Old Testament Reading for the Third Week in Lent

Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.
When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”
Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Exodus 3:1-6 (CEB)

image“Comfort zone” was, and probably still is, a big buzz word within the church. I remember it being thrown around quite regularly in youth group and at summer camps. I am almost certain I even used it a few times while I was a youth pastor. I am not sure if it arose as an alternative to Kenny Loggins and his “Danger Zone”, but I bet there is some connection there. The idea of a “comfort zone” is that we all have areas in our life where we feel comfortable, safe and generally free of resistance. The phrase was usually thrown around during talks about missions and evangelism. The idea being that it was easier and well within our “comfort zone” to go about our lives never talking to anybody about Christ because that might cause problems. If we really wanted to share the gospel we needed to get out of our “comfort zones” and not be afraid to talk to people, not be ashamed of the gospel, not be afraid to share our testimony. Needless to say, it became pretty obvious that being in a “comfort zone” was bad, and any good Christian needed to get out of it. Lent also has a similar push in that we are called to fast or remove something from our life that we are generally comfortable with and learn to live without it.

While I do not have a problem with the idea of getting out of one’s “comfort zone” per se, what I do have a problem with is the weight of guilt that is often associated with it. The assumption can develop that if I am in my “comfort zone” then I am not serving God. We might start to feel that if I am not actively seeking to get out of my comfort zone every day then I’m not an effective member of God’s kingdom.

These assumptions are bad; guilt is rarely a good motivator.

I think a better alternative can be found in the verse we are looking at today. Moses was doing his normal, everyday, sunrise-sunset job of shepherding. He was leading his father-in-law’s sheep around the desert. Taking them to spots he had probably been to before for food, water and rest. We are not told what his route was, or where exactly he went, but the life of shepherds (especially in the desert wilderness) was probably fairly predictable. There were few spots for good food and water so you had to know where those places were and returned to them regularly. Getting out of your comfort zone was a bad idea in the desert. The desert was already uncomfortable as it was and you did not want to risk too much. Risk is bad, especially when your father-in-laws sheep were on the line. However, the verse does say that “He led his flock out to the edge of the desert,” which does not sound like a good place to be. For whatever reason, Moses had to lead the sheep to the edges of the desert, to the fringes of the area he was familiar with. Literally he is at the “back of” the desert or at the edges between the desert and what comes “after” the desert.

I’m not sure I want to find out what comes “after” the desert.

This is where Moses is, at the fringes of what he knows. Doing his normal job he has found himself at the edges of his comfort zone. Taking care of this flock he had been entrusted with required Moses to take them to the very edges of what he knew and probably what he was comfortable with. And, if he was not already worried about being at the edges of the desert he sees something bizarre. Moses notices a bush that was burning but was not burning up. Rather than freaking out and running for safety, Moses is curious and decides to go check it out. When Moses goes to check out the “burning bush”, God calls out to him.

Moses’ life was changed forever.

What I would like you to notice is that Moses stepped out of his “comfort zone” not out of guilt, remorse or responsibility, but out of curiosity. He was already being a responsible shepherd, doing his normal shepherding thing. It was at the limits of his shepherding that he saw God working and stepped out further in curiosity. His curiosity drew him out of his “comfort zone” and closer to God. During Lent, let’s try to not get too focused on feeling guilty and needing to completely change our lives in order to force us out of our “comfort zone.” If you are already living a responsible life, there is probably nothing wrong with that. Instead…

Let’s be curious.

Curiosity draws us out of our comfort zone. Guilt pushes and drags us out kicking and screaming. Curiosity makes us want to learn more and discover. Guilt often makes us try to find exceptions and loopholes. Curiosity pulls us forward. Guilt drags us back. If you choose to fast during Lent, do not fast simply out of responsibility or guilt. Do it out of curiosity. How would fasting from some thing or attitudes change how you live? What would you do with the new-found time or money you have? What new recipes or meals could you try? How will your relationships change? If you do not fast, read some books or explore scripture. Take some time to be curious about your faith and the 2000 years of history and tradition we find ourselves a part of. Be curious about God, about the Psalms, about Jesus, about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, about St. Patrick, about Felicity and Perpetua, about St. Teresa of Avila, about the Eucharist, about anthropomorphism, about Eastern Orthodox, about the Dead Sea Scrolls, about the Pope and Roman Catholicism, about the Maccabees (and the rest of the Apocrypha), about the church in China, Africa, Latin America (or anywhere else in the world).

During Lent, once you feel you have reached the edges of your comfort zone and have traveled as far as you think you can. Do not travel further out of guilt.

Look around.

Be curious.

You might just find a burning bush that will change your life forever.

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