“Moses 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 out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed…Then God said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'” – Exodus 3:1b-2, 5
Brownsville, Texas is home to one of the most famous birdwatching spots in the country. People travel long distances to visit it. It was even featured in the movie The Big Year.
That famous spot is…The Brownsville Dump Sanitary Landfill.
Birders congregate at BSL to catch a glimpse of a Salty-Backed Gull or find a Tamaulipas Crow from Mexico picking through the trash. The dump’s reliability for rare species has given it legendary status, even if there are prettier places to do your birding.
The word Horeb means “waste” in Hebrew. It comes from charab, “desolate.”
When Moses stumbles on the burning bush, he doesn’t know he’s found the mountain of God. He only recognizes it as a wasteland. Harsh. Barren. Beyond the wilderness.
But there he gets one of the rarest looks on record. And soon, as God predicts, Moses’ people are flocking to the spot.
It’s just like God to show up where holiness is least expected, to appear in the forgotten, neglected, unclean places and ask us to take our shoes off; to set a tumbleweed aflame as a call to freedom; to give a pile of garbage rare wings.
God of the Wasteland, send me to the places I have ignored and discounted with my eyes open.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.