In her poem “Aurora Leigh,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.
The story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15) has long fascinated believers. Moses is going about his usual business as a sheepherder when he catches a glimpse of something unusual in his peripheral vision, and decides that he must turn and look. Like other call stories in scripture, this one provides a window into how we interpret the ways God calls us.
The story of Moses, and the story of each person who has been grasped by God’s unconditional love, shows that there is One who knows us and calls us by name. There is One who calls us to a centered life, a life full of burning bushes, a life lived on holy ground. These burning bushes are everywhere. We need only open our eyes.
Our primary source as Christian disciples is Scripture, not because it’s free of error or contradiction, but because it is the remembered story of a people seeking after God. We read it, study it, and wrestle with it. Scripture is a burning bush, demanding our attention.
Anything that brings our attention to our Creator is potentially a burning bush. Prayer can be a burning bush, as can meditation. Other people can be windows into the divine. Relationships sometimes cause us to look deeply within ourselves to encounter the intrinsically relational nature of life. Events sometimes converge in such a way that we find ourselves brushing up against what it means to be human. As we engage our conscience and take moral stands a bush is burning in our midst!
As followers of Christ, the shape our lives take in the world is the cross, reflective of the self-giving love of Christ. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus tells his disciples, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus knew that the God-centered life always involved a willingness to put one’s life on the line in order to participate in the divine presence in the world.
Therefore a person like Rosa Parks boldly refused to cooperate with the evil of segregation by refusing to sit at the back of the bus that day many years ago in Montgomery, Alabama. Every day, ordinary people work for social justice, among them the advocates for the full inclusion of our LGBTQ neighbors in society and in the church.
Then there are those dear souls who daily show mercy to others – nurses, teachers, social workers, first responders, caregivers, hospice workers. There are those who go beyond what is reasonable to cheer the depressed, to comfort the grieving, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. Burning bushes, every one!
God cannot be kept on a shelf, or in a private corner of our lives. God tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Therefore we walk into the world with this One whose name is I AM, and realize that we can’t take anything for granted, and we surely can’t assume to know what comes next. We worship the God who is the great I AM, whose relationship with the world is dynamic and active. We turn aside often to see what God is doing. We take off our shoes, and feel the holy ground beneath our feet. We remember that in our baptisms we put on Christ. We become the presence of Christ as we move out into the world. We go in the name of the great I AM, the Lord of life and hope!
Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson