Sermon text: Exodus 3: 1-15
When’s the last time you lit a fire? I’m not talking about flipping the switch on your Weber Grill or turning on the gas fireplace, but a real, honest to God fire.
I usually get my fire fix over the summer at Camp Sequanota during cookouts. As Pastor Scott Custead once said, Sequanota is the land of Perpetually Damp Towels, so fire starting comes with its own inherent moisture challenges. However, wet wood isn’t the biggest hurdle when building a cooking fire at camp, it’s getting the wood in the first place.
You think this would be an easy accomplishment, being surrounded by 400 acres of trees. Ask a group of campers to go into the forest to bring back wood for the fire and what do you get? 75% of the campers will return with one handful of twigs. One will bring a bunch of leaves, another a badly decaying branch with fungi growing, another will bring fresh, green wood, and then there’s the overachiever of the group who will come back with twelve-foot tree limb (with no way to break it down). So you send them back out, begging for more usable sticks of all sizes, because fires consume a ton of fuel, and those mountain pies won’t cook themselves.
It all goes back to the basics of the Fire Triangle. In order to create the chemical reaction that is fire you need three things: heat, oxygen, and fuel. Fires are hungry creatures…that’s why the California Lightning Fires grow and spread at astonishing rates, it’s why you need to refill your with gasoline, it’s why untold tons of coal are mined from our state, it’s why I send campers back into the forest for the 10th time. Fires consume. They are hungry.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush; Moses looked and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.”
There’s no such object in our world as an ever-burning thing like the bush Moses witnesses. Candles use up their wick and wax, logs burn out, propane tanks need refilled. Heck, even the eternal flame at JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery has a natural gas meter that the utility company checks on a monthly basis. So, imagine Moses’ curiosity as he sees this burning bush. How long did he watch it before he determined it wasn’t burning down and reducing? When did Moses realize that something was different about this fire?
The bush is blazing, yet it was not consumed. This is supernatural. A seemingly ordinary bush has extraordinary properties. It has limitless fuel to sustain the fire. That’s because it is from God.
In truth, God’s fire extends far beyond this burning bush. The bush is merely the beginning of God’s fire, for God’s fire burns far hotter for his people, for the Hebrew people, these members of the human family with whom he has made a covenant. God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their suffering.”
The bush is important, it grabs Moses’ attention and creates a focal point in this conversation with God, but God’s true fire is a fire of justice, a fire of compassion, and it is fueled by the feelings and promises connected to his people. It is a flame that can never be squelched. It is a fire that will never die. God will always fuel this fire.
What fires are you keeping these days? How hot are they burning? How much wood sits in reserve on the pile? Do you have dying embers or a raging pyre? What are the things in life that consume you, that drive you, that push you into action?
I see parents and grandparents right now with fires of differing sizes—everyone has bon fires of concern for their children’s wellbeing—for the physical, social, and mental aspects of health, for the quality of their education, and for the everyday experiences that are being compromised. But I also know of fires that are down to their last log, as the pandemic circumstances of the past six months have called for more energy and resources than was anticipated. How is your fire burning?
I see flickering flames of personal concern for health and well-being. I see children concerned for their parent’s health. Again, fires burn with a variety of intensities. Some strong. Some struggling. I see the careworn faces of those living in fear and with a healthy respect of COVID-19 and the amount of fuel they’ve burned through keeping themselves healthy. We all share the fires of concern for those we care about who are in nursing homes, like our residents and staff at the Lutheran Home in Hollidaysburg. How is your fire burning?
I see fires for justice and change and order as our nation continues to fight with itself. We struggle to comprehend and digest the whirlwind of disorder and madness from recent incidents in Wisconsin to the unfathomable circumstances in Bedford this past week. How is your fire burning?
Fires of concern break out for those coping with ecological disasters—from the wildfires in California, to tropical storms and hurricanes slamming into our coastlines, to the winds that brought forth devastation across the Midwest. How is your fire burning?
We’re all fanning flames. We all have concerns fueled by our compassion and love. Yet we are not God, and our wood is consumed. We do burn out.
I imagine the Hebrew people felt that way in their situation. Generation after generation they had their freedoms and properties stripped away. They toiled under their taskmasters. They became slaves. I’m sure they resisted, they did what they could to survive, but even their fires grew dim. And so they did what we all do when we are exhausted, when we’ve spent all our resources and spirit: They cried out to God.
Yes, the Hebrews cry out to God and God responds. God keep their fires burning by sending them new resources. In this instance it is a person, a leader, who will confront Pharaoh, who will be the wise and needed prophet, who will follow God into a better future.
Cry out, people of God. Cry out like the Hebrews. Cry out to God and share your complaints, your passions, and your concerns. For God is still listening, and God will send you a Moses. God will send you resources. God will send you fuel to feed whatever fires burn within you.
Because the Gospel truth is this: God’s fire always remains for us. God hears our cry. God responds to our needs. God has unlimited resources to help us in our varied struggles, and they all stem from a place of love, mercy, and compassion. Just like the burning bush before Moses, God’s resources will not be wholly consumed. They can never be exhausted. So, cry out, for God will send the new version of Moses that we need now. Cry out and be heard. Cry out and let your fires be fed. AMEN