Sermons from San Diego

God Gets Personal: The Story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3

September 12, 2023 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ
God Gets Personal: The Story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3
Sermons from San Diego
More Info
Sermons from San Diego
God Gets Personal: The Story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3
Sep 12, 2023
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

The series from Abraham to the Promised Land continues with the events leading up to Moses' encounter with God at the Burning Bush

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Show Notes Transcript

The series from Abraham to the Promised Land continues with the events leading up to Moses' encounter with God at the Burning Bush

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC
San Diego, California

Rev. Dr. David Bahr

September 10, 2023

“God Gets Personal”

Exodus 3:1-15 – Common English Bible
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro,[
a] Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. 2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.
4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”
5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8 I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9 Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.[b] So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” 15 God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Then Jacob’s sons…  These were the stories leading up to Pharaoh putting Joseph in charge of saving Egypt from a seven-year famine.  But a new Pharaoh came to power who somehow, perhaps conveniently, “did not know” Joseph or how he was responsible for making Egypt a very wealthy country – the global superpower of its time.

Pharaoh tried to convince his nation that a group of peaceful immigrants living among them, the descendants of Joseph and his brothers, were “dangerous.”  With ever escalating cruelty, he tried to crush them with increasingly brutal workloads and ultimately turned them into slaves.  But nothing could break them.  He kept plotting and ordered midwives to kill boys as soon as they were born.  They cleverly disobeyed Pharaoh.  Since that didn’t work, he simply commanded all Egyptians to throw any newborn Hebrew boys into the Nile River.

Into the middle of all this, a woman gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy.  When she could no longer hide him, she came up with an ingenious plan.  She put him in a basket and let it float down the Nile right by where the Pharaoh’s daughter was known to bathe – somehow hoping that the daughter of the man who decreed the death of such babies would look inside and feel compassion.  And she did.  Then they planned for baby’s sister to “happen” to walk by and offer to “find” a woman who could nurse the baby.  The Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and even offered to pay that woman – the baby’s actual mother!  It’s such a delicious scheme.

Pharaoh’s daughter named the boy Moses and when he was no longer nursing, adopted him as her own son.  Moses, the son of slaves, grew up with all the opulent wealth and privilege one could imagine, in the house of the man who decreed his death for being one of those dangerous people.  As a child, Moses couldn’t have possibly wanted for anything.

That all changed one day.  One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.  How aware might he have been about his heritage?  Had he been taught that he was the son of slaves?  Did he know that he was somehow different than the woman he knew as mother?  In an instant, something rose up within him – whether he was conscious of why or not.  He identified with the man being beaten and felt moved to act.  He looked around to make sure no one was looking and then he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand until he could come back the next day.  But that next day, he couldn’t do anything about the body because two Hebrew men were over there fighting.  When Moses asked why they were fighting, they replied, what business is it of yours?  Are you going to kill us too?  Busted.

If you’ve ever done something you shouldn’t and thought you had gotten away with it, having breathed a sigh of relief, well, upon being caught, you know how your face immediately turns red, and your heart beats a million miles a minute, and you almost black out as your mind races through all the options available, what can I do, but it’s too late to do anything.  Your choices:  confess or run.  Well, there's lying too.  Lots and lots of lying.  But Moses ran.  And he ran even harder when he heard that Pharaoh had found out and was now looking for him.  Not to listen to his side of the story, but to kill him.

Moses ran and ran and ran until he reached the land of Midian.  Midianites were sort of like seventh cousins.  Interesting story:  Moses was a descendent of Abraham through his wife Sarah – a story we now know well.  Did you know that after Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah?  They had seven more sons, one of whom was named Midian.  So, there’s kind of a family connection but it’s so distant, and hundreds of years before, that they don’t really feel like family.  But “family enough” to take you in – or at least let you stay around, maybe put up a tent in the back yard.

One day Moses was sitting by a well and seven women, daughters of the priest of Midian, came to draw water for their father’s herd of animals.  It wasn’t like they were there to get a drink of cool well water to quench your thirst on a hot day.  Imagine having to pull enough water out of the ground to quench the thirst of an entire herd of animals, one bucket after another.  Just then, a bunch of shepherds came along and harassed the women and tried to chase them away from the well.  Moses stepped in and chased the shepherds away instead and then finished the job for the women.

The story claims he did it faster than 7 women, which I find hard to believe, but it’s a set up for what comes next.  The women arrived home earlier than usual and their father asked why.  They explained about the rude shepherds and that an Egyptian man chased them away.  And that he finished drawing the water for the animals.  The grandfather heard this and exclaimed, why in the world didn’t you invite him home to eat with us?  So, Moses was quickly summoned and he never left.  He worked for the family as a shepherd and, in stark contrast to all the wealth and opulence of his youth, slowly settled into a very quiet, normal life.  As the years went by, he married one of the daughters, Zipporah, and had children, one of whom they named Gershom, which means “I’ve been an immigrant living in a foreign land.”

A long time passed and the Pharaoh who wanted to kill Moses died.  Egypt had a new king but the people continued to suffer just as much, groaning, crying out to be rescued from their suffering.  And then the text says, “God heard their cry of grief, and God remembered” – a curious statement.  God remembered.  “God remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God looked at the Israelites and understood.”  God heard, God remembered, God understood.  That something had to be done.

