God in the Obvious and Ordinary
Sermon by: Rev. Brian Combs, 9/28/2020
The world is full of expert opinions on meeting God: pick up the spatula and serve someone else, God will be waiting in line holding an empty plate. Summit the highest mountain and sit in silence, God will be waiting in the rarified air. Crawl through the desert taking inventory of your transgressions, God will be waiting at an oasis of atonement. Travel to the exotic place, maintain the spiritual discipline, keep the Sabbath holy, study the scriptures daily, purify your thoughts….
Thousands of years before, Moses didn’t claim to be an expert on anything. A wanted man, posters with his mug shot stapled on every olive tree, he was just an outlaw looking for cover in Midian. There, he found it. Jethro, his father-in-law, needed a hand tending to the livestock and Moses was more than willing to count sheep rather than count the slow days behind bars after his guilty verdict.
Beyond the map’s edge, when Moses and the flock were pushing for greener pastures, he turned and noticed a burning bush. It flickered more like the invitation of a prayer candle than the alarm of a raging wildfire, and Moses immediately knew he had stumbled upon an altar in the wilderness.
Barefoot, wide-eyed, and fully alive, he bows before one of our most beloved stories in scripture. In doing so, what does Moses teach us about encountering God?
Exodus 3:1-5 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.”
After an injury in the Thirty Years’ War, Nicolas Herman joined a Carmelite monastery in Paris and took the name Brother Lawrence. He wasn’t educated, so couldn’t be a clergyman; he wasn’t especially talented, so he embraced being a modest layman; he wasn’t front of the house material, so he was assigned to back of the house kitchen duty. There, for the rest of his life, he quietly served God with an apron on. After his death in relative obscurity in 1691, Brother Lawrence’s written reflections were collected and published. In them, he recorded his life’s most profound discovery: the spirituality of unskilled labor. That God is there for the noticing on the dirty floor to be swept; God is there for the noticing in the pile of dishes to be washed; God is there for the noticing in the trash can yet to be emptied. For practicing the presence of God in domestic life, Brother Lawrence has become a saint to ordinary people who live ordinary lives performing ordinary tasks.
Moses was God’s ordinary prophet, a tongued tied speaker and reluctant leader who ended up modeling for us how to turn and recognize the One who’s forever hiding in plain sight. Because of his witness, we are taught so much about encountering God:
God’s presence takes up residence in the insignificant. Horeb was considered a wasteland of a mountain; the bush was an ordinary scrub plant; the dirt under Moses’ feet was nothing more than desert sand. God has a habit of making sacred what’s been most dismissed and overlooked.
God’s presence isn’t reserved for the perfect. Moses was a fugitive wanted for homicide. He was on the run covering his tracks in a foreign land. The revelation of God comes to us where we are, not where we think we ought to be after we’ve sobered up, or cleared our record, or purged the profane, or fixed what’s broken, or gotten it right.
God shows up when we’re doing something else. Moses wasn’t sitting quietly in the front pew at church; he wasn’t praying on bended knee; he wasn’t offering a tenth of his income. He was clutching his staff, scanning the horizon for wolves, and trying to secure safe passage to the next watering hole for his thirsty animals. He was doing what he did every day. Shepherding.
Believing that the most menial task may very well be the holiest, we are called to be especially reverent when we are brushing our teeth or cutting our toenails, washing our hands or putting on the mask, breaking down the tent or folding the tarp, emptying the ashtray or filling up the water bottle, walking to the bus stop or running the next errand. Whatever the chore, as you go about your day-to-day, be reminded of this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”