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?