Sunday Worship 3 September 2023


Hello, and welcome to worship.  Today we hear again the ancient story of Moses’ encounter with God through a bush aflame yet not consumed.  We hear in a world which is burning, where the flames do consume.  We look at the story and realise aspects have been hiding in plain sight – just as we hide from our eyes the harm we do to Creation.  My name is Andy Braunston and I am the United Reformed Church’s Minister for Digital Worship.  I live up in Orkney, a county seemingly far removed from the ravages of climate change yet in our interconnected world we know that change is coming; painful change which will affect us all.  So with our fears and our praises, our penitence and our sorrow, our hopes and our despair we come to God in worship.

Hymn    Sing for God’s Glory Which Patterns and Colours Creation
              © Kathy Galloway adm Wild Goose Resource Worship Group
              Sung by the Cantus Firmus Trust and used with their kind permission

Sing for God’s glory which patterns & colours creation,
makes all things new and roots change at the heart of salvation.
Both day and night,sound, silence, symbol and sight,
offer earth’s glad adoration.

2: Sing for God’s power that shatters the chains that would bind us,
searing the darkness of fear and despair that would bind us,
touching our shame with love that will not lay blame,
reaching out gently to find us.

3: Sing for God’s justice  disturbing each easy illusion,
tearing down tyrants and putting our pride to confusion;
lifeblood of right, resisting evil and slight,
offering freedom’s transfusion.

4: Sing for God’s saints who have travelled faith’s journey before us,
who in our weariness give us their hope to restore us;
in them we see the new creation to be,
spirit of love made flesh for us.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Desperation

O Most High,
we give thanks for our world and the beauty that surrounds us,
for bird and fish, animal and flower, tree and bush,
for the insects that delight in their smells,
for the harvest that sustains us,
for gentle rain and refreshing breeze,
for majestic mountain and peaceful loch,
for bustling city and quiet village,
we thank and praise You.

O Risen Lord Jesus,
in the midst of this beauty we see the ugliness of greed and exploitation.
As we raid our future and pillage our planet,  
the Earth groans, eager with longing for a new age,
and fights back as we burn her.
We reap what we sow, Lord, and there is little health in us.
We fail to see what’s in front of us,
distracted by possessions and fake news.
Give us time to change our lives,
that Your people and planet will not perish.

O Most Holy Spirit
You hide in plain sight, longing for us to see and follow You.
Give us compassion for Your people on the move,
fleeing war, persecution, poverty, and climate change.
Give us compassion for the earth, our mother, 
the grace to learn how to live in harmony with her,
and time to make a difference before it’s too late. 
Help us to seek true forgiveness and change,
not cheap grace which lures us to Hell.  Amen.

Prayer of Illumination

Holy flame of God’s love,
burn within us as we hear the Word read and proclaimed,
that we may understand, follow, and change,
that our world may not burn but thrive.  Amen.

Reading     Exodus 3:1-15

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. Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Hymn     For the Beauty of the Earth
               Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1864) performed by St Joseph’s Private School Chamber Choir & Christmas Concert Choir
               and used with their kind permission.    

For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from above
over and around us lies,
over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this, our joyful hymn of praise.

2 For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light, 
sun and moon and stars of light: 
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this, our joyful hymn of praise.

3 For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild, 
for all gentle thoughts and mild: 
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this, our joyful hymn of praise.

4 For each perfect gift divine,
to our races so freely given,
graces human and divine
flowers of earth 
and buds of heaven, 
flowers of earth 
and buds of heaven. 
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this, our joyful hymn of praise.


Our reading today is familiar to us – that mysterious encounter between God and Moses, the bush that burns but is not consumed, and the commission to free the people are all the stuff of legend burnt into our psyches and familiar to us.  The Church of Scotland, and every other Presbyterian Church, has the burning bush as its emblem following the insight of John Calvin that the Church is like the bush in the story.  It is engrossed by persecution’s fire but never overcome nor consumed.  The Church is always renewed by God’s Holy Spirit, never overpowered by the forces of Hell.

The power of the story is, in part, due to following a familiar form that we see elsewhere in the Bible – with the calls of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel each having a recognition of God, objections from the would-be prophets, and a commission.  Yet the familiarity of the passage means that things are hidden in plain sight; parts of the familiar story are yet unfamiliar to us:
•    Moses was at work in the ordinary things of life – tending his father in law’s sheep in and beyond the wilderness.  
•    The land promised to Moses was, in fact, inhabited by others and Moses’ objections aren’t about those poor people to be driven off their land.  
•    That image of the burning bush is both intriguing and frightening in an age where the very Earth itself is on fire.

God in Ordinary

Moses has fled Egypt and at this point in the story lived in what the writer termed as wilderness.  We skip over the implications of this naming, casually, of the wilderness.  Moses is making himself useful tending the sheep.  Humans are very good at dividing land into settled land, cultivated land, and wilderness which we see as being in need of either settlement or cultivation.  Moses’ father in law Jethro, lived, we presume, as a nomad, following his animals to new pastures to ensure their survival.  Selling or slaughtering what was needed but with minimal impact on the land.  We might see the Native American and Canadian peoples as living similar lives – nomadic and recognising how to live in harmony with creation.  The Egyptians had built great cities and had many farms to sustain those cities with the food they needed – just as we do.  The early European settlers in the Americas saw the land – which they called the new world –  as a wilderness which needed to be tamed, cultivated, and inhabited.  They removed the native peoples from the land through war, deliberate infection, and subjugation to make room for what they saw as civilization. We saw this in Scotland too as the Victorian improvers in the Highlands and Islands wanted to increase agricultural efficiency and cleared the people who knew the land off it.  As a consequence, we now we have vast desolate Highland regions which don’t support the abundance of life they once did.  

Living as a nomad Moses encountered God.  Living in the wilderness Moses was in tune with nature and its demands.  Tending animals he would have been more aware of nature’s awesome power than when living in the city – in the palace no less – where he’d been one step removed from the consequences of rain, wind, and poor harvests.  In the ordinary things of life, beyond the wilderness the writer says, on the mountain of God, Moses’ life is changed.  An experience of the divine in the midst of the ordinary everyday things of life changes Moses and human history.

The Contested Land

Another thing we don’t see in the passage is that the Land of Milk and Honey God is portrayed as promising to Moses and the Jewish people is already inhabited.  Just as the European settlers to the Americas, New Zealand, and Australia had to deal with those who were already there, so the Jewish people had to deal with those living in the land they wanted.  And here, at the beginning of that struggle we read the land already belonged to the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  The writer clearly couldn’t conceive of God being a universal God – if God was seen one who loved the Canaanites, the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites,  and Jebusites then He’d not have promised it to Moses and the Jewish people.  Here at the start of the history of the Jewish people is an age old, and contemporary, struggle about land hiding in plain sight.   Of course the passage was written long after the events they purport to show; Moses didn’t take a scribe with him to take notes of his encounter with God!   So when these stories were written down Israel was in conflict with other tribes and nations.  Writing into the story a divine command to take the Land would have been useful.  Even now some uses the Biblical narratives as justification for more land seizures in Palestine and an expansionist Israeli state.  These narratives were used by European Christians to justify taking land from native peoples all over what was called “the new world.”  Conquest, of course, always had environmental consequences as well as social and political ones.  The conquest of the peoples of South America led to their cities being overrun by nature again – it’s why we find amazing cities in South American jungles.  Trees grew, sequestering carbon and so lowering the earth’s average temperature – the opposite of what’s happening now – this was a huge contributory factor to the 200 year-long Little Ice Age in the 16th to 18th Centuries in the north Atlantic region.  Our battles and wars change the world, damage the Earth, and have consequences we can only begin to imagine – something we’re all too aware of with the war between Ukraine and Russia with all those nuclear power plants being in harm’s way.

The Burning Bush

And then there’s this burning bush at the heart of the passage.  We read and are amazed.  We read and see the power of God allowing a bush to burn yet not be consumed.  We may think, of the apostles alight at Pentecost yet not harmed.  Such is the power of fire in religious story that we take comfort in such images.  Yet fire itself is rather a two edged sword.  We need warmth; those nomadic peoples knew they had to keep warm and learned to make fire.  Farmers knew that ash was a good fertiliser; forest fires often lead to new growth.  Until the 1990s farmers in the UK would burn stubble to combat pests and weeds and to reduce the built up of nitrogen in the soil yet the pollution that resulted led to it being banned.  Farmers around the world still burn stubble and it’s a vexed question of how best to achieve the results needed without heating the planet.  The rising temperatures lead to out of control forest fires.  In Europe this summer countries planned for temperatures of up to 49 degrees.  People were being warned to avoid going out between 11am and 6pm for fear of heat stroke.  The bushes may not burn but the heat is likely to consume us.  

