Turn Aside

Text Exodus 3:1-15 and Mathew 16:24-26
Preached FCCW, September 3, 2017

A street in London named Brick Lane has gained a reputation as the most dangerous place in the city for mobile phone users. This dubious distinction comes from the fact that it claims the highest rate in the country for people bumping into lampposts because they’ve got their eyes glued to their phone screens.
One group of concerned citizens went so far as to propose cushioning lampposts to decrease the frequency of injuries. And, I suppose, embarrassments.

Most of the time, though, the consequences stemming from our lack of attention to our surroundings is less about what we hit, and more about what we miss.

One day, Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law.
The kind of mundane chore that makes it hard for his mind to not slip away to other places than where his feet are planted.
Suddenly, something very out of the ordinary catches his attention. A bush nearby bursts into flame.  But though it burns, it is not consumed by the flame. “I must turn aside and look at this great sight” Moses decides. Which sounds like it took a deliberate act of will to redirect his path in order to not miss this strange sight.

Come to think of it, there are times when my attention is so firmly fixed on one thing that nothing short of a deliberate act of my will can pull me away.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Sue what it takes to get my attention when I’m watching a Patriots game!

If you’re like me, then you too probably turn a blind eye to many things in life, neglecting to turn aside to pay attention to anything outside the scope of your immediate interest.

Moses told himself, “I must turn aside.”
Usually, we go around telling ourselves things like,
“I must get this done, I must be on time for that.”
We tell ourselves that there will be time later to pay attention to other matters.
And if there isn’t, well, maybe it wasn’t really that important, after all.
We can find lots of good reasons to keep going on our way without being mindful of what’s around us.

But what do we miss when we fail to pause and turn aside?

The Bible says, “When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.”
Suddenly, this wasn’t about a burning bush at all.  That had only been a come-on. There was something greater here than a strange phenomenon. Moses found himself standing in the presence of God. What looked like ordinary wilderness, turned out to be holy ground.

Notice that God waited until Moses turned aside to see the burning bush before God spoke to him about his role in God’s plan to free the Israelites from their slavery.
Which begs the question: what if he didn’t turn aside to give the burning bush a closer look?
How would his life had been altered?
How much of the Israelite’s suffering would have remained unaltered?
What if we don’t turn aside when God is trying to get our attention?

To Moses the burning bush was a curiosity to be investigated. But when God’s voice called his name it became a marker that this was holy ground. It became a window to deeper relationship with God.

When Moses heard God’s voice, it not only changed his world.
It changed the whole world.

This God who was everywhere you didn’t expect him to be, had seen the misery and heard the cries of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Even though, from their perspective, it probably seemed like God had ignored and abandoned them; their suffering had gotten God’s attention, and once God had gotten Moses’ attention, he let him in on a plan to liberate the Israelites.

When we live lives that are turned aside to the presence of God all around us, we begin to see the world from God’s perspective. Turned aside lives fulfill what Jesus meant about having minds set on divine things rather than human things. Once we see the world from God’s vantage point, we see our own relationship to the world in a different light.

For Moses, that translated into hearing God’s call for him to be point man in God’s blueprint for freedom.

“Who, me?” protested Moses. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Not only did Moses doubt that the most powerful ruler on earth would listen to an unarmed shepherd’s demand to free a million slaves; he also had no way of knowing if the Israelites themselves would be willing to follow him to freedom.

God’s response to Moses’ doubts was simple. “I will be with you.”
That was it.

From the beginning that is all that has ever mattered to God. For all of us to live in relationship with our Creator and through that relationship, to live in harmony with each other.

God came to Moses in a burning bush.
God said he had come down to rectify the wrongs done by the Egyptians.
God came down to us in Jesus Christ, wrapping himself in the ordinary humanity of a Jewish carpenter.
God continues to come to us in the unseen presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
Do we hide our faces from God’s presence, like Moses did, so that we can continue along as slaves to the tyranny of necessity instead of discovering the deeper life we were created for?

Do we block our ears to the voice of God in the cries of the oppressed, because God might expect a response from us?

Do we ignore God’s voice calling our name, just as he called “Moses, Moses”, because we aren’t really sure about the trustworthiness of Jesus’ promise that those who follow him will be led to freedom from the kind of life that feels like a yoke to bear and into the promised land of a life we were created to live?

Don’t get nervous, but there’s something I want you to do for me right now.
Look down at your shoes.
No, I won’t tell you to take them off; the way God instructed Moses to remove his sandals.
Just look at your feet.
Look at where they are right now.
The place where they rest is holy ground.
Not because you’re sitting in a church pew.
But because God is with you wherever you go.
That is a wonder even greater than any burning bush.

All Moses could think was, “Who am I? How can I do this thing that seems so much bigger than me?”
God’s response was, “Because I am with you.”
And, God is with you.
Don’t forget that when you leave here.
Holy ground will spring up beneath your steps wherever you walk in mindfulness of God accompanying you.
Turn aside often to explore the difference that means for you.
And the difference that it could make for someone else.

Copyright 2017  Raymond Medeiros