Fire That Doesn’t Consume

wish-you-were-here 

Exodus 3:1-15Common English Bible (CEB)

Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro,[a] Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. 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. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

 

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.”

Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 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.

 

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. 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. 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.”

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.[b] So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” 15 God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.

 

  

dog typingI’m going to be honest, I don’t often know how a sermon is going to end when I write one. A lot of the time, I’m afraid that there may or may not be a point these things at all. When I write a sermon, the usual list of questions pops in my head: What is the point of this story? What does it teach us? Why should we even worry about it in the first place? Even more pressing than that: what should we even do with this wisdom given to us? Can we do anything about this? The story of Moses and burning bush is a beautiful story, loaded with meaning, but I can’t help but ask, what can we DO with it? Maybe a better question is: SHOULD we do anything with it?

Every once in a while, it might be worth it just to take a step back and appreciate scripture for what it is: A window into the kingdom of God. Take a look at this scripture. This passage, though beautiful and powerful, does not contain a lot of action, not nearly as much as last week’s epic of Moses’s origins. Maybe that’s a sign to us; instead of being so quick to do something, maybe we should be more open to see what God is doing, and who we are in relation to God.

To start, let’s look at Moses. When we catch up to Moses here, we notice that he’s come a long way since being a baby in a basket. He’s become an adult, a prince of Egypt… and now a refugee after killing an Egyptian abusing a slave. He fell in with some wandering Midianites, God-fearers living in the desert, found a wife in Zipporah, and now lives a quiet life of a shepherd. (It’s worth noting the motif of God using shepherds to do God’s dirty work. Scripture has a definite shepherd bias.)

burning bushSuddenly, out of nowhere, he discovers a bush. Well, not just any old bush. A bush on fire.  2 questions arise out of this in Moses’s head: Who goes around setting fires in the desert to random bushes? For that matter, why isn’t the bush burning up? Bushes burn pretty fast, last time I checked, especially dry desert scrubby shrub bushes.

Then, the bush talks–and that’s when this stuff gets really weird.

Not only did the bush talk, it said his name. IT KNEW HIS NAME. Obviously, Moses probably thought he was going crazy or he was being pranked, so he responded with a very cautious statement: “Uhh…. Yeah, I’m here?” Implying “where and who are you?” Then, the bush makes the grand reveal: It’s not actually a bush! It’s God! Not just any God, mind you, but THE God. The one that Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham worshiped.  The one that the Hebrews worshiped, who created the universe and literally everything in it. Also, he tells him to take his shoes off, because, you know, he’s God, and he can do that kind of thing. Eventually, this God gets to the point. He’s seen the oppression of the Hebrews, and he’s taken this moment to act, using Moses as a leader.

It’s at this point that we really get to the heart of the story, which I need you to take notice of. Moses asks two questions of this bush-God. Who am I? And who are you?

The first one gets an unexpected answer. God responds to Who you think you are and who you appear to be DOES NOT MATTER. What does matter? What matters, in this case is that God tells Moses “I AM WITH YOU. Don’t worry, all of this will make a lot more sense in the end when you take the Israelites out of Egypt and come back here.” Essentially, of course.

That’s all fine, well and good for Moses, but is it enough for us? A lot of what we do when we try to read the bible is very self-centered. What does this passage mean to me? What does God want me to do? Really, the way that God answers puts it in perspective: Where am I in relation to God? And what can I do to put God in the center of my life?

The second question is a doozie too. Rarely do we realize that when God answered that, God did so sarcastically, ironically. Who is God? That’s the question Moses asks, which was important question at the time. Most gods have names; the Egyptians had tons of them, with names like Ra, Set, Horus, and Anubis. Moses, sheltered from the Hebrew ways for most of his life, probably was thinking like this. 

samuel-l-jackson-julesGod, in turn, does a very God thing in answering: “NEVERMIND WHAT MY NAME IS, I AM WHAT I AM.” The point of this being: “I’m the one who’s talking and commanding, I’m the one who’s doing so through a bush that’s on fire and is yet not being burnt up, and I’m the one who’s going to set you and your people free. I simply AM, and that should be enough for you.” It’s a profound theological statement, told through a joke. God has no name like the other Gods. God is not like the ones that you know. God simply is.

So my question for you is, if God IS, then who are you? How do we respond to the God who IS? Ponder these in your heart, this God of mysteries, this wonder that never ends, and remember that our God revealed himself in a fire that doesn’t consume, and simply IS. Amen.

 

 

 

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About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He is also a commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, and Senior Pastor at Hemphill First United Methodist Church and Pineland United Methodist Church. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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