Scripture: Exodus 3:1-14
One of the statistical dichotomies that I find most amusing is that in the United States people think that only 8 to 10% of people are actually good or excellent drivers. At the same time, 73% of people consider themselves excellent drivers. Those numbers do not add up. Almost 3/4ths of people believe they are part of a group that they think contains only 1/10th of the population. The reality is that most of us are probably not as good at driving as we think, especially when 90% of all vehicle collisions are caused by human error as opposed to mechanical error or animals. The reality is that there would be less collisions if we were all as good behind the wheel as we seem to think. This is especially true because the tools to be a better driver are often right in front of us on the road. We would probably all be a lot of better drivers and there would be less collisions if we actually followed all of the signs we see on the road. Perhaps one of the starkest illustrations of this is Gregson Street Bridge in Durham, NC. This old railroad bridge was built with only 11 ft and 8 inches of clearance meaning that semis and other large trucks cannot pass under it. The bridge is clearly marked as having low clearance. Yet time and time again, drivers of trucks ignore the sign. The bridge has earned the nickname the can opener. The frequency of this occurrence is so regular that a local set up a camera on the bridge to document the instances when a truck meets the can opener. He started this in 2008 and a truck has collided with the top of the bridge 176 times, with the most recent collision being on June 18th of this year.
That is an average of one collision a month, every month for 14 straight years. All of these are caused by human error. In addition to all of the normal signage warning of the bridge’s low clearance there is also a giant blinking sign warning larger vehicles to turn. Yet, once a month these signs are ignored. I think the can opener illustrates a fundamental aspect of human nature. We have a tendency to ignore signs, even the large flashing ones right in front of us. Over the past fourteen years 176 people have crashed into the Gregson Street Bridge. Some were probably distracted by something else, some probably did not think the signs applied to them, and others thought they knew better. In all events though the drivers either ignored or missed the sign right in front of them and suffered the consequences.
Like all of the scriptures we will be looking at the next couple of weeks, this morning’s scripture is a familiar story. In all of scripture, Moses’ encounter with a burning bush is probably the most straight forward sign from God that God wanted someone to do something. Often this morning’s scripture is treated a bit like Moses heroic origin story. It is the catalyst that propels him to be the person who confronts Pharaoh and says “Let my people go.” This morning’s scripture is well known because it is often just seen as the beginning of the even better known story of plagues, parting seas, and exodus. However, even removed from that larger story this morning’s scripture can stand on its own and speak to us today. Examining this morning’s scripture can reveal to us how God might still be calling to us, even if it is not from a burning bush.
There is no doubt about it, this morning’s scripture is incredibly dramatic. Moses is out minding the flock when he finds himself in the very presence of God. He is given a divine commission and God declares the name by which God wishes to be known for the first time. It is the dramatic nature of this scripture that makes it so memorable, but I think that might work against us sometimes. I think it is fair to say that there are a lot of people out there who want direction from God. We want to know how we can be used by God to make disciples, how we can be used by God to make a difference, and how we can be used by God to transform this world. We look to God for direction, and we expect a burning bush. We are so busy looking for something so clear and in our face that fits our expectations of what God’s direction looks like that we miss where God is pointing us towards. We can be like the truck drivers who plow straight into the can opener bridge because we miss the signs directing us even though they should be obvious.
We can be so intent on finding a burning bush that we miss the signs from God right in front of us. This happened to Jesus more than once. The religious leaders would come to Jesus demanding a sign. Jesus had declared the kingdom of God was near. Jesus had healed people in their midst, he has cast out demons, and he fed the multitudes. Yet, these religious leaders were still demanding a sign. The signs the kingdom of God was near were right in front of them, and still they demanded a sign because they wanted a sign that fit their expectations. They were so intent on finding a burning bush that they missed the very son of God in front of them.
