10/01/17 – J. Vespers – Finding the Burning Bush

Finding the Burning Bush

October 1, 2017
Jazz Vespers Homily: Exodus 3:1-15
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


One Christmas back when we were living in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. This was fortuitous because my father was visiting from Virginia and his young second family celebrated Hanukkah and my family celebrated Christmas. My youngest was 5 and my father’s two, who were being raised Jewish by their mother, were 3 and 6. One evening we took all the young ones out in our minivan to see the neighborhood Christmas lights. The houses in our neighborhood were newly built on farmland and so there were few trees. One house had one small bush in the center of the front yard decorated with red lights. My father’s 6-year-old shouted: “Look, it’s the burning bush!”

Sometimes holiness surprises us by showing up in the most unlikely of places. But, if you are open to see, there is holiness all around us.

Moses had suffered the consequences of an act of passion for justice in his youth. After killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, Moses was forced to flee from his cozy, privileged life in the Pharaoh’s palace. Hiding out in a distant, rural area, Moses had become a shepherd. He wanted to live an inconspicuous life bringing no attention to himself. He wanted to be ordinary. But God has a way of showing up and challenging us when we least expect it.

Out of a burning bush that was inextinguishable, God called out to Moses: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” In the Middle Eastern culture, it was customary to remove one’s shoes before entering a place of worship. This custom is still practiced by Muslims today.

By the voice within the burning bush, Moses was called to be a prophet and a leader. God commissioned Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land, the land promised in God’s covenant with Abraham. Moses had a perfectly ordinary response to such an outlandish proposition. “Wait a minute. I’m not up for this. I’m just an ordinary guy.” Then the excuses began.

Moses’ first excuse was that his people wouldn’t listen because they would want to know God’s name if they were to believe Moses had encountered the living God. In the Hebrew mindset, a name equaled presence. God told Moses his name is YHWH, which comes from the Hebrew root word meaning “to be.”  It is not a noun, it is a verb. The word is in the third person so YHWH literally means “he causes to be.” That is as much of the mystery God was going to reveal to Moses and his people that day.

To be frank, all Moses learned was that God is beyond human comprehension and forever will be. We don’t get to decide whether or not we believe in God, God gets to decide whether or not to believe in us. God would still be God even if there were no “us.” God, our creator, has chosen to reveal some of Godself to us. God is revealed in Creation. God has revealed Godself in Scripture when people who wrote about their experiences, their holy encounters, with God. God has revealed Godself in Jesus Christ. And God continues to reveal Godself in the mysterious presence we call “holiness.”

The ancient Celts had as firm a handle on God’s presence in the ordinariness of our lives. They believed that there were “thin places” where God reaches down and connects with the earth. The Celts had prayers for every ordinary activity from washing clothes to fishing for dinner.

Recognizing holiness takes preparation. It is our way of being in the world that allows us to experience holiness. Yes, it does happen sometimes that holiness bursts into our field of vision in totally unexpected places – a burning bush kind of experience. But, mostly, I believe, recognizing and experiencing holiness is a state of mind. In order to recognize holiness, we must have enough humility to be awed. We must have enough gratitude for the life that we look for things for which to be thankful. We must stop talking long enough to listen because holiness is not confined to sight, but also includes sounds, touches, tastes, and smells.

When, where, and how do you most often experience holiness? Is there a possibility you have missed some encounters of the holy kind because your focus is distracted by worldly concerns or tempted by worldly desires? I find that as I get older I am much more aware of the holy in the ordinary. I spent this past Thursday and Friday taking care of my almost 18-month-old granddaughter in St. Louis. Things that seemed like chores when I was tending her mother at 18 months seemed more like privileges with her. I felt I was in a “thin place” when she crawled into my lap to cuddle. I watched in wonder at the skills she had learned rather than worry if she was learning at a comparable rate to other kids her age. When one senses that all life is sacred, a veritable vessel for holiness, we are more willing to pour ourselves out in service to others, knowing we will be filled again and again by YHWH, ‘the One who causes everything to be.’

Praise God from whom all blessings come! Amen.


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois