him.
But don’t miss the results. Because Moses saw a strange bush in a lonely desert, Moses was awakened to the reality that today was no ordinary day. Because he exposed his feet to the heat of the desert sand, he was able to stand on holy ground and hear the voice of God. Because he heard the voice of God, the empire of enslavement and consumerism was dismantled by the justice of a God who hears the cries of the oppressed and sets the captives free.
If we were to look for the bush, ablaze but not consumed, and listen for the voice of God today, I suspect we would find that God is inviting us into a story not unlike the story of Moses. Yesterday was a small glimpse of something that could be a part of God’s much larger invitation to bring freedom to a whole city. Sometimes, all it takes for us to notice is some bushes that don’t burn up, and perhaps a shed that isn’t so fortunate.