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A burning bush reveals a lot about God….

July 15, 2015

Exodus 3: 1-6, 9-12               Wednesday 15th July 2015

Today’s first reading, the Book of Exodus, Chapter 3, and it’s that theophany. An awesome experience. Whenever there’s a theophany in the Bible, when someone comes across a manifestation of God, they are awe inspired; they are astonished at what has happened to them.

But why a burning bush? It’s an appealing story fro children, but this is really a grown-up story: it has tremendous significance for our faith. Why a burning bush? It’s a special bush – you can look these things up and find there is a rose bush that lives out in that part of the world, which does flare up sometimes. But the significant bit is that the fire was not consuming it. What’s that about? Blazing, but not burnt up. These are revelations about God. We tend to take them for granted now, because they have been revealed to us for so long. But this was something being revealed to the people of the world through Moses; and then he wrote it down to share it with everybody.

A burning bush that is not consumed: God is the source of everything. God does not need His own fuel. God is almighty and all-powerful. It is not going to be consumed because God is present.

There is another thing we forget today about fires. Fires were the only way of getting light artificially. In those days you had the sun, maybe the moon reflecting the sun, and that was it! The only other form of light – light being a sign of God – was fire. And that sign of God in fire is what we do on the Saturday of the Easter Vigil: out the front of church we have a fire burning to purify – fire purifies – and symbolises the presence of God. We then come in to church having lit the Paschal Candle – the Light of Christ – to lead us in to church. That ritual comes from this burning bush theophany.

But we shouldn’t try and strive for a scientific answer. Science can only investigate the things of this world, things that can be measured, material things only. We’re into the supernatural, the spiritual. It requires FAITH to understand what is happening here.

Now there is another revelation made to Moses by God when He speaks to him: God reminds Moses that he is the God of his ancestors. There is continuity here – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, coming through to Moses. What we have got to remember is – and, again, we can forget this because Moses was such a great leader of the Jewish People – Moses had been brought up in Egypt and he had ‘lapsed from the Faith’, the Jewish Faith. And all, or so many, of his own people back in Egypt has lapsed. Moses had had to flee after murdering a man and being denounced: he has been in the wilderness for forty years. Remember the number of years, 40 – the significant number meaning ‘a long time’. And those lapsed Jews had been in Egypt for four hundred years, ten times that length of time. They had forgotten about God, they were worshipping pagan gods.

God reminds Moses ‘don’t forget me; I am the God of your fathers. And in doing so there is another revelation: there is life after death. Again, we just take it for granted because we know what Jesus did. This is revealing to Moses ‘yes, it’s not a rumour, this is true – there is life after death. Jesus refers to this burning bush when he is speaking with the Sadducees (who did not believe in the resurrection of the body), saying in Matthew 22, “God is God, not of the dead but of the living.” This is a revelation to Moses.

And then at this theophany, this manifestation of God, Moses, to his complete astonishment, is sent out on a mission to go back to Egypt. It’s a revelation: God is revealing His mission to the world, which is to go back and find His lost sheep, to save His lost people of Israel. And Moses replies in a way that is a very human thing, he says, ‘Who am I to go to Pharaoh?’ ‘Who am I…..? I don’t have the skills; I don’t have the eloquence; I’m not powerful.’ Contrast that with that same man Moses forty years before: he was a prince in Egypt, he was raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter, a powerful man, forced to leave in a hurry. And what has happened in those forty years? He has become a humble man. He has become a shepherd. It says right at the beginning of today’s reading, ‘Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro….’ After forty years, he still hasn’t got his own sheep; he is still only looking after the flock of Jethro. And it has made him humble, and he is willing to say, ‘Who am I…..?’ He is not being sarcastic. And God says, ‘I will be with you’ throughout it all; that is what Jesus said, ‘I will be with you to the end of time.’[1] Jesus, God. Same thing. God is being revealed, he has revealed something to Moses there – God is with us all the time. Again, we take it for granted.

But Moses replies, in effect saying, ‘How will I know this is true?’ And he got a surprising reply, because when you think about it, God is all-powerful, the source of all energy, whatever, He could do this Himself. But God chooses, in His mission in this world, to use people to do things. And sometimes it is a difficult, stony path, that does not get the results we expect. But in the end we will get there. But God says ‘I will be with you’, and He will give Moses a sign. It is rather an unusual sign that He gives to Moses, because it requires FAITH. Again, note that it is the same with Jesus – whenever miracles happen or revelations occur about God through our Lord Jesus, it requires faith from the person concerned.

And the sign God gives to Moses requires tremendous faith. God says I want you to go back to Egypt and bring your people out of slavery to the Promised Land. How will you know I’m with you? Because when you have done it, you will come back to this place and worship me with your people. Indeed, that is what happened, but God is basically saying, ‘You’ll know, when you’ve done it!’ And that requires tremendous faith.

So what a tremendous change in a man from forty years earlier, to become a humble man who does not think he is worthy, going back, probably aged about eighty years old (maybe a bit younger), to do something that he thinks he can’t do. But oh yes he can – God is with him. And at the end it will be revealed to him that he has actually done what God asked of him. He has to have faith.

And there is a story there for all of us in our journeys through our lives.

[1] Matthew 28:20

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