So there was this bush. Loads of people had walked past it. It had been there for years. Nobody ever paid attention to it. It wasn't a particularly picturesque bush.
Just a standard bush, the sort you would walk past and think nothing of. Little did people know that one of the most astonishing things would happen to this bush. It would be one of the most pivotal pieces of shrubbery in history. It would have an effect not just on its own nation, but in nations all around the world for thousands of years to come.
One day it just ignited. Just went up in flames, apparently for no reason. It burned and it burned and it burned. It didn’t shrivel. It didn't turn to ash. It didn't burn away. But its flames never went out.
A local shepherd named Moses was walking by and noticed that this very average bush was on fire. And from the fire came a voice. From the flames of a very ordinary bush came an extraordinary noise. The voice of God.
This is a story that most, if not all Presbyterians know well. Moses and the burning bush. If you have paid any attention in church, you will have noticed pictures of this burning bush captioned with 'ardens sed virens' on every surface it could be printed on.
As I reflect on Louder this summer, my mind is continually brought back to this passage in Exodus 3. In this