In Greece they closed the Acropolis on some days to protect visitors from the heat.  In Spain the Red Cross told people near wildfires – where the bushes are both burning and being consumed – to keep their doors and windows shut.  The weather pattern named Cerberus after the many headed dog in Greek mythology is leading to extreme heat as well as flash flooding.   The next weather pattern was named Charon after the figure in Greek mythology who carried the dead to the afterlife – came with temperatures over 40 degrees.  These news stories are in plain sight but we ignored them preferring scandals about Huw Edwards and Philip Schofield.  This year the media ran over 10,000 news stories about Philip Schofield but just five on a scientific paper showing the chances of simultaneous crop losses in the world’s major growing regions have been dangerously underestimated.  These crops are endangered by climate change.  Our bushes are burning in plain sight but we ignore them.

And So…

Moses encountered God in his ordinary everyday work – for him tending his father in law’s flock.  In the simple things of life he found God and a call to set his people free.  A call he was neither expecting nor prepared for.  We too can find God at work in the everyday and ordinary facets of our lives – as we tend to our work, our pets, our gardens, our crops, our animals we can find God at work there with us, hiding in plain sight.

We like to think that things aren’t connected.  Sorting our rubbish isn’t connected to the war in Ukraine, or food shortages in the developing world.  Yet they all are connected as they are all about how we work with the Earth our mother.  Wars of conquest have always had an effect on society and the Earth itself.  A stray drone in Ukraine could fatally damage a nuclear power station; a political miscalculation would end the grain deal ensuring crops get taken to Africa.  Every aspect of our lives is connected – often in plain sight if we but open our eyes.

Moses opened his eyes and saw a burning bush, aflame with God’s power yet not consumed.  Unless we soon wake up and open our eyes to the climate emergency our bushes and trees will be consumed in the flames of our greed.  There won’t be much of a world to leave to the next generations unless we change and change fast and deeply – even then we’re leaving a very different world which will soon have mass movements of people to cooler regions as both bush and people burn.  The truth is there, hidden in plain sight by the press and corporations that don’t want us to see what’s in plain sight.

Moses was changed by his encounter with God.  The flames of God’s power made him lead his people to freedom – even a freedom which came at the expense of many others.  The flames of God’s fury tell us we need to change – and those who have much need to change the most – if the Earth is to continue to sustain us.  There is no plan B despite wealthy celebrities holding out ideas about the colonisation of other planets.  If our people are to be free we need to be led into that freedom – a freedom from poisonous pollution, a freedom from dependency on fossil fuels which choke our planet, warm our atmosphere, and lead to our bushes burning.  A freedom to see what’s in plain sight.  Will you pray with me?

Open our eyes Lord to see what’s in front of us;
open our eyes to see a changing climate,
unbearable temperatures where the poor suffer most,
floods and rising sea levels leading to dispossession 
and the movement of peoples.
Open our eyes Lord, 
as once you opened Moses’
that we may be led to a better world,
a world of milk and honey for all,
where bushes blaze with your glory
not the fires of our greed.  Amen.

Hymn     Isaiah the prophet has written of old
               Joy F. Patterson  © 1982 The Hymn Society (admin. Hope Publishing Company) sung by the choir of Parkville Presbyterian Church

Isaiah the prophet has written of old
how God’s new creation shall come.
Instead of the thorn tree, the fir tree shall grow;
the wolf shall lie down with the lamb.
The mountains and hills shall burst forth into song,
the peoples be led forth in peace, for the earth shall be filled
with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

2: Yet nations still prey  on the meek of the world,
and conflict turns parent from child.
Your people despoil all the sweetness of earth,
the brier and the thorn tree grow wild.
God, bring to fruition your will for the earth,
that no one shall hurt or destroy, 
that wisdom and justice shall reign in the land 
and your people shall go forth in joy.

