March 18, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: In the Storm

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s quote, “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” has been our touchstone throughout this series. It can be fairly easy to find a bush that burns in the day to day living. It just takes pausing to look around. When we are sick, like Simon’s mother-in-law, we can find a burning bush in getting well. In our times of seeking, we can, with Nicodemus find a burning bush when we get answers. Martha, in her busyness of preparing dinner had a hard time seeing the burning bush, but she was changed anyway.

As we continue our Lent search for burning bushes, we might ask where do we find a burning bush when all hope seems lost? Where do we look for a burning bush when we are adrift in a storm? Jesus and his disciples were in just that situation. We hear the story in Mark 4:35-41, also Matthew 8: 23-27, Luke 8: 22-25.

When evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”
Jesus Stilling the Tempest, James Tissot
It must have been a terrible storm. Remember many of the disciples were fishermen, used to the wind and waves on the water. For them to be frightened, the ‘great gale’ must have been pretty bad. Yet, in the middle of this storm, Jesus is ‘asleep on a cushion’. Sometimes there are storms in our lives and we feel like God is asleep or maybe not even in the boat. We think all hope is lost and are afraid. 

Because of the storm, the disciples lost their courage and their ability to remember Who is in charge. CS Lewis reminds us, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.”

There are scary times when we can all lose our center, our confidence, our courage. Then Jesus steps in and calms the storm and encourages “your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:17) Ann Voskamp notes, “Courage births all virtue. Courage mothers everything good in the world. Without courage, everything good, in us and in the world, stillbirths…Needing courage is another way of saying Christ is needed…When you’re between God and a hard place, it’s God’s presence that transforms every hard place…Whatever place you’re in is a place of God. And when you’re in a place of God, you cannot displace your courage. Christ is for you, with you, in you!”

When Jesus asks the frightened men, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” he was offering the lifeline of courage. As Voskamp says, “You’ve got this—because Grace has you and Courage is in you and Christ is with you, so a tender and brazen joy could be even in this place.” Even in the storms of life, when things seem desperate, the light of the burning bush points the way and offers courage.

I think that after the storm was over, the disciples would have said a prayer of thanksgiving. Perhaps similar to this one from d365, a daily meditation, adapted from a Jewish Sabbath prayer. I offer it to you for use in your times of stress when it seems that God is absent, until you turn and discover that really God is there all along ready to speak the word of peace.

“Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill my eyes with seeing and my mind with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which I walk. Help me to see, wherever I gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And I, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, ‘How filled with awe is this place and I did not know it.’”
Next week is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Where might we find burning bush moments in remembering those events? 

March 11, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: Martha

This Lent we’ve been looking at Burning Bush moments. Times when someone’s heart is changed because of an encounter with a ‘burning bush’ in the form of Jesus. Burning bushes can come in different forms. For SimonPeter’s mother-in-law it was her healing. Nicodemus faced his burning bush when he talked to Jesus. Burning bush moments transform our hearts and we are born anew.

This week, we’re looking at Martha of Bethany. Her burning bush moment came when she was frazzled and frustrated. In Luke we hear her story, “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha often gets pointed to as someone who couldn’t take time to be holy and pay attention to Jesus. I think rather she, like many of us, was ‘distracted by her many tasks’, and didn’t see the burning bush in front of her. As we’ve noted throughout this series, Elizabeth Barrett Browning stated, “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.” Martha was so busy ‘plucking blackberries’, that is doing the work of preparing for the guests, that she missed the burning bush. 

It’s easy to be so focused on getting a task accomplished that you don’t see God in the work at all. Sometimes that happens when you are doing ‘church’ work, and sometimes when you are just getting things done. The end result becomes more important than pausing to look around for a burning bush in the area that might just be pointing in a different direction. That’s what seems to have happened with Martha. She’s entirely focused on being a good (or even great) hostess and doesn’t have time to see the ‘burning bush’. Very often, burning bushes require you to look up from your work to see them. Rarely do they spring up in some ‘important’ task. You have to take the time to see the ‘bush aflame with God’.

Like Martha, we get lots of second chances from God. Sometimes an encounter with a burning bush gives you a new insight. You may understand something about your relationship with God, or simply realize that you aren’t the same person you were a couple years ago. Martha was truly changed by her encounter with Jesus and later she can proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27)  This art by Corwin Knapp Linson shows that moment when Martha confronts Jesus. 

Our encounter with a burning bush may give us the joy of seeing what was dead brought back to life. Martha’s brother, Lazarus was dead. Then Jesus called him to come out of the grave. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:44) Jesus comes to our dead dreams and tells us, “unbind them and let them go”.

There is always something new waiting on the other side of a burning bush moment. For Martha it was an understanding of Jesus and God’s power. Martha was changed, just as we all are when we recognize the burning bush in our path.

When have you encountered Jesus and the Spirit’s flame and been changed, renewed, even resurrected?