Have you got the feeling you are being watched?
I grew up in the New Forest, the daughter of a wildlife manager. I regularly had the opportunity to go out with my father to watch the wildlife of the woods and heaths, as I accompanied him in his work. Now he’s well retired, nothing much has changed – except I have a family who join us on our expeditions.
Theoretically, we are the ones doing the watching – eager to catch a glimpse of perhaps a deer, a bird of prey or a badger, or perhaps an insect like a butterfly or dragonfly, going about their normal routines. They will be hunting, or drinking, or feeding… or moving purposefully towards some distant place for a reason we may not be able to discern.
Often though, it is the animal itself, that is the most watchful… frequently by the time we are aware of its presence, it is watching us. Deer and badgers in particular I’ve noticed, are curious. Deer are curious largely because of their survival instincts. Where are the dangers in the world around them? Dangers that include both humans and fire! The curiosity of a badger seems to be more inspired by hunger, and the constant question of whether something they encounter is edible – whether it’s a passing beetle, or a deliberately placed peanut (which is the more likely case in my father’s garden)! In both cases, one wrong, noisy or noticeable move on our part and the animal is off and away. The watchers have become the watched.
I wonder, when were we each last aware of God watching us? As we wait on God and worship him, are we watching him for what he might be doing? Are we curious to see God revealed in what is going on about us? Are we aware that we are in some sense the watchers, being watched? God is watching our every move!
After forty years of shepherding for his father-in-law, I don’t suppose that Moses had stopped being watchful. I’m sure he had a very keen sense of where the predators were most likely to pose a threat to the flock. Like a deer, he would have been alert to every movement among the rocks and prickly thickets of the region – curious to know if that movement denoted a threat.
Equally in a barren and desolate country Moses would have watched the seasons, the weather, and the cloud formations, knowing that through them he would sense where the best grazing would be and when it would be worthwhile moving the flock to new, fresh pastures. The fresh pasture was vital to the survival of both the flock, and of Moses himself – the nomadic herders lived by their flocks, and often their only source of food and drink were the meat and milk of the animals in their care.
But I wonder as he tended the flocks, whether Moses realised just how carefully God was watching him, and had already had a hand in his life? I’m not sure that he was that acutely aware of God, but God was watching his every move, and was able to make good use of Moses’ own curiosity and watchfulness.
Fire could have presented a threat. A threat to the flock, and even a threat to himself. Even in a rocky desolate terrain where there was nothing much to burn, if what pasture or forage there was became burnt, it could lead to starvation for the flock and the need to move on.
But the fire that Moses encountered was no threat to the flock. Nor to Moses. As it sparked his curiosity (if you’ll excuse the pun) it showed itself to be something inexplicable, defying the laws of nature; a revelation of the fact that Moses the watcher, was in fact the watched.
The fire that revealed God’s presence, was as unique and distinctive as the God it made manifest: an active force, it needed no external fuel to feed it, and therefore burnt without consuming that which it embraced. God needed to make himself known to the watchful and curious Moses, and made good use of those natural instincts in revealing himself to Moses.
Many of us will be quite familiar with this story, and know that through that burning bush, God revealed his holiness, and inspired in Moses the actions of a humble servant, willing to obediently remove his sandals in the presence of his living God, so that he might receive a commission of immense proportions and acknowledge the power that God had to direct his life.
But today I wanted to focus our attention on the fact that God is watching us.
As we move through life, God’s unique and distinctive presence in the world, is personal. Unlike a deer or a badger, he watches us not because he is wary of the dangers of the world, or hungry for a juicy morsel. God is watching us, because he has a purpose for us. But will we be in the right place to notice it, and will we be curious enough to recognise it?
We might feel worn out, and in something of a barren, desert wasteland. We might have served forty years, continually watching out for the dangers that might befall those we care for, or care about, constantly carrying out the same basic tasks. We might feel the same way about our worship, the worth we attach to God’s role in our lives, having faithfully served him for many, many years.
But are we still looking for the best pastures for ourselves and for those we care about – whether that is our earthly family, or our Christian fellowship? Are we still curious to see God, in all his holy uniqueness, revealed to us in all that surrounds us?
Each one of us needs to reach the far side of any wilderness we feel we may be in, and find the pasture that will feed not only us, but those around us, those for whom we care. Where are the rich pastures that will sustain us, and in which God will be able to reveal himself to us?
The rich pasture that we need to seek, will suit our character and our habits. None of us today are herding sheep and goats in a barren desert! Instead we might be caring for our friends and neighbours, or sharing our talents in some way that benefits or supports others. We might be feeding them, and ourselves, through what we read, the music we hear or play, the prayers we share, or little acts of kindness. Among all these acts, as Christians we are probably watching for God, looking for him to be doing things in the lives of those we meet. Among all the daily, repetitive acts that we have carried out for years, do we still have the curiosity to spot the burning bush that reveals God’s presence and some new command to us?
The ever watchful Moses saw a living flame, that revealed the holiness of God, and through his curiosity as to its source, was commanded to take a simple action and undertake a mammoth task. Ultimately Jesus was also that living flame, a symbol of God’s unique holiness, the one for whom so many watched, and who inspired such curiosity. Unlike deer and badgers, Jesus doesn’t run away when we make a wrong, or noisy move – but remains a constant witness to God’s watchfulness over us.
One of the many challenges that I think this reading presents us with is the need to keep watch and stay curious. As we move through our daily tasks we need to be aware that God is watching us, looking to see where we are, keen to catch our attention. He has a plan for us that isn’t finished yet. Somewhere, just in front of us, is a living flame, something that God wants to grab our attention with, something that will reveal Jesus and something else he wants us to do with our lives.