Moses had a history. As he walked to work that morning, off to tend his father-in-law’s herds, perhaps Moses was pondering, “How did I get myself into this situation?” Perhaps, he recounted his life story, “Raised by the great Pharaoh’s daughter, born in luxury, destined for great things. Born Hebrew, raised Egyptian, unsure of my true identity. And, then, that fateful encounter, doing the right thing – protecting a Hebrew – but letting things get out of hand. With blood on my hands, I had to skip town, go to the wilderness, and begin a new life.”
Things were comfortable in his new life. A lovely wife, family, wealth, but something’s missing. The past still haunts him. He buries himself in work and domestic life, hoping to forget, to still that persistent voice, the voice of memory and identity, the voice of restlessness and uneasiness, captured by the poet Mary Oliver, “What is that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I did my ministerial internship forty years ago at First Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona. My mentor-pastor was George Tolman, a tall, rangy, straight-shooter, who loved to go quail hunting. I remember one Sunday, George noted that a typo changed his whole understanding of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. He had just typed up his sermon and was going over it in those pre-computer days, and saw a question he’d written, “what do you say to a burning busy?” He’d intended to write “burning bush,” but on second thought, he recognized that “burning busy” or “being busy” is one of the ways we avoid hearing the voice of God.
Moses was busy; he wanted to forget and so he immersed himself in his new life, a workaholic, always on the go, numbing his questions with activity. Until…that moment on the way to work.
I’ve told the story before about the rabbis arguing about the meaning of the phrase, “the bush was burning but not consumed.” “What does it mean to say the bush was not burned despite the fire?” they pondered. They went around and around, until one of them asserted, “the bush was burning but not destroyed by fire so that one day when Moses walked by, he’d notice it?”
Day after day, God called out to him, but he never paused long enough to notice. Day after day, busy with his own agenda, his own personal drama, he passed by God’s call to new life, to adventure, to save his people.
What are we passing by each day? What is God saying to us, and we’re too busy to notice? What things are so familiar that we take them for granted or see them through our eyes and not the eyes of our companions?
Like Moses, when we pause – we see the child’s face, our companion or spouse’s concern, a homeless person asking for help, a child on the border lands – and then we see the face of God.
Moses discovered that day after day, to quote Jacob from last week, God was in this place and I did not know it.
But, when he finally stopped, and listened, he discovered he was standing on holy grand, and more than that, he was given a mission that gave meaning to his life and liberated his people.
We need to pause a moment to talk about Moses’ encounter with God. God comes to him in an ordinary bush. God may come to us in a chance encounter, a poem, a hunch, a word of counsel, and sets us on a new path. Out of the bush, God speaks: “I am the God who will liberate your people. I am the God who hears the cries of the poor and oppressed. I am the God who breaks down the walls of bondage.”
Moses still wants more. He rightly asks, “Who are you? What’s your name?” knowing the name of another gives you power over them. And receives an answer it takes a lifetime for him understand, “I am who I am. I am what I will be.” You will never fully know God’s name, God is more, and we can’t control the Creator of the Universe. God cannot be captured by human concepts. God challenges us to go forward and promises to be with us, but God cannot be put in a box, limited by our concepts, and doctrines.
We need to talk about God, but as the apostle says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” We cannot determine God’s call, we must be open to where God leads. God gives us great adventures, in everyday life, in common encounters.
There are thin places – places where God speaks to us – everywhere and in all people. Burning bushes, everywhere, and each moment of your life is an epiphany, a place where God meets us and gives us a vision for tomorrow.
What do you say to a “burning busy?” We need to take time every day to pause – to be still in God’s presence, to meditate and contemplate, to read devotional literature, look around to notice where we stand and where the world is going, or simply pray with our eyes open.
Behold, God is here! Look around, “what if God is as ordinary as seeing a bush? What if God comes to us while we’re gardening or walking our dogs or watching the news or greeting someone at work or smiling at a customer at the Thrifty Niche….Take off your shoes, God is here, you are on holy ground.