August 22, 2021
Order of Worship:
As we continue in our series Exodus: Journey to Deliverance, we have finally arrived at the point in the narrative where Moses will take center stage. Today’s text is a familiar one for many of us, but such a rich passage is certainly worth returning to again and again. May we hear it with fresh ears as we pray the Spirit opens our hearts to the lessons of the Word:
- When we left off last week, baby Moses had just been rescued from the river reeds by Pharaoh’s daughter. In the intervening 12 verses, Moses has grown up, fled Egypt, and is now living in Midian. Following family tradition (Genesis 24:11-14 and 29:2-11), he has met his bride at a well where she was watering flocks (Exodus 2:16-21), and now he is keeping those same flocks. How many other prophets, teachers, and leaders in scripture can you think of who were also Shepherds? Why is the Shepherd such an important image for our Christian faith; what does it teach us about the nature of God and who we are called to be?
- As he’s herding his flock, Moses finds himself אַחַ֣ר הַמִּדְבָּ֔ר, literally “the back of beyond” of the wilderness (a phrase some of us in Appalachia might have heard before). We’ve talked before about what happens in the untamed areas of creation in scripture; the wilderness is where God shows up! Where else in the Bible can you think of that happening? Have you had an encounter with God while in nature? What was special about that experience?
- When God appears to anyone in scripture it’s called a theophany, and frequently they share common characteristics like fire, smoke, and bright light; what other examples of a theophany can you think of in the Bible? In this case, God appears to Moses “in a flame… the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed” (verse 2). I once had an Old Testament professor say that for him this was perhaps one of the truest images of the ‘divine essence’ – a flame, which was necessary for providing light and warmth and cooking in the ancient world, was a life-giving force, but it could also be destructive (which we’ve certainly seen in recent years as wildfires destroy homes, forests, and crop fields). This flame, while still untamed and powerful, does not consume or destroy the bush, which of course God the Creator made and called good. The metaphor of a flame might also speak to the way we talk about God’s love – burning and passionate. What images help you think about God and your faith relationship? What can we learn from the rich variety of metaphors we find in scripture?
- As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” Though this is certainly the first time God has shown up dramatically (or even directly spoken) in the Exodus story, the Lord has been present. God has “heard” the cries and suffering of the people (verses 2:24 and 3:7), and who but the Spirit could inspire the heroic actions of the midwives or the other women from last week’s lesson? God choses to act through people who are willing to answer the call, who reply “הִנֵּֽנִי” (hineini – “Here I am”) as Moses does in verse 4. How do you learn to cultivate awareness and pay attention to God’s presence in this ‘heaven crammed earth’ around you? What comfort is it to know that God is with you always? What is God calling you to do through the ‘cries’ you hear from people today? Are you ready to say “הִנֵּֽנִי” to what God has planned?
- Moses had a good life in Midian: he seemed happy to be a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks, which he would eventually inherit; he had a wife and a son. As we continue to read in the story (Exodus 4:10-13) Moses seems reluctant to return to Egypt, and we know that leading the people was certainly not as easy as herding sheep (Numbers 11:1-14). But though Moses has escaped, do you think he could live truly content knowing that his people remained enslaved? Why is solidarity so important to seeking justice for people who are oppressed, even when particular issues don’t affect you directly? Sometimes God calls us to hard and uncomfortable places; what sorts of privileges would you be willing to sacrifice if God asked?
Wherever God is calling you this week, know that the Spirit is with you there. We are never separated from God’s passionate love for us!
Shalom to you all,
Pastor Maggie Rust