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The Burning Bush

Based upon Exodus 3


I spent the summers of my late high school, early college years at our local Y Camp - TahKoDah.

I loved these summers filled with children and sun and friends.

We had lots of "rituals", and one of my favorites,

at least in the early years when Mike was our camp director,

was our Thursday night ritual.

Right after a supper of hot dogs (the scary generic kind) and chips

Mike, our cheery camp director,

gathered the campers and counselors together

and with a playful smile

handed out an extra large Hefty trash bag - one per group -

and a lot of encouragement.

It was our "Unnature Hunt".

We were to scour the camp for any signs of "unnature"

and we were generously (if only humorously) rewarded as we did.

Points were given for all signs of human infringement on the camp,

candy wrappers and bottle caps were always big.

But every once in a while we’d find something really great

like a soda bottle

or even some discarded china.

Mike would turn into a stand up comedian around the campfire,

unloading our "unnature treasures" into the awaiting trash can

to the giggles and glee of the campers.

Odd but true,

this ritual was a weekly favorite of even the counselors.


As I sat in the midst of nature last week

(at our annual family pilgrimage to the gulf), then,

I was keenly aware of what does not belong.

A cigarette butt, a beer can, a piece of plastic wrap.

And as I walked along the beach

treasuring all that is "natural",

I was pondering our beloved story

of Moses standing before God in the midst of nature.

Like our Thursday night tradition at Camp TahKoDah

the infamous burning bush tradition started in a rather

nautral if no-account place.

[Horeb literally means "wasteland", and Mt. Horeb was certainly not an beach front view.]

And the burning bush account,

much like our Thursday night ritual

is filled with un-nature material.


The "un" natural is indeed the point of the story.

It is so odd,

so "unnatural" that the image of the bush

has burned a whole into our religious imagination

for literally thousands of years.

Moses was drawn to the bush

not because it was obviously divinely sparked

but simply because it was

odd.

In fact

when he discovered that God was indeed speaking

in the flames

he tried to hide.

Supernatural,

unnatural.

And the unnature odyssey gets worse -

the message from the bush

was as unnatural as the spectacle itself.


As Moses ventured close to the bush

filled now with fear

as he understood the divine presence hovering

and he stood mesmerized by the message:


I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry and know their sorrow;

and I am come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians. Exodus 3:7-8


The God-character

speaking from the unnaturally burning bush

was speaking an unnatural message

a concern for the plight of the working class in Egypt,

the slaves.

The God-character is so worked up

about the plight of the slaves

says the story

that Moses is being sent as a special agent back to Egypt

to confront the mighty Pharaoh.

Go down, Moses!


But what’s the big deal with slavery?

Slavery, the use and

abuse of lower classes

was (and for that matter still is)

status quo.

It was in the ancient world, and even in ours.

In the early part of the 19th century

when the British were trying to curtail slavery in the land

they claimed in Morocco

the sultan replied in a letter of astonishment:


"the traffic in slaves is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam . . . up to this day." The sultan continued that he was "not aware of its being prohibited by the laws of any sect, and no one need ask this question, the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.''


Even today

in our "enlightened era"

slavery is common fare in many parts of our world.

A decade ago a young Canadian boy Craig Keilburger captured the hearts of millions when he started an effort called "Free the Children" to free children enslaved in the carpet weaving industry the Indian subcontinent.

And though we are quite indignant with our moral outrage

as we witness the caste system in India

we need not look further than our own nation

to find the ravages of classism.

Survival of the fittest,

a minimum wage job is better than no job,

at least a sweat shop worker is making more than their unemployed counterpart.

These are the so-called natural economic realities.


But let's be honest -

the natural world isn’t always pretty

or kind

or even our kind of "just".

I delight in watching the beach,

and treasure our annual pilgrimmage down to the gulf,

but sometimes its lessons are downright harsh.

Survival of the fittest,

Big birds sweep up the little ones for lunch.

And this year we saw an amazing number of

beached jelly fish.

Now I’m as squeamish about jelly fish as the next guy

but even I cringe to see these amazing creatures

beached,

carried by heedless waves to the sand

and left to bake

a slow torturous death

in the afternoon sun.

It isn’t pretty

watching these magnificent translucent creatures slowly die.

Yet this is natural.


A God calling from a burning bush

demanding fair treatment of all workers —

this is definitely not natural.

And what’s at stake if we dare to believe in a God

who has some preferential option for the

unnatural?

For the liberation of the oppressed?


For Moses there was a lot at stake.

All the while we’re caught up in the spectacle of the story

the burning bush

we forget not only the unusual message

but also the problem the message has for the hearer.

Listening to God caused a pretty serious interruption in Moses’ life.

Remember that Moses had been a fugitive.

He had been raised, according to the story,

as a somebody in Pharoah’s court (though an imposter there);

there he witnessed violence

and responded in kind

becoming a murderer and a fugitive.

When we catch up with him in today's installment

he has made good in his life, living with the Midianites.

He marries, he herds, he has children, and a life.

Moses has a life - that he's asked to leave!

For Moses to respond

to the unnatural message from the unnatural spectacle

he risks it all.

For Moses to respond

this "unnatural" spark must have been remarkably

believable.


As I look back on our "Unnature Hunts"

I realize that when Mike left our camp

so did the joy of our Thursday night rituals,

and so also our zeal in filling our trash bags.

We believed Mike

about the possibility of cleaning up the camp,

of making our little corner of the world better,

and I daresay in those years we did.


As I consider Moses call

to return to Egypt, to face the Pharoah, to speak for the people,

I find myself wondering

if we find the God-character in our lives

- that unnatural voice calling to our best inclinations -

if we find this voice to be so believable.


May it be so.

Amen.