1 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. 2 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. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 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.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites, out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Last Sunday, we left off with 3-month-old Moses getting adopted by the Egyptian King’s daughter, while still being nursed by his Hebrew birth mother. Moses basically grows up as a member of the king’s household and also as an Israelite-Egyptian—kind of like how I would identify myself as Korean-American.
As a grown up, Moses sees something difficult to swallow: an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. And when no one is around, he kills that Egyptian man and hides his body in the sand. It’s a strange action caused by his complex identity. His association with the Israelites made him feel upset at the injustice against the oppressed. But his association with the Egyptian royalty made him act as if he were the oppressor.
The next day, he finds out that his crime was witnessed by others, and eventually the king also finds out and seeks to kill him.
So, Moses runs away, unexpectedly giving up his privilege and association with the Egyptian royalty. Does he know that this would be the consequence of his violent act? Who knows? As a fugitive, he grows older, marries, and has a son. The time passes and the old king of Egypt dies, and a new king arises. Yet, the Israelites continue to groan under their slavery—crying out for help. And we are told at the end of Chapter 2 that God has seen, heard, and known their groaning.
And this is the very context in which we hear one ofthe most famous call stories in the Bible. What is a call story? It is a story of how God calls someone to do and be something, to do/be what God desires and calls you to do/be. A lot of times, these call stories are shared by those in pastoral ministry like myself, how God has called me to serve as a clergy, but this is not just unique to pastors. It is for all people: at some point, God has, and God will call you to do something, to be a part of God’s grand plan of preserving and caring for all God’s creation.
Again, to recap, the oppressed cried out, asserting their voices into the air. They did stay docile and silent. They did not swallow their anger and grief. But they cried out because of their suffering of nearly four centuries. And God heard and listened. And what we see next in today’s call story is a result of Israel’s outcry.
Our guess is that Moses is close to 80 years old in today’s story. And while on the mountain, Moses sees a burning bush. He could have just walked away or run away, thinking, “Oh no, there’s bushfire!” Abushfire in the wilderness is not like an oasis in the desert. It is not something we gleefully approach. It is dangerous and can quickly become a deadly wildfire, like we are currently witnessing in Northern California right now.
But out of curiosity, Moses pays closer attention to it and finds that the bush is not getting burned down by its blazing fire. Rather, it keeps burning and burning and burning. So, he looks even more carefully, thinking to himself, “Huh, that’s interesting. What’s going on here?”
We are told that God notices Moses’ curiosity, that Moses has stopped to pay attention to this burning bush, this strange fire. And God calls Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” Moses responds, “Here I am.” And God says,
“Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
The ground is no longer just any ground. It is a ground where God has revealed God’s holy self—a divine essence that is utterly unique, perfect, infinite, and beyond our comprehension. Now, Moses must be careful. Just as it is dangerous to get closer to the Sun, it is also too overwhelming to get closer to this holy God. Moses must come no closer. And according to their custom, as a sign of acknowledgment, humility, and respectfor God’s holiness, Moses’ shoes must come off since he is standing on holy ground.
And God shares with Moses why God is there: “I have seen, heard, and known my people’s groaning, their misery, their cry, and their suffering. I am here to deliver them. So come, I will send you to accomplish this plan.” God calls Moses to be part of God’s plan of preserving and caring for God’s people by liberating them from oppression.
And if it isn’t clear, the call he received was a dangerous one, just like the fire he was paying attention to.
In the rest of today’s story and the following chapter, we see this dialogue between God and Moses. Moses is smart. He tries to get himself out of this dangerous call by making excuses: 'I’m not good enough, I don’t have all the answers, people won’t believe me, I’m a terrible public speaker, I’m not qualified.' And perhaps these are not excuses, but Moses is being 100% genuine. He might really believe he is not enough to lead this liberation movement. I mean, who would ever feel they are fully equipped to do such work? But God is ever-patient and ever-persistent. God says to him directly and also implies to him in the name YHWH—that God is with him and God will be faithfully God for him and for God’s people until the end.
As we read the Bible, we see the progression of the accessibility of God’s holiness. God’s holy presence was only accessible to people like Moses on the mountain and in the tent, and later to priests and prophets in the temple. They were the ones who talked and listened to God; and delivered God’s message to the rest of the people. In other words, in Old Testament days, only a selective few could have relationship with God.
This shifts with Jesus. He comes to the world as the manifestation of God’s holiness, fully God and fully human, walking and dining amongst people. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, signaling the end of the old temple system. And as he said previously to the Jews— “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) —Jesus resurrected after three days, signaling the new era, the new temple. And the new temple is now with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, making God’s holiness accessible to all, and allowing our collective bodies gathered in Jesus’ name to also be God’s temple. In other words, God’s holinessis now unleashed and all of us can have relationship with God.
The reason why I am explaining this is because I wonder if this means that all of us now are standing on holy ground. If we truly believe that God is with us today, not as a distant onlooker or a puppeteer, but as Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior who walks with us and who talks with us and who tells us we are God’s own, if this is what we Christians believe, then wouldn’t every place on which we are standing be holy ground, a ground and a place where God has revealed God’s holy self? Aren’t we all standing on holy ground right now?
We live in a deeply divided world today, but regardless of where you stand personally, I think we can all agree on the fact that our world is on fire right now. It reminds me of this meme; it feels like living in 2020 is us living inside of this burning house. Our world is burning right now, both literally and metaphorically.
Moses worked as a shepherd until the age of almost 80. And he had likely seen all sorts of things out in the wilderness and on the mountains. A bushfire could have been nothing unusual for him—he could have just walked away to protect himself and his flock.
But he paid attention. He looked at it closely, noticed something different, and drew himself closer and closer—even while knowing how dangerous a bushfire can become. And God noticed what he was doing, how he was leaning in towards the burning bush, the strange fire. And as we said before, God spoke to Moses and called him to be God’s plan of preserving and caring for God’s people by liberating them from oppression.
Perhaps today’s story is here to remind us to pay attention to these fires. Maybe that is where God meets us. Maybe that is where God speaks to us and calls us by name. Maybe that is where God tells us how much God has been paying attention to the cries of the people, how much God has been intimately connected to the people who are suffering, deeply feeling what the people have to endure, carefully listening to what the people have to cryout.
Maybe these fires are where we find our calling, and are reminded that it has nothing to do with our credentials or talents, nothing to do with our age or past mistakes, nothing to do with our confidence level or mental fitness, but has everything to do with us submitting ourselves to God’s holy plan of preserving and caring for God’s people and all God’s creation. Maybe that is where we truly experience God-with-us.
Do you see the holy ground around you? Do you see aworld on fire? Let us take off our shoes. God is with us. God is calling us to be part of God’s holy plan of preserving and caring for God’s people.