Affirmation of Faith

We believe that God created the world  and it is good.
We believe that God created us to live in harmony with nature.
We believe that human selfishness and greed
are changing our climate, heating the earth,
and endangering all living things. 
We believe as temperatures and sea levels rise
we have to change our attitudes, lifestyles, economies, and politics,
and adapt to all that is to come.
We believe we can live as the Creator intended,
through the sacrificial example of Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit,
so that our world may not end.  Amen


O God, Eternal Majesty,
we thank you for our world,
but recognise all is not as it should be.
birds are dying of avian flu,
fish swim in polluted seas,
flowers cry out for bees and insects to pollinate them,
trees are torn down so big business can make more money.
The rains are not gentle but threatening,
the mountains shake with rage
as we turn our backs on the earth our mother.
Teach us, O God, to learn from the Earth and its earliest peoples,
that we may lie in harmony with Creation and each other.


Through our lives and by Your will, Your Kingdom come.

O God, Incarnate Word,
You walked our earth, know our pain, see our confusion,
and sense our confusion.
Help us to see those things You lay out in plain sight:-
the rising sea waters,
the increasing temperature,
the people on the move,
the ecological crisis reaching tipping point,
and give us the grace, strength and foolishness to act.
Forgive us when we are distracted by things that don’t matter.
Help us to call to account those who lead us,
and those who hide in the shadows of business,
that we may use our voices, money, and votes
to change before it’s too late.


Through our lives and by Your will, Your Kingdom come.

O God, Eternal Flame of love,
bless those on the move this day,
fleeing war, hatred, poverty and climate change,
open our minds and our hearts to see the world as it really is;
bless those this day who seek to make peace and bring justice;
in particular we pray for the people of Ukraine 
caught up in a war of aggression,
and the people of Russia, lied to and manipulated by evil men.  
We pray for the people of Palestine 
suffering the consequences of Empire,
and the people of Israel longing for security.  
Help us to resist all that promises easy answers and cheap grace,
to see the road to Hell when it’s before us,
and turn back to You.


Through our lives and by Your will, Your Kingdom come.

Eternal Trinity of Love,
we raise to You the people and places we love and worry about

longer pause

Through our lives and by Your will, Your Kingdom come.

We join all our prayers together as we pray as Jesus taught:  Our Father…


Moses gave.  He gave of his time to tend the sheep.  He gave his future to free his people.  He gave of his courage in order to obey God.  We too are called to give – of our time, our future and our courage in order to live as committed disciples of the Lord Jesus.  We also give of our resources to support charities at home and abroad and to support the work of God through the Church.  We may give through envelopes or cash, bank transfers or standing orders.  We give knowing that we have to return to God something of what has been given to us and, in so doing, we embody the change our earth cries out for.  Let’s pray:

Accept our gifts O God, as tokens of our praise and thanks to You.
Accept our gifts O God, as tokens of our desire to change.
Accept our gifts O God, as tokens of our love.
Accept us too O God,
that we may continue to praise, change and love.  Amen.

Hymn      Praise Ye The Lord ‘tis good to raise
                Isaac Watts, 1674-1748 sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson and used with his kind permission
Praise ye the Lord! ’tis good to raise
our hearts and voices in his praise:
His nature and His works invite
to make this duty our delight.

2 He formed the stars, those heavenly flames,
He counts their numbers, calls their names,
His wisdom’s vast, and knows no bound,
a deep where all our thoughts are drowned. 

3 Sing to the Lord; exalt Him high,
who spreads His clouds along the sky,
there He prepares the fruitful rain,
nor lets the drops descend in vain.

4 He makes the grass the hills adorn,
and clothes the smiling fields with corn;
the beasts with food His hands supply,
and the young ravens when they cry.

5 What is the creature’s skill or force?
the sprightly man, the warlike horse?
the nimble wit, the active limb?
All are too mean delights for Him.

6 But saints are lovely in His sight,
He views His children with delight;
He sees their hope, He knows their fear,
and looks and loves His image there.
Holy Communion

Invitation to Communion   

We celebrate this holy meal because 
Jesus’ ministry happened around tables:  
tables where the unwelcome were invited in, 
where the powerful were taught and humbled,  
where the hungry were fed and
the thirsty were given something to drink.    

In these meals God’s saving presence was revealed and made real,  
and a new form of community was given birth.   

We come to this table to meet Jesus,    
made known in the breaking of the bread.  

