I was Preaching at Glendowie Presbyterian Church this morning, I am the 'interim Moderator there which in our tradition means I'm looking after the Parish while they have a vacancy. Or as I explained it I'm the spare wheel which you take out of the boot and put on till you can get to a garage and get a new tyre that will take you on the rest of your journey. I was preaching because there were a group of six people who were becoming members of Glendowie Church.
I thought that on a day when we were welcoming people into membership of the Church that it might be good to reflect on our Churches logo… the Burning Bush… and what it has to say about us as a church. In fact last weekend at the members calls, when I mentioned that the Burning bush was the Presbyterian Churches logo some people genuinely seemed surprised. The one behind me is from a Stain glass window at St Peter’s, quite rightly sitting at the foot of the cross. If you come to Glendowie, and I’m assuming that is the case, it’s usually right here in front of you every week in the form of this pulpit fall. There is the cross of St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland as a background as a link to our Scottish roots, the Presbyterian Church was originally the church of Scotland, and our apostolic roots, the apostle Andrew was crucified on a sideways cross, and tradition tells us, his bones were later taken to Scotland. On your pulpit fall the four stars form the southern cross, identifying the fact that we are here in this place in Aotearoa New Zealand, that this is the place God has called us to serve and be his people. Then in the middle is the burning bush from Moses encounter with God in Exodus three, and the words in Latin ‘Nec Tamen Consumerbator’ it was not consumed… the bush was ablaze with the presence of God but not consumed. That’s our Church logo and hope ablaze with the presence of God but not consumed.
Now you’d think that as a church our logo might be a cross, to represent Christ’s death and resurrection the central event and basis of our faith, or a dove, to represent the Holy Spirit, poured out on all who would believe, and you most commonly see those things in Church logos. Right, St Peter’s has both. But our wider church’s logo is the Burning Bush, and to tell you the truth I really like that as a symbol and what it says to us about God and about who we are as a people and a Church.
So today I am going to talk about being people of the ‘burning bush’. The two passages we are looking at are Exodus 3 which is the narrative of Moses encounter with God at the burning bush and Josh preached on part of this passage last week, and can I say “it is really great to be with you today”…and Paul’s opening encouragement in his second letter to Timothy. Where Paul is writing to Timothy, in a difficult pastoral situation which has sapped him of his enthusiasm for ministry and Paul calls him to fan into flame the gift of God he has received. If we were using modern language we’d say Timothy was in risk of being burned out and Paul is calling his to reignite the flame and passion for Christ and his mission… a message for us today as the people of the Burning Bush.
Firstly, I love the burning bush because of what it says about our God. At the burning bush we see the character of God that is the well spring out of which Pours God’s saving grace. The God we meet at the burning bush is the God who sent his Son, to die on the cross for us, and raised him to life again and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in all those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ.
We meet a God who is Holy. Moses sees an unusual sight a bush which is on-fire but is not being consumed, this is not a combustion fire but a living fire, something mysterious and other. An angel of the Lord we are told, but we also hear that God is present. As Moses draws close to that a voice from the bush which he identifies as the Lord’s says take off your shoes because this is Holy ground. It is holy ground because here Moses is encountering the Holy God.
In the new Bible Dictionary Holiness is called the attribute of attributes when we think of God, God is holy when we think of the attributes of greatness, like being spirit and eternal and all powerful the things that go into setting God apart from creation, making God Holy, other.
Also the attributes that make God good, righteousness and justice and mercy join together as the moral excellence and perfection that the word Holy incapsulates. We see the faithfulness of God, God reveals himself to be the God of Abraham and Jacob, and Isaac, this encounter is a direct result of a God who keeps his promises. In 1 John 1:5 we are told ‘God is light and in him there is no turning of darkness”. This is the God we encounter at the burning bush.
It would be easy to think of such a God as being a distant disinterested deity, a God way above us beyond comprehension and knowing, but at the burning bush we meet God in a different way.
We meet a God who sees, and a God who hears and a God who draws near to save. Moses is told that God has seen the misery of his People in Egypt, he has heard their cries because of their slave drivers, and God is concerned. God sees, Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl who she gave to Abraham so he could have a son, and when she conceives Sarah has her banished and sent off into the desert to die. There is the wilderness she encounters God and her response is to acknowledge “here is the God who sees me”, a nobody a slave you could say has been sexually exploited and unjustly abandoned and yet God sees her. God sees the mistreatment and oppression of his people. He sees it today as well, the battered wife hiding and ashamed, the abused child, the mistreated and exploited immigrant, the deep pains and sorrows which wound and scar us, God sees.
We meet the God who hears. Who hears the cries of agony at the bite of the whip of oppression and the things that drive us mercilessly, the prayers in the midst of suffering, do not simply resound in the empty void of the dark night, God hears God hears and responds.
