Burning Bushes and Burning Hearts

I’ve been thinking a lot about falling in love lately.  About what it’s like, about the feeling of it.  Isn’t it a mystery, the way you meet someone and, perhaps suddenly but maybe over time, your eyes are opened to that person.  You see a person – and really, they are probably just like anyone else, basically – but to you, they are exactly the right thing, at the right time, in just the right form, and your heart warms.  You feel drawn to them.  You want to spend time with them.  All of your time, probably.  You want to know them, their good and bad parts.  And you want the best for them.  Have any of you felt this?


The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I wonder whether the same sort of “falling in love” happens with ideas, with opportunities, with next steps in our lives, with our calling.  Last week, Tim preached and asked us the question of what we will do in response to God.  His question got me to thinking – how do we decide?  Each of you is so different.  You, and I, have such different experiences – of work, of family, of life.  We have different experiences of what church means to us, of God.  We have each encountered God in such different places. Perhaps for you holy ground has been a Sunday school classroom or a church altar.  But maybe that holy ground was the face of a person on the other side of a dinner table or a special song.  Perhaps it was a hospital room and a diagnosis, or the hitting bottom of a bottle of alcohol.  Maybe it was a book you read or a hand you held or a lost opportunity that made you turn over a new leaf.  Maybe the holy ground was marked by a burning bush and had God’s voice calling out of it saying, “Psst, look over here!” But maybe it was like falling in love, a gradual warming of your heart toward a new direction.


We talk about holy ground and new opportunities, and in the scripture from Exodus today, we see how Moses encountered them – he needed a pretty surprising and obvious tap on the shoulder to see the place he needed to go.  A burning bush will do that to a person, if their eyes are open.  I think about this holy ground question, the “How will you respond?” question and I think of Moses.  He had been wandering around, trying so hard to do right, to find his place in the world.  After all, if you remember the larger story, Moses had a double identity – he really struggled to know whether he was a royal Egyptian or a peasant Hebrew.  He’d been rescued from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, claimed as one of the royal household, but he didn’t know for sure what he was SUPPOSED TO DO WITH HIS LIFE.  He felt injustice keenly – after all, he’d seen the way the Hebrews were treated as slaves, and had killed an Egyptian slave master for beating one of them.  He didn’t know how to do more.  He hadn’t had his way made plain.  Because his heart hadn’t been warmed yet by God.  He hadn’t yet seen the burning bush. Moses hadn’t yet fallen into love with his own calling.



So Moses.  I’m not Moses – I’m not saying that any one of us is necessarily called to lead a nation of people out of slavery to the Promised Land singlehandedly.  But I do think we’ve got to consider the possibility that we don’t know how God’s going to show up or just what we’ll be asked to get excited about.  Just like we might be walking down the sidewalk one day and fall in love, we might be wandering around on our day-to-day chores – just like Moses shepherding his sheep– and turn and see the modern day equivalent of a burning bush with God’s voice whispering out of it, “Pay attention!  Here’s what you didn’t know you were looking for!”


Really, this keeps on happening throughout the scriptures, doesn’t it?  People think their lives are going to be the way they are, that their path is set, and God does something that burns them up, fires them up, sends up a flare, illuminates a new focus, and they’re in love again, in love with their lives and with God and with their calling.


Moses probably said, Well, I guess shepherding is as good as it’s going to get.

Then there’s a bush, and God sends up a holy flare, warming Moses heart for leading the people to freedom.


Cleopas and the other disciple, devastated by the loss of their leader and their hope for a new world probably were saying to each other on the road to Emmaus, “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to head back home.  It’s fishing for fish now, for us, no more fishing for people.  That was a nice dream.”

Then there’s Jesus walking on the road with them, eating dinner with them suddenly, and their hearts warm up and they see they’ve been called to go home, indeed, but with a renewed calling.


But this calling question, this idea that our day-to-day is where we may be called to act, to respond, is so bizarre.  I mean, really, which one of us regularly has God talk to us?  Not many of us literally hears God whispering (or yelling) at us.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe without a single doubt that God still speaks to us today, I believe this, but still, I don’t hear a lot of voices.  In fact I tend to be cynical about people who say they hear God’s voice – I tend to think they hear their own voice telling them what they want to hear, instead.  But then I hear about people like Michelle and Cody, and the script gets flipped a bit.