God be with you.  And also with you.   
Lift up your hearts.  We lift them up to God.   
Let us give thanks to God.  It is right to give God thanks and praise  

Prayer of Great Thanksgiving   

God, we give thanks for your presence made known through your creation.      
We are thankful that it was your word,      
borne on your very breath, which commanded the first waters to yield      
the disordered order of teeming, abundant life.      

We are grateful for the waters of judgment      
which brought a new start for your world when we sullied it with violence.  
We give thanks that you parted the seas, offering us a way out of bondage.     

We are glad that you have rocked in the waters of Mary’s womb      
and that your feet have felt
the welcome of warm soil cupped around them.      

We give thanks for our lives moulded from the same warm soil of earth       
and your en-livening breath.  

We know your goodness in fields      
that hold seeds of grace and seeds of wheat in equal measure.      

We celebrate life with grains and fruits and cold clean water,      
set on the table that all may be refreshed.      

And we are thankful that we are neither the first nor the last      
to be invited to this feast, but are members of a great web of worshippers      
who have come before and will come long after.    

We give thanks that Jesus lived a human life among us; teaching, feeding, healing, casting out evil, and calling all into your service.       

He shared in our suffering and joy, and received death at our hands.       

We rejoice that you raised Christ from the dead and so ended our captivity to sin and death, freeing us for your works of love and justice.       

We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the wind from God, who calls us into the body of Christ where,  like Mary, we are asked to give birth      
to love, mercy and justice for your world.      

We give thanks for the gifts of this table, the bounty of your beautiful earth, for it is here that all are gathered, filled with good things to eat,      
and sent into your world to proclaim shalom.   

Holy, holy God of love, the whole creation speaks of your glory.   

We remember that on the night of betrayal and desertion  Jesus gathered with his followers to share a meal.  He took bread that was to feed them,     
gave you thanks, God, and broke the bread to share it, saying,      
“This is my body, which is given for you.      
Do this in remembrance of me.”      

And likewise Jesus took a cup of wine that was to quench their thirst and gave you thanks for it. He then said,  
“Take this cup and share it among you. I will not drink of it again until the realm of God has come. This cup that is poured out for you      
is the new covenant in my blood.”  

Come, Holy Spirit and bless these earth-born gifts of bread and wine.      
Bless us as we receive them 
that we might be made ready to feed your sheep,    
to return flourishing to the land,      
to heal the lame and blind and deaf,      
to unstop the mouths of the mute for your praise.      
Make us faithful in all things to which you have called us.   

In the strength Christ gives us, 
we offer ourselves to you, God.      
We give thanks that you have called us     
to serve your world and your people.  

Breaking Bread, Pouring Wine   

By this bread Christ’s body is fed.     
We are gathered and sent into God’s world to proclaim shalom.    
Through this cup of blessing our old covenant with death is broken.      
We are filled with new life.  Let us eat and drink together.

Music for Communion     Karl Jenkins Adiemus

Prayer of Thanksgiving    

We thank you God because you have invited us to this table.     
Here we are strengthened for the task ahead of us: the loving of the world.      
Here we receive all Christ’s gifts. Strengthen our faith.     
Help us love one another and your creation more.     
Teach us to pray, share, sing, teach, feed, heal, call and welcome     
as you have done to us. Make our lives a form of praise for your love     
shown to us through Jesus Christ.  Amen

Hymn    Touch the Earth Lightly
              Shirley Erena Murray © 1992 The Hope Publishing Company sung by the choir of Frodsham Methodist Church
              and used with their kind permission.

Touch the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder,
ours to surrender,
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

2: We who endanger,
who create hunger,
agents of death for all creatures that live,
we who would foster
clouds of disaster–
God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

3: Let there be greening,
birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God’s garden,
hope in God’s children,
regeneration that peace will complete.

4: God of all living,
God of all loving,
God of the seedling, the snow and the sun,
teach us, deflect us,
Christ reconnect us,
using us gently, and making us one.

May the One who created this earth and all that is therein,
bless you with the will to live in harmony 
with all that has been made.

May the One who walked this earth, tended the poor and weak,
followed the stars of night, and was warmed by the day’s sun,
bless you with the desire to walk in His footsteps.

May the One who inspires awkward questions and disturbing answers,
unsettles us and makes us see all that is in plain sight,
give you eyes to see and minds to understand,
that you can make a difference.  

And the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you and all whom you love, now and always, Amen.

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