What religion is......
Our Christian faith can play many useful roles in our life. We look to it civilize us and provide a good and wholesome environment within which we can flourish, marry and raise families. We look for its help to guide us when we are challenged, to comforting us when we are distressed and to protect us when we are under threat. Our religion, when it is properly understood and well represented does all of this and much more.
However, this morning the scripture is not about what religion does. Today we are talking about something much more important; what religion is…. Religion comes from the Latin word religare which means ‘to bind’ and in the context of our use it means to rebind our connection with our Creator. All of the benefits of our religion naturally flow from a well-bound relationship with our creator. Therefore, the ability to effectively bind ourselves into a living interrelationship with our God is our first and most important job here at Good Shepherd. With this in mind, let’s take a second look at the story of Moses and the burning bush so that you and I can be better prepared if we happen to pass by a burning bush.
First, we need to recognize that Moses, and his time, were not so entirely different from our modern world and us. Yes, we have a host of modern distractions to contend with. However, have you ever tried to manage a flock contrary of goats? Oy Vey, what disaster!
When we hear the first part of today’s Exodus story, we have to wonder, what was going on here? Was the Burning Bush just a trick of light upon physical shrub growing upon a hillside or was this bush part of a mystic vision that was revealed to Moses through his soul as he walked along that mountainside. Life can be taken on its face value, if that is what we want. However, this need not be true for us. We like to believe that we are objective viewers of life, passive, but honest recipients of images as we move through life. However, is that really how we perceive things? No, I don’t think so. Usually, we project our assumptions upon life. And then, we have a bias to receive only that information which confirms our closely held beliefs. You see, we are not passive. We project what we have within into this world and we perceive what is reflected back. Therefore, the quality of our inner reality determines the quality of our perceptions of this world. So we have to wonder, how did Moses see life?
What Moses is describing here is something extraordinary and appreciating it requires that we cultivate a new quality, the ability to be surprised by God. How then, can we change to become open to spiritual surprises? For me the secret is to develop the habit of approaching God with curiosity, not an agenda. This will not be easy, because we are constantly encouraged believe according to an established formula or offer prayer for a specific payoff. A better, fresher relationship with our Creator does not come from trying to turn him into a butler. Instead, we need to prepare ourselves to receive God as he is, not as we conceive of “Him.”
Another essential part of this very important passage is implied, but not written. How did Moses become open to what God had to show and say? We can only make an educated guess about what that preparation might have been, but I am confident that it existed.
The father in law of Moses, Jethro, was the priest of Midian. I think we can reasonable assume that Moses was taking spiritual instruction from Jethro. In this way, Moses had likely prepared to welcome and accommodate God when the opportunity arose. We read here that when Moses saw the burning bush he decided to “turn aside and see this great sight”. This is what effective prayer and meditation will do for you. When something of spiritual importance emerges, we notice, we pay attention. Then, when the angel of God told him to remove his sandals because he was on holy ground, he complied. When on the holy ground of a spiritual experience, the last thing we will want is a thick, unfeeling barrier between us and the sacred. This is a time to become bare footed and vulnerable. Spirituality requires vulnerability and accommodation.
Also, the content of God’s message was not at all what Moses expected. Moses was taken aback. Our text tells us that when God revealed exactly who he was, Moses “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Why? Because a genuine spiritual experience is overwhelming. It blows our mind and we know, without a doubt, that we are not in control. Genuine spiritual encounters are often uncomfortable. That’s just the way it is and we should be prepared to just deal with it as spiritual reality emerges.
God goes on to tell Moses “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” We have to ask, how does God view creation? How did God see the affliction of the Jewish people? Does God view the action here on earth in a detached way like a drama on a TV screen? The action described in Exodus it is full of significance.
It appears that God took the initiative to reach out to Moses. But this is not necessarily so. It seems to me, that God is responding to Moses, because the entire life of Moses had become a prayer, soulful call God. The life experience of Moses, the joys, the sorrows, the suffering of the Jewish people roused Moses up into an unreserved, anguished cry to his creator. Then, one day, God responded. This is a central the truth of religion. God sees the world through our eyes and our souls. Therefore, if we want to be “heard” by God, we need to be clear and sincere.
This sharing an important part of connection with God. We need to be brave a big enough to share our big problems. Also, and this is very important, it must be an openhanded plea for help. A cry of the heart works to inspire a solution. An agenda and a schedule connected to that plea is not helpful, it is limiting. When asking for help, we should just ask and consider the job done. God’s solution will be infinitely better than anything we could conceive of. God did not intend to help Moses to renegotiate their labor contract with Pharaoh. He intended to get them the heck out of there. Each and every one of them.
Moses also showed great presence of mind in his conversation with God. For example, he asked for his name. Why is this important? Because, when we know someone’s name we can call it out, get their attention more easily and effectively. Moses knew, as we should, that one spiritual encounter will not be enough. We need, we all need, deep, genuine and repeated encounters with the living God. This is the takeaway for us. Life is not easy, but with God’s help, it is manageable.
So now, we have a better understanding of Moses and the give and take of genuine spiritual experience. But we also have some homework to do. Because burning bushes may be more common than we have been lead to believe. What is in short supply is the kind of people who are able to recognize them and are then willing turn aside to see their wonder.