Cody was a bass fisherman who was so good he’d been featured on ESPN.  He was on his way to being a millionaire, but then got caught up in a crack addiction.  He soon went through his whole savings for crack, then his Harley, his car, his house, finally his boat.  He lost everything to his addiction, and ended up living homeless in a field next to a church in Nevada.


Cody would get up every morning, wash windows til he had enough money to score some crack, then spend the rest of the day in hat field, high. He lived that way for 8 months.  After he went 3 months in a row without bathing, the other folks living on the street around him started avoiding him.  Cody later said, “You know it’s bad when homeless people think you smell.”


Then one of his friends from the street shared a tip: “This church over here will feed you on Sunday mornings and let you take a shower.”


Cody was anti-God, anti-faith, anti-Christian.  The idea of going into a church repulsed him, but so did not showering.  So that Sunday, he took a risk and walked into the church.  He didn’t want to think about where he was and hoped no one would acknowledge him.  But a member of the church named Michelle happened to be facing that direction and noticed him as he stood in the doorway.  He was filthy, emaciated, and scraggly.  And as she looked him over, she sensed God telling her, “You need to go over and talk to him.”   She resisted for a second, but knew God was telling her to do it and so she walked timidly over to Cody and said, “You look like you need a hug.”


Cody said later, “She didn’t know it, but at that moment all I really wanted to do was put a gun to my head and blow my brains out.  I mean I had eaten at fine restaurants… and now I was eating out of garbage cans.”


Cody looked over at this normal looking woman, a soccer mom.  And he said, “Lady, I don’t smell very good, you don’t want to be near me.”

Michelle looked in his eyes and said, “Jesus loves you,” and gave him a hug.


Cody said in that moment, for the first time in his life, God began to warm his heart and get through.  He was so stunned that this lady would come up to him, even with how horrible he smelled and appeared, that she would hug him, that his heart opened to God.



I believe that both Michelle and Cody heard God’s voice that day, calling to them.  The holy ground they walked was that brief space of church basement between the door where Cody stood and Michelle’s outpost in the gathering area.  And in that holy ground, neither of them thought anything special would happen that day, but God spoke to both of them – to Cody God seemed to say, “Be brave and try” and to Michelle, “Find your courage and say this,” and they both saw the flare go up and their hearts were warmed.  The holy ground was their day to day life, but both of them listened and so both of them met God in a new way and were turned onto a new path.


Have you had this happen to you?  Let me tell you, I’ve had this experience, this year, with you all.  Now I’m not old enough to have reached the end of my rope on some things, like Cody, but I do know what it is to think, “Maybe this is as good as it’s supposed to get for me.”  I know intimately, personally, the desire to fall into love with my own life, to feel called to a place, to an idea, to have my heart be warmed.  You might think a pastor automatically has that feeling, or why else would we go into the ministry? Right?  But I’m telling you, sometimes you know you’re walking in the right general direction – you’re on the road to Emmaus, you’re in the desert doing good work, real work, valuable work – but your heart doesn’t feel fired up.  You’re waiting


And then, one day, you hear about a thing, about chance to be a part of something powerful, and grace-filled, and you say, that’s ME, I SHOULD DO THAT!  Your heart warms.  That’s what happened to me when I heard about the Shalom Zone.  I heard there was a group of people over here on the Westside of Columbus sitting around tables together, talking around and over barriers of race and poverty and violence, trusting each other to do the good work of building the front porch of the Kingdom, and my heart gave a little jump.  It warmed up, and ministry seemed like something I could really dive into headfirst.  I was, all of a sudden, all in.  And I learned about Freedom Schools – where poor kids could learn to love to read, and have mentors, and come to dream a real dream of going to college, and have their voices heard by the people in power in our communities, and my heart jumped again.  I fell in love.  I fell in love.  God set a burning bush in my path and spoke to me out of it.  Jesus walked alongside me and I looked over and said to my friends, “Didn’t you feel your heart burning in your chest, just then, when Jesus said the words – FREEDOM SCHOOLS?  Didn’t you?”



But what’s the opposite?  We all feel compelled to do things – I mean, after all, Cody’s addiction might qualify – there really are things in this life that make you feel good, that “warm your heart” but that are, ultimately, destructive and not of God.


What’s the difference between having your “heart burn within you” and feeling compelled to do something?  It seems like there’s a scriptural test you can apply… after all, even Jesus was tempted to act in certain ways, was visited by a spirit that asked him to follow his “heart” and to give up his real calling for glory of other kinds.  How can we tell the difference between falling in love because of God and falling into a trap?


I suggest that Scripture guides us clearly here…

We can ask certain questions of the thing that seems to be warming our hearts…

Is it in line with the good news?   Does what you are feeling called to become a part of provide an opportunity to share more, to give your gifts for the good of others, to make your faith more inclusive, to open doors to others to hear a message of hope, of hospitality, of opportunity?  Does it, in the words of Isaiah, reveal that God is doing a new thing in your midst?   OR, does the thing with which you are newly in love merely create a


  • A sense of burden
  • A feeling of fear that stops you moving forward
  • Sense of dread or of sadness?
  • Does it break relationships rather than build them?


I won’t focus on this very long, but I do not want you to believe that saying “yes” means saying “yes” to everything.  After all, without intentional, deep reflection and discernment – with God alone and within your trusted community – we may just say “yes” to things that are not in fact God’s hope for us.


I just keep coming back to Tim’s question, and I ask, have you had your heart warmed by something?  Have you encountered a holy moment, a holy ground and felt the burn? God sometimes sends up a flare: here I am! If you want to know me, come here!  Do this!  Where have you felt the “flare?”

Something you just suddenly KNEW you had to have, be a part of, know?

Was it here, in the ministries of New Horizons?

  • When you read in the bulletin about the wonderful free breakfasts our hospitality at Morning Manna, Sarah’s, Angie’s Kitchen – does your heart warm?  Does it burn within you?  Do you want to turn to your friends walking this road with you and say, did you feel that?  Because if you do, that’s God talking.
  • When you hear about Christ’s Cupboard on Wheels, hear the needs of people living in desperation in homeless camps across the Hilltop, you’re your heart jump?  Does your heart burn within you?  That’s God talking.
  • When you read and hear about Freedom Schools, about kids who if they don’t learn to read are going to end up in prison, about kids dancing and singing, kids hoping, kids making a difference in their own neighborhoods and families… when you hear about that, about families getting nutritious meals and hope all in one place, about safety and music and free books and family time, does your heart start to pound with excitement?  Do you have a niggling little thought in your head, “I wish I could be a part of that?”  Does your burn within you?  That’s God talking…
  • Or maybe it’s seeing all of our awesome children and terrific young adults up here during children’s moments, a sense that this is the future of the church.  Your heart jumps, and God’s asking you to notice.
  • Or maybe the choir sings and your soul says, “Yes!” And it’s God’s voice you’re hearing.
  • Or ministries of healing, visiting the sick and homebound, offering communion, taking the Table of the Lord out into our living rooms and streets, opening our doors to those who can’t physically join us.  Do you hear Gene offer this opportunity for hospitality and feel your heart warm?  Do you feel a little more in love with Church when you hear that?  Then listen, because that’s God saying, “Child, pay attention to me, I’m waiting for you.”



What will YOU DO when there is a burning bush, a burning heart within you, when you encounter the living God standing right next to you on the Westside?

Sit in silence: pray for your path to be revealed to you.

What burning bush is calling for my attention, my discipleship, for me to respond with faith, “Here am I”?

What is making my heart burn in me?  Where have I encountered Jesus and now must share that news with the community?

But remember: People who are warmed or burned up by God go talk about it and get others to join them in the mission.


Today, I invite you to pray on these questions – where is God sending up a flare for you?  What’s your burning bush today?  Where is your heart burning within you?  And how are you going to respond?


Holy God, You who show yourself in surprising corners of the world and of our lives, show yourself today.  Burn a bush in our midst, make this holy ground, and give us the blessing of your presence among us, so that we may also leave this place exclaiming, “Did our hearts not burn within us?!?”  Amen


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