Today, we can still miss God’s leading and calling because we ignore the signs or we do not see them because we are looking for signs that fit our preconceived expectations. For more than five years I have had the privilege to serve on district committee on ministries and the board of ordained ministry the two committees in our process that evaluate candidates for licensing or ordination as pastors. In that work I have had the privilege to hear a number of call stories, where people shared how they answered God’s calling into ministry. While all stories are unique, a reoccurring theme is that often the people closest to the person had a sense they were called to ministry long before they responded to the call. In many of these call stories other are able to see the signs that the person being called by God was not paying attention to. While not all are called to vocational ministry, all who follow Jesus are called by God. God is leading us, and it is likely that God is not using a burning bush to do it. In all of scripture, God only used a burning bush once so it is likely that God is trying to get your attention through some other means as well.
Of course even if we do pay attention, even if we do begin to get a sense of what God is leading us to do, our reaction can be the same as Moses in this morning’s scripture. Moses argues with God by making excuses. For me that has always been the most jaw dropping part of this scripture. Moses has this incredible encounter with God. God is present and he is standing on holy ground. God gives Moses a clear direction and purpose. Despite the sacredness of the moment, despite the clarity of Moses’ calling, his first impulse is to tell God- the Creator of the universe, I think you have the wrong guy.” Despite God’s reassurances, Moses makes excuses saying he does not know what to call God. We only read a part of chapter three, but Moses continues making excuses about why he cannot do what God is asking him all the way through chapter 4.
While it is easy to read this scripture in disbelief and wonder how Moses could possibly be dense enough to question God as to why God had chosen him, we tend to still do the same thing today. We still make excuses. Even if we have an idea of what God is calling us to do, we come up with every reason under the sun why we cannot do it. Like Moses we convince ourselves that God has the wrong person. We sell ourselves short that we are not talented enough, smart enough, or trained enough. We settle for excuses like being too busy. Like Moses tries to do we come to God with all of the reasons why we will fail or why what God is calling us to do, will not logistically work out.
Those are all excuses. Friends, if you have some inkling that God is calling you to do something, then do it. Do not be like Moses in this scripture and make excuses. The Great I AM that sent Moses to declare “let my people go” is the same God that is sending you. Don’t make excuses. Act on the God-given dream you are holding on to that will make a difference. Take the step in faith that can lead to someone else being a disciple. Do the hard and scary thing you have been putting off. I do not know exactly what God has called you to do, but I do feel confident that God did not call us into relationship with him just so we can keep our pews warm. It is likely that we did not encounter God on a mountain like Moses, and it is likely we did not hear the voice of God coming from a burning bush. However, it is also likely that God has been and is leading you to make a real difference. Learn from Moses, and do not make excuses but trust that God knows what God is doing when God picked you.
As we consider Moses encounter with God at the burning bush, and the calling that he received I think there is one more important point to consider. Jewish tradition remembers that Moses was 80 years old at the time of this morning’s scripture. This is not just conjecture, it is a belief that is enshrined in scripture, in the book of Acts, when Stephen gives his speech before the Sanhedrin he specifically mentions the age of Moses when he was called by God. God uses people of any age to accomplish God’s purposes. Just because you are old enough to join the AARP, does not mean God is necessarily done with you. When I speak of answering God’s calling I am not just referring to younger people with more energy and backs that do not hurt all the time. God used Moses to confront one of the most powerful rulers in the world and lead the chosen people out of captivity when he was 80 years old. It is interesting that while Moses made a lot of excuses, his age was never one of them. In the same way we should not let age hold us back, but we should be willing to do whatever the Great I AM asks of us.
The theatrical drama of this scripture is what makes it so memorable and so well known, but the story of this scripture is played out in the lives of countless followers of Jesus to this very day. God called Moses to make a real difference and God still calls people today. We may not ever encounter God in a burning bush, but if we seek to follow Jesus and live out our faith we will encounter God. It will not be through a burning bush but God will point us and leads to what God wants us to do. May we not ignore and miss the signs and may we be obedient to God’s calling. May we realize that God has a plan for us, and we can live into that plan no matter our age. May we boldly and confidently live into what God is calling us to do. And if you are faithfully living out your calling, then you might as well take off your shoes. Because if you are doing what God has called and enabled you to do, then you are standing on holy ground.