The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on: Exodus 3: 1-5 Moses and the Burning Bush

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry as we reflect on your Word for us from scripture this day, may all of it be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.

When I first settled on this morning’s reading, I had the idea that I would be focusing on how God’s grandeur in Creation connects with our theme question:

“What is God saying to Us?” and our answer:

“Delight in me!”

I also thought the Exodus passage would dovetail well with Anne’s focus on ‘fire’ in the Time with All Ages.

“Perfect!” I thought to myself. 

“Perfect!”, that is, until I started looking more closely at how these few verses Phil read for us fit together in the larger context of the Exodus story.

The preamble to our reading from Exodus, Chapter 3 is this:

God’s people desperately need to be liberated after the death of the tyranny of living lives under Pharaoh, the Egyptian King.

God has heard God’s people cry!

In response to his promise to Moses’ ancestors, God has a plan for God’s people and it seems, Moses formerly a prince without a real home and now a shepherd in a foreign land is to be a part of that plan! 

How Moses chooses to respond to God’s plan will make for interesting reading in and of itself.

However, for our purposes this morning, we have only to digest the first few verses of the introduction to God’s call to Moses in the burning bush.

Listening with fresh ears and noticing with fresh eyes then, let’s take another look at the text together.

In the very first verse, we learn that Moses, who has been coasting along for some time now (we might say he is in maintenance mode), Moses has taken on the task o f keeping his father-in-law, Jethro’s sheep.

Somehow Moses finds himself and the sheep he is safeguarding for his father in law, somewhere beyond the wilderness or we might say in the back of beyond or outside of the enclosure, or even at the far side of what has previously been safe and familiar territory.

This is our first clue in the story that something unusual is about to happen.

Our second clue is that the text tells us Moses has brought the flock into God’s country, or literally-to God’s mountain, Mt. Horeb.

Sure enough, in the very next verse Moses has an encounter with one of God’s support staff-an angel of the Lord, appearing, no less, in a flame of fire in a burning bush.

Now, in all the times I have considered this familiar story, this is the first time I have ever noticed that Moses’ first encounter in the story of the burning bush was not with God, but with an angel of God.

Further to that, we both note that although the bush appears to be fully ablaze, it is not consumed.

This seems to have fully caught Moses’ attention, and, perhaps more curious than frightened, he makes a deliberate attempt to take another look.

From God’s perspective, this is the perfect moment to engage directly with Moses and so it is their conversation begins in earnest. 

Establishing who’s who, God instructs his servant Moses what to do next:

“Come no closer,” God tells him.  “And remove your sandals for you are standing on holy ground.”

Though our reading ends at this point, there is nothing to preclude us from asking ourselves what will Moses do next? 

Will he view this command from God as preamble to a test or a miracle?

Will he view it as a challenge or an invitation?

Perhaps he will view the command as a call to action or a combination of all three?

I wonder: “Does Moses actually take off his shoes, an act that would signify coming home to God?”

Though it doesn’t actually say that he does remove his shoes, we can assume that Moses does as he is bidden.

Indeed, the conversation with God does deepen and we know that, ultimately Moses will do what God asks of him but, of course, not without quite a lot of negotiating in the spaces of time in between !!!

With our focus this morning being on the ‘wow’ of Creation, we could leave Moses’ conversation with God about his response to God’s call for another time.

This morning, we could just rest in the reminder that God exists in the middle of all things.

We could just rest in the sure knowledge that the Holy can and does show up in the midst of the work of everyday living.

That said, these verses also remind us that when we are deliberate about making space for the Holy, the Holy can and will surprise us!

In Moses’ case, finding himself at the edge of his comfort zone, God calls him out of maintenance mode into new leadership and engagement with a people in need of liberation.

The question begs itself then, what might these texts be inviting us to consider in our life as a community here at Knox?

It has been a life, by turns, where we have felt ourselves caught in the web of maintenance and though wanting to heed God’s liberating call, feeling at the same time a mix of feelings.

When we first began our services in honour of Creation season this year, I recall speaking about our fleeting interest in the work of the Fossil Free Faith Bureau and our young guests and new friends, Maisaloon and Maggie.

“Where are they now?” I wonder.

“And are they still as passionately engaged with climate issues as they were two years ago?”

It certainly wouldn’t be hard to follow up with them and find out where things are at. We could even begin by re-reading their sermons posted to our Knox website to see what grist for the mill of our own calls might be lurking there.  That would be a first step, to re-visiting our relationship with these two young prophets.

They say every journey begins with that very first important step.

Friends, you may recall that we took some steps in a new direction a couple of years back.

One outcome of that has been the steady development of two new steering groups-our exploring faith team and our stewardship and social justice team.

Their initiatives have proven most instructive in helping us move off the grid into deliberately focussing more on social justice issues.

Issues such as climate change, the ongoing conflict between the peoples of Palestine and Israel, a sense of being called into responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in real and concrete ways; and a sense of needing to continue deepening relationships with our friends at First United. And, even from there, to forming new relationship with leaders and families at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

This last summer, a small group of us, curious about how our faith is similar or different to our interfaith neighbours, took the bold step of attending an Interfaith open house at several sites in Richmond including Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu temples, and a local mosque.

This coming week another group of us will attend an open house at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby.

In all cases, as is the custom in most Canadian homes, we are doing the hard work of getting comfortable moving beyond the safe, comfortable, and the familiar and in all cases we will be asked to take off our shoes. 

How will we respond?

I am certain that we will most happily do so!

This brings me back to our verses from scripture this morning as God instructs Moses to do the same so that he can more fully honour where he is standing.

Sometimes standing on the God’s holy ground will feel bumpy and uncomfortable.

But then we remember that sometimes standing on God’s holy  ground will bring us closer to God and to one other.

Sometimes it might even find us getting curious and leaning into new experiences of God’s call for our lives.

Of course, not all of us are free to go on such outings.

We might think ourselves too old or too fearful or too frail or too committed to maintenance rather than mission.

That’s when its good to remember that God’s call to Moses came to him at an advanced age.

If God saw great things for Moses after his getting stuck in maintenance mode in Midian, might God also see great things for the likes of us who might think ourselves of little use?

It is true that not all of us can safely risk wandering around in the wilderness, the back of beyond or the far side.

 In that case, what can we do instead?

Well we can read and get more engaged with the issues.

We can go to CBC Radio where David Attenborough has a new program on how plastics are overtaking the environment.

We can re-visit Maggie and Maisaloon’s sermons on what makes them passionate about addressing issues such as climate change.

And failing all else, we can pray for and with others for the sake of the well being of God’s good Creation.

For all of this and more, I say: “Hallelujah!  And may it be so, amen!