The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
I love a good fire. Growing up in with the town’s Chief of Ambulance services, fires and accidents and flashing emergency lights were nothing unusual in my childhood. It wasn’t really a normal weekend until some minor disaster occurred. But let me tell you something about fire- it can be beautiful and amazing and warming, and destructive, but once the firefighters go in and put it out, it’s done. We expect it to go away and not return. But that doesn’t work for God, does it? He appears in the burning bush and expects to create a relationship with these people who have cried out to him. I find it quite interesting that God does not give Moses any proof: rather, God tells Moses to go lead his people out to the wilderness, and THEN, after the fact, he will prove to them it is indeed he who does these things. God creates this radical paradigm of a relationship based on trust, not proof.
We drop into quite the dramatic moment between god and mankind today, don't we? It's a famous story, one which even non-religious people often know. Moses, tending sheep out beyond the wilderness, sees a bush, burning without being consumed. He turns aside at the unusual sight, and is confronted by an angel. He discovers he is on holy ground, that this is a thin place where God is present. He is given a tremendous charge: Lead God's people out of the land of Egypt.
This is an astounding job offer. Moses is a most unlikely leader. Moses is running from the law. He was brought up in a palace, by Egyptians as their pet Hebrew child. As an adult, he murders a man. We don’t know how much of his Hebrew culture he retained, thanks to his unusual upbringing. Having broken what will later become one of the Ten Commandments, he flees to the wilderness. We find him keeping sheep for his father-in-law, a nice, under-the-radar sort of profession. When he meets God, God reminds him of the people he left behind. But more importantly, God recognizes his people are in pain, and he wants to offer them deliverance. In order to do that, he needs to forge a new relationship- one that isn't dependent on a land like Egypt for his people's happiness. Instead, God wants to create a relationship in which his people follow him based on trust. He sends Moses, the flawed hero, in to lead the people, promising the proof in a time yet to come. God not only wants for forge a trust-based relationship, but a relationship that is ongoing throughout the ages.
It is tempting to cast easy villains in this story: Egyptians and Pharaoh. But generations ago, long before Moses was born and saved by the Princess, another great story told the tale of God saving God’s people. A great famine had threatened the land, and God guided the life of Joseph the Dreamer. In that event, the people of Israel were saved because of Egypt. It is a little ironic, in the literature, that God is seeking to get them out of Egypt. God is the one who brought them there in the first place! Why should we trust God if what is good for God’s people changes over time?
I've had this ongoing debate with Martin for years now- he believes that God never changes because God is God. I do believe that God is capable of change as God’s relationship with humanity grows. (You are welcome to disagree with me on this aspect!) I am not saying that God makes mistakes, but that God learns more about us and alters his actions or does new things to in order to forge a deeper relationship with us. In the sending of Moses, God takes a radical step towards asking a people to learn to follow him in trust.
God continues to do new things with God’s people today.
In this world of God and God’s people, we continually cry out for deliverance and God responds in love and care, inviting us into a trust based relationship. The Hebrew people had to respond to Moses as a prophet, and to hope for God’s deliverance. Think about it: a relationship based on trust is good because both parties wish the best for each other, and trust that each party will work for those things that are good for each other
For us, we are a post-Christ people. Our great sign, the life and death of Christ, is not in our future but in our past. It is so far in the past it can seem unreal. But through this Moses story, we hear this promise of trust, and in trust, we can believe that God desires good for us, even as we desire good things for God, bringing him the offerings and oblations of our lives and labor each week in our weekly worship gatherings and the work of our lives. You see, God doesn’t appear in that burning bush and leave for ever. He didn’t come in the person of Christ and go away, never to be heard from again. God continues to desire a trusting relationship with us through the ages.
God's son came to our world to save humanity through his death and resurrection. And here we are in Lent, our season of looking at our lives through introspection and reflection. . Our world has no more wild wilderness to wander through. Our wildernesses are instead found in the concrete jungles of our cities, in our broken down suburbs, in our poor rural districts. God's people continue to suffer today, thanks to the oppression of financial burdens from failed mortgages, healthcare problems, stagnant wages, corporate oppression. The world wants to tell us that our suffering is our fault- that the people on the street corners made their own bad choices, that the failed mortgage was the fault of foolish people taking on more they could owe, that the healthcare problems were thanks to a glutton's outrageous appetites. The world wants to believe that God has left us behind, because we are such a screwed-up people.
And yet, here we are, standing with Moses as he looks upon a burning bush, face to face with God. And here, we hear again that God desires a relationship of trust and therefore, that God wants our good. For God’s people so long ago, he called out from the burning bush in trust, offering the hope of an ongoing relationship in the wilderness now and in the wilderness times to come.
God doesn’t appear only in the burning bush, but God also promises his presence and involvement with us as we flee the wilderness, as we walk into the new places in our life. God promises that he will not just be there in the wildfires that start new things, but also in the embers at the end, trusting and hoping and creating new things for us, his people.