Rev. Dylan Parson begins the sermon by describing how he discovered as a child that falling asleep made long car trips go by faster. As a kid, Rev. Parson would try to distract himself on road trips by bringing lots of books, music, etc. However, distraction came at the cost of missing sights along the journey. The sermon then transitions to Moses noticing the burning bush while distracted with the work of shepherding.
God spoke to Moses through the bush because Moses took the time to notice it. Rev. Parson explains that we must believe God still speaks to us and take time to notice the signs God puts in our lives. Though modern technology offers endless distraction, we must cultivate the willingness to notice God’s voice by stopping, breathing, and listening. God promises to be with us when we follow his call. The question is whether we will take the time to notice God speaking to us.
It took me a strangely long time to discover one of the most miraculous travel tricks to make a trip easier, and that is, of course, to fall asleep. While this doesn’t work whenever you’re the driver, it is amazing how much faster a trip can go. I remember the very first time I discovered this, I was probably like 12, 13, I had placed a pillow on my lap and folded myself in half as my grandmother was driving my sister and I to Chicago, across what is quite possibly one of the most boring roads in America, and that is the Ohio Turnpike. There is no worse drive that I have ever experienced.
Before I had this revelation that you could just fall asleep, my preferred method to improve long drives was intense efforts at distraction. More than clothes or toiletries, my bags for vacation when I was a kid were loaded with just hilariously unrealistic numbers of books, of cassette tapes, you know, before the world briefly transitioned to CDs. My bag was always so heavy I could barely carry it because there were like a dozen books in there. My mom would always, You’re never going to read all those.
And I didn’t. And then as we got in the car at three in the morning to head down to the beach, I would I’d build myself an isolation pod in the back of our van. You know, we’d have, I’d have a wall of pillows and blankets separating me from my sister, which was absolutely necessary. I’d have a backpack full of entertainment at my feet.
And the moment we left the driveway for our 12 hour trip to North Carolina, my headphones went on. And immediately, my Walkman was blasting Radio Disney kid jams. Volume one or two, I think they’re at like volume 73 by now. And then I would crack into the first of my half a dozen Nancy Drews, which I inherited from my mom’s collection.
I had like 40 of them. Now, 12 or more hours in the back of a minivan, waiting to smell the ocean, is a really long time no matter what, especially whenever you get about 2/3 of the way there. You’re on I-95 in standstill traffic. The sun’s baking you through the window.
But distraction, I found out, was the best way to cope. Distraction comes with a cost, though. I was constantly missing things. Part of the glory of the trip was all these landmarks that I always look forward to seeing every year.
The route down is just littered with landmarks that I would always be waiting for to know. They were just getting closer and closer. Cool things that you don’t get to see at home, right? I was always thrilled to see the castle in Berkeley Springs. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this route down south.
The castle in Berkeley Springs, there’s a giant roller skate in Front Royal that’s like 10 feet tall. I was excited to see that. There are apple statues around Winchester. The city is loaded with just these like huge 10 foot apples that are painted in all kinds of different colors.
I’m always look forward to the tunnel that I hated to sleep through in Newport News and then all the aircraft carriers and the warships in Norfolk and then the grave digger monster truck in Curry Tuck, all these big, exciting landmarks. I wanted to see them, But it was extremely difficult for my mom to get my attention over the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera and past whatever mystery I was reading. And by the time she could reach around all the cooler and everything to shake my leg, it was gone. Whatever it was was gone.
And so I’d miss almost everything. I’d usually see one of those things per year. Even if I decided I was going to be ready for the next landmark, I always allowed myself over the next couple hours to just fade into distraction once more. Because that’s what I wanted anyway, right? I wanted to be distracted.
And then once you decide that, there you go. And there is inherent conflict between keeping oneself distracted and on the other hand, noticing. You cannot do both things at once. And distraction now doesn’t take that much effort, maybe now more than ever.