Up to this point, God has been a creator, a supreme being capable of speaking and oceans would appear and kittens and watermelons and everything good – and a few annoyances too.  God would speak and the sky would instantly be formed above.  And then God began an experiment called “humans,” at times I’m sure regretfully, who defied and disappointed and disgusted God on a regular basis.  Over the years, when God overheated, a few people had succeeded at changing God’s mind, calming God down when tempted to rage over his experiment gone awry.  One time, however, God was so sick and tired of humankind that a 40-day flood was ordered to start over again.  But with a rainbow, God promised never to do so ever again.  Not actual events, mind you, but true stories in the sense of teaching meaning.

The point – God was like a distant star who at times came closer to communicate directly, or through dreams, or through angels who served as messengers.  Not exclusively, but God was mostly an otherworldly deity to be respected, to whom humans were to worship and show gratitude for life.  In the background.  But then came something new.  A moment when God heard and was moved by their cries, remembered their covenant, and understood that something had to be done.  And so, this previously otherworldly deity, somewhat aloof and prone to temper, God was moved to get personally involved.  How?

One day Moses was out doing what Moses did every day – taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep, a little further away than usual.  All alone at the distant edge of the desert next to a mountain, he came upon a bush that was burning, but not burning up.  How weird is that?!  He went over to look more closely and from out of that weird bush on fire came something even stranger – a voice calling his name and introducing itself.  And, “Moses was afraid.”  No kidding!

This disembodied voice explained that the people to whom Moses belonged were still being oppressed as slaves and said, “I know about their pain.  I’ve come down to rescue them.  So, get going.  I’m sending you!”

Wait, what?  God’s great plan to get personally involved is to send someone else to do it.  Understandably, Moses protested.   What does your coming to rescue them have to do with meYou’re God.  I have a job and a family to feed and a bunch of other very rational, very good reasons why he was not suited to the task – five reasons to be exact.  God listened to each objection and had something to say – not to refute it but to repeat – I will help you.

First objection:  Who am I do to this?  Don’t worry.  I’ll be with you.

Second objection:  What am I supposed to say if they ask your name?  So, God said, “Nice to meet you Moses.  My name is I am.”

Third objection:  Moses said, but people won’t believe me.  So, this is a fun one:  God taught Moses three party tricks.  God asked, what’s in your hand?  Moses replied, a shepherd’s rod.  “Throw it on the ground.”  He did and it turned into a snake.  Moses jumped back from it but God said, pick it up.  And it turned back into a rod.  God said, do that, and people will believe.

Next trick.  Put your hand inside your coat.  Moses did and when he took his hand out, it had a skin disease like flaky snow.  God said, put your hand back inside and pull it back.  No skin disease.

Third trick.  Pour some water from the Nile River on the ground.  He did and it turned to blood on dry ground.

And that’s how God addressed Moses’ third objection.  I don’t love the idea of God teaching cheap party tricks, but it makes a good story and shows that God is trying really hard.

Fourth objection:  but I’m a terrible speaker.  The Bible says that Moses had a speech impediment.  And God said, “Again, I really mean it.  I’ll help you.  I’ll teach you what to say.”

Having run out of excuses, Moses fifth objection was simply:  just send someone else.  By this time, God had grown tired of his obstinance and like any exasperated parent to a demanding child, “Here.  Take a juice box.”  So God took a breath, metaphorically of course, and offered Moses a compromise.  His brother Aaron could be the spokesperson for Moses as long as Moses was the spokesperson for God.  Deal?  Now off you go, and don’t forget to take your shepherds rod so you can show off your tricks.

And with that, Moses went back to his father-in-law and told him he needed to return to Egypt to check on his family and see whether they are still living.  And off the whole family went.  But before they arrived, there is one absolutely bizarre and unexplainable event.  A few verses tucked in, such that you almost wonder if a monk one day was having a little fun to see if anyone would notice.  Starting at verse 24, chapter 4 in Exodus:  “During their journey back to Egypt, as they camped overnight, the Lord met Moses and ‘tried to kill him.’  His wife jumped into action and cut off the foreskin of their son with a sharp-edged flint knife and touched it to Moses’ genitals.  And so, the Lord left them alone.”  Gross and way to personal.  Scholars have a really hard time with that one so I prefer my explanation that a monk was trying to have a little fun by shocking us.  And with that truly odd conclusion, next week there are in Egypt and begin the long process to convince Pharaoh – Let my people go.

There is so much to this part of the story.  I love the explanation of how God works in this world.  “I’ve come down to rescue them so I’m sending you.”  Lutherans have a great banner for this:  God’s Work, Our Hands.  I love the image of the burning bush, which is really just an example that God might use anything to get our attention.

But here’s what spoke to me this week:   Go through the hymn books of Mainline Protestant Christians and you’ll see a lot of hymns sung about God.  God’s majesty and grace and power.  The God who created oceans and skies as well as sparrows and watermelons.  Beautiful.  And sometimes a little detached.  Mainline church music doesn’t quite as often sing songs to God, prayers of gratitude and intimacy.  Same thing with Jesus and the Spirit.  For some, getting too personal might make us uncomfortable.  As worship planners, we try to pay attention to a balance of praise and presence.  After all, as Job asks, “Is not God beyond even the most distant star?”  But don’t we also know that God is as close to us as our breathing – to pray with, not about?

Think about what we need when life becomes a struggle.  It’s time to have a little talk with Jesus, not read about him in a creed.  When your lows become a death valley, God doesn’t watch us struggle from on high but God walks alongside to strengthen us through the struggle.  We are not alone.  That is who our God is.  I’m with you.

And how does God walk alongside us to strengthen us through the struggle?  Through the person sitting next to you.  Just like we are for the person sitting next to us.  Or walking past on the street.  And at the next desk.

This is our God who says, “I know about their pain and I’ve come down to rescue them.”  So “get going.  I’m sending you!”