15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” 19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 22 Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom,[c] saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.” 23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. 3Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
We’re talking about Wild Places, in this season of Lent. Places of wilderness, that might be an inbetween place, a lost space, uncertain, null, negative space, or even of discomfort or pain. But also Wild Places are places of discovery, of new space, surprised by what’s found in the barren. Most of this season we’re engaging in how we end up in wild places that we might not choose, anxiety, doubt, exile, or suffering. But before we go there, there are some wild places that we might choose to go to. Some wilderness that we may be surprised to lean into. A place that we might not have thought we wanted or needed, but jump into the depths of the wild.
Because maybe, for some of us, things might’ve been green pasture for the most part. For many of us, our upbringing, our time in place and culture, has pretty sheltered us from the rugged wilderness. For a lot of us, here, in United States, in this day and age, in this area, we’ve had the privilege of being safe and protected, and maybe haven’t really experienced a wilderness of sorts. I’m not saying that there has been difficulties, or struggles. We all have each our own. But the reality is that for all of us, it is sometimes easy to be left to our own communities and cocoons that keeps us blind to some wild places others may experience. If we’re not intentional about moving towards the edges of those known comforts, we just might miss out on the whole of human experience that is vast, deep, and wide.
Here’s one way to put it causally. This may be why people of privilege love to travel. #wanderlust and backpacking and just getting lost in a new city. As someone who’s moved around alot and uprooted every few years that sounds horrible and stressful to me. But for some folks, maybe born and raised in one place, going outside of their comfort zones gives them a new perspective and new light into the world that you just can’t experience when you stay. Like the movie Lost in Translation, [SLIDE] so artsy and beautiful, two Americans lost in Japan, trying to find themselves and meaning. Because yes, being lost in a strange land is discombobulating and kind of beautiful. Or like Burning Man, [SLIDE] an event that people go out to the middle of the desert to learn the ”virtue of surviving in the desolate surreal trackless plain of the Black Rock Desert”. It’s extremely dusty, and very hot, and over 70,000 people pay $3-400 ticket to do this every year. And folks who do these, Burners you call em, are like cultic about it, it gives them meaning and life. It’s holy to them. There’s a longing there, a curiosity to experience deeply. The things is, for a lot of folks, traveling or camping is a luxury that you can’t afford and wilderness you don’t need. You’re just trying to make it here, you don’t need to go out somewhere to see if you can survive out there.
Moses, was the Prince of Egypt. The origin story of Moses goes, in Exodus 1, that the king of Egypt didn’t like the Hebrews and tried to kill all baby boys. Moses, was miraculously rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and ends up growing up in the palace. One day he notices an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, his own people, and so he jumps in, and actually ends up killing the Egyptian. And what’s interesting in the story is that, the Hebrews aren’t necessarily thankful for this young privileged Prince, all of sudden getting woke to his own conscience in the cruelty of the hebrew slaves, deciding to take matters into his own hands and thinks he can solve the problem. It probably caused more problems for the slave actually, to have a murder of an Egyptian in the news. It says verse 13, just a few verses before today’s text, “the next day he went out and saw two hebrews fighting, and he asked the one in the wrong, “why are you hitting your fellow hebrew” The man said, “who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” AND THEN, Moses realizes what he did, and decides to flee to Midian. Probably in confusion, probably in misunderstanding of the situation and what he did. Maybe ashamed of how he reacted and angry with the system of oppression he sees but doesn’t know yet what to do. So he goes. He goes away to Midian. For a long time.
Verse 15 says that, he “went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.” Which, I don’t know if that’s just a weird wording from translation but sounds kind of funny, that he went to live there, where he sat by a well. Maybe that’s what he did, every day, he just went and hung out at the well, without much to do, without much purpose. And when he saw these women, who were trying to draw some water, were getting harassed by the shepherd. Moses of course, decides to jump in again, and rescues the ladies. Sounds like he has a bit of a savior complex but okay, hey at least he puts himself out there. This time, he doesn’t kill the other guy and runs away, he stays and waters their flock.
