Bushes Burning and Hearts on Fire

The Third Sunday in Lent

My parents exposed me to a whole lot of church as soon as I was born, and for eighteen years we were in those folding chairs, and later wooden pews, every single Sunday.

I was an acolyte (that’s right acolytes, this could be your future too). I went to Sunday School, youth group, on mission trips, and to youth conferences. We prayed before dinner every night we observed Advent and Lent at home, and our family reunions always closed with a church service led by my Covenant Baptist preacher grandpa Cliff.

I was heavily churched, but it wasn’t until I had all of my plans laid out before me—to go to graduate school to be an English professor—that Bishop Nedi Rivera asked a group of us if any had considered ordained priestly ministry.

I hadn’t, but like a burning bush in Moses’ periphery, the bishop’s question piqued my curiosity and I found myself wandering off of the path I had set for myself, until ten years later, here I am before you now.

In a nutshell, that is the story of how I entered into this vocation. It is not super exciting. There was no bright light from heaven and no voice from the clouds.

Most of us have the same kind of unremarkable stories—we discovered along the way that we were good at something, so we found a job that required those skills that would hopefully give us enough income to survive. And then some of us are still waiting to find out what will happen next…still pondering what our vocation will be.

We ought to be careful—there is a difference between a job and a vocation. A vocation is a calling, and a job is something that hopefully overlaps: a healing, caregiver might become a nurse, or an analytic with a passion for justice might become a lawyer.

Vocation is really all about embracing the person we have always been becoming—it’s a life-long journey of discovering yourself and being willing to divert from the path we’ve been told we should be following.

Moses, who faced tremendous hardship learning to be a leader among a people he was connected to by blood but not by upbringing, models the incredible ups and downs of the journey of vocation.

Unlike most of us, Moses gets a killer origin story—quite literally.

Though he is an Israelite by birth, Moses is raised among royalty. The injustices faced by his people troubles him, and while defending an Israelite slave from being attacked, he kills an Egyptian. He runs away and begins a new life, marrying and then working for his wife’s father as a humble shepherd.

It is while Moses is tending to his father-in-law’s flock, walking across the landscape, that he notices a burning bush off of the beaten path. Much like his people who are not consumed by the heat of their oppression, the bush is not consumed by the fire. His curiosity is piqued, and he leaves the path to discover what this all means.

God is in the bush, of course, dancing around, and notices that Moses paid attention. This is holy ground; Moses removes his sandals and looks away from the bush—he’s afraid of what he might see.

God speaks to Moses through the heart, identifying with the compassion Moses and God share for the oppressed people of the world, specifically here, the Israelites in Egypt.

Through the heart, God bids Moses join in on their liberation. “I will send you to Pharaoh,” God says, “to bring my people…out of Egypt.”

“But who am I?” Moses says (before breaking into song a la Jean Valjean).

God does not answer Moses’ question.

Instead, God simply says, “I will be with you.”

This is not a story about how fantastic a man Moses was; this is a story about what happens when people are attentive to the yearnings of their hearts and the needs of their neighbors. This is a story about the ability we have to join in on the liberating, life-giving work God does through finicky, flawed, fabulous people.

Moses’ vocation was to be fully Moses—to allow himself to break from the path every now and then, to listen for God’s presence, and to step into the unknown without certainty for how things might work out. He wound up leading his people, however apprehensively, out of captivity and through the journey that would help them become who theywere always becoming: people of God.

We are on the same journey. Just as we are individuals, seeking to live meaningful lives, we are also a people on a kind of journey with God. Every now and then we need a reminder to leave the beaten path.

Just over one week ago, a group of five of us from St. Paul’s drove up to Meriden to check out a new diocesan initiative called, “Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age.” Church lingo aside, the invitation from our bishops and canons is essentially to deliberately spend some time walking around our neighborhood, or planting ourselves in one space where we can intentionally observe and reflect on what is happening around us.

We might sit in a coffee shop, at a laundromat, or on a park bench and ask: Who is there? Who isn’t? What is happening in our neighborhood? If we are not tuned into the heartbeat of our community, how will we know which needs need to be met? How will we ever be able to tell our story?

When we focus too much on outcomes, we run the risk of sticking to safe patterns of being church. When we disconnect our personal vocations from our communal ones, we miss out on the ways God might be calling us all to be cultivators of loving community.

God’s invitation is to tend to this diverse vineyard—to care for each and every tree, plant, and shrub. To be followers of Jesus is to join the Divine Gardener in the careful, attentive work of cultivating justice, peace, and love. And to embrace this communal vocation, we must first watch and listen for the places where God is dancing around in the periphery.

If you are ready to take a step off the beaten path, if you want to follow your holy curiosity about where God may be in our wider community, I invite you to reach out and let me know that this initiative may be for you. We would love to establish a group of six to eight people to officially do this work.

Initiatives aside, the work of the church is to seek and serve Christ in all persons, which means we need to get really serious about seeking out those burning bushes. If nothing else, spend this week watching for signs that God is at work among us, because if we follow those signs, we might discover that God is still inviting us into an even deeper way of being who we are made to be: people of God.