We see at the burning bush God draws near, his care is not simply a concern from a far but we have God who comes in response and acts on behalf of his people. In Psalm 113 God is portrayed as a king seated on a throne, high and exalted, but who gets off his throne and in an undignified way stoops and bends down to see and to hear and respond to the pain and suffering in our world.
We are used to the images like the one behind us of members of the royal family amongst the poor, in this case Harry with orphans in Botswana. Using his profile and position for their benefit. We forget how rare they are historically, but it is a great illustration of the God we meet at the burning bush.
At the burning Bush we also met a God who sends someone to bring his salvation in to that situation. In this case he sends a reluctant Moses, again Josh spoke on that last week, and I hear it was a very good sermon. But as we see in 2 timothy, Paul talks of God sending his Jesus Christ to free us from slavery to sin and death to bring us into relationship with him. God’s concern and love results in Jesus Christ, Christ’s death and resurrection saving us and calling us to live a life that reflects the Holy nature of our God. Paul goes on to say that he has been called and sent as a messenger of the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s response to the suffering in the world is to send his people and like with Moses to go with them, with us, with the message ‘to let my people Go”.
I love the burning Bush because if the God whom we meet at the burning Bush who reveals himself to us. But I also love it because of what it says about us.
God heard us, the deep groans of our soul, that longing for hope and forgiveness and for fresh start, that longing to be loved to wholeness again, that lonely cry of separation and responded. We are objects of God’s love, In Christ God drew near, for us Christ came and showed us God’s love and ways, for us Christ died on the cross, so all we had done may be forgiven and we may be drawn into a new relationship with God as our heavenly father, for us God raised Christ to life again, and we can know abundant life lived with Christ, life that goes on into eternity, for us God sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to lead and guide to empower us with his presence to witness to the hope we have in Christ. For us, God drew us together to be a people, his children living out his love for us in the way we love one another. As Paul tells Timothy Jesus Christ has saved us and called us to live a holy life.
But I also love the burning bush because it says that God sends us well and that like Moses, that ordinary, flawed man who felt inadequate for the task he was given, God calls us as well to be agents of his grace and to tell the Good News of his love and grace for us. You see becoming a member of the Church is not only finding a place to belong in Christ, but also finding a part to play, in the mission of God. We are God’s sent people. God’s plans and purposes for his people has always been to show to the world what God is like so they to will come and worship. In Psalm 67, God’s blessing of Israel is not only because God loves them, but that the people in the nations may see God’s goodness. AS God’s people Jesus hope for us was that people might see our good deeds our love shown in action, and give praise to our heavenly father. His final words to his disciples to all who would follow on, was to be his witnesses, to go into the world and make disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey all Christ’s commandments. We are God’s sent people to show God’s justice and love in the world.
We are People of the Burning Bush, loved by the God who sees and hears, set free and given liberty to be God’s people in Christ and called and sent. What does that mean in reality? Well I really like your vison “to be a vibrant faith community displaying transformed lives”, Your mission statement “ to invite people to faith in Jesus Christ through local mission, to discipline in Christ, and to move members to share and serve to the glory of God“and the move strategy here at Glendowie, because they encapsulate what we’ve been talking about. You want people to come and to know the God who sees and hears and cares through Christ Jesus and to become members of the Church, but that to be part of God’s people and the body of Christ is also to be willing to be involved in going out with the good news of Jesus Christ as well. In personal evangelism and together as a church as you minister to various groups within your community and beyond. And live it out in Loving and caring for one another so people will see how much God loves them by the way you love each other and them.
Can I just finish by sharing with you something Justin Wellby, the arch bishop of Canterbury, shared with the Dioecian of Bath and Wells in the UK as they launched their new mission statement ” evangelism and Mission at the heart of everything”. It may seem strange to finish talking about being people of the Burning bush, Presbyterians, church of Scotland, by quoting the head of the church of England, but hey. Any way He said that it was a great vision and mission statement but no amount of training and teaching and programme was going to make it a reality. Rather it would become something that naturally happened as the church was captivated again by Jesus Christ, and his unconditional love, it would just naturally flow out in everything we did and said, if we became captivated by Jesus. If again we fall deeply in love with the God we meet at the burning bush who is holy, and who sees and hears, and cares and draws near and sends, it will give us the spiritual vitality we need to be who God calls us to be and what he calls us to do. Paul commands Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God within him. The gift of God he says in verse 7 that is within all of us, the presence of the Holy Spirit and he then points Timothy back to the great love of God shown in Jesus Christ his saving us, his calling us, as a source of that vitality. AS people of the Burning Bush, I’d also encourage us to once again fan into flame that love for Christ, to be alight and ablaze once again by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our midst. The Burning Bush is not just a logo, rather it’s the hope for the world as Jesus says in the sermon on the mount “no one lights a lamp and places it under a basket, rather they place it on a lampstand to give light to the whole room.”