Summary: Exposition of the Burning Bush, and linkage to Ministry of all believers mentioned in Romans and Matthew
In the church where I grew up, a 1950s building, the most dominant visual feature was a huge stained glass window depicting a Burning Bush. There was a cross on the back wall of the Church, like there is here/in the United Reformed Church here, but the visual image that stuck in my mind, and I suspect in many other people’s, was the Burning Bush.
You might think that a burning bush was an unusual choice for the most prominent symbol in a church. However, the Burning Bush has been used by Presbyterian churches around the world since the sixteenth century as their symbol – long before logos became fashionable. For a newly founded a Presbyterian church in a midlands town in the 1950s, that window was a way of making a strong statement to everyone of the new Presbyterian presence in the town.
Images of the Burning Bush, when used as logos, usually have words associated with them. In Scotland they are “Nec tamen consumebatur”, which I’m sure that you all know means “and yet it was not consumed”. In Ireland, the words are “Ardens sed Virens”, which again I’m sure you’ll all know means “burning but flourishing”.
It’s these words that turn the Burning Bush from a reminiscence about Presbyterian symbols into some living words for today. Those words, in either the Scottish or the Irish version, are there to remind us that even though the bush was burning, it was not consumed. This was no ordinary bonfire, no attempt to get rid of an unwanted shrub, but a meeting between Moses, a mere man, and God himself.
There are a number of things about this burning bush that make it worth dwelling on a little further. Firstly, it was about the presence of God. This unusual event was not a gardening experiment gone wrong. The reason the bush was burning, but not being burnt up, was to show that this was something quite out of the ordinary. It was God revealing himself to Moses, so that Moses was in the direct presence of God.
Furthermore, secondly, the burning bush is very important in that it is not only symbolising the presence of God, but also that the presence of God was in an ordinary place: not in a Temple, not in a Synagogue, but in an ordinary place. Because God was present, it became a special place, which is why Moses took his shoes off. God was making his presence known, not just in the places that people thought of as holy and special, but in an ordinary place. This was one ordinary place, but God isn’t restricted to one ordinary place. This was a prelude to God showing himself in lots of places. A beginning of the whole of the ordinary becoming special, so that the boundaries between the ordinary and the special were broken down.
Thirdly, the Burning Bush is about the voice of God. In this situation, we actually hear God speak directly to Moses. How often do we hear that? How often does God speak directly to us, in the form of a voice? I’ve only met one person who claimed that had happened. It was my school chaplain, who told me that one day when he was praying, he was really laying on heavy praise of God, and he heard God’s voice say to him, “cut the crap and get on with it”. He was rather distressed that God thought he was so dim as to only understand words of one syllable. This burning bush is about the voice of God. For Moses that was a direct voice that he heard. For us experiences like that are at best rare. But we can still listen for God speaking to us, through other people, through any means that he might use.
Fourthly, the Burning Bush is word of God. On this occasion God made his presence known in an ordinary place, and he spoke directly to Moses. Although God’s voice spoke particular words to Moses, it was not individual words that were God’s word, but rather the whole situation that was God’s Word. This reminds us that as followers of God, we are people of his Word. That Word is written down in scripture, is made flesh in Jesus Christ, and is still moving and working among us today through the Holy Spirit.
Fifthly, this whole business of the Burning Bush was an encounter with God. It was not just God’s presence, even in an ordinary place, or God speaking, or a reminder of God’s Word. It was, in it’s totality, an encounter with God. God may not set our bushes on fire, or speak his voice to us, but will still need to listen for what God might be saying to us, and being prepared to encounter God in perhaps the strangest of ways.