Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 3: 1 – 5
New Testament Lesson: Philippians 4: 8Finally, brothers, whatsoever things are are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
On that hot afternoon in the deserts of Midian, while Moses was herding his father -in-law’s livestock, what did Moses see?
We are first told that “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” Reading that, and being, as we are, thousands of years away from the actual occurrence and knowing, as we do, that the story that will immediately follow will involve spectacular events – plagues of frogs and locusts, the Passover, the parting of the sea – our first impulse may be to imagine that the sight before Moses is overwhelming and unmistakable. That it simply could not have been ignored.
In fact, we are the generation of Spielberg and George Lucas, and we know, by golly, what the fantastic ought to look like. We have seen the stars in the sky melt into lines when the Millennium Falcon goes into warp speed, we have seen an extra-terrestrial creature toss spheres into the air where they hang suspended in defiance of gravity and began to orbit and rotate. We have seen that same creature levitate a bicycle and, as Neil Diamond put it in his song, “take a ride across the moon.”
Yes, we know all about the fantastic. We know what it looks like and we know if Moses saw a bush that was burning and not consumed, well, it is no wonder that he stopped and took notice. No wonder.
But for a moment this morning, I want to consider the possibility that what Moses saw there and then may not have actually been overwhelming. The sight of the burning bush may not have been Spielberg-like. It may not have involved a twenty-foot flame in which a winged angel floated. There may not have been orchestral music in the background as Moses approached the bush.
There are hints in the text that suggest that the scene might have been more subtle than all of that. In the first place, how humble a symbol or means of revelation is a mere bush? It is something small and common. It is not a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire. It’s not even a tree. Moreover, God Himself does not seem to take it for granted that Moses will even notice the phenomenon. Indeed, God does not speak until he sees that Moses “turned aside to see.”
In the preceding verse, we see that Moses’ consideration of the burning bush was a result of his reflection and decision. He is not stunned or frozen in his tracks. He does not fall immediately to his knees. He is not overwhelmed. Rather, he deliberates: “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
For a moment this morning, I want to consider the possibility that what Moses saw on the mountain that afternoon was something that was, at first at least, just a little bit out of the ordinary. There are bushes aplenty. We can be sure that the desert at Horeb was loaded with scrubby plants. It may not even have been all that unusual for one of these brittle bushes in the desert sun to catch fire. What was unusual here was that the bush was not consumed by the flame. That startling fact was only obvious after some moments of observation and consideration. There is something different about this one. I will turn aside and consider.
You and I all know the rest of the story. Moses encounter with God in the burning bush was, to put it lightly, momentous. From this encounter comes the confrontation of Pharaoh, the plagues against Egypt, the Passover, the Exodus, the giving of the law, the entry into the Promised Land.
There is more, of course. The life of Moses led to the establishment of Israel as a nation and from that nation comes the prophets and, finally, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, through whom all the world is saved.
All of life. All of human history. All of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity turns on this one conversation. All on Moses’ decision to turn aside.
What can that mean for you and me this morning? Where might you and I see something just a bit out of the ordinary and take heed?
Look at the world around us. Things fall apart. Men and women are sick and lonely and bound up in the webs of their own passions. Do you, even for a moment, doubt that? If men and women are not alienated from each other and confused about the nature of the world and of life, then why are we awash in pornography? Why do men substitute the fake for the real? Paper for flesh and blood? Why have we given up on the promise of love and union? If men and women are not lost in their own passions and their own empty philosophies, then why are we awash in drug addiction? They are underfunded and overspent. They are alienated from one another. They are unsatisfied and restless. They are bored and disengaged from anything that might inspire them or lead them into meaning and purpose. They have no center or conviction, but take the path of least resistance. Thus they have no victory; they leave no legacy; they make no contribution.
All around us we see the principle of entropy at work – a gradual decline into disorder. This is at work, long term, in the physical world, but it is moving far more rapidly in this social order we live in. The culture coarsens. Institutions are undermined. Oppression looms.
All of this is nature. All of this is fallen, human nature. These bushes are burning, but they are consumed.
Look carefully. Do you see any bush that is not consumed? Do you see even one thing that runs counter to the way of all flesh? Is there anything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous?
Then turn aside to consider these things, for in them you may hear the voice of God. In them you may hear the promise of the gospel. Christ is among us and He will show Himself to those who turn aside to see and He will bring us into a new life, into a life of participation in His plan of salvation. His plan to bring men and women out of bondage and into freedom, light and life.