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 wed 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
when he discovered that God was indeed speaking
in the flames
he tried to hide.
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
speaking from the unnaturally burning bush
was speaking an unnatural message
a concern for the plight of the working class in Egypt,
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 whats the big deal with slavery?
Slavery, the use and
abuse of lower classes
was (and for that matter still is)
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.''
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 isnt always pretty
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 Im as squeamish about jelly fish as the next guy
but even I cringe to see these amazing creatures
carried by heedless waves to the sand
and left to bake
a slow torturous death
in the afternoon sun.
It isnt 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 whats at stake if we dare to believe in a God
who has some preferential option for the
For the liberation of the oppressed?
For Moses there was a lot at stake.
All the while were 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 Pharoahs 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
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.