Moses at the Burning Bush1
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.” 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. “
All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
No one plans on becoming a step-child. It is a role that happens to you. I became an adult step-child almost three years ago and it is an odd feeling at times. I had friends who were step-children much earlier in their lives and the two experiences cannot compare. To be related to someone is not the same thing as being raised by them. I think the general outcome of it though is a feeling of being a stranger in your own home. It is not just the children either. The whole process of remarriage redraws some of the most sacred boundary lines that we know, and it is never the same.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Moses was adopted into family of Pharaoh, and that may be the only thing that saved his life as a baby. Curiously, for Moses, one of the most important characters in Jewish history, we know little of his father. We have his mother and sister who play important roles, and even a father-in-law later in life, but no naming of an earthly father at all. All we know is that he was from the house of Levi (as was his mother). Did Moses ever meet his father? We don’t know.
Moses lived almost the entirety of his life as a stranger in a strange land. The only one who truly treated him as His own was God, and here, in this first encounter, Moses was terrified. He only knew how to feel out of place. This invitation to relationship was outside of his experience and he did not know what to do, what to think, or how to feel. Most of us have been there. Whether you are part of the growing number of people who have step-families, or if you have just found yourself thrust out of your element, you’ve found yourself a stranger, searching for the familiar. To complicate matters further, the attempts of others to adopt us into fellowship often fall flat due to misguided intentions and our own anxieties causing us to be over-defensive. Or maybe it’s just me.
Whether we are on the inside or the outside looking in at this moment, there is a curious phenomenon that occurs in our relationships. We start to bend the rules and blur the boundaries that we normally hold dear, in order to help bring in those step-children or to help join that fellowship ourselves. We see this all over the New Testament, both in the Gospels and especially in Paul’s letters to the Gentile churches. They, and we, struggle with the question: How far can we flex for the sake of welcoming someone in?
Paul brings an important thought to this conversation. How much of what is right and wrong do they already know and do? Some Christians were ready to throw out every standard they had, in the name of grace… but for Paul, this was actually thinking too little of these new Gentile believers, and of the God who made us all. He believed that there was at least some degree of instinctual morality that is put into us by our Creator, and while we may not know the ritual law, much of what is right and wrong we can learn through observing and experiencing life. I must admit that this reasoning does not always work out perfectly, but there are times, perhaps more often than not, when it rings true.
So what does that mean for us? Don’t be so quick to compromise your sacred values that define who you are and who your community is without at least having an open conversation about them. It does not need to occur in the form of an ultimatum, and sometimes we are put into new communities against our own will, but that does not mean that we cannot reach an understanding, even if we cannot reach agreement. For children especially, it makes a huge difference when they can tell someone thinks more of them than they often do themselves. However, the temptation for those of us on the inside to welcome them into responsibility before welcoming them into the privileges of the family – giving them the chores without the attention, but that is not a true welcome. It is just another form of tolerance while trying to profit from their presence. Instead, we should take our cues from God’s model of family, where there are no second-class citizens.
Where do you feel like a stranger the most?
What strangers in your life can you welcome in with wisdom and holy love?
- (Ex 6:2–7:7; 11:1–4; 12:35–36)↩