On holy ground (Part 1)

Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 3 September 2017

Readings were Exodus 3:1-15 and Matthew 16:21-28

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The Old Testament reading today is a story that is a favourite to many, myself included. Today we hear about a:

  • man called Moses
  • burning bush that doesn’t burn
  • voice from God
  • fearful listener
  • request to remove sandals because of being on Holy Ground.

A story that has been captured in a multitude of ways through film and media.

The problem with the reading today is that is jumps in from chapter 3 so we miss finding out who Moses is and how he ended up being this figure chosen by God. So briefly for those who don’t know.

  • Moses was a Hebrew who used to live in Egypt
  • As a baby he was rescued and brought up in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter
  • When he was around 40 years old (about my age), he saw one of his own people treated harshly – his response was to kill the Egyptian responsible
  • Out of fear for his life he fled Egypt and settled in the desert of Midian, got married and looked after his Father in laws’ sheep
  • By the time he experienced the burning bush, he was around 80 years old

In that time he would have had 40 years to try and forget his past. Moses is often held up as a faithful follower of God, someone to exemplify as a leader extraordinaire (and he was) but he was also very human, like all of the characters in Scripture. He was brave and cunning, a risk taker but full of fear, a justice seeker who committed murderer, and an outlaw who was a father and husband.

It is this human man, doing the ordinary, with the burden of his past and family expectations of the present that God meets him in an extraordinary way. It is on a normal day that he is met by the divine and told he is standing on Holy Ground. Not only that, but that God has chosen Him, with all his baggage, to be involved in what God is going to do to save not one harshly treated Hebrew, but all of them!

What I love about this story is the honest dialogue that happens after God calls Moses. Even though Moses is talking with God and has witnessed the miraculous, he still has enough will and memory to raise concerns and fears. Even in the face of the Divine, Moses is himself, and is able to not only refuse God but negotiate with God – to the point that God graciously, in future verses, allows changes to His plan.

What is really amazing in this dialogue is that Moses dares to ask God’s name.  Why? Because to know a name is to have a certain power over it.

Which is what makes God’s answer so perfect:


Which really means, in a sense, “Don’t box me in, Moses!”  You can negotiate with me and I will never force you to do what I ask. But you will never control the Divine, for I am Creator and you are creation. I choose to call the weak and broken hearted, the outcast and outlaw but ultimately, with love, it is on my terms!

We’ve prayed that God speak to us today and as you’ve heard, there is a lot to take on board. Rather than trying to explore everything this morning, I would like to offer one point that I believe God is saying to us today. And over the next couple of weeks, we will continue the journey through Exodus, a journey I will call ‘on Holy Ground’.

Moses was not forced to go to the burning bush. God did not suddenly jump out at him, point a gun at him and tell him to obey.

Like I’ve said before, Moses was doing something he had done every day for years and yet he notices something that is different from the usual and rather than walk past decides to investigate. As he investigates, He is met by His God, and is called to change the direction of his life and the life of a nation.

Have you ever experienced a burning bush that doesn’t burn?  How would you know if you have never taken that moment to investigate?  I believe there are moments and times in our lives that God is longing to call us to something new or to affirm what we are doing and yet in our routine we fail to notice or maybe even to care. 

Many of you know I have been unwell, I have been dealing with the illness called depression.  As I reflected on this reading and my time away from work I realised that there had been a burning bush moment. God did not cause my illness. But I know there were times in the dark, where in struggling to get back to the normal routine I had known, I saw something different which I needed to investigate.

What I found was God’s wonderful affirmation that I am loved. That I don’t need to fix everybody because that is God’s job. And that I am called to reply on His strength not my own.

What could be the burning bush you need to step closer too?  What is God calling you to?  What is God affirming?

  • Is it the moment when we hear our child say ‘you’re always going out’ that we stop, breathe, and take stock of our priorities?
  • Is it that split second when we decide to help someone, knowing that it might cost us?
  • Is it the time when we receive words of affirmation without feeling guilty?

Just take a few moments to reflect on these questions, and if you are willing, share your thoughts with your neighbour.

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