The Presence of God

Exodus 3:1-6

You might be forgiven for thinking that Moses and the burning bush was something dreamed up by J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter to investigate, but the burning bush is nothing to do with magic because it’s about mystery. God, of course, is the ultimate mystery, the glory that is almost beyond our imagination, and before whom worship is the best response we can make.

Those who have studied the Hebrew Bible say that this story of the Burning Bush is not an attempt to use words to produce a photograph, but rather an attempt to find a way express being in God’s presence. One scholar puts it this way: “it would be foolish to rationalise the burning bush, as though it could be seen through the lens of a camera, because whatever Moses saw with his naked eye was transformed into a sign of the divine presence. Moses’ vision awakened him to the realisation that he was truly standing on holy ground, for at that mountain rendezvous he was met by God.”

Moses was going about his business, trying to find pasture for the flocks he was caring for, when suddenly his ordinary work is transformed by God’s intrusion. The pasture becomes holy ground because of God’s presence there to call Moses to something new. As far as we know, Moses wasn’t searching for God at that moment, he was simply minding his own business, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. And right in the middle of this ordinary everyday grind, he was literally stopped in his tracks by this bush which is on fire, but not being burned up, and then by the voice from the bush which turns out to be God’s voice. As the voice asked him, he takes off his shoes because he’s standing on holy ground.

And we’re standing on holy ground as well, even though there isn’t a burning bush here, because God is everywhere, and everywhere God is is holy. There’s a beautiful little prayer in one of Leslie Weatherhead’s book of prayers, which says something about the sacredness of where we worship God:
“Enter this door as if the floor within were gold,
and every wall of jewels all of wealth untold;
as if a choir in robes of fire were singing here.
Nor shout, nor rush, but hush…for God is here…

How true, but like Moses at the burning bush, no worshipper is permitted to simply stand and admire the vision of the bush – to venerate a building for its beauty and symbolism alone. We’re all commanded to symbolically ‘take off our shoes’ because God commissions us to work for his kingdom. Let’s face it, our feet have become so used to being protected by shoes, that we feel very vulnerable when walking without them on rough ground, hot sand, mud, whatever. So, in the same way, we’re commanded to take off that which insulates us from being vulnerable, from taking risks, from stepping outside our comfort zone, anything that isolates us from other people, from God, from creation, even from our truest selves. Each generation of worshippers is directed by God to unbind the straps of apathy and fear, of self-importance and arrogance, and to set aside any worn out concepts that prevent listening and responding to the surrounding holiness. As that happens, the movement from the experience of holiness to the desire for wholeness is made.

But going barefoot isn’t always easy; it’s an act of reverence, responsibility, and vulnerability. Yet only when our feet are figuratively bare can we truly wiggle our toes in the fertile soil of life and root ourselves firmly in the holy ground.

Jesus’ life was certainly grounded in the fertile soil of everyday living, and the stories he told arose out of and related to people’s ordinary life situations as he helped them believe in a God active in ordinary human lives. What made Jesus’ journey, and theirs, sacred was the presence of God through every step of it. What makes our journeys sacred is also the presence of God through every step of it. The author Annie Gillard says that as a reminder that she walks on holy ground, and to help tune herself to the presence of God around her when she walks, her left foot says ‘glory’ and her right foot says ‘amen’. I’ve heard much worse ideas!

When God spoke at the burning bush, God revealed his character and plan, of a sensitive and compassionate God who suffers with the people and shares their plight. The words spoken to Moses did not reveal a distant God, but one who saw and heard the cries of the enslaved people and who was speaking words of deliverance and hope for them through Moses.

That divine power and energy that caused the bush to burn, is what we now would describe as the Holy Spirit, which keeps on fuelling our lives with the energy necessary to respond to God’s word to us.

We don’t generally encounter burning bushes, but we can still hear God’s voice in a multitude of ways, maybe not as clearly enunciated as to Moses at the burning bush, but there all the same, perhaps in a rainbow, perhaps in a piece of music, perhaps in a sunrise, perhaps in someone’s smile. So, let us use or time of silence to consider how we connect with God, and perhaps even to listen for God.

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