Beyond the Wilderness

 

Moses and the Burning BushScripture Text:  Exodus 3: 1-5

 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

We sometimes miss that nuance when we read this story.  I think I read this for years as if this miraculous burning bush was placed right in Moses’ path, impeding his way, something that he could not possibly miss, perhaps something that he would just trip over if he wasn’t paying attention.  But the passage says that Moses had to “go over” or turn aside to see it, had to actually get off the path that he was on to see this incredible sight.

Here is Moses, who has led his flock to a place “beyond the wilderness”.  I’m not sure what that is.  But it’s apparently a place to which only a journey through the wilderness can take you.  If it’s a literal place, then it’s WAY off any map that we have.  I think it’s more than likely that it’s the place to which you come when you yield to the wilderness, when you let yourself relinquish control and let go of what you are holding so tightly, when, finally, you trust God enough to turn aside to see what God has in store for you.  But, whatever this place is, Moses is leading his flock off the beaten path into a mysterious and unknown place right up to the mountain of God.

And there, off the path, not where he could stumble over it, but where he had to leave his planned pathway to investigate, he sees it—a bush blazing brightly with a fire that did not consume.  This was beyond what was normal.  Well, needless to say, his curiosity was piqued.  He needed to know more, needed to get a closer look.  So he steps toward it.  And then he hears his name.  “Moses, Moses.”  Startled, Moses stammered out a meager response:  “Here I am.”

Now in that moment, I think it’s probable that Moses didn’t even completely understand what was happening.  After all, remember, in early Hebrew thought, if you see God, if you hear God, you die.  And then this great voice tells him to take off his shoes, to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground.  Holy ground?  Well, it was ordinary a minute ago!  How did it get to be holy? And then God tells Moses what Moses is called to do.  This shepherd, this ordinary person standing in bare feet on the side of what used to be an ordinary mountain is called to deliver the people of Israel, to lead them to freedom.  This is Moses’ commissioning. And somehow he began to process and understand what was happening.  So, he began to take control of the situation and try his best to get out of what was happening.  After all, Holy Ground is a dangerous place.  For there, you touch the Divine and are changed forever.  There is no going back.

Our Lenten journey is one that will take us beyond the wilderness, to a place where you will see and know things that you’ve never seen and known before, to a place where you will finally turn aside from your plans, from your routine and, there, find yourself standing on Holy Ground.

Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty if waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure. (Macrina Wiederkher, A Tree Full of Angels)

FOR TODAY: Journey to a place beyond the wilderness, beyond the place where you have so far allowed yourself to go. Then turn aside.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

This Act of Preparation

Moses at the Promised LandScripture Text: Malachi 3:1

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Preparation…we keep talking about, keep touting this season as the one of preparation.  So, if it’s not about decorating and shopping and wrapping then what is this act of preparation that we are supposed to do?  Our culture tells us to be prepared for whatever may happen.  The Gospels tell stories warning us against being unprepared for what is to come.  And this season…this season of waiting is also laced with exhortations to get ready–for the coming of the Lord but, as hard as we try to ignore the culture closing in on us, for that big day ahead.  I mean what would happen if we awoke unprepared on Christmas morning–without the required number of gifts perfectly wrapped and under the tree, without all the luscious foods prepared, without a decorated house, and, most of all, without a ready heart prepared to receive our Lord.  Whew!  That’s a lot on our plates!  No wonder we’re stressed.  What, pray tell, are we supposed to be doing to get prepared?

 

For what exactly are we preparing?  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  We live lives that are so results-oriented that we don’t see life itself.  What if everything we did, every act we lived, every breath we breathed was not so that we could have a good result or count it as something done, but, rather, was part of who we are, part of the very journey itself?  What if it was our journey, our living, in which the Lord delighted, rather than merely the result it attained?

 

You know, I love Thanksgiving. It is the one family holiday that I can truly take the time to do right. Sure, I cook way too much food. And, this year, I probably spent more than twenty hours preparing for a 30 minute meal. I planned the menu. I put the leaves in the table. I planned what the table would look like. I drug out all of Aunt Doll’s china and Grandmother’s silver (you know, all that stuff that has to be hand washed!) I set the table. I arranged the centerpiece. I straightened the house and rearranged the back porch. I carefully picked out which bowl or which plate would hold which dish.   I chopped and I rolled and I mixed and I stirred and I cooked and I cooled. There were no shortcuts. Everything was made from scratch.   Because you see, for me, the preparation for the meal is for me as gratifying an experience as the meal itself.

 

And now as the Thanksgiving meal’s leftovers begin to wain,  we prepare for the next big thing.  But it’s hard to remember that act of preparation.  It’s hard to look upon it as a thing in and of itself rather than merely a way to the next thing.  And yet, the passage tells us that it is the messenger in whom the Lord delights.  It says nothing about where the messenger ends up or how many people the messenger gets to the end or whether or not the messenger did a good job.  God delights in the messenger; God delights in our acts of preparing the way.  Don’t you remember Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land?  All of the journeying, all of the heartache, all of the wilderness wanderings, all of the frustrations with covenants and golden calves and burning bushes and parted waters…all of that…that whole journey to the one moment…when he looked at the Promised Land that he would never enter.  There are those that would look upon that as a failure, as if he had not completed his mission.

 

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1-4)

 

But Moses did exactly what he was supposed to do:  he prepared the way.  That is what we are called to do.  Results are great but it is the way, the journey, the preparation that teaches us, that gives us life.  Our salvation does not come in one moment because we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do but rather in a lifetime of preparing the way for God, making our way toward a promised land that we may or may not enter.  Advent is not about the results; it is about what we become on the way there.  God calls us to a journey of preparation–preparing our hearts, preparing the way, being open to that act of preparation to which we’re called.  Advent ends on Christmas morning.  Whether or not we are fully prepared is probably of lesser importance than the journey that we had to the moment when we looked over and saw the promised land, when we knew in the very depth of our being that God was in our midst.

 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (From “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968. Dr. King was assassinated the next day.)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look at your journey.  Look at your preparation.  Live it.  God is there.  You may get there and you may not, but, oh, what a ride!  Live a life of holy preparation because the Promised Land is already prepared for you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli