It's one of the most magnificent moments in scripture (and Bible movies): Moses encounter with God at the "Burning Bush." (Exodus 3-4) On the side of a remote mountain in the Sinai wilderness Moses is summoned by God, whose voice mysteriously emanates from a large shrub that looks as if it is ablaze…yet nothing is consumed! Moses must remove his shoes because their earthy dirt is repugnant to this most holy of places. Moses can’t help but hide his lowly human face as God in all His glory grandly exclaims He has heard the cries of His enslaved people. He boldly calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and lead His People out of Egypt. God unhesitatingly promises to be with Moses and the people as they journey across the wilderness to the land He has prepared for them, a fabulous land Flowing with Milk and Honey. To this greatest of calls from God, Moses agrees.
It’s all very awesome. Very grand. Very seeeerious.
But is this scene supposed to be so serious? What if it’s really a comedy?
Consider this. In the scene just previous, Exodus 2:23, we’re told that when the greatly suffering Egyptian slaves groan loudly, God suddenly “remembers His covenant” and “takes notice” of the Israelites. Whaat? Where in the cosmos has God been???? If I were God, I'd be a little embarrassed that I hadn't kept better tabs on things so my people wouldn’t have slid into slavery in the first place, since I did promise to protect and provide always. If I were God, I just might be feeling a little guilty, a little defensive, a little on edge. While it may look like a supremely powerful and perfect God is summoning Moses through the burning bush, maybe the truth is that God here is trying to look imposing but in reality, at this moment, isn’t so much. (Think the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” scene from “The Wizard of Oz".)
Consider also this. Maybe God summarily expects Moses to jump up and down cheering a loud “Yeesss!” when called to his grand, special, exciting, important, everything-changing-for-the-better-type mission. After all, God has gotten pretty much nothing but unqualified yesses from those he's already called for their grand, special, exciting, etc. missions: Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Jacob to name a few.
As our “burning bush” story begins, God's status is "low", ridiculously "low" even, His expectations are ridiculously "high" -- the perfect soil for comic action - and what happens next?
Moses balks. And balks and balks. (No wonder this story shows up in the Revised Common Lectionary during the summer, ie baseball season!)
First Moses says he doesn't think the people will know which “God of Big Promises” he's talking about when he reports back to the people.
God gives Moses His most powerful, mysterious, all-encompassing name sure to quash all doubts: "I AM WHO I AM.” God says, “Tell them it is "I AM" who has sent you."
"Okay," Moses says (maybe a little hesitant because that is sure a weird name even if mysterious and all-encompassing), "But suppose the people do not believe me or listen to me?"
God instantly displays some impressive magic tricks Moses will be able to perform. His staff will on command suddenly become a snake! He'll be able to put his hand into his cloak and when he pulls it out again 'ta da' it will be leprous! If he pours some water from the Nile onto dry ground it will presto change-o turn to blood! (Right now I'm not imagining De Mille's "10 Commandments" so much as his "Greatest Show on Earth". How about you??)
Moses continues to give God the run around.
"Ummm, but I can't speak well! Never have, never will!"
By now pretty testy, God blurts "Don't you know how powerful I am? I invented speech! I'll be with you in yours, don't worry." (“Man oh man,” God is thinking, “This is harder than I thought! Worse than wrestling Jacob!”)
And just as Moses begins to say, with casual resolution, "Nah, get someone else…"
...we're told, "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses". You can almost hear the fury rising in God's voice. "Alright alright! Then Aaron shall go with you! He speaks well, you put the words in him and he'll speak them beautifully to the people, ALRIGHT? NOW GET YOUR STAFF AND GET OUTTA HERE BEFORE I…..!!!!
God doesn’t really say things quite like I’ve paraphrased, but he might as well have, because a little while later as Moses heads toward Egypt to begin the glorious mission to which he’s been dramatically (comedically?) called, and finally agrees to undertake, God overtakes him and tries to kill him. Whaat??? Thankfully quick-witted (and quick-snipping) Zipporah saves the day - and the whole of God’s Big Plan – as she circumcises her son, flings the foreskin in God’s face and drives Him away. Phew! (See blog, “The Snip-Snip that Saved Western Civilization” for more on this “Are-you-sure-this-story-is-really-in-the-Bible?” text).
This is hardly the smooth, stunning summons God was assuming would be and we’ve probably been led to assume was.
Instead, it’s almost a parody of a “call story.”
Perhaps that’s because when we’re called by God, it’s usually way more than we can initially wrap our minds around, and we flinch. And flinch a lot in an assortment of oddball ways.
I’ll share with you my own “grand call story” in my next blog, so you can better see what I mean.
By making this foundational call story comic, perhaps the ancients seek to have us laugh at ourselves and our inherent difficulties in dealing with God and God’s call (which, from a comic perspective, drive God ridiculously nuts!). This helps relax and encourage us to take at least baby steps into the grand adventure God needs us to take.
With traveling shoes now securely fitted ON!
(Hair for the journey may but need not be big....)