Back in January, I had the privilege to reflect on this same passage, about Moses and the burning bush, with a congregation in Manchester Cathedral. Some of you here were with me that day. It was before Covid-19 and it seems a lifetime ago!
I pointed out that Moses was 80 years old. So, a mere youngster in comparison to a few of you. He’d been 40 years in Egypt, then 40 years tending someone else’s sheep. One day, he was out with the flock, probably thinking about now having to pay for his TV licence and when best to get his flu jab, when he took a different path – and from there he saw a bush that was burning. As we all know, his life – at 80 – completely changed direction…
But for how long was that bush burning, waiting to be noticed? How many other signs had God left for Moses that he’d missed along the way, along the years?
And I said back then that regardless of our time in life, perhaps we need to take a different path? Not the one that led us to do whatever it is that we’re doing now – but with where we go next.
But just taking a different path is not enough. Like Moses, we need to be interested enough in what’s happening around us to look up from our feet, spot that piece of burning shrubbery over there that’s meant just for us – and then be curious enough to step off the path, take off our shoes and take a closer look.
An opportunity to reflect
Little did I know in January that within a few weeks we would all be obliged to go in directions that none of us had been down before. But I wonder to what extent it has led us to reflect on what we do and where we should go – as opposed to just missing what we no longer have and yearning for it to come back?
And so I throw out to you the same challenge today. As we try and piece together what our post-lockdown future may look like, with all that’s happened in the last few months, I ask you to be curious. To look around you. Are there any smouldering shrubs calling out to you? What are they asking you to do?
Meet the ancestors
Every now and then I research my Family Tree and one of the websites that I use is called Genes Reunited. That’s Genes with a G, not a J…
I had an e-mail from them the other day which said: ‘Your ancestors are waiting for you’. Now I know what they were trying to say – but at first glance it looked quite sinister – that my impending demise was being announced to me via e-mail.
In our passage today, God says to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God rooted himself in Moses ancestral past. He gave his credentials. This is who I AM. This is what we have done together.
Some of us are new to church whilst some have generations of church-going family who have preceded us. There is a legacy that we have inherited. Our own churches of Christ Church and St John with St Mark can trace their way back hundreds of years. And as we get older, sometimes events of 50 years ago can seem as real and as current as what happened yesterday.
But God said to Moses: “I’ve got a new job for you. And it’s not here, it’s somewhere else. You can rely on me since I’ve been with you and your family for generations. But I’m moving you on.” In the words of the Gospel song: “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land. Tell old pharaoh, to let my people go.”
And Moses said to God: “Sorry God, but I’m not up to it, find someone else.” And we all know who eventually won that argument, with God getting a bit cheesed off with Moses in the meantime.
What’s our legacy?
Perhaps we now face a similar challenge to the one Moses faced? We have a faithful God and we can look back over the years and testify to that. But maybe, as a church, we now have some questions to answer about new beginnings. In the ‘new normal’, how do we best use our church buildings; what are the most appropriate services to have; and in what ways should we best interact with our local community?
Through no choice of our own things got stopped. We need to prayerfully consider whether we should choose to start all those old things again. And should we begin something brand new? We need to consider, as a church community, how we best serve God in this place. We should ask ourselves as a church what legacy do we want to leave behind for those that follow us?
And perhaps we don’t think that we’re the ones that should be facing up to those questions and doing something about it. That someone else is better qualified. But like he said to Moses, God says no, it’s you I want. I’ll equip each of you with what you need to get the job done.
But maybe the question is much more personal. As individuals, how am I, how are you, best serving God? What spiritual legacy am I, are you, leaving for those that follow? As our Gospel reading from Matthew 16 showed, that may mean some very tough decisions, some hard choices.
So, let’s look out for different paths to take. Perhaps there is a burning bush out there, waiting just for you? Let’s be curious enough to step off the path, take off our shoes – and find out more from a God eager to talk about new directions. Who knows where it may take you, where it may take us?
Let’s close in prayer:
out of the flames of your creation,
your voice calls,
marking us as your own.
Yet there are times when we choose to ignore your voice,
and listen instead to our own needs and desires
and those that challenge our faith from within the world.
Forgive us for those times;
when we have ignored the needs of others;
when we have failed to place our feet upon your path;
and when we allow the earthly voice to distract us from your call.
in your forgiveness you offer again your invitation
to know your love, to be loved,
and to respond to your call.
In hearing your voice may we find our place
within your creation. Amen
‘Is there a burning bush waiting for you?’ was delivered by Ian Banks at Christ Church Walmersley and St John with St Mark Bury on Sunday 30th August 2020. It’s based on Exodus 3:1-15 and Matthew 16:21-28.
- For the Cathedral talk: https://stjohnstmarkchurchbury.com/2020/01/19/stop-and-listen/
- The prayer at the end is an extract from one written by Rev. MaryAnn Rennie (minister of Dunfermline Abbey) for the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/ website. Thanks to MaryAnn for permission to reproduce it here. I highly recommend that you also check out MaryAnn’s blog: https://beachblessersprayers.wordpress.com