Toorak Uniting Church

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Burning bush

Exodus 3:1 – 15
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:00am, 28 August 2005

The face of God.

What does God look like?

What do you think? Does anybody know? Would anyone be able to know?

Exactly, no.

So how is it we know about God? And where and when is it we feel like we catch glimpses of what God is like and what he might look like if we were ever to meet him?
And when and where is it we feel we come very close to God? So close in fact we feel it’s getting quite personal?

In the Bible we find all kinds of stories about people meeting God. We find God talking to them, relating to them and revealing himself to them in all sorts of ways.
And when we read those stories it may seem as though nowadays getting close to God, relating to God and communicating with God has become a lot more difficult than it used to be. For people in our time God often seems very far away and difficult to relate to directly. In prayer we may feel we come close to God, and sometimes when we are in Church. Some of us may feel they catch glimpses of God in nature. Others experience God in art, music or the intricacies of science even. But that’s not like meeting God face to face is it?

Moses, in the story we have read this morning, does meet God very close up. He finds himself so close in fact that he has to be warned to stay back a little bit. Because God is just too awesome for us to meet him face to face.

It’s God that seeks out Moses by the way. Not the other way round. Moses is not looking for a God experience, he is just out in the desert finding some juicy grass for his sheep in the wilderness of Midian and he has wandered just a little bit further than usual to find something that draws his attention.

A bush on fire that is not consumed by that fire. That is pretty odd and Moses diverts even further from his usual paths to go and investigate. He wants to see what causes this weird phenomenon. And then he suddenly hears this voice calling his name. That is pretty weird too.
Although….. It does sometimes happen, even to people like you and me in a big city like Melbourne that we hear a voice deep inside us, calling us to do something we’re not particularly keen on. Give our money, help others, put energy into lost causes. Make that visit or phone call to somebody who we know is going through a difficult time. Little calls that are usually pretty easy to ignore but are nevertheless there. Little calls disturbing our settled existence asking things of us that are, at the very least, somewhat uncomfortable to contemplate because they ask commitment and involvement. We’re good at avoiding those, the irritating little nudges of conscience, of "we know we should do something, but we don’t".

Moses does not receive a little nudge however. He receives a big one. And it is not his bad conscience either. It is God who has, just before Moses wanders into the desert with his flock, heard something that has caught his attention and compelled him to action: The groaning and crying of his people.

When Moses meets God at the burning bush this is part of something much bigger going on. It is not about God stopping by to have a chat. It is not even about God descending from heaven to give Moses conscience a nudge. It is about God choosing Moses to go and do God’s work. To liberate his people and put an end to oppression and suffering.

Who am I? says Moses. And yes, he is nothing much. A refugee who’s found asylum in Midian, married a local girl and is now looking after the sheep. An ex prince who on impulse murdered one of pharaoh’s guards a couple of years before and had to flee the country.

What do I say? Who sends me?

Who are you God and why would anyone believe you are really capable of changing something? Because it looks pretty hopeless to me……

God introduces himself in three ways: First of all as the God of Abraham, Isaak and Jacob, the God they know from the past who used to be good value when he travelled with their forefathers. The second thing that is important is that he has heard his people cry. This is a God who listens and who will be moved into action by the misery of people. A God who is involved with what happens to his people and who is committed to change situations that are bad for them. Finally God introduces himself as a verb which translates as something like: I am who I am, I am who I was, I am who I will be. God introduces himself as a God of action, of being, in the world, past, present and future.

That’s what Moses is sent on his way with, that is what he is asked to go and tell the others. Not that he has seen God and met him face to face, but that he comes in the Name of the one that has looked after the forefathers, that he comes in the Name of the God who moves to action where people are suffering, that he comes in the Name of a God who is, was and will be. Whatever happens. A God who hears, pays attention and moves into action in order to save those whose groaning and crying is so bad it reaches all the way up to heaven.

A God who is not about showing himself on mountain tops and the profound mysteries and beauty of nature. A God who does not "just" reveal himself to gratify seekers through the occasional spiritual peak experience.

But a God who comes down to call his friends to help. A God who is actively involved in changing the misery, difficulty and oppression his people may find themselves in. A God who seeks allies who will let themselves be taken off track and sent on mission impossible because they trust that they, with God’s help, can make a difference.

Not a nudge of conscience, not a small voice somewhere within nudging us into a little more action for the sake of the Kingdom. But a fire that burns without consuming, a voice calling us by Name and spelling out exactly what we are called to do from here on on, a God urging us to leave our settled and comfortable existence to take on the world for the sake of his people. People whose suffering and crying has reached into heaven and has been heard.

A God who gave us Jesus Christ to show us that even the fire of death can not consume us if we chose to live life according to his will, answering his call.

Can you hear his call? Or have you turned away already, hastily shepherding your sheep back to safety? Will you accept "I am with you" as enough guarantee to just go and do? Would you go?

In and through people like Moses God becomes visible, tangible in history. In and through people like Moses God’s love is put into action and liberation brought about. It is in and through the man Jesus that salvation takes shape. It is in and through you and me that hope can change into physical and solid reality. God calls. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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