Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire

September 3rd, 2017

Exodus 3:1-15  Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.          7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”        11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Yes, I shop at Walmart.  When I go to Walmart I tend to be a man on a mission.  Get a loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk, and get out in as little time as possible.  To do this takes a lot of concentration because a Walmart store tends to be an obstacle course.  They’ve put a box of watermelon in the center of a main aisle.  People are pushing their shopping carts around blind corners so that I must leap before the pushing person looks.  And when you’re not looking, the staff has moved the bread to where the coffee was, the coffee where the chips were, and the chips behind the toilet paper.  It takes a lot of concentration.

In that light, consider Moses walking about the mountain.  He’s purposeful.  Tending a flock requires attention.  Always on the alert for strays, predators, and weather.  Moses is focused on a task.  His life depends on it.

When you and I become focused like that, we tend to miss things, sometimes important things.

The man on whose property I used to hunt deer and turkey was a locksmith.  The farm was near Licking.  It was amazing how often my friend got called out to Montauk to open cars for fishermen.  It’s not that the fishermen weren’t thinking but that their thinking was focused on their gear and the trout.  So they missed something important.  The keys.

Well, Moses, focused as he was on his task, did not miss the important thing.  The burning bush.  Moses might have walked right past the burning bush.  He might have said, “Burning bush.  Don’t see that every day.”  Moses might have walked on by.  But he didn’t.

It’s in our nature.  You and I have an almost endless capacity to keep walking. Schedules can do it. We’re terribly busy. We need to get someplace, no time to stop, we’ll come back later.  There’s that beaten man at the side of our Jericho road but we can’t stop now.

Rationality can keep us from seeing the burning bush.  We don’t believe in visions. We tend to write off that which is nonrational and call it irrational.

What did Moses see?  Really.  A burning bush that was not consumed.  All that is living burns and is not immediately consumed.  This is a fundamental fact of nature.  And Moses saw it with his two eyes, directly.  That glimpse of the real world–of the world as it is known to God–is not a world of isolated things, but of processes in concert, everything connected to everything else, every person connected to every other.

So Moses turned aside. And when God saw that he turned aside to see this revelation, God called to him.

God did not speak until Moses turned aside. It is one of God’s great inefficiencies, this waiting for human beings to turn aside. God waits for you and me to turn our attention to him. “Immortal, invisible”…inefficient God. Story after story in scripture points to God’s inefficiency. It is an inefficiency born of relationship. Bound up in the very nature of God who longed not only to be, but to be with.  God is waiting for you and me to turn aside, to attend to his presence in prayer, in Scripture, in the natural world, in other persons.

Moses turned aside.  And that act of turning aside made all the difference in the life of Moses, in the life of his people; it even made a difference in your life and mine.  Indeed, Moses has become an archetype.  The Puritan Governor Bradford was called a Moses.  As was George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Joseph Smith led his people from Galena, Illinois across the wilderness to the promised land of Utah.  The first proposal for an official seal for the United States was submitted by a committee composed of John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  It showed Moses dressed as a High Priest standing on the shore, extending his hand over the sea, causing the sea to overwhelm Pharaoh in his chariot.  Moses just keeps showing up.

Have you and I have ever seen a burning bush, one that does not appear to be consumed but is nevertheless burning.  I believe we have.

Consider the person sitting next to you or nearest you.  That person is a bundle of fire.  Why do you cuddle up close to your spouse on a cold night?  Because that person is on fire.  You and I are little furnaces.  Indeed, everything that lives is burning.  So I wonder what would happen if I saw that Walmart cart pusher, not as an obstacle, but as God’s fire, a burning bush, a human being, perhaps even as an opportunity for some love, mercy and grace.

Moses turned aside.  He thought he saw a miracle and he turned aside.  Like the person sitting next to you is a miracle.  Some folks will spend their entire lives and never see a greater miracle than the person sitting next to you.  You and I cannot afford to take those burning bushes for granted.  I wonder how many bushes God lit until one man turned aside and paid attention.

Moses saw the burning bush and he turned aside.  That’s when God spoke to him.  How has God spoken to you?

I don’t think God speaks to us when we are rushing about too busy to hear.  God speaks to us when we turn aside.

God speaks to us when we turn aside and spend time with the burning bush we call the Bible.  Watch out.  Some of those words are scorching.  Handle with care.

God speaks to us when we realize that poor woman on the side of the road may be more important than getting to the church on time, or when a blinding smile at the harried Walmart cart driver is more important than getting a loaf of bread.

I am believing this story is here for a greater purpose than merely to recount history and it is here for a greater purpose than that you and I should marvel over the burning bush and Moses’ relationship with God.  There is all that and there is more.  And the more is very important.

Has God stopped doing miracles or have you and I stopped paying attention?  God is giving us hints and nudges all the time.  Who is paying attention?

I am reminded of the story from Mark of a blind man who confessed that he could see people, “…as if they were trees walking.”  I know when I get into my Walmart mode headed for the bread aisle it becomes easy to see people as trees standing in my way rather than seeing them as brothers and sisters, rather than seeing them as someone to love, seeing them as someone for whom to turn aside.

If Moses had not turned aside, would he have heard the voice of God?  I don’t think so.  I think my mission is bread and milk.  God provides the distraction that is my real mission, the opportunity to love and care for another person, even it’s only in the act of forgiving them for driving their grocery cart into my shins.

Maybe that’s one reason we are reluctant to turn aside.  God gave Moses a task, a daunting task, a huge task.  You and are I satisfied with the task of getting bread and milk when God wants us to perform some act of deliverance.

God says, “Moses, I want you to do this impossible task.  I want you to go back to Egypt where you are wanted for murder.  Gather my people and bring them out of Egypt.  And Moses said, “Who?  Me?”

“I want you to be an elder in this important time in the life of First Presbyterian Church.”

“I want you to coordinate the First Tuesday meals for a year.”

“I want you to lead a prayer group.”

And the congregation said, “Who?  Me?” God wants to hear an “Amen.”  But I can’t do that.  You and I must do that.  We will find reasons to avoid.  We may have a false humility, or a true humility.  And God says, as God said to Moses, “You can do this.  You will do this.  I will equip you to do this.  And I will be with you.

Or you and I may be asked to do something so simple that we’re going to forget to do it.  Just turn aside.  Turn aside for prayer.  Turn aside long enough to smile at a stranger and really see them as a brother or sister.  Be someone’s angel this week.  Everyone needs an angel.  Be someone’s angel.

A beaten man lay at the side of the Jericho road, like a burning bush waiting to be noticed. The religious people passed him by, having some other agenda.  There was one who turned aside.  Will it be you?

You and I must be alert to every sign of God’s presence.  We must never allow a day to pass without finding the answers to a list of important questions such as:

What is the most important thing in my life right at this minute?

What is God teaching me right now?

What unique and special opportunities are presenting themselves to me at this moment?

You and I must become good observers of all that is going on around us.  All events affect us, and what affects us leaves an imprint on what we will one day be and how we will one day live.

We must become sensitive enough to observe and ponder what is happening around us. Be alert. Be awake. Let life and all of its subtle messages touch us. Often, the most extraordinary opportunities are hidden among the seemingly insignificant events of life, the most trivial encounters. If we do not pay attention to these events, we can easily miss the opportunities. So be a good observer of both life and the world around you.


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