THE BURNING BUSH
A Sermon preached
And Moses looked and there was the bush blazing but it was not burnt up…..
WE ARE ALL CALLED
I wonder how you account for the Burning Bush?
· Flame coloured berries?
· Sunset through the leaves?
· Poetic licence?
· Miraculous suspension of the laws of combustion?
· The influence of pre-Judaic animism on ancient writers?
· Profound theology woven into unhistorical myth?
Well there is of course a simple answer - we don’t know
But whatever our view on the inspiration or the fallibility of Scripture we can agree on the point the story is meant to convey - that in the midst of ordinary life, Moses, a shepherd minding his own business – or to be precise minding his own sheep – suddenly and quite unexpectedly in the midst of the ordinary round, finds that he is in the presence of God, and God is calling him.
God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
Sometimes through burning bushes and the like.
In my case, he has worked through what I often think is an equally mysterious phenomenon, the Methodist Stationing Committee.
And whilst minding my own business, or to be precise my own flock in Walsall, God said go to – well, actually not to Pharaoh but to somewhere equally frightening, the Mint in Exeter
How I understand Moses saying to God – Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?
And that is why - if I may be very personal this morning – I ask for your prayers – I need them and rely on them –
For God’s call can only be fulfilled in the power and grace of God.
If your new minister is Andrew Sails on his own, then I’m afraid you’re in deep trouble. Heaven help you. But of course that’s just the point- heaven does help us, and if your new minister is Andrew Sails working with your prayers and God’s grace and God’s power, then who knows what we cannot do together in his name?
At the beginning of this new Methodist year please remember in your prayers all members of the ordained ministry –
· all those listed on the notice sheet and others, who begin ministry in new circuits today
· and also our ministerial supernumeraries here at the Mint – I am so glad and privileged to be part of such a team, and I ask your prayers for them – not least on this special day, for our father in God, John Lawson – John, we salute you, and thank God for all that he has done through your ministry since you first responded to the call to the call 70 years ago.
BUT God does not just call ministers to follow him – the call of God from the Burning Bush, the privilege and the responsibility of following, is there for every one of us here today.
And so I ask each one of you here today -
· When did you last see a burning bush?
· When did you last hear God speak to you?
· When did you realise that you w standing on holy ground?
Each one of us needs to ask – Have we have failed to see the Burning Bush or heed God’s call???
We are grateful to everyone who has helped get the Manse ready for us - we hope you’ll all call and see us a week on Saturday – if the weather’s good you can sit in the garden and even help pick the blackberries from the manse blackberry bush.
But do you know the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only ~he who sees~ takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
And we – do we recognize God speaking to us from every place and every bush? – or do we just sit round making blackberry jam??
Sometimes we just forget to look for God –
On other occasions of course we make very sure that we positively turn a blind eye.
Like a number of others here, Liz and I went to the Northcott Theatre this week to see Peter Shaffer’s hilarious Black Comedy – on the way out I was talking to someone from the Mint congregation – I won’t embarrass Sheila Mitchell by mentioning her by name – and she said – we’ll expect that in the sermon on Sunday – Well no problem -
The Black Comedy is a farce about people in the dark literally in the dark – in a power cut – and – without divulging the plot for those of you who may be going this week – there are plenty of guilty secrets about, and some of the characters work very hard to blow out the candles and keep the lights off – for fear of what the light would show.
And how often do we deliberately turn away from the light of God’s presence, positively turn our back on Burning Bush, for fear that the light and fire of God’s presence might be too uncomfortable for us to endure as it showed up our sins?
God speaks and calls in so many ways, but how easy it can be for us to keep picking the blackberries and – whether by omission or deliberate intent - ignore the call of God in what we do.
This of course has been the week of the earth summit.
I feel like re-writing Exodus 3 like this –
“And lo the people went to the jungles of the Amazon and saw a rain forest which had been there since the dawn of time, and lo it was consumed before their eyes,
And lo, the people went unto the Kenyan Rift Valley and saw a strange sight – a lake which had been there since time immemorial drying up
And God spoke to the people from the lake and the forest and said Behold, this is holy ground – revere it, take off your shoes – but the people did not hear the Word of God, nor did they know they stood on holy ground, and so they destroyed the lake and the forest and the planet.”
God speaks in so many ways – waiting to be heard and seen if we would but see him.
I love the art work the young people have done – I’ve never shared the front of a Church with a Les Miserables poster before – but its great –
And I’m reminded Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Mis, who I remember at one point says “love another person and see the face of God”.
God calling to us not only in the needs of the planet but in the needs of the poor and sorrowful – Give them our attention our time and our love and (like Moses before the Burning Bush) we will suddenly realize that we are before the face of God himself.
IT IS OFTEN A CALL TO DIFFICULT THINGS
God calls us in many ways – but seldom to an easy life.
God said to Moses – Go – go where? – Go and see the tyrant Pharaoh
And in the Gospel passage set for today, Jesus says (Mt 16.24) “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
This is the salvation God calls us to – not salvation from suffering but salvation through suffering.
Jesus does not say “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him follow me to Church on a Sunday” – though that may be part of it – it is much more than that – it is
· Leave your nets
· sell all you have to buy the pearl of great price
· Pluck out an eye if it causes you to stumble
· take up your cross and follow me”
And so to you, my dear new friends and fellow workers at the Mint, what is God calling us to do together during the next five years or more? I suspect many hard things.
Following the God of the cross can take us to Golgotha, and following the God of the burning bush can take us through the fiery furnace of God’s sacrificial life.
BUT – and here is the real miracle –
We, poor earthern vessels that we be,
Find that as we follow God into the fiery furnace we are not destroyed but that we are fired and strengthened for the task
SO as individuals and as a Church, let us open our hearts and minds to the light and the fire and the call of God
We need to hear that call in so many ways and so many places -
· in burning bushes and blackberry bushes,
· in power cuts or potters kilns,
· in Church committees
· in ecological disasters
· in the face of the poor.
And as we meet God in those places, may we find not only the call be the power of his presence -
And then may we say –
Bring on Pharaoh,
Let him do his worst –
For we stand on God’s earth, which is holy ground,
And in the name of the Holy One what may we not do together?