Many people have a burning bush experience at some point in their lifetime – a time that God is so powerfully present in a moment that there is no denying God’s existence; a moment when God gets your attention and speaks to you; a moment so commanding that every cell in your body seems to be pulsating. Perhaps in that moment, you heard God’s voice, or perhaps you felt God’s presence in a way that changed you. Maybe your burning bush experience involved angels; maybe God spoke through another person, or through music or through nature. Maybe it was like what happened to my cousin soon after his wife unexpectedly passed away. Sitting outside on his porch petting their dog and grieving, a hummingbird appeared hovering right in front of his face for what seemed like a very long time bringing with it a peace that passes all understanding. He knew without a doubt that God was speaking to him through that bird. God is speaking to us all the time but sometimes the bush is on fire and there is no ignoring it. Sometimes God is so dramatic that we have no choice but to pay attention and to be transformed. —
At this point in his life Moses was still a young man, a young man who had been through a lot. As this scene unfolds, Moses is tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Being a shepherd gives a person time to think, to contemplate, to pray and I imagine Moses deep in thought about his life up to that point; about all he had been through.
He was born to Hebrew slaves at a time when all the Hebrew boy babies were killed. But the midwives who delivered Moses did not follow the Pharaoh’s orders and spared his life. His mother had the difficult task of keeping his existence a secret. She could never let him cry or he would be heard and killed. But as Moses grew, it became more and more difficult to keep him a secret. So his mother and sister came up with the plan to put him in a woven basket among the reeds in the river near where the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. She had a reputation among the Hebrew people as being a kind woman and so they placed their hope in her. And indeed when she saw the baby, she took pity on him, took him home and raised him in the Pharaoh’s palace.
As Moses grew up in the palace he must have known he was different, he must have felt that he was not like the rest of them in some way. He played with other children in the palace and had the privilege of an education but the older he got, the more out of place he must have felt. And then when he was old enough he must have learned the secret – his people were the slaves. He was not born into the royal family but to a slave family. And with this information came alienation. He was not royalty even if his people saw him that way.
One day Moses came upon one of Pharaoh’s guards abusing a Hebrew man and suddenly all the emotions of his life came out and he killed the guard. Now Moses’ life was in real danger. So he ran away from there and eventually was befriended by a young man tending sheep. The family took him in and gave him a place to live. He married one of the daughters, Zaporah and they built a nice simple life together. They had a son and Moses was content. His father-in-law was kind and he enjoyed the uncomplicated life of a shepherd.
And so when God called to Moses out of the burning bush as he was tending his sheep, Moses was surprised and caught off guard. And then he responded, “Who am I that I should lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” I have no money, no power. I am an outsider. The Hebrews won’t believe me, they won’t follow me. The Egyptians won’t listen to me. I will not be welcomed by the Pharaoh. Moses even later adds I am “slow of speech and slow of tongue. — O my Lord, please send someone else.”
Moses came up with every reason not to go. He stands at the front of a line of many people in and outside the Bible who did not desire to be chosen by God and who came up with excuses as to why God should not choose them. Jeremiah said he was too young, just a boy and Jonah did not want to work with those people and ran away. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. felt overwhelmed by his call and prayed to God to be released from it. It is a common story among ministers as well. I tried to bargain with God for 3 months. I gave God all the things I could do instead of going into the ministry. But God does not bargain and did not let me sleep, until I accepted God’s call. God does not bargain and does not accept NO for an answer. This IS God I am talking about, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. This is I AM WHO I AM!
There are many names for God. There is even a hymn called God of Many Names. But there is no name more perfect than “I AM.” The Hebrew word is translated as I AM WHO I AM. But it can also be translated as I was who I was, I will be who I was, I was who I am, I am who I will be, I am who I was, I will be who I will be. God is past, present and future and can never be contained one word. God is greater than any name.
God is so great, so holy, and so indefinable that the Hebrew people did not say God’s name out loud. The name of God, spelled Y-H-W-H, which we pronounce Yahweh, was only voiced by priests during worship in the Temple. When the temple was destroyed, God’s name ceased to be spoken. To this day, when our Jewish brothers and sisters see the letters Y-H-W-H, they say “Adonai” which means Lord. The 6,800 times Y-H-W-H is the Bible is written as LORD in all capital letters. LORD in all capital letters refers to the One who is above all names and too holy to be voiced. This is the one with whom Moses was dealing, this is the One with whom Moses tried to bargain! This is the One who had been working in Moses’ life since he was born. This is the One before whom Moses felt unworthy and unqualified. But where Moses felt unskilled and not good enough, God saw perfect qualities for the job.
Moses did not belong anywhere. He felt so out of place he named his son, Gershom, from the root “alien.” But the fact that he was a born a Hebrew slave and grew up as an Egyptian was an asset in the eyes of God. Moses was an outsider wherever he went. But that was an attribute for God’s purposes. Moses could speak everyone’s language – literally and spiritually. Moses was a Hebrew which would be helpful in convincing them to follow him. He was an Egyptian which would hopefully help him deal with the Pharaoh.
The fact that Moses was now living in the countryside was also helpful in God’s work. The job God called him to do was not for someone with a weak stomach: blood plague, frogs, lice, flies, disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn were probably not easy to experience. And the simple life would be helpful to Moses as he led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years. The things that made Moses feel ordinary and unprepared made him the perfect candidate for God’s work.
He was tending his sheep at the base of Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, thinking his own thoughts and minding his own business when he came upon a bush that was on fire. He heard the voice of God saying, “I have observed the misery of my people…I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians. I will send you to pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Moses was not aware of God’s hand moving in his life. He was unaware that everything he had experienced was to be used for good. As he walked along with the sheep that day, he was not expecting to hear God through a burning bush at the base of a mountain. Moses responded, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” But God called Moses to use the gifts he had been given that he did not even recognize as gifts for the good of God’s people, for the good of the body.
God called a slave orphaned but privileged, murderer turned shepherd to be the greatest leader of Israel. He called a man who felt unworthy and unskilled to lead thousands of Hebrew people from slavery to freedom. He called a simple man with a speech problem to be the mouthpiece for God.
And God called Jeremiah, a humble boy without experience to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel. — God called Jonah, a spineless, stubborn, uncompassionate man to save a sinful city.
God called a young, uneducated, poor teenager to be the mother of the Savior of the world. God called Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Ghandhi and many others. God called me and God calls you.
Our gifts are often unrecognized by us and rarely do we see our suffering experiences, our painful times as gifts. We feel unworthy, unskilled, not good enough for God’s work. We have all the excuses as to why we could not possibly do God’s work. We have good justifications as to why this is not the time for us. But we serve a Big God – a Mighty God – a Powerful God who does not take no for an answer. We serve are loved by a God who takes our pain and suffering, who takes our deficits and short-comings and turns them for God’s purposes. We worship a God who cannot be contained by one name. We serve a God that so loved the world he sent his only son to show us the way to live and love and serve.
We are standing on holy ground. The bush is on fire and God is speaking. It is time to step up and answer, “Here I am Lord.”