It starts out as just an ordinary day. Moses is doing what he always does, leading his father-in-law’s flock to food and water. Tending someone else’s herd isn’t much of a job – in fact it is work usually given to women and children.
But Moses really can’t complain. After all, when he arrived in Midian years ago with no money, no job, no possessions, he was a fugitive, wanted for murder in Egypt. He was lucky to get out of that country alive.
And he was lucky that Jethro, a man of respect and authority – a priest – let Moses marry one of his daughters, let him become part of the family.
By now Moses probably could go back to Egypt; the people who had been after him are long dead. But the truth is that he never really fit in there.
As an infant he was rescued by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who bravely defied her father’s edict that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. Even though he was raised as an Egyptian, he knew in his heart he was Hebrew.
But the Hebrew people didn’t really trust him since he had grown up in Pharaoh’s home. And the Hebrews were slaves. Why go back to a life of oppression?
So Moses is content to stay where he is – an exile from his own people, spending his days wandering in the wilderness looking after another man’s animals.
There isn’t much to distinguish one day from another. But on this day, as Moses leads the animals to Mt. Horeb, he notices something unusual out of the corner of his eye, something unfamiliar in the all-too-familiar landscape.
A bush seems to be on fire. But it’s not burning up. How strange is that?
Moses could have just ignored the bush, passed it off as a wilderness hallucination, or something that was none of his business. If he had, his life most likely would have continued in much the same way it had for years.
But Moses’ curiosity gets the better of him. He stops and goes to get a closer look at the strange bush. And in doing so, his life and the lives of generations of others are forever changed.
As he approaches the bush, he hears a voice call out his name. “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am,” he replies, somewhat confused.
“Don’t come any closer,” the voice says. “And take off your shoes. You’re standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Now Moses is afraid. The God of the Hebrews here in the Midian wilderness? What does this God want with him?
He doesn’t have to wait long for an answer. “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” God says. “I have seen how the Egyptians have oppressed them. I have felt their suffering. It’s time to free them from slavery, to bring them to a new land, a great place with abundant food and freedom.”
Just one thing, God adds. God needs Moses to go back to Egypt, face down Pharaoh, and lead the people to freedom.
Can you imagine how Moses must have felt? He is not a religious man, not a leader, has never shown any particular courage. And now, out of nowhere, a God he hasn’t felt a relationship with is calling upon him for help – to go back to the land he fled from as a fugitive, to stand up to the powerful Pharaoh, and to lead out of slavery a people who have not requested his help.
No wonder he responds as he does.
“Are you sure you’ve got the right person?” Moses asks. “Who am I that I should do this?”
God never tells Moses why he is the one chosen for this particular task. God doesn’t give Moses a pep talk about his strength and abilities.
All God says in response to Moses’ question is five little words. “I will be with you.”
Despite all of Moses’ questions and protests – and he raises objections eight times – God is not swayed. Despite all Moses’ weaknesses, despite his apparent lack of qualifications, Moses is who God wants for the job.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. We know that Moses, despite all his hesitations, does what God wants him to do. We know that Moses does become a great leader, the greatest of all the prophets.
We know that he does lead the people of Israel out of slavery, that he does stand up to Pharaoh, that later he even stands up to God when the Israelites have sinned so greatly that God is tempted to destroy them all.
The great prophet and leader, the one who goes to the top of the mountain to get the Ten Commandments directly from God is the Moses we all remember.
But I think it’s also important to remember the Moses who is wandering around in the wilderness looking after his father-in-law’s animals. The Moses who has no apparent great career aspirations, no apparent qualities for leadership, no apparent deep spirituality or faith. Because this Moses may have more to teach us than the Moses on the mountaintop consulting with God face to face.
This Moses shows us that it is in the ordinary experiences of our every day routines that we are most likely to encounter the divine.
Moses certainly is not looking for God that day in the wilderness. But he is aware of his surroundings, living in the present, able to see and respond to what is in front of him.
Well, you may be thinking, it is certainly easy to respond when what is in front of you is a burning bush. Supernatural events like that are hard to ignore.
But who knows what really happened that day?
Jewish novelist and historian Chaim Potok describes it this way: “In the shimmering heat of the wilderness, beneath the burning sun, the leaves of a bush catch the fierce flow of the sunlight and appear to burst into flames. The bush glows and burns and is not consumed.”
Whether the bush is merely reflecting the glow of the sun or is truly on fire is not the issue. The issue is that Moses responds, and in responding experiences an epiphany, a revelation that deepens his understanding of God and calls him to a specific task.
God places burning bushes around us all the time, but we must choose to see them and respond.
The stranger’s passing remark that causes us to see something in a new way, the newspaper article that catches our attention, the seemingly coincidental meetings and occurrences that mark our lives may all be ways in which God is trying to get our attention, to lead and guide us.
All too often we are waiting for the burning bush, the grand gesture, the flashing neon lights when it is more likely through the simple routines of our daily lives that God will be revealed.
God does have a call, a purpose for all our lives. Not a detailed road map full of five-year plans and objectives, but a general purpose, a way for each of us to further God’s kingdom.
And if we feel that we are not up to that task, that we are unlikely choices to do God’s work in the world, remember Moses.
God risks putting important tasks in unlikely human hands. God risks working with human frailties as well as strengths. God’s promise to Moses, “I will be with you,” is also a promise to each of us.