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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, August 24, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Exodus 3:1–15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations. (NRSV)

I had never heard the music of Gustav Mahler in my life or even the sound of a live, massive orchestra, the stage packed with as many musicians as it could possibly hold. But there I was at the age of about nineteen in the Cincinnati Music Hall listening to the Cincinnati Symphony playing Mahler’s First Symphony, called “The Titan.”

Mahler said “A symphony must be like the world: it must contain everything,” and as I sat there that evening a new world opened to me as if I were sitting in front of a fire hydrant that had just been opened. I was completely absorbed by the sound, every part of my DNA vibrated in complete and total exhilaration, and I experienced such a powerful awakening of mind, body, and soul. By embracing the sound, I was transformed. In the final movement the music built to such a climax that I didn’t think I was going to be able to stay seated. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I had to burst out of my seat, lift my arms, leap in the aisle, dance around the room, do anything to enact the sensations the music created in me. The instant the music ended, the entire audience leaped to its feet, bursting in shouts, an enormous release of confirmation, gratitude, and praise. We were all changed together in a burning bush moment.

A burning-bush moment is a surprising and rare event indeed. I have almost never felt the same way at a concert again, and yet that moment lives in me and continues to resonate within me. It was certainly an exceptional moment for Moses too when he saw a bush burning not being consumed. It was a moment that transformed him. Yet in that moment God asked Moses to put that transformation into action, asking him to save God’s people. Moses didn’t think he was up to the task, but by experiencing the impossibility of a burning bush not being consumed he believed he too was capable of the impossible. It took a long time, a lot of determination, but Moses did save God’s people.

Burning-bush moments are rare, but they can occur for each of us if we are looking for them, open to experiencing their power. But having a burning-bush moment is only the beginning; it is what we do after the moment that really matters, that makes a difference. We too can put the impossible burning-bush moment into action to accomplish what may seem impossible. With God, the impossible happens all the time.

Mahler also said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.” The burning bush lived on in Moses; the Mahler I heard lived on in me. Each of us can be surprised by a burning-bush moment if we are open to it and—when it happens—be exhilarated, be transformed; then let the preservation of the fire inside us transform everything—the world.

Lord, help me be open to a burning-bush moment, yet not for its own sake, but so that I can build a better world, transformed into the world you desire. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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