And this feels like such a crotchety old person thing say, but the world we live in is designed to distract us now. I’m not sure my phone ever goes much longer than 15 minutes without a call, a text, some kind of social media notification, an alert that the Dollar General app has a Saturday coupon. And immediately whatever focus that I’ve mustered up on whatever task that I’m working on is just gone. It is so much harder for me to just read a book now than it was when I was a kid because there’s always something.
And social media, news apps the same way, are literally designed to just keep us scrolling and refreshing, reading more stuff, just desiring to keep opening it because that’s how they get money. And we’re almost never bored anymore because there’s always something at hand that we can use to distract ourselves. Whether we’re sitting in traffic, whether we’re waiting on food at a restaurant. Now I have to believe that some kids have never in their lives at this point experienced riding in a car with nothing to do but look out the window.
We cannot stand to just do nothing. And I mean this is me, this is everybody. Literally as I wrote this sermon, I put off going to the mechanic to get my leaking tire repaired because until Stormy got home from work to pick me up, I knew that I had to sit down there and just sit and wait for them to fix my tire with nothing to do than sitting with the old guy, scratched his lottery tickets off across from me. Nothing to do but sit.
And I put it off. And then I went down there and I did it in ten minutes. And so you’re walking down the sidewalk and there is a bush smoldering from within but not burning up. You’re walking down the sidewalk.
Do you notice it right off beside you? If God were trying to get your attention to speak to you as he did to Moses, would you keep on walking or would you notice? The great Jewish Rabbi Rashi says that God’s choice to appear in the form of a bush was completely intentional. He chooses a bush precisely because it’s small, it’s not grand or commanding. Other Middle Eastern gods at that time were often associated with these huge trees or sacred forest, but God chooses to be like his people were in their slavery. Small, flimsy, insignificant, just one among many.
They’re just a bush in the midst of this scrubland. And you know, there’s really no such thing as a beautiful shrub. At best, they’re interesting, I guess. And not really when they’re scattered across desert scrubland where there’s just patches of thorny bushes, that’s just not pretty.
The Lord could have chosen to be this grand cedar tree, the kind that the emperors of the day built their palaces out of. He could have chosen to tear the clouds in two to get Moses’ attention with a voice of thunder, but he doesn’t. So keep in mind that Moses at this point in his life, we’re just kind of jumping into the Moses story so we miss kind of the background here, but Moses at this point in his life is not having a good time. He is a man without a people.
He’s a Hebrew, he’s come to find out recently, but he was raised by Egyptians. He’s a fugitive from the land of Egypt where he grew up because he murdered an Egyptian in a fit of righteous rage. He saw this Egyptian officer mistreat a Hebrew, one of his cousins, and he killed him. And so now he’s fled Egypt entirely He’s living with his wife and his father-in-law in the foreign land of Midian, which is three days journey across the desert from the place he’s known as home.
And he is doing one of the most low skill, unpleasant, boring jobs imaginable. Far away from his new wife. I mean, at least he’d be excited to have a new wife, right? But he’s far away from her most of the time anyway. He’s out being a shepherd.
So conceivably, reasonably, Moses could have been shepherding in complete dismay. I promise you he was not looking forward to each new day at work. He probably could have been out there doing his best to dissociate from the reality where he finds himself. He does not want to be here.
He wants it to be over. Moses, who was once a baby rescued by a princess from the reeds along the Nile. He was once a young man who lived in Pharaoh’s court along this great and mighty river. He has lost everything.
And now he finds himself, and you could literally translate it as the backside of the desert, not just regular desert. This is far into the desert. And he’s on this mountain, Mount Hermon, that means parched. He’s known water, he’s known luxury, he’s known this urban, exciting lifestyle, and now he’s carrying sheep from place to place on this desert mountain.
So you could forgive him if he was just trying to do the stupid job, moving the sheep from place to place, supervising, wandering around in low-grade sorrow, and just waiting till he finally gets to go home to his tent– he’s living in a tent now, I’m sure– with his wife. But when he comes upon this bush, he notices. His eyes aren’t on his feet as he walks. They’re not just zoned out looking at the horizon as he keeps walking.