When the daughters’ father asks what happened, they answer, “An Egyptian rescued us.” Moses is called an Egyptian. “He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” And Reuel’s like, who is this guy? “And where is he? Why did you leave him?” Cause something’s going on here. First of all, why would an Egyptian get involved and second of all, what is he doing around here anyways? He’s probably lost or something. Go find him. And I don’t know if Reuel was actually grateful but his response is to invite him to come and “have something to eat”. I love that. Rescuing his daughters is great but let me see and get to know this guy. Let’s sit down and eat together. And so Moses agrees, to
accept the generosity of him, goes into their house, sits down at their table, and eat their food, and stays there, immersing himself into the fold of their lives.
And the rest of the story sounds pretty mundane. Almost too normal for a big name like Moses, who later comes to be the leader who frees the the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. He gets married, she gets pregnant, they have a baby– you know, just life, and a long time passed like that, enough for the king of Egypt to have passed. Moses, mostly spent his days tending his father in law’s flocks. (A side note: a quick textual criticism Bible study, look at the text, in verse 18, he’s first referred to as Reuel, and then later in chapter 3 verse 1, he’s named Jethro. And in other part of the Bible in a book called Numbers he’s mentioned as Raguel, which pronunciation could be similar to Reuel, but Jethro is a whole another name, so it’s “generally accepted” that Moses’ father in law must’ve went by like 7 different names, apparently. Just a WINDOW into the fact that some stories in the Bible are FAR from our culture and written in different times throughout history. There are discrepancies of who’s who. There’s linguistics at play, Hebrew and Arabic, not to mention later translations of Latin and Greek that could be contributing to the confusion. I just point that out because it doesn’t make the stories FALSE because the details are mixed up, but hey reality is there are mixed up details in the Bible and things ARE lost in translation and I personally think it’s important to note them now, honoring its complexity of the story. You’re sophisticated enough to hold it, so that we don’t have to throw out the whole story of Moses later when we realize that we’re not even sure on the name of his father in law.) Sorry, detour, as you’ll see, detours can be gifts. Moving on.
Verse 3 says, “he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness.” There, something caught his attention. He saw a bush. And it seemed to have been on fire. On fire, but it did not burn up. it was a strange, mysterious sight and he was drawn into it. He didn’t understand it but He was captured by it. In awe of it. So he moved toward it.
I have a friend who was working at an elite interior design firm at the time. She was successful and establishing a great career. She’s actually designed and decorated a literal palace of prince of a country I can’t remember the name of. By any standards she should have been happy, set financially and on track to the top But at some point, she felt this longing to turn her head from the ladder she was climbing. And one day she decided to quit her job and go on a Eat, Pray, Love trip. Which is a popular book from some years ago about an american woman traveling to India and finding herself. And yes, it was yoga, she teaches yoga now. It’s a little silly, but not, because people find things, holy things, wholeness, meaning, God in these places, that at first seem like a distraction or a waste of time. For my friend, it’s when she left a high paying job to roam the world freely that she discovered and deepened her spirituality. It’s often when we’re taken out of our usual context and placed in a whole new environment, a retreat, that we find the space to hear something fresh. Sometimes it’s hard to really see, hear, or listen to the divine voice in the busyness of our usual days.
For some of us, the season of wilderness comes to us uninvited and catches us by surprise. But for some of us, sometimes life just seems to go on without much disruption and for those of us with lives that’s seem pretty normal and plain, we find ourselves seeking, choosing, and being drawn to places of wilderness that we might experience a kind of breakthrough, a fresh light, out of the shallow, into the deep.
Have you ever been pulled by something that caught your attention? Or distracted you from your normal flock tending life. Or a sight of something that demanded your deeper awareness. Made you turn your head. Examine it more. Someone emailed me a quote that they liked this week and they described it as, “this line arrested me with how true it feels”. Has a thing ever arrested you, your mind, your time, your energy?
A detour into the wilderness can teach us. Like all the negative space in a good photograph. An open wild space to experience. It might not look so productive sometimes. Like Moses, just sitting by a well. Moses gives up his palace and becomes a foreigner in a foreign land. He’s not in control, but moves with this family’s culture, tending flocks in the wild. And there, he is faced with the holy tree. There he is captivated by a thing he doesn’t understand. There, he is transformed. He’s there and challenged.
A few years back I was a part of a County Jail Ministry, where we went to county jail and did a worship services there every week. I initially signed up for it because I wanted to help. I wanted to bring church to those who are incarcerated and can’t attend a church on Sunday. And we did do that, share a message, a few songs, prayed together. But the thing that I experienced more when I stepped into that space was, helplessness. I couldn’t do much. Many of them were mothers separated from their children. They were waiting on court dates, not sure of where they would end up next, staying in jail or go back out into the same environment that got them there in the first place.
I wanted to fix the system that put addicts into prisons. I wished that I was a lawyer, or wished that I could find them a good lawyer, or try to make any of the situation better somehow. The thing that happened mainly, wasn’t addressing those issues, which weren’t my place to solve anyway, but that I realized that I wanted to make things better so I didn’t have to feel the discomfort of sitting with unsolvable problems. I learned that it was frustrating, mind boggling how long these court dates took, infuriating how this woman got mixed up with a person that coerced them to steal. I got a little glimpse of what it feels like to truly be out of control, caught up in a system as they say, hitting a dead end and not having the resources. I felt and learned empathy. Not just sympathy. And faith. It was uncomfortable leaving county jail and going back to my warm comfortable bed. They lingered in my thoughts. It brought me down. I prayed hard for them, and grieved many things. And It brought me to enter into someone else’s story, without exercising the power to rescue them. I was simply called there, not even to be there for them, but for me to feel and experience and journey alongside those who were imprisoned. Here I am.
Their lives are on fire, but they were not burning up. Why. how. They were, “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) I wasn’t bringing Jesus to them but they were showing Jesus to me through their lives. They sang with me and cried with me. I couldn’t do anything but feel, discomfort, the discomfort that I had the luxury of avoiding if I really wanted to. At first I did it because you’re supposed to sit with the oppressed right? As a Christian, do community service, do charity, serve. Check. But that wasn’t the point at all. It gave me the space to really look at the systemic suffering in this world. It allowed me the real privilege to see their lives of resilience and strength. I heard a quote earlier this week from a man from Ecuador, quoting Father Gregory Boyle who started a ministry called Homeboy that worked with gangs in Los Angeles, [SLIDE] “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” I got a chance to just witness, what they had to carry, without trying to suggest how they should carry it.
Moses gave up being a prince of Egypt and became a foreigner. Jesus gave up “his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being, when he appear in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” According to Philippians 2:7-8. It’s peculiar to me that sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that following Jesus will just make our lives better, our marriages more successful, ourselves happier, to be more good kind people. Actually, I”m sorry, but following Jesus is a bit more deeper/darker than that. I’m not really make it look too appealing as the preacher of christianity am I, but the truth is, following Jesus ist is moving towards the cross, the suffering. And there is hope and resurrection that meets us on the other side. God calls us to the mountain tops but also to the wilderness. Before Moses split the sea, he lived in Midian for a long time not doing much. And after he split the sea, him and his people were lost again in the desert wilderness for 40 years. But God was with them, daily on the journey. The promise isn’t that life is gonna be awesome, but, that it might be a wild ride and I will be with you.. No matter where you go…..
Make no mistake though, the journey we’re invited to isn’t so that we can be the Moses or Jesus of the story, acting as if we’re the liberators or saviors. The only resemblance is that God calls us out into the wilderness, Moses, out to the burning tree, Jesus, to be hung on a tree, we just might find ourselves on the far side of the wilderness. And meet God there.
Where are you now? Is there a wilderness place God is calling you into, toward, to notice and pay attention to? A place where you have no power to judge or rescue, but to just have to stay and say here I am. Or maybe for some of you, you’re already in the wilderness and you don’t need to go choose it, it has chosen you. Maybe my message today wasn’t for you, for you already know the wilderness too well. For those of you who are there, God says, I am with you. At the far side of the wilderness, whether we choose to go there like Moses, or taken there like the Hebrew slaves, God seeks to meet us there and call us by name. Moses, Moses. Sarah, Sarah. John, John. Lydia, Lydia. May we have the humility to go there, take off our sandals and say here I am.
We invite you to consider the wild places in this season of Lent. Some invitations for you in the program, jotted down for you.
—Invitation to life flourishing
Move into and embrace a season of wilderness. Dwell and stay there, though nothing may happen for a long time. Perhaps, on the far side of the wilderness, you might experience God there.
And a way to
Spiritual Practice: this, to create a space where you might ponder upon some of these things. Maybe try meditating with a tree. [SLIDE]
Maybe it’s a tree in water, and you might wonder why it has not been swallowed up by water. How it stands. I’ll close by reading