Exodus 3: 1-15
Lord, Take our eyes and see through them;
Take our ears and hear through them ;
Take our mouths and speak through them.
Take our hearts and fill them with your fire.
If you’ve been around St. Michael’s for a while, you’ve heard me pray that prayer many, many times.
Fill our hearts with your fire.
How often do you think about the fire of God?
The burning bush story we just heard is not the only place where God’s presence is accompanied by fire:
-God appeared as a pillar of fire by night as he accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt.
-In the prophet Zechariah, God says about the New Jerusalem, “For I will be a wall of fire all around it…and I will be the glory within it.” (Zech 2:5)
-In the book of Hebrews the author says, “For indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:9)
Today we hear almost the opposite.
“There the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
Moses, however – suddenly barefoot – is consumed… he is consumed with awe, and covers his face, and is afraid to look at God.
“Fill us with your fire” seems like a more daunting prayer now.
Today, I’d like us to look more closely at Moses’ encounter with God and to explore how God may wish to encounter us in “fire-filled moments.”
This passage seems particularly appropriate in now our theme of Exploring Sacred Space this year, and especially as we explore the Sacred Space of Wilderness this Lent.
Here Moses is, out in the desert, in the wilderness, and all of a sudden the place where he stands is Holy Ground.
As we begin to explore this story, first of all, notice, God is the one who takes the initiative. Moses doesn’t go into the mountains looking for a “mountaintop experience.” He’s just herding sheep. He’s in the middle of what looks like to be a very ordinary day, in the middle of doing a very ordinary task.
All of a sudden – God is there.
Next, notice how Moses pays attention. When he first saw the fire, he didn’t go into reflex mode. There was no flight or fight. He didn’t run away from the fire. He didn’t try to put it out. He asked the question, “Why?” “Why doesn’t the bush burn up? He is curious as to what is going on.
Then, it was when Moses started paying attention that God chose to speak. “Moses, Moses”
Notice Moses’ reaction: Here I am! In Hebrew it’s one word: Hinneni
It’s a spontaneous, unhesitating answer to a call.
As the encounter continues, and God is beginning to reveal his purpose, Moses is very aware of the Holiness of the moment. Sandals off, face hidden, Moses respects the awesome presence of God in that place and time.
Some of you may have had a “burning bush” experience of God. Some of you have encountered God in a vision, or in a deep time of prayer in a way that you just could not deny something miraculous was occurring between you and God.
You might be able to quote the words that you heard from God, whether within your own spirit, or even as an audible voice outside yourself.
This seems to happen more often when we give ourselves the time to spend in some sacred space: perhaps on retreat, or out in nature, that special chair where you like to sit and pray in the quiet pre-dawn hours.
Most of us, however, don’t get dramatic theophanies like Moses did. At least not very often. For many of us, encountering the fire of God is a lot more subtle. It takes a lot more awareness on our part.
God takes the initiative, but we have to pay attention.
I often wish God did speak more directly – in burning bushes, or billboards, or neon flashing lights. But usually, he doesn’t.
Instead, God is more like this guy. [Hold up Where’s Waldo book][i]
Are you all familiar with the Where’s Waldo books designed by Martin Handford?
Each page is full of a busy scene from life…. Sometimes people at the beach, sometimes a city scene. This particular book has a two page spread on different eras in history. Somewhere on the page is Waldo. There’s lots to distract you from finding him, but he’s on there somewhere.
One thing that makes Waldo hard to find is that he is so very ordinary looking.
It’s the same with God often. God is always taking the initiative, butGod tends to show up in our lives in the middle of ordinary days, while we are doing ordinary things, and in very ordinary ways.
Our job is to start looking for God.
So, next, we need to Be curious, like Moses was.
Throughout our ordinary days, especially at places that are confusing or hard or persistent, we need to take the time not just to be reactive, but to discover what God might be up to in a situation.
When you start to look at the world, and the people and events that surround your life, ask yourself, “How is God in this place.”
How is God present in the middle of a difficult conversation with a co-worker?
What call is God making on your life when he plants a creative idea in your head, that just won’t let you go?
How is the Spirit of God’s Holy fire singeing the less than holy places in your life?
Where so I find the Holy Ground in my everyday life?
When did God’s fire last burn in your heart? If you are having a hard time answering that, I’d invite you simply to replay the tape of “yesterday” in your head, slowly looking at the events and conversations of the day with spiritual eyes.
God is present on every page of our lives. He will show up many times a day in many different ways. We just need to look for him. Where’s Waldo?
While God is present on every page of our lives, he often waits for us to pay attention before he speaks to us. What would it be like to live the moments of your life in joyful expectation of God showing up?
How are you saying, each day, “Here I Am, Lord.”?
We are called to watch and listen, and pay attention. And then to be obedient.
The Lord speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush, and gives him a very difficult job. “I am sending you to free my people out of Egypt.”
Sometimes, the fire of God speaks to our hearts as well, giving us some difficult task. “The Cry of my people has come to me. I am sending you to free those people from hunger. I am sending you to free those people from bondage to an injust system. I am sending you to speak to the pharaohs of this world and tell them to Let my People Go.”
And God doesn’t promise Moses it won’t be hard. God promises, “I will be with you.”
When Moses asks, Who do I say is with me? What is Your Name?
God offers “I am”.
I AM that I AM or I will be what I will be
God reveals his very name as one of being and presence.
God offers his “I Am”, the essence of his being, and invites us to offer our “I am” to him in relationship, so that we walk in the presence of God each day.
God’s name which we translate as the I AM is four letters in Hebrew, the tetragrammaton, Yod Hey Vav Hey. I actually wrote them on the altar here in the sand.
We no longer know how the four Hebrew letters of the Divine Name of God were pronounced. God’s name was considered so Holy that the Jews stopped vocalizing it about 500 years before Jesus was born. Today, we sometimes hear the letters pronounced as “Yahweh.” In your Bibles, it’s translated as LORD, but written in all capital letters.
In essence, we can see that God’s name is derived from the verb “to be.” God is the quality of absolute Being; the eternal, unchanging, dynamic presence.
“I Am. – I am who I am. – I will be who I will be.”
God’s very name could also mean, “He causes to be.”
One of the things that got Jesus into so much trouble is that he used God’s name for himself, emphasizing with the language words that normally would be understood and unspoken in a conversation. “I AM” Jesus said. “I AM, the bread of life. I AM the living water.” “Before Abraham was, I AM.” At this last declaration, the Pharisees around him picked up stones to execute him for blasphemy.
God will be what God will be. You can’t manipulate an encounter a God . You can’t define what God will do for you. Or How God will speak to you. Or How God will equip you. Or What joy, comfort, or strength God might give you.
God shows up when and how God will, but God does show up. He offers his very self to us.
God’s fire burns in our hearts. It burns in the words of scripture as we read them. It burns as we obey his word. It burns in the faces of those we know, and of those we don’t know.
As God offers his “I AM” to us, may his presence take our
hearts, and fill them with his fire. Amen
[i] I first heard the idea that encountering God’s presence is like finding Waldo on the pages of Marin Handford’s books from author and teaching pastor, John Ortberg, in his book, God is Closer than you Think.