August 31, 2008:Exodus 3:1-15Matthew 16:21-28
A young Palestinian man ran away from the crowded reservations where his people live. He crossed desert wastes and climbed hills. He was drawn to the rocky crags of one of the peaks called God's mountain. Shading his eyes, he saw a thorn bush come alive with flame.
He took off his shoes. He knelt on the ground. He hid his face in his hands. Surely God was there. But whose God, and for what purpose?
He went back home. His grandfather told him a story about a shepherd who had seen a burning bush. It was a Jewish story, a Muslim story, and a Christian story.
Word spread quickly. An archaeologist sought the young man among the refugee camps. Together they went to God's mountain. The bush caught fire and burned. The flames didn't consume the bush.
One man saw God. The other saw a discovery that would make his career.
More witnesses came. No one could get close enough to take a sample of the bush. It wouldn't burn when scientific instruments were aimed at it. It was for human eyes only.
Politicians and religious leaders began to fight over it. Who did it belong to? To which religion? Such a wonderful phenomenon must be preserved for all the world to see. But the world wouldn't want to scramble up a rocky hillside to see it.
They negotiated a compromise, bearing in mind the delicate political situation of the region. The British Museum was proposed. It cost millions of pounds to create the proper setting for this botanical, chemical, physical and religious spectacle. Hundreds of thousands of people came to see the burning bush when it arrived in London.
Outside the museum, two Muslims, one Jew, and three Christians crossed paths with their protest signs. Shouting that the crowd was missing the point. The wonder wasn't the burning bush, it was the God who used it to call people to attention.
The last person to see the burning bush was a security guard. He watched in horror, as the flames consumed the dry branches. Soon there was just a charred skeleton behind the glass. He said it felt like someone had died.
The curators of the museum decided fire had smouldered within the bush, springing to life when the atmosphere around it was disturbed. The bush bore berries that secreted a fire-retardant juice. The protective goo had finally burned away.
What happened to the young man who first saw the burning bush? It took him a long time to realize that the bush didn't matter. What mattered was what he experienced when he saw it. The voice that sang inside his head as he bent low in the bush's unearthly light.
He saw and heard the God he had long tried to forget. God pried open his eyes and ears and heart. Lifted him up to see over the borders he had crossed. He saw nations of God's children oppressed by injustice and perverted religion. He saw oppressed and oppressors both in need of deliverance.
He saw people taking up arms. Surrendering to one evil in the name of fighting another. He saw others suffering in silence. A refugee all his life, he felt the pain of all the homeless people in the world.
In response to it all he heard the resounding NO! of the God of the burning bush. His grandfather told him no one who really saw and heard God was ever the same. The only life for such a person was to do God's will.
Such a person might know failure along the way, but would never lose sight of victory in the end. So it was with Moses and all the prophets. So it must be with this young man. And so it was.
How is it with us, when we gather at the sign of the burning bush? When Jesus says, "Take up your cross?"