When the young shepherd saw a bonfire in the desert, he had a curious reaction. He kicked off his shoes. In modern times, he probably would have just pulled out his cell phone and called the fire department or maybe the Environmental Protection Agency.
We're not used to taking off our shoes unless we have just mopped the floor or steam cleaned the rugs. Moses’ gesture was a symbol of homage and awe. He had unexpectedly bumped into the Divine, so he stepped out of his sandals and curled his toes into the sand. It was holy ground. This is all recorded in the third chapter of Exodus.
The trouble is, we usually leave the story there before it is finished. The message from God was not, “Hey, Moses. Step aside and warm your feet by the fire.” This was no wiener roast. The burning bush was just an attention getter. It was God’s way of saying to Moses, “You’ve got mail?” Here’s the message: “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people,” What a jolt that was. Moses didn’t want to go. He had already found his niche in life. He was content leading sheep. People are so much more difficult to lead than sheep. So why not just take off your shoes, watch the pretty fire for awhile and then move on?
God still has lots of ways to get our attention. There are many “burning bushes” out there. Sometimes we are even moved to perform some ritual of reverence. Holiness is always a profound experience and calls us to respond with some expression of adoration or reverence, some symbolic act of “taking off our shoes.” But God’s call to Moses was not to go barefoot for the rest of his life. God wanted him to put his shoes back on because “I will send you to Pharaoh.”
No matter how deeply our souls are touched or our thoughts are lost in wonder and praise, worship is never complete until we have heard God say, “I will send you to Pharaoh.” God’s message is never to simply wiggle our toes in the sand. We are to put on our hiking boots and confront injustice. People are in bondage. Deliverance is God’s mission. “Listen up, my people! I will send you to Pharaoh!”
Pardon me while I lace up my shoes.
Wilbur, Pastor Emeritus
Wilbur Rees is currently Pastor Emeritus at Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland.
Wilbur calls himself a “survivor.” Having weathered the first two and a half decades of a tumultuous life, he went on to complete his education and serve as pastor in four states. He has written numerous article for religious publications and, in addition to this book, is the author of “Three Dollars Worth of God”. He is now retired and lives with his wife in Washington State.