14 Pentecost, Year A: The Address

“Moses Before the Burning Bush,” edlimphoto/Flickr

14 Pentecost, Sept. 3

Ex. 3:1-15 or Jer. 15:15-21
Ps. 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or Ps. 26:1-8
Rom. 12:9-21Matt. 16:21-28

After Moses had grown up, “he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Ex. 2:11-12). “When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses” (Ex. 2:15). We meet Moses now in the land of Midian, far from Egypt, embarking upon a new life, welcomed as a foreigner into a new family. He marries Zipporah, the daughter of the priest of Midian, and becomes a shepherd. Thus, he starts again in reasonable safety, feeling Egypt perhaps as a fading memory.

Distance is nothing to God. From the high vault of heaven, God hears the groans and cries of his people, and he wills to set them free through the agency and leadership of Moses. For Moses, the shepherd, to become the liberator, he must have a visceral and transformative encounter with the divine. It happened in this way: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’” (Ex. 3:1-4).

This encounter is a biblical illustration of grace and nature, or rather, nature and supernature. That is, it uses figural language to show how God relates to the world. The bush is a created thing, suffused with the divine presence in the form of flame. Strikingly, “the bush is not consumed.” So, God acts within nature without destroying it, for he is the loving source, guiding presence, and final goal of nature. Here it is important to remember a basic principle, without which God and his work in the world may be thoroughly misunderstood. To quote the Wisdom of Solomon, “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you hated it” (Wis. 11:24).

God is sometimes called a consuming fire to illustrate divine omnipotence, but this should not be interpreted as God’s opposition to the world, as if he were some kind of cosmic threat. Moses hears a voice from the bush, and this too shows the fine-tuned relation of God to the world. God addresses Moses intimately by name. In response, Moses says, “Here I am.” God’s call is a grace, a gratuitous gift, and it carries with it the power to elicit a free response.

Hearing of God’s desire to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery, Moses finds his past flooding into the present, and is shocked to discover his role. “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex. 2:10). God promises, “I will be with you” (Ex: 3:12), and then reveals the divine name, “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:21). Moses, a single person, a contingent being, a cluster of weaknesses and deficiencies, stands before the Almighty. Who is God? To answer the question in a thoroughly traditional way, God is being itself, the absolute upon which the whole cosmos depends.

Do you hear your name? Do you know the One utterly beyond you and wholly within you?

Look It Up: Exodus 2:14

Think About It: Qui est!


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