He sees the bush and he says, Let me check out this amazing site and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. He chooses to drop what he’s doing. He could have just powered through the day, but he chooses to stop, to drop what he’s doing and see what is going on. And notice this, because I think this is very important.
just half a sentence that it’s easy to skim over. Then God calls him. God speaks to him out of the bush but not until he goes to look. God is not in the burning bush and saying, Moses come over here.
That’s not what’s happening. If Moses had not bothered to notice or if he saw the bush out of the corner of his eye and went, Huh, weird, and kept walking, I don’t think that God would have yelled for him to come back. I think it’s very possible that the entire saga of the Exodus here, all that is to come in Moses’s life as he becomes the instrument through which God liberates his people, none of that happens if he doesn’t decide to drop what he’s doing for just a second to go check out that weird thing. He hasn’t enveloped himself in the many distractions he could have And so he hears God’s voice because he’s available to hear it.
And then Moses, Moses cries a voice from the bush. Here I am, Moses replies. Here I am. And history has changed forever.
Now it’s not smooth sailing from that moment forward. The promise is actually kind of difficult that God gives in that moment because God says, you know, you’ll know that this comes true whenever you’re back on this mountain after you free your people. There’s a lot of stuff in between here and there. But God expresses exactly what he’s gonna do.
He’s gonna use Moses to free his people from slavery under Pharaoh and he’s gonna bring them out of Egypt into a broad land flowing with milk and honey. And Moses asks what any reasonable person would. Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Who am I? It’s gonna be the challenge of a lifetime.
There’s nothing that Moses could have done to prepare him for this. You can’t learn some kind of leadership to lead your people out of slavery. You can’t prepare yourself to do these miracles that God is gonna work through you. It’s going to be an impossible challenge for him to do and he knows that.
The author Elie Wiesel, who was a Holocaust survivor, writes of Moses. Moses was the greatest legislator and commander-in-chief of the first liberation army. He was a prophet, God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative to God. And he never had a good day in his life.
But God makes a promise that guarantees it’s going to be worth it. I’ll be with you, God says. And God even tells Moses something that no human being had ever heard before. His name.
I am who I am. Or I will be who I will be. God is the one who stands beyond everything. The world changes, empires rise and fall, people are born and die, continents drift apart and crash together, the years just blow away.
But God is. God will be. God’s promise, the hope that we can build our lives on, is in God’s very name that he gives to Moses. I am what I am.
And all of this happens because Moses noticed this bush. I don’t think we often believe it deep down, but God is still speaking. God is still calling. God is leaving signs for you in your life, waiting for you to see them.
And so the first thing you have to do is to decide to live your life in such a way as if God is still at work and speaking. That the book that we read from every Sunday is not some dead history book, but an account of the God called I will be who I will be. That’s a future, infinite name. The God who was and is and is to come.
Whenever the book gets to the end, it’s not over. That alone is a first step, to really choose to believe that. It’s one thing to believe that in the abstract. It’s another thing to decide to live as if the God that led the Hebrews through the Red Sea just might light a bush on fire in front of you on your way out the door today.
Why not? But the next thing, and I know that I struggle with this one every day, is to cultivate a willingness to notice. And again, we all know this, that we are just smothered in distraction, and we like it that way. It feels a whole lot better not to have to experience silence, whenever you can just turn up the white noise instead, whatever that is. So it doesn’t really matter if God lights that bush on fire, if you’re too wound up in the cares of your day, the stresses of work and family, and the countless distractions that bombard us.
If you’re too busy to even see that, it doesn’t matter if the bush is burning so close it that might light your pant leg on fire. God will let us keep walking and deal with all of our little stuff if we’re not ready to hear God on the big stuff. It’s in our commitment to stop, to breathe, to simply shut up on the inside and the outside that we encounter God’s voice. How many times, and I know this is me too, how many times have you taken a moment to pray and not said anything.
Now it’s constantly words going up. Is there any room for words to come back down? God is speaking to you. God is calling you to something special and crucial to God’s work in the world. It might be easy.
It might be hard. But I am promises to be with you every step of the way. The question is whether you will take the time to notice. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.