February 18, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: New Heart

Elizabeth Barrett Browning says, “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” I’ve always thought that is a beautiful quote. I think that as Browning says, we encounter burning bushes a whole lot more than we know. Sometimes, of course, the sun creates real burning bushes or blazing skies (like the one below from my backyard) to remind us of that truth. At other times, the burning bush may not be as obvious. It could be something we read or see. Perhaps it is found in nature or in listening to someone’s heart cry. Burning bushes can be found as we search for answers and when we find them, and lots of other places.
When we think of burning bushes, we think of Moses, yet each of us probably comes across a burning bush, or two, every day. In Exodus 3 we hear the familiar story. “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5, NIV)

Moses saw something unusual and he ‘turned aside’ as the King James Version says. It can be easy to be too busy to take the time to stop, or we may not even notice the ‘bush is aflame with God’ so we simply ‘sit around it and pluck blackberries’. When we do pause, we encounter the One who creates all things, who tells us that we are on holy ground and invites us to be part of the work of transforming the world.

The collect from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for Ash Wednesday says, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Lent gives us a chance to allow God to work on creating new hearts that are aware of the burning bushes we pass and willing to transform the world. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:7) God is working all the time. Each day is a day of salvation, a day of new beginnings. Every day is a chance to encounter a burning bush and take the time to ‘see this strange sight’.

This Lent I invite you to meet some New Testament women and men who encountered a burning bush in the form of the Living Lord and were changed. Simon’s Mother-in-Law, Nicodemus, Martha of Bethany, and the Samaritan woman each recognized the Flame of God and were changed. They had a ‘burning bush moment’ and emerged with a new heart.

Have you ever been changed, even briefly, when you met God in a burning bush moment? 

February 11, 2018

Go Tell It: Watchman

We are coming to the end of our Epiphany exploration of the Christmas carol Go Tell it on the Mountain. We’ve seen how mountains are the perfect location for proclaiming news, and that God very often breaks into our day to day lives. It doesn’t matter if we are shepherds or CEO’s if we are aware we could feel the brush of angels’ wings and hear their song. And we’ve been reminded that just as the lowly manger held God, so our human bodies also have that image imprinted on us. Our lives are meant to seek and serve the God of Love.

The final verse of the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain says, “He made me a watchman/Upon the city wall,/And if I am a Christian,/I am the least of all.” This recalls several citations in the Bible. Ezekiel 3:17-19 says, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel…hear the word of my mount and give them warning.” Isaiah also notes, “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem. Who shall never hold their peace day or night.” (Isaiah 62:6)

Jesus also states, “keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come…If the owner of the house had known in which watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 24:42-43)

The word ‘watch’ is derived from Old English and pertains to ‘remaining awake’. So in order to be a watch-man (or woman) you have to stay awake and alert.

It is, as Caela Wood notes in d365.org too easy to be distracted, “I have a difficult time staying present in each moment of my day. Maybe you know what I’m talking about? I wait in line to buy lunch but instead of paying attention to the room I’m in, I scroll through Facebook or respond to a text. I chop vegetables for dinner but I’m actually miles away thinking about what I need to get done tomorrow.”

She goes on to note, “those moments when I’m actually really truly there — those moments feel special. Holy. When I look at the face of someone I love and notice their smile. When I set aside my worries at bedtime and just breathe for a few moments before falling asleep. When I push my body to complete a new task that requires my full concentration. In those moments, I am Peter on the mountain with Jesus. I want to stay in the moment. It is good to be here — wherever “here” is.”

What sort of things distract you from being truly aware of what’s happening around you? Do you ever find yourself on auto-pilot during the day and wonder what happened when you were zoned out? How can you make yourself more aware of God acting in your day-to-day activities?
The Old Testament citations from Isaiah and Ezekiel insist that we should not only be awake and aware, we must also proclaim what we hear from God. We need to tell out the Good News of God. The song says, “Go, Tell It On The Mountain,/Over the hills and everywhere;/That Jesus Christ is born.”

As we head into Lent, we need to tell not just about the Birth, but also the Life and Death and Resurrection of the One we call Lord. We need to tell what God does in our lives each and every day. We can only do that when we are awake and aware of God’s actions in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And so we come full circle and return to the proclamation in Isaiah 40:9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!

How can you ‘tell the good news’? Who will you tell it to?
Next week, we’ll start a new Lent series.