Moses at the burning bush
3 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. 2 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. 3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.
4 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.”
5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8 I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9 Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”
God’s special name
13 But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”
Thoughts on the passage:
When it comes to classical stories from Sunday school, Moses is one who rightly commands a lot of attention. It is only fitting for us to take it up again as we seek to unpack these stories from our past. Knowing the story of Moses is essential for getting back to the basics of the Bible because the actions of God done through Moses are a defining part of the stories of the Old Testament and a lasting legacy of the Hebrew faith. By exploring them again we are able to learn how God calls someone out of the wilderness and into a unique role as the savior of a nation.
Several movies have been done around the story of Moses. On the children’s side there is the movie “Prince of Egypt” and on the adult side there is “The Ten Commandments.” These movies do a great job of visually capturing the story of Moses, but their own retelling can sometimes cloud what we actually know from scripture. For example, very little is said about Moses’ life being raised by the daughter of pharaoh. More important to scripture is the underlying idea that Moses was born at a time that the pharaoh was worried about the rise of the Israelites and so sought to further oppress them. After killing an Egyptian, Moses flees from the law and finds himself tending sheep among the family of Jethro, whose daughter he marries. It is here that he receives his pivotal call from the burning bush.
We could say a lot about what Moses does in leading the people out of Egypt. We could say a lot about the ways that God seeks to shape and form the Israelites as they move to the Promised Land. Today however, I want us to focus on this initial call to ministry that Moses receives. No Sunday school telling of the story of Moses would be complete without the burning bush, Moses removing his shows because he is standing on holy ground, and call of God empowering Moses to go forth.
At a clergy gathering recently I was reminded of one of the critical details of the story of Moses’ call. We have no idea how many other people saw the burning bush. If you look at the story, in verse four, it is only once Moses takes interest in the burning bush that God speaks to Moses. For all we know, several other travelers wandered past this same burning bush and thought nothing of it. What makes Moses stand out to God is that he sees this burning bush, marvels at it, and wonders why it must be burning in just such a way. This ability to notice, to wonder, and to seek answers is what makes Moses the person that God is going to call to lead the people out of slavery.
Moses has an amazing and daunting call. His call has several parts. On the surface, the hardest part seems to be that he is going to free his people from physical captivity in Egypt. It turns out that as difficult as that is, it is the easy part. It only takes a matter of a few weeks for the people to be free from Pharaoh. It takes forty years in the wilderness for them to be free of the emotional and spiritual slavery of Egypt and ready to enter into a new land and a new relationship with God. Moses is called to help them do both parts, and the second one is much harder than the first.
I believe that we are all called by God in different ways. When we are baptized, confirmed, or renew our baptismal vows we make a promise. We swear to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. That is quite a call to ministry that we are all taking on. I believe that this call is at the heart of our baptism because it is at the heart of what God is calling Moses to do and it is at the heart of what Jesus did in his ministry. As a part of our baptism we are all called to join in the liberating work of God in the world.
What does that look like? I think the other thing I like about the vow is how broad it is. We are resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Kind of like with the burning bush, we are called to this work because we notice the need for the work. For some people resisting injustice means protesting the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexican border. For others it means standing up against gender discrimination in the workplace. For others it might mean organizing workers to join a union. It might mean advocating for the rights of unborn children. It might mean reducing your carbon footprint by cutting back on meat consumption to try and prevent global climate change.
The point I am trying to make is that resisting evil, injustice, and oppression can seem political, but it is apolitical. Republicans and Democrats are called to do it in our baptismal vows, so are liberals and conservatives. The call might look different for a member of the original tea party protesting the tyranny of the British, than it would for Harriet Tubman as she helped her fellow slaves escape the south. It might look different for a retired grandparent volunteering their time in the local schools to help tutor kids than it would for a solider, serving our country by fighting terrorism around the world. The question is not is God calling you, the question is what is God calling you to do?
Moses learned about his call when he noticed something strange, a burning bush, and turned aside from his ordinary life to explore it. In doing so, he became a part of God’s liberating work for the Israelites. What is the burning bush in your life? Who is God calling you to reach? Sometimes that call means a lifetime of work and other times it might just be for a short while. God might just be calling you to help with Vacation Bible School or to teach Sunday school for a year, not to drop everything and to go to seminary to become a full-trained Christian educator. Where are you seeing God at work and wondering what you can do to help? Where is God showing up in unexpected places in your life?
Today we are celebrating and blessing Susan Cafferty who has been responding to a call to ministry that God has placed on her heart. For those of you who do not know Susan’s story, this call has taken a long time of growing and developing. Susan first showed up at this church after the insistent invitation of a friend. She was warmly welcomed and over the next few years settled in to helping out in the church. Then one day, Pastor Chad approached her and asked her to consider helping with Care Ministries. Next she was also running the Aid program. Later on, she became a lay speaker. Now she has done the required training to be called a Certified Lay Minister. Her call has evolved from a few small tasks around the church to being an indispensable member of the staff, a constant source of help for our church, but also a blessing to the Annual Conference as she serves to help others who are exploring their own calls to be lay speakers. I do not just share these stories to celebrate Susan, or to embarrass her, but also to make a point. Her call to ministry has been changing and growing as she has continued to explore this great and mysterious God who speaks to us from burning bushes and calls us into strange and terrifying work. Susan has said yes to that call. I hope we all do the same when God call us as well.
Questions to Ponder:
What do you remember most about the story of Moses?
Have you ever had a “burning bush” moment where you felt God was speaking to you?
What do you think God might be calling you to do?
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you speak to us all in strange and mysterious ways. Open our eyes to see your presence in the burning bushes all around us. Open our ears to hear the cries of injustice. Grant us also the courage and strength to respond to your call and to do your work in the world. Amen