Scripture - Exodus 3:1-15
3 1-2 Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.
3 Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”
4 God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”
5 God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”
6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.
7-8 God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
9-10 “The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I’ve seen for myself how cruelly they’re being treated by the Egyptians. It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt.”
11 Moses answered God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
12 “I’ll be with you,” God said. “And this will be the proof that I am the one who sent you: When you have brought my people out of Egypt, you will worship God right here at this very mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’”
15 God continued with Moses: “This is what you’re to say to the Israelites: ‘God, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob sent me to you.’ This has always been my name, and this is how I always will be known.
Hymn - Like A Rock
During this season of Lent, we’ll be exploring stories from the Bible of the many ways that God gets our attention -- hearing passages about dreams and voices and visions -- and talking about the ways that God speaks to us. We have a tendency to think that God doesn’t try to communicate with us anymore - that the people we read about in the Bible were somehow special and different from us. We think that God had important things to say to them and work for them to do, but we don’t feel like God has anything meaningful to say to us.
Yet God does continue to speak, and God does have work for us to do - the question is: are we watching and listening for God? Or does God have to send a burning bush our way to get us to pay attention? I hope that as we go through this series together, you’ll find new ways to hear what God is saying to you - in the stories we read, in your time of prayer, and in your everyday life.
Moses and the Burning Bush is, I think, the quintessential story for God doing something dramatic to get us humans to pay attention.
Consider the story of Moses, for a moment. Moses was born into a time when it was dangerous to be a Hebrew in Egypt -- not only were they slaves, but they were so numerous that pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, the one who the Egyptians understood to be God in the flesh, had ordered all the baby boys born to the Hebrews to be killed. When Moses is born, his mother puts him in a basket and sends him down the river, only to be picked up by the pharoah’s daughter. She was moved with compassion and took Moses into her own household, raising him as her son. When he’s older, he goes out into the work camps and sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and gets upset about it, and, seeing no one around him, kills the Egyptian. Word got out, Pharaoh gets angry -- enough to kill Moses, and so Moses flees to the land of Midian. There he stops at a well, and defends the daughters of the priest of Midian from some shepherds (who probably had some unsavory business on their minds) and the priest is so thankful for this act, Moses is welcomed into the family. He marries one of the daughters of the priest of Midian and he becomes a shepherd in his father-in-law’s household.
All this time, the Hebrews continued to be slaves in Egypt, and the old Pharaoh died -- and God continued to hear their cries for help.
This all sets the scene for the scripture passage we heard this morning -- where Moses is going about business as usual, tending the flock of his father in law. When all of a sudden, something very out of the ordinary appears and grabs his attention -- a bush that looks like it is burning, but the branches are not consumed. And Moses is like, “I have to check this out! This is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
God notices that Moses stopped to look. I find this kind of interesting, because I can imagine God trying out all these different ways of getting Moses’ attention and realizing that finally, this is the one that stuck. So once God knows he’s got Moses hooked, the conversation plays out -- God’s command to Moses to remove his sandals on this holy ground, God’s revelation of who God is...and Moses’ initial reaction is to hide his face from God. (There’s a whole different sermon on that image alone, but we won’t go there today).
But God continues, telling Moses that he will be the one to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, that he has heard their cries for help. Thus begins this whole back and forth between God and Moses where Moses thinks up excuse after excuse for why he’s not the one for the job, and God keeps coming up with solutions until finally there’s nothing left for Moses to do but accept.
This story is often thought to be the first time in Moses’ life that God tries to get his attention to get him to do something about the plight of his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. Yet, as I was rereading the story this week, and as the poem we heard at the beginning of worship points out - maybe this wasn’t the first time that God was trying to get a message through to Moses. Maybe the anger that Moses felt when he first saw the Egyptian beating the slave was God trying to get him to do something about the injustice his people were experiencing. Perhaps Moses didn’t respond in the right way -- but that was a moment where God was trying to get Moses to see something bigger than what was right in front of him. Or at the well in the land of Midian, and Moses defending the daughters of the priest -- wasn’t that, too, a moment when God invited Moses to see the injustice of the world around him - the strong preying upon the weak - and do something about it?
Moses just wasn’t paying attention in the right way -- so God needed a big, flashy sign -- and since they didn’t have neon signs back then, God had to work with a burning bush -- just to get Moses to focus on what God had been trying to tell him all along -- that he was the one to do something about the injustice of his people in Egypt, and lead them out to freedom.
Now I’m someone who would love for God to speak to me with neon signs or burning bushes but there have been other moments in my life that God had to pull out all the stops to get me to pay attention to what God’s been trying to tell me... and as I’ve gone along, I’ve learned better how to watch and listen for what God might be saying to me in the middle of my everyday life.
As I was sitting down to write, there were two moments from this last week that popped to mind -- I’ll tell one of them here and the other - you’ll just have to come to our small group on Wednesday to hear that one.
A few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook while I was putting Michael to sleep for a nap and a friend of mine from seminary posted this status update: “Quick! Someone explain to me why saying what I need makes me feel like I'm imposing on those around me.”
There was this whole discussion that ensued but the words she wrote felt like I could have written them myself. In case you didn’t know it, I’m someone who finds it really difficult to ask for help because I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. This online conversation allowed me to reflect on why that might be the case, and I thought back to my Sunday School days when I was taught the great commandments - Jesus said the first is that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And the second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Such an emphasis was placed on the “love your neighbor” piece that it was a years - well into adulthood - that I realized that the verse had a second component that was equally important - “as yourself”.
Maybe it wasn’t through a burning bush, but God clearly got my attention and reminded me that I need to be taking care of myself - and that it’s OK to ask for help.
God’s always trying to get our attention, to get us to stop and listen to what God has to say to us. God doesn’t always use a burning bush - but maybe some words from a friend, a passage of scripture or quote from a book, our reaction to a movie or the news or a song on the radio, something we see as we go about our day to day lives. God is always speaking - but do we have the ears to hear? Do we have the eyes to catch those moments? Is our heart and our mind open to notice those opportunities when they happen?
This morning, we’re going to create our own burning bush as a reminder of the ways God speaks in our lives. The ushers are going to pass around these flames -- and as they do that, I want all of us to think over the past week and to think of a moment that has stayed with you. You don’t have to know what that moment means to you or what God is trying to say to you through that moment -- just think of a moment from the past week that is sticky in your memory. Write that moment down on the flame that you’ve been handed.
And when you’ve done that, come up to the front and tape your flame on the branch.
[people do it]
Look at all the ways that God is trying to get our attention. Now, if you are at all curious about what God might be trying to say to you through the moment you wrote down, that’s what we’ll be doing together on Wednesday nights during the season of Lent, so come by the Parish House at 6 PM for this small group experience, and we’ll learn how to hear God speaking to us through these different moments.
Because God is trying to get our attention - God is trying to speak to us - God is trying to help us focus our hearts and our lives on God and what God wants for us and for the world. Lent is a perfect season for this journey as we reflect on our lives, reorient our priorities, and prepare our hearts for the resurrection of Christ and the new life that waits for us on Easter morning.
What is God trying to say to you? I invite us all to pay attention to the ways that God is all around us, always speaking a message of love, hope to us and to the world. Let us hear what God is speaking to us this week in the midst of our daily lives. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two dogs, and soon will expect a new addition to her family. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the chuch community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.