Moses was certainly a man who knew pain, misery, and weariness. Born a Hebrew during the slaughter of every other Hebrew boy in Egypt, as he grew he witnessed the brutality of Egypt towards the Hebrews, though he witnessed it from the comfort of Pharaoh’s riches. In a fit of understandable passion, he killed an Egyptian for brutalizing a fellow Hebrew, though this Hebrew was enslaved and in chains. His deed didn’t go unnoticed by his fellow Hebrews, who judged him for what he had done, so he fled from the comfort of his upbringing into the wilderness, a man conflicted about his identity, a man without a home, a man of two peoples now welcomed by neither. As a wanderer, he settled in the land of Midian, dropping his tired bones by a well, perhaps in the hope that he might get enough water to withstand the harshness of the desert wilderness. Instead of immediate relief, he stood up in defense of the women who came to tend their camels at the well. Once again, Moses’ actions didn’t go unnoticed, but this time they were appreciated. He married one of those women, Zipporah, and dwelt in Midian, a desert wasteland compared to the opulence of Egypt. But rather than assuming a role of governor or prince, he tended the flock of his father-in-law as a shepherd. And as our Scripture says today, “he led his flock beyond the wilderness.”
Beyond the wilderness. It’s a phrase that encapsulates the story of Moses’ life. Birthed in slaughter, cast out into the wilderness, parched by a well, and now tending a flock in the desert. Moses knew hardship, some of it by his own design, some of it simply came upon him. And then he found himself beyond the wilderness. But it’s precisely beyond the wilderness, beyond comfort, beyond restfulness, beyond all that Moses was accustomed to where he had this encounter that forever changed his life: There 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. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” To think, Moses might have missed experiencing the depth of this encounter because he was preoccupied with the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the encounter. I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up. So irregular was this sight, this encounter with the Living God, that Moses’ first thought, understandably, was not one of sublime spiritual satisfaction, but a thought that might have caused him to fail at seeing the hand of God in this burning bush.
The last week I had was difficult, and maybe difficult is a wholly inadequate word. Two different sicknesses, a schedule inside and outside of the office that was wearisome to say the least, and a few frustrating moments as a parent. I come to church this morning wearied, still weak, and fairly distracted. I’m pretty sure that if I had any opportunities to encounter my own burning bush, I would have missed their depth, because I was doing all I could to keep my head above water and endure. Though the details may be different, perhaps you too have endured some things that have left you bone-tired, and maybe you’ve felt like you missed out encountering and relating to the Living God. I think all of us have a little bit of Moses inside. But perhaps the real miracle of Moses’ encounter with the Burning Bush was not that a bush withstood the flames of God, but that God looked past Moses’ distraction, preoccupation, and weariness and called out to him nevertheless: “When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" In what may seem like a simple bit of Scripture lies in unbelievably beautiful truth. God never ceases to call out to us…to invite us into communion…and not just shouting at us, but calling us by name, intimately and lovingly beckoning us into this mystery.
In a word, that’s grace. That wherever we are, whatever we endure, however distracted or wearied we may be, God sees into the depths of our hearts and calls us by name as a lover calls out to their beloved. Moses, being afraid, hid his face, but God still broke through and offered a two-fold word of hope: 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, and 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… So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. Moses, the wearied and wandering murderer, the distracted shepherd beyond the wilderness, was sought by God right where he was and given a purpose and a part in God’s plan of deliverance.
Sisters and brothers, listen for God’s voice, a voice that calls you by name as a lover calls out to a beloved, for you are indeed a beloved child of God, beautiful to behold. There is a burning bush waiting for you to discover it, and even if something distracts you, even if the hardships of your life make it difficult to discern, God still calls to you. To quote the Song of Solomon: My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. So often, our prayers ask for a revelation from God, hoping that God will show God’s face to us. Perhaps we should listen more carefully and recognize that the same Living God deeply desires to see our faces to, no matter how wearied or beyond the wilderness we may feel.
*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on February 28th, 2016. The texts were Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, and Luke 13:1-9.