Last weekend, my husband and I took our son Isaac to college. We moved him into his dorm room, helped him make his bed and find room for all his stuff, including a Minnesota winter coat that he will probably never need in Indiana. We went to Walmart to get him laundry detergent, shampoo, microwave popcorn, hot chocolate mix, and other assorted and sundry things that hopefully will make him feel more at home in a new place.
And then, the next day, after attending church with Isaac and taking him out for lunch, we said our goodbyes. There in the parking lot, we and his two sisters put our arms around him, and prayed blessings on him as he enters into this new adventure in his life. And then we drove the seven hours home, me with a lump in my throat, praying that we have prepared him well.
I know I am not alone in this experience. It is that time of year, after all. Some of you have taken your own children to college, or perhaps sent them off to kindergarten or high school. These are significant milestones, markers along the way that deserve attention. And they are all good things, signs that our children are growing and becoming the people God created them to be.
And yet, I am still a little sad. We are not empty nesters yet, but this is a significant change in our household, and truth be told, I don’t like change.
Perhaps that’s why my imagination is drawn to the alternate Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Exodus 3, the story of Moses’ call. Moses is launched in this story into a whole new chapter of his life, and he’s not a young man.1 Moses’ story might teach us something of what it means to listen for God’s call in a new season of our lives, whatever season that might be.
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We meet Moses, of course, as he is shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, on Mt. Horeb in the wilderness of Sinai.
And then, this: a bush, one of the many that cling to the rock and thin soil of Sinai—but this one burning, yet not consumed.
Now, we sometimes give Moses a hard time in sermons. And for good reason. He’s sometimes whiny, sometimes impatient and impulsive. He certainly doesn’t distinguish himself by his response to God’s call later in this chapter, but let’s give credit where credit is due, because Moses does do some things worth emulating here.
First, he sees. The text says, “He looked, and see—the bush was burning with fire, but it was not consumed.” Moses is going about his own business, he’s doing what he’s done countless times before, shepherding the flock, but in the midst of the ordinary stuff of daily life, his eyes are open to see what new things God might be doing.
I am afraid that we as a society have largely lost this ability to see. We often don’t see what is around us—quite literally because our eyes are glued to the screens that we carry around. It takes a certain patience and attentiveness to see, to look and see what new things God might be doing in the day-to-day ordinariness of our lives.
Moses has that kind of attentiveness, that kind of patience, and he sees.
Moreover, he turns aside. Moses exhibits curiosity and an openness to wonder which leads him to go off the beaten path, to explore. It is a quality we find in children who stop and watch, fascinated by a butterfly, until we tug on their hand to get them moving again. It is a quality we too often lose as adults, going about the day-to-day business of our lives. We’ve been there and done that, and there is nothing new under the sun, certainly nothing worth turning aside for.
But Moses has not lost that quality of attentiveness, that quality of curiosity and an openness to wonder. He sees, and he turns aside.
I’m intrigued by what the text says next: “When the LORD saw that Moses turned aside to see, God called to him from the bush.”
It’s a curious way of saying it. “When the LORD saw…” Just how long had that bush been burning? How many other people before Moses had passed by and not noticed the bush? How many others had seen but had not turned aside?
Moses’ attentiveness, Moses’ openness to wonder, Moses’ curiosity and his willingness to turn aside—God can work with those qualities.
God calls out from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”—and Moses responds (in Hebrew) “hineni”—Here I am. At your service. It’s what Abraham says to God when God calls him in Genesis 22. It’s what Isaiah says in chapter 6, when God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” “Here am I. hineni. Send me.”
Moses sees. Moses turns aside. And Moses responds, “Here am I.”
And God says, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
That rocky mountainside, that semi-barren landscape out in the middle of nowhere, the far side of the wilderness. It’s holy ground because God is there.
The same is true wherever you are, of course. As you preach and teach and care for God’s people, you are standing on holy ground. On the far side of the wilderness, out in the middle of nowhere, or even in the anonymity of suburbia, wherever God is present, there is holy ground.
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We know the rest of the story. Moses soon protests God’s call. Who am I? What if they don’t believe me? I can’t talk. Please send someone else!
But here, in this one shining moment, Moses exemplifies for us the possibilities of new directions and new seasons in our life with God. Curiosity, attentiveness, wonder, the willingness to turn aside and to enter into new adventures in answer to God’s call—these are qualities important not just for the young, but for disciples of every age.
There is much more to Moses’ story, of course. After confronting Pharaoh and leading a recalcitrant people through the wilderness, after arguing with and worshiping God for a lifetime, Moses becomes in the end a kind of burning bush himself, filled with God’s presence, but not consumed, not destroyed. A wonder to behold, a sign of God’s love, of God’s holiness, of God’s saving power and of God’s faithfulness.
You are probably not there yet. There is more ministry to be done. But whatever season of life you find yourself in, I pray that you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear where God is calling you in new ways. I pray that you remember with thanksgiving what has been, that you anticipate with hope what is yet to be, and that you recognize with the eyes of faith that you are standing even now on holy ground.
- Moses, according to Deuteronomy 34:7, is 120 years old when he dies. Deducting 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and a few years for the Exodus and the time at Sinai and the first generation’s journey to the promised land, he’s in his 70s at the burning bush. So, in biblical terms, he’s at least middle-aged.