Sermons on Exodus – 1 – The Burning Bush
Exodus Series 1: The Burning Bush
We are beginning a series on Exodus. The Book of Exodus, as well as being history, is an instructive scripture of a formative journey. It is a picture of God’s relationship with this people. It shows us things that are true for all time:
• What God is like and how he deals with people
• What people are like and how they deal with God
• So it is a promise to us – to me and to you
For today I want to ask you to ask yourself two questions:
Who am I?
What is my identity? Am I defied by my present circumstances or something deeper?
Whose am I?
To whom do I belong? Am I my own, resting on my own initiatives, or do I belong to someone else?
1. Exodus Themes
Let’s look at the big picture first – the book as a whole. What are the main themes?
(i) It affirms God is actively involved.
He is not absent deist landlord who creates a world and leaves it to its own devices. That involvement is personal, and national, and concerns people.
(ii) It affirms God’s sovereignty is absolute:
• Over nature, unlike the pagan gods of Egypt, affirming the Genesis story, where God imposes his sovereign will
• Over humanity – human beings cannot successfully defy God. Yes he has endowed all of us with free will, but the tension between human will and God’s will always resolve itself in the humbling of man eventually.
• Over history – Exodus teaches that history has meaning and purpose. It is not the upholding of haphazard codes but the upholding of God’s salvation story. From the migration of Abraham to the journey of Jacob to Egypt, all are part of a plan that leads to the journey of God to man – Jesus Christ.
(iii) Exodus also illustrates that that history is ethical.
It is about justice. God is not the upholder of the mighty Pharaoh, but the redeemer from injustice and oppression. Exodus is the paradigm of future redemption stories: the story of Atlantic slavery drew heavily on Exodus for inspiration and song, the emergence of liberation theology drew from Exodus, as did the fight against apartheid.
Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9 “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt
Matthew 7:12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) The Golden Rule: 12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
(iv) History is about us
Importantly, the creation of a just society on earth involves direct action from God, yes, but is also achieved through the agency of people. God’s people are liberated and then formed into a nation whose mission is to carry the message of God’s justice to the world. God is at work, but he requires his people to be at work too.
(v) In terms of identity, Exodus proposes that we are not owned by other people
Slavery is something we are redeemed from slavery to sin, a New Testament image drawing on the Exodus theme. But we do belong to God
(vi) Exodus, and life, is a formative journey
From a place of suffering to a place of hope and dreams, to a land flowing with milk and honey, but there is no denial of the suffering, hardship and fear that accompanies that journey. There is no triumphalism in Exodus
• About God and his expectations of us
• About us and our tendency to be fickle, frightened, and faithless
• About the world and its hardships, whether it be Egyptian armies, or aster less deserts – life is a tough journey, not a Sunday School outing.
Overall we see a picture of real life with problems and even evil. But a god who is there affirming human free will, but desiring a human response to Him, ethics history and inviting people into an intimate relationship with him.
2. Today’s Narrative – the Burning Bush
We began in our readings last week with the story of Moses’ birth and his rescue from the Nile. He is raised in the royal Egyptian household, largely separate from the suffering of his people but one day after witnessing an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew he commits murder and has to flee the country. He feels to Midian, marries the daughter of the High Priest there and becomes a shepherd, apparently leaving his destiny behind. A murderer, a failed leader, a fugitive, now shepherding sheep at the age of 80. So, Moses, the central figure is already 80 years old. He has lost all sense of who he is, and whose he is. While alone with his sheep in this desolate wilderness he suddenly sees an awesome spectacle. A bush is aflame but is not consumed by the fire. What happens is hugely instructive about God.
(i) Holy Ground
A voice uses from the bush calling his name and telling him to remove his shoes because the site is holy ground. It was not inherently holy ground. It does not outlast the divine presence – these places are known to us now and no longer holy ground.
Holy ground is where God is. We cannot confine him in place or style or tradition. If we stop travelling, then God moves on. If Moses had refused to leave that place, God would have had to move on and choose someone else. Just like the mountain of transfiguration which we studied in August, it was not the place that was holy but the presence. So everything we are and everything we do is made holy only by the presence of God.
(ii) The God of the Fathers – we worship the same God
God’s address to Moses is instructive. I am the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Moses is suddenly and startlingly reminded of who he really is – he is jolted into a renewed consciousness of his true identity. He is also reminded of the eternal truth of God’s promise, the covenant made to Abraham and Jacob.
Moses is reminded not just who he is, but whose he is – to whom did Moses belong? not to Egypt, not to Midian, but inescapably to God. Moses was who he was because of the eternal and unchangeable identity and nature of God and his promises.
We need to remember that when dreams and ambitions seem to have been lost to history and memory. Out of disappointment God acts. St John’s in Greenhill is still bonded to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We need to remember and inhabit our identity – we are of God and we’re His.
(iii) Moses reluctance
The calling is personal and it is to Moses and no one else. Moses is called because of this background not despite it His background qualifies him rather than disqualifies him, most of all because of his weakness. His subsequent life would point to the power of God not to his own merits.
Moses recoils from the task and to assert his personal inadequacy. Other prophets did the same Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. There is a prolonged dialogue – God exists and Man resists. In the end God has to compromise and grant him Aaron as his spokesman, but Moses will still have to go. In fact perhaps Moses very inadequacies were precisely what made him suitable. Everything that happened subsequently – the miracles that Moses performed in Pharaoh’s presence, the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians, the provision in the desert – all pointed not to Moses virtues but to God.
Everything you are and are called to be is not rooted in your own past, ability, failures, sins or virtues, gifts or weaknesses, but i Whatever he calls you to do will not be achieved if your skill or cleverness but in who you belong to.
God says to you as he says to Moses, do not fear for I’ll be with you. Look at the evidence around you, not the fears you have for your own inadequacy.
Through no genius of our own we stand on the threshold of new era here at St John’s:
• We have, or will have, many new parishioners, a new harvest field
• We have, against all odds, the potential for new development of our building to make it better for hospitality and worship
• We have the gift from God of a Christian school to provide a natural channel of communication for the gospel
God wants our humble obedience, not genius, or stardom or boundless industry and energy, but a simple faithfulness to live the gospel ad promo the good news of Jesus
3. What is our journey?
From a place of Christendom, at its height here in the 1950s to a post Christian Harrow. On the surface a wilderness journey bereft of the securities and pasture of the old Christian world.
But! God is at work. He is providing for us the means to upgrade our building. He is giving us vision for the journey. We have been give a vibrant Christian school, a context in which to serve and evangelise, and our residential parish is rising again – thousands of new people.
The fulfilment of all those things lies in the future, so the message at the start of our Exodus journey is not accomplishment, it is not conclusion, but rather hope, faith and vision. It is therefore trust and obedience.
Trust in who we are and who we belong to.