I have some good friends — I haven’t seen them in quite a while — but they’re some of the best people I know.
I met them way back when I was about 22 years old.
They have normal jobs, families, friends and activities.
But they simply burn for Jesus.
Do you know what I mean?
Do you know people like this?
They just seem perpetually happy;
and when conflict comes their way, they go straight to their faith, their community and to God with the certainty that everything is going to be all right.
“God’s got this,” they might say.
This group of friends was such a powerful influence in my life that the more I was away from them, the more I wanted to be in their circle.
I wanted to go to church with them, hang out with them, and be like them.
I thought I was a Christian before I met them, but I was, as we read in Revelation 3.16, “Lukewarm.”
I wasn’t afraid that God would spit me out for being so tepid in my faith life; it wasn’t that.
It’s that I wanted more.
I wanted to burn for Jesus, as we say.
Have my heart ignited.
Those friends? They were the kindling…
The Burning Bush
I love this story of Moses on Mount Horeb, which we read today in Exodus 3.1-15.
We all know it as Moses and the Burning Bush.
Moses — who as an Israelite baby, was placed by his mother into a basket and set afloat on a river because Pharaoh in Egypt decreed that all male Israelite babies be killed because the Israelite population was getting too big and strong.
And Pharaoh worried that the next generation of Israelite slaves would rise up against Egypt.
So Moses’s mother sent him adrift, where he was scooped out of the river by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who then raised Moses as her own.
And, in a sense, Moses’s Hebrew identity was hidden.
It’s a great story, and if you care to read it, just flip back to Exodus 2.
Who is Moses? In a nutshell, he abandoned his Egyptian royal family because he knew he was an Israelite, and that the Israelites were being persecuted as slaves in Egypt.
Cut to 40 years later, and we have Moses as a lowly sheepherder for his father-in-law way out in the middle of nowhere.
Now, his Egyptian identity was hidden.
Moses is not really an Egyptian, and he’s not really a Hebrew either.
And so it’s this strange man who is tending sheep one day and he’s up on the mountain side, and what does he see?
Right. The burning bush, right there in Verse 2.
Except there’s something wrong with the picture.
The bush itself isn’t being consumed.
It’s on fire, yet it’s not burning…
And Moses is curious.
There’s something very interesting, something in that flame that not only catches Moses’s eye, it captures his imagination, too.
And so he goes closer.
And when he does, the Bible tells us, the spirit of the Lord is in the fire.
God calls to Moses out of the bush and tells him not to come any closer and to remove his sandals.
He’s now on holy ground.
Remember, that word holy means set apart.
The next thing God does is to make an introduction;
God does so by giving Moses some lineage — I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
God is telling Moses that God is the author of the covenant which the Israelites follow.
And that’s all through Moses’s clan, and there’s a great association there.
Then God goes about telling Moses in verses 7 through 12 that Moses is going to indeed go to Pharaoh and tell him to set the Israelites free, and God will be there with him when it happens.
God doesn’t say “I’ll free them.”
God doesn’t say “You will be successful…”
God just tells Moses what the task is, and God will show up when it happens.
Sounds like faith-building to me….
And then from our reading in Verse 13, Moses balks, but God assures him, Oh, you certainly are going, son…”
And God gives Moses some choice words.
Moses asks who do I say you are?
And God simply answers in my favorite all-time Bible verse “I AM WHO I AM.”
The first letters of that phrase in the Hebrew comprise the word YaHWeH.
I am who I am.
The Hebrew language is interesting, tho. See the tense also alludes to something else.
And that is “I will be who I will be.”
See, there’s a past in God telling Moses the lineage — father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…
But also a future component, too:
I will be who I am.
It’s really quite awesome.
And we know the rest of the story.
The ten plagues, then Pharaoh finally relents, the Israelites’ adventure across the desert where they’re given the 10 commandments, and God brings them to the Promised Land….
Very abbreviated version, right there…
In a nutshell, then, we see Moses, who at this point we might have called a “nobody” or maybe “an average Joe.”
And he’s out in his unremarkable life, doing an unremarkable job.
And something remarkable happens.
Something sparked his attention.
Something kindled his imagination.
And, eventually, as we know the story, something lit Moses’s heart aflame.
That something was Yahweh. The Great I AM.
