Group Reflection: God in the outback

Moses encountered God in the outback: it evoked all sorts of stories from us tonight. We had no formal reflection, but instead entered into a time of wondering, faith sharing and praying together. Here is our group reflection.

How are we living in Egypt? What might we need to confess?

  • People observed that we live in an economy of empire: an economy which values money over life and over protecting the vulnerable; and it’s an economy which does not encourage sharing. And yet protecting the vulnerable and sharing what we have are foundational to God’s economics.

God caught Moses’ attention through burning shrubbery. Has a plant or a tree ever made you aware of God’s presence?

  • Someone remembered being in a bushfire. The next day, all these seed pods had opened up and there was even a light green fog of new growth. For the first time, he understood how fire and even death could lead to life.
  • A young child told us about their favourite tree: a Moreton Bay fig in the Botanic Gardens. The roots, he said, were like the hand of God holding him.
  • Someone told us about growing up in an Indigenous community. Every morning, they had blackfella lessons. They learned about every plant and how it was used, even for things as simple as washing or boating; and they remembered the sense of wholeness that this brought. They realised that people, plants, and land were integrated into a reconciled whole.
  • We wondered if God is speaking to people through creation all the time: and whether, with awareness, we might better see, hear, and respond.

God told Moses he was standing on holy ground, and to take off his shoes. Have you ever realised you were on holy ground? Was it where you expected it to be?

  • Someone remembered that, in many cultures, people remove their shoes before entering a house; and they wondered if it was because homes are sacred places. We remembered that the prophet Jeremiah offers a vision of human flourishing which includes the ordinary things of life: You will build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits; have children and raise them well. In other words, our homes are places where God’s shalom can be realised: and they are important to God.
  • Someone else observed that, by taking off his shoes, Moses became more intimate, more connected with the land, the sacred site.

This brought us to God’s words: “I know the suffering …” The word “know” here is very intimate. It’s not about rational knowledge, but implies that God is so close to the Israelites that their pain is God’s pain. Have you ever sensed God suffering with you?

  • Someone told us that, when the Melbourne towers were locked down, they were so upset they couldn’t sleep. They lay in bed and tossed and turned and prayed. In the small hours, they had a sense of God saying something like: “You feel for these people, but I feel it so much more deeply. You don’t need to toss and turn: I’ve got it.” And with that came a sense of peace.
  • We were reminded that being aware of our social location is important when reading the Bible. Exodus was written for suffering people living as slaves in exile; but we are Westerners who have benefited from colonialism and empire. We acknowledge that God’s promises to Israel imply genocide to Canaan: and as people living on stolen land, we cannot claim God’s promise of land here. Instead, we acknowledge that we have been born into a system of sin, that is, a system which ruptures God’s shalom and God’s desire for the flourishing of all peoples: and our call is to justice and healing.

God promised Moses a sign only after he led the people out of Egypt: we talked about signs. Some of us have experienced what seem like strong signs from God; others have not. And while we won’t tell these personal stories on the website, these were our conclusions:

  • God cares about ordinary things: houses, jobs, children, people.
  • When we’re following the Spirit, things fall into place. Even when it leads us to strange, difficult or unexpected work or decisions, we have a sense of peace about it. We remembered that Jesus tells us he brings peace, and we think this is related.
  • When we’re not following the Spirit, things never work out. Even things which seem like they should be easy become difficult, and we feel like we’re pushing the proverbial uphill.
  • Even when we receive what feels like a clear sign, we test signs against Scripture and with faithful friends – because we’ve all seen people claim to have received a sign from God which was clearly disastrous.

So that’s our group pondering. Contributors ranged from 3ish to 60ish: a wonderful participatory faith sharing service. Thanks everyone!

Year A Proper 17: 6 September 2020 (one week late). A Sanctuary conversation.

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