A burning bush kind of question


I have always had a bit of trouble with the story of Jesus calling the disciples.  Jesus says, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people” —and they just jumped out of the boat and followed.

Really?  Where are the suitcases, and backpacks?  Didn’t they have families to support?  We know Peter had a mother-in-law because Jesus healed her, so doesn’t that mean Peter had a wife too?  Or had she died?  Maybe most of the disciples were teenagers and young adults, so they were more than eager to leave home and go off on a adventure. If that’s the case, then what was so compelling about Jesus that they would simply leave everything and follow him—just like that?  I wonder about things like this.  The gospel story makes it sound—well, sound so easy.  I don’t think I could respond so quickly to such an invitation from Jesus.  As a result, I have trouble understanding how this story of Jesus calling the disciples applies to me.

This past week, Moses cropped up in some conversations in our congregation.  Now here’s someone I understand.  Moses did not jump at the chance to follow God; in fact, it was only God’s insistent grace that somehow got him to take the first step.  I get that.  I can identify with Moses’ struggle, and I observe other people struggling with God’s invitation in a similar way.  Whether it is to take on new responsibility, or courageously to tell other people how they’ve seen God at work, or to invite someone to a church event, or to pray out loud (Lutherans?), or volunteer at a homeless shelter…it’s all a burning bush kind of call.

Let me tell you about Moses (my version), or you can read about it here.  Moses was born in Egypt into an Israelite family, but he was adopted by the daughter of the Pharoah (that’s another story) and grew up with all the privileges of royalty.  Meanwhile, his birth family and God’s people, the Israelites, were slaves treated brutally by orders of Moses’ own adoptive family.  Moses never forgot his roots, and one day when he observed an Egyptian slave master beating an Israelite slave almost to death, Moses became incensed at the injustice.  He killed and buried the Egyptian, thinking no one saw.  Pharoah, however, found out and ordered Moses dead.   Moses ran for his life to the east into wilderness territory.  There he started working for a herder of goats and sheep, named Jethro—a distant relative who became a mentor for him.  He married Jethro’s daughter, had two sons and lived the outdoor life of a herdsman.

One day while out in the field Moses saw a bush in flames that amazingly wasn’t burning up.  When he went over to investigate, a voice called to him. “Moses, Moses.”

“Here I am”, said Moses.

The voice said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—your ancestors. I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I’m going to rescue them from slavery.  To do that, I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people out to a good home.”

Is Moses thrilled with this new opportunity? No!  Does he grab his staff and say “I’m ready, Lord. What do you want me to do first?” No!  Moses was more concerned with his lack of training for this mission.  He questioned, “Why me?  Who am I?  It’s a huge job to lead your people out of there.  I’m just a country goat-herder, and down in Egypt I’m a wanted man.”

The voice responded, “But I will be with you, and you will know I’ve kept my promise when you are back here with all the people worshiping at this holy place.”

While I listen to this story, I imagine Moses with that awful gnawing deep in his stomach—like me, if I were in his place.  Moses said back to the voice (apparently God), “But I don’t know enough about you to tell others.  I don’t even know your name. When I tell your people in Egypt that their great-great-great-grandfather’s God sent me, they’re going to laugh.”

But God said: “I am who I am.”  That’s my name, Moses. Tell them “I am who I am and I will be who I will be” has sent you.

Moses was getting desperate, “But God! The people of Israel won’t believe me. They won’t do what I tell them. They’ll say I’m making it all up.”

God said, “Take that staff in your hand. Throw it down on the ground….Ah, yes, it’s turned into a snake, hasn’t it?   Okay, Moses, grab its tail.  Come on, grab the snake’s tail….That’s right; it’s a staff again. Does that surprise you?  Listen, if you go throw that staff on the ground, they’ll believe you.  Besides, with you holding the staff, I’ll do some amazing things to the Nile river and the sea you will have to cross.”

Moses was not finished; he came up with a good rational reason.  “God, wait. You’ve got the wrong person.  I am not a good speaker, never have been, never will be.  I stumble over words all the time, especially when I’m nervous.  I cannot stand up and speak in front of people.”

God countered, “Who made your mouth in the first place?  Who makes people so they can speak or not speak? Me, right?  Now go, do as I say. I’ll help you speak clearly and I’ll tell you what to say.”

Moses wailed, “Oh, God, please! I don’t want to go. Send someone else!!!.”

God (in exasperation or compassion) compromised, “Moses, don’t you have a brother Aaron who’s a good speaker?  Aaron will be your spokesperson; in fact, Aaron is on his way to meet you.  I will tell you what to say, you will tell Aaron, and Aaron will tell the Pharoah.  Go now! ….Moses, don’t forget your staff.”

And that was it.  God stopped speaking. The bush stopped burning. Except for a few bleating goats from the herd, it was very quiet.  In that quiet, I believe, is when Moses knew what he was going to do.  Yes, he recognized his fear of going back. Yes, he felt deeply his inadequacies. But in that quiet space I believe he also began to acknowledge his own passion he thought he had buried long ago—his passion to see the people of Israel set free from abuse, slavery and genocide. This passion  had filled him with such zeal it had gotten him into trouble and sent him running for his life.  Now at the burning bush, Moses discovered that God shared the same passion to set the people of Israel free.  I wonder if that’s why Moses picked up his staff, gathered up his family and started walking back to Egypt.

I think I can understand that response to a call!

I find this well known quote from Frederick Buechner discerning and helpful when responding to God’s call (and daily calls) in my life.  Buechner wrote that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)  We are not called to follow our desires and passions for our own sake; that’s kind of dangerous.  That’s how desires and joys get twisted and turned the wrong direction.

For example, the apostle Paul, before he met Christ in a vision, had a passionate zeal and joy for the truth which got twisted into persecuting Christians and sending them off to prison, punishment and even death.  But when Paul discovered God’s love in Christ, his joyous zeal for the truth became linked to the non-Jewish world’s needing to know the truth of God’s love in Christ.  He traveled all over the Mediterranean world to speak of it.  I know the truth of Jesus because of it.

I know some people who have a joyful passion for quilting, and those quilts get shipped to help meet people needs who are suffering from a natural disaster or war.  Others I know have a joyful passion for fixing things;  their repairs and remodeling to a church building make space where people can access free medical care in a poverty-stricken community.  Some people have a joyful passion for healing, and so they cheerfully visit those who are not well and need encouragement.

Meanwhile, Jesus somehow captured Peter and Andrew, James and John’s joy for feeding people fish and connected that enthusiasm with the world’s need to be fed the good news of God in Christ.  God, more slowly, connected Moses’ almost forgotten passion that his people not be slaves with Israel’s crying need for a leader to come and set them free.  Buechner’s theory holds.

So standing at a burning bush, I am asked three questions:

~What are my deep desires that bring me joy? Careful.  On the surface, for the disciples, Moses and Paul, it appeared to be fishing or herding sheep or making arrests.  They had to go deeper to discover that it was really feeding people, or working for justice for an abused people, or living to tell the experienced  truth of God’s love.  So then, what is my deeper passion that would bring joy?

~How might that passion intersect with the greater need of the world around me.

~With those two things in mind, what is God calling me to do next?  Now that’s a burning bush kind of question!