Text: Exodus 3: 1-9
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. 2 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. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 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.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 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.
7 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, 8 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. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.
This is probably one of the more famous parts of scripture where God is identified as fire; God seems to be present in the burning bush and he speaks to Moses. If you want to just offer an example of God as fire in either the Old or the New Testament, it is pretty easy to find a text. There are lots of them. I chose this one because it is one of the few texts where God is fire, but God is also compassionate, loving and sensitive rather than angry and wrathful. Many times you find God linked to fire when God wants to clean house or vent a little bit, but in this text we find God hearing the cries of the Israelites and God claims to know of their suffering. So that is why I chose this text to begin our conversation about God as fire and God as light.
You can probably think of several other famous examples of God as fire; there was the pillar of fire in the wilderness to lead the Israelites by night. There was John the Baptist who said Jesus would baptize with fire, and of course there was Pentecost, where the tongues of fire were present on each of the disciples heads as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Shadrack, Meshack and Abendigo were rescued from the firey furnace by a fourth figure of flames and the book of Revelation has a fire reference in almost every sentence. There isn’t any shortage of fire in Bible.
That being said, I find it interesting that in our 21st century of understanding what fire is and how it works that so few people really pursue the metaphor. I say this because when you begin to think about fire in a new way the metaphor for God as fire becomes even richer. Allow me to explain.
I heard a funny story once about some of these guys. (hold up plastic dinosaurs) I don’t know if your kids were dinosaur crazy or not – our first certainly was. Matthew loved dinosaurs, he knew all the names and had all the books and when we had the chance to visit a natural history museum, like the good one in Denver for example, where they had a few skeletons assembled, that was a real treat.
Any way the story goes like this; I think most of us recognize the fact that plastic is a petroleum product, we may not fully understand all the chemistry behind how we get there, but we do get plastic from petroleum. Another little fact that most of us already know is that petroleum is refined from the crude oil we pump out of the ground. Those oil reserves are the result of decomposing matter that through the right process of time and pressure have turned into oil. If any of you remember the old Sinclair gasoline logo, a dinosaur, you may also remember that much of that decomposing material that eventually turns into oil is thought to be decomposing dinosaurs.
So the ironic story is this; if plastic comes from petroleum and petroleum comes from oil and oil comes from dinosaurs, then these plastic dinosaurs are made from real dinosaurs! Whoa! Fun to think about, any way…
I bring this up because sunlight and fire work the same way. Consider the small tree out in the forest 100 years ago. Slowly the tree grows and matures and each spring the leaves come out and soak up the sunshine and the roots absorb the rain and the tree grows taller and taller. Eventually the life span of the tree is over and it begins to die. After it has been dead for a few years, along comes farmer John who has a wood stove in his house. That standing dead tree would make some good fire wood he thinks to himself, so he cuts it up and stacks it in the wood shed for next winter. When winter comes he grabs some of that wood and builds a fire in the wood stove. All of this sounds very logical until you begin to consider that the fire that is released as that wood is burning, is actually stored sunlight. The tree when it was alive soaked up the sun’s rays through the leaves and stored that energy in the mass of the wood it was producing as it grew. Now, our farmer is releasing that stored energy, that stored sunlight, as the wood burns. The sunlight that may have been present a hundred years ago when the tree was very young, is now present again in the fire in farmer John’s wood stove.
I think we need to begin to see God in much the same way. Not just in fire, but in light and energy and all creation. One thing which you may not know is that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only transfer from one form into another form. In other words, the fire energy in farmer John’s wood stove is still present in the world, even after the fire goes out. The energy is present in the form of heat, and eventually that heat energy may be transferred back outside where it is absorbed by the atmosphere and causes a thunderstorm. The result of the thunderstorm may be a lightning strike which starts a fire and our energy is once again in the form of fire. This example is a little quick and a little simplistic, but the concept is the same. Energy never goes away. And neither does God.
I have often encouraged you to think about God as energy rather than a being of some sort. This is part of the reason why I believe it is more productive to image God in this way rather than through an anthropomorphic image of God. The God energy that spoke to Moses in the burning bush is still around today – it may even be the energy that is in the candles on the altar, or the energy that is in the bread we will eat during communion. Actually, what I believe to be true is that all energy is God energy, and so the energy that beats our hearts or grows our fingernails is ancient God energy of some kind. Remember, it never leaves, it just changes form.
We have a number of votive candles up here today for you to light if you want to as part of our communion ritual. These candles have a long tradition within Christianity of representing both the energy and the light of God. In Latin, the word “votum” means ‘vow’ and it is the root of what we now call a votive candle. In other words, when you light the vow candle, with the energy of God, you make a vow with God present. That vow may be to pray for someone, it may be to ask for wisdom in a situation, it may be a vow to simply remember someone, but it is a vow you make for yourself and the energy in the flame represents the ancient energy of God.
Today, as we partake of the communion elements, I will be asking you to remember that the energy you receive from the bread and the cup is the same energy that was present when Jesus walked on earth and the same energy that was present when Moses heard the voice of God from the burning bush. If you choose to light a votive candle, that can represent even more energy and a greater presence of God as you make a vow of your own choice.
Come and receive the energy of God.