A bush — a thorn bush, no less — is pretty common in Midian, where Moses was tending the herd.
That it was engulfed in flames was probably uncommon.
But the fact that something supernatural was going on was certainly the thing that attracted Moses to it.
In our lives today, a burning bush is nothing really uncommon, is it?
I mean let’s make some parallels here.
What is attractive to you, only to find out in the end that it was nothing.
It burned up, or burned out, and now it’s gone.
It’s of no use, the spark or fire is gone.
I think of the abundance of consumer distractions that vye for our attention, money, and even worship, but they never last.
I think about political candidates with big promises…
Or the new mega church or latest Christian worship style or the plethora of self-help or fad-diet books…
I even see this, sadly, in unhealthy relationships.
At the outset, they all look pretty great.
And our imaginations are kindled by them.
We’re drawn like moth to a flame, to quote Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice.”
But they don’t last.
Instead, they consume us.
They consume our bank accounts, our allegiance, our time, our physical resources and our hearts!
And they leave us bankrupt in a host of ways.
They abandon us.
And worse, they consume us till we come a burned up husk of ourselves.
Maybe we’re all ordinary people — maybe even ordinary Christians — and we want to be consumed.
But by what and what cost?
God shows Moses and all of us here today that God’s love burns eternally.
It will never consume us to the point that are no longer ourselves.
Why would God make us the individuals we are just to consume us and leave us as a husk of that.
It’s not at all God’s character.
Instead, God’s fire is a fire of love, mercy and grace.
And more, it’s an eternal flame!
That fire gives us Light.
The fire gives us Life — warmth and comfort.
The fire ascends — the flames and smoke reach upward to the heavens.
We can follow the sparks’ paths, yet not be consumed by them.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Isn’t that comforting?
And isn’t that attractive?
Nothing to lose
To be embraced by the flame of God, because while its warmth, light and ascending reminder remains with us always — burns within us always — it never consumes us to a point that we are no longer.
In fact, we become more like God made is!
It doesn’t require anything of us to give, except ourselves.
We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And when we see that flame that attracts but won’t consume you, isn’t that what we crave?
You see, I believe that there are two kinds of people in this world.
Those who are consumed and those who aren’t.
Those who are consumed are consumed by things, ideas, broken people and false or misleading hopes.
And then there are those who aren’t consumed by those things, but who burn for Jesus.
And maybe — and probably — we all have a little of both in us.
It’s a question of degrees.
And the goal is to dial up those degrees toward the fire of God and less on the consuming habits and ideas of this world.
To put it in Wesley’s terms, that’s how we move toward Christian Perfection.
Maybe we’ve caught a glimpse of that True Flame.
Maybe we’ve even had it burning inside of us at one time.
Maybe something happened, and we’ve retreated from it, away from its warmth.
Maybe we walk on by it, ignore it because we’re wrapped up in something else.
But one thing is for certain, in this cold, cold world, we all are created, born, made to crave that Beautiful Flame.
Moses was no different.
And neither are we.
When I was 22 years old, and I met this group of friends, I wasn’t either.
I wanted what they had because I saw in them a fire that burned so brightly but didn’t consume them.
And that was beautiful.
I can keep telling you to read your Bibles, pray more, meditate, come to church regularly and get involved in church ministries…
For me, it took a witness.
I stopped walking by that burning bush, and I finally approached it.
And when I gave myself to it, when I realized this was it meant to be to be set apart, then I understood what Holy meant for my life.
And, like Moses taking off his sandals, I acknowledged that Holy Ground.
I gave myself to it.
I watched that flame intensely.
And I felt that flame burn in within me.
But what if I never noticed it?
Or what if others never see it or know of such a flame?
See, that’s on us.
We need to be those people who are like my friends were to me.
“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel,” Matthew 5.
Gotta let it shine…
That’s our job.
It’s not just a job for a pastor.
It’s the job of the church.
See, we become the burning bushes for others to witness, don’t we?
The bush wasn’t God.
The Spirit of God was in the bush, but the Spirit of God wasn’t the bush.
The flame didn’t consume the bush; the bush remained.
So is the Spirit of God within us — always and eternally burning, but never consuming.
Don’t hide that light. Ever.
This is how we will always keep that fire alive in us and in this world.