Moses and the Burning Bush

by | Jul 9, 2023


Jarrett McLaughlin
Moses and the Burning Bush
July 9, 2023
Exodus 3: 1-8

Prayer for Illumination

Our prayer for Illumination is a song – originally written in Swahili – though we will sing it in English. It has a call and response flavor to it where the leader invites the congregation to sing by saying “Listen,” and then you all will come in. I’ll demonstrate. We will sing it through now so that you can learn it and then again in between and following the two episodes of our reading about Moses. Let us pray.

Sing “Listen, God is Calling”

Exodus 2: 11-15

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk.
He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh.

Sing “Listen, God is Calling”

Exodus 3: 1-8

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.
Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Then [God] said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” [God] said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…

The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

[God] said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Sing “Listen, God is Calling”


“I gotta go see about a girl.”
Matt Damon made that line briefly famous in 1997 when he played a Janitor turned Math Prodigy in the film Good Will Hunting.

Of course, he stole the line from Sean, his court-appointed anger management counselor, played by Robin Williams. In one scene, Sean recounts to Will the story of when he first laid eyes on the woman who would become his wife.
The date was October 25, 1975…which will mean very little to most, except perhaps those who are deeply entrenched in Red Sox lore (which might only be Brian Curran in this town).

Game 6 of the World Series, 12th inning, Carlton Fisk steps to the plate and hits the ball 310 feet all the way down the third baseline. In what is one of the most iconic moments in baseball, the camera captured Fisk frantically waving the ball in the direction of fair. It hits the foul-pole and bounces in the direction of fair, a walk-off home run that sent the series into a 7th game.

That’s what would unfold later that night at Fenway Park and Sean was all set to go, ticket-in-hand, when the most beautiful woman he had ever seen walked by…so he slid his ticket across the table to his buddies and said “Sorry guys, I gotta go see about a girl.”

Will – who cannot believe his therapist missed out on this historic moment in Red Sox history – stares at him stunned and says “You’re kidding me?”

Sean says to him “I’m not kidding you – and that’s why I’m not talking to you about some girl I saw 20 years ago and how I always regretted not going over and talking to her. I don’t regret the 18 years I was married to Nancy, I don’t regret the 6 years I had to give up counseling when she got sick. I don’t regret the last years when she got really sick, and I sure don’t regret missing some baseball game.”

Sometimes, you have to go see about something…you have to turn aside from whatever seems like the most important thing in your life at the moment to go see about something else – something that is suddenly revealed to you…and that promises to be bigger than anything that came before it.

That’s the story of Moses in a nutshell – he’s the guy who “turned aside” at the right moment, for the right reason – and his life went in a completely different direction.

Here’s the thing, though. Moses is the guy who turned aside – but the Burning Bush was not the first time he stopped and noticed and turned aside.

In our first reading, Moses is going along, minding his own business one day, and he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Scripture goes out of the way to say that Moses saw an Egyptian beating “one of his kinsfolk.” That’s interesting because who Moses’ kinsfolk are is completely up for debate.

The thing to remember about Moses is that he was raised in the house of Pharaoh. Some of you may know the story…as a baby he was put in a basket and set afloat down the Nile River. The Egyptian Princess found him crying in the reeds. She took pity on the child and raised him as her own son. He grew up in the courts of power and plenty, a member of Pharaoh’s family.
In every sense of the word, Moses walked like an Egyptian.

But still, in spite of enjoying great privilege, when he sees this Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he turns aside. He didn’t have to. Lord knows it would have been easier for him not to get involved, to keep walking straight and accept that this was normal. But he didn’t. He turned aside and he acted, defending the one who is vulnerable.

The story takes care to tell us that Moses looked this way and that before intervening and killing the Egyptian. On its face, that reads like a premeditated murder…Moses checking to see if the coast is clear before committing the crime.
But there is an old Jewish interpretation that this isn’t Moses seeing if he can “get away with it.” The rabbis wondered ‘what if Moses looked this way and that, waiting for somebody – anybody – to intervene; to do the right thing; to intervene and stop this great injustice?’

Seeing no one, Moses realized he would have to be that person, and so he turned aside; and so he acted.

Years later, after Moses had fled from Pharaoh and finds himself herding sheep out in the wilderness, it’s little wonder that he turned aside to see about a burning bush – he’d already turned aside once before.

God knew he was the kind of person that would turn aside; the kind of person who notices when something is not right; the kind of person who was moved by great injustice.

This Burning Bush story is really one of the most important in the entire Hebrew Bible. This is God’s self-revelation. It’s about as plain a statement as God will ever make about who God is and what God is about. A few verses later, God will even tell Moses the name of God – Yahweh – though it’s less a name and more a description: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.”

This is the moment when God’s core identity is revealed,
and at this critical moment of self-disclosure, God says “I also turn aside.”
“I have observed the misery of my people.”
“I have heard their cry.”
“I know their suffering.”
“I have come down to deliver them.”

Those are all direct quotes from the reading, but implicit in this speech is something along the lines of this: “Moses, I have turned aside to do something about this great injustice. What I could use is a partner; somebody who also turns aside; somebody who is not content to let injustice stand…I believe that person is you, Moses, so come, I will send you to Pharaoh.”
God is revealed to be one who notices when we hurt…especially those who are captive to powers that use and abuse them.

AND – God is in search of partners who also notice those who are used and abused and who wish to help.

In a few moments we are going to collect school supplies for one of our mission partners, the Refugee Support Center. We’ve been doing this each summer to help families in our community start the school year right.

These are people who have fled from all manner of violence and oppression and come to this country in search of safety and relief; in search of opportunities for themselves and their children.

The Refugee Support Center has this annual tradition. Around July 4th each summer, they explain to the refugee families they serve what the national holiday is about – how it’s a time to reflect on what it means to live in this land of the free.

Then they ask what the United States of America means to them, and they send out a collection of quotes that never fail to humble me and fill me with gratitude. This past week, these are a few of the things these new friends said when asked “What Does the USA mean to you?”

• “Freedom. Not worrying about running away or being caught.”

• “I can make plans for the next day and beyond. I’m not where I want to be yet, but every day I am closer to my goals.”

• “People are elevated in this country. We can grow; we can improve. Our energy isn’t tied up in finding food and running from the enemy.”

• “We had so many difficulties and trouble in our country. We were always afraid. Here we aren’t scared to send our children to school or to go to work.”

• “America has rules that everybody follows, not just the little people like us. The big people must obey too.”

• “There is so much kindness. Let me tell you a story. A few months after we arrived, my wife and I went to buy a washing machine. We had $200 saved up. We asked another customer in the store where to find a used washing machine, and she said she’d walked with us to the area. When she asked about us, we said we were refugees. She told us to keep our money, helped us to pick out a brand-new washing machine and paid for it herself. We never saw her again. This is America.”

• “I would be dead if I weren’t here. This country has saved my life.”

• “A new beginning and getting the chance to hope.”

The School Supplies – it’s not fixing everything in the lives of these families. But it is one way we can say “You are welcome here.”

It’s one way we can notice those who have been used and abused for far too long.

It’s one, small way we can partner with God to correct a grave injustice.

Did God need Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt – probably not. God can do deliverance all alone – no problem – but I don’t think God wants to do it alone.
God discovered in Moses a fitting partner – somebody who cares enough to turn aside; somebody who longs to do what is right; somebody whose heart beats in rhythm with God’s own heart.
God is looking for ordinary people like you and me whose hearts beat with compassion and care for those who are crying out for deliverance.
And when our hearts do beat together with God’s heart – when we care about the same things that God cares about – perhaps that is holiest ground of all.
Children’s Time

I wonder if we can line up over here and take a walk.
We’re walking this way – what would we say about how we are walking:
We are walking in a, what kind of line?
A Straight line.

But what if something over here catches our attention.
What are we doing now?
We’re turning aside.
We’re going in a different direction.

In a minute I’m going to read a story about somebody named Moses and I want you to pay attention to when he’s walking in a straight line and when he turns aside.
Sometimes we have a plan for our day but God has something else in store for us and if we listen closely – we have an opportunity to turn aside and see what God has in store for us.

I know we usually pray while we’re sitting up there but why don’t we pray standing here in the aisle.
Will you repeat after me:
Dear God
Thank you for making us.
Thank you for our lives.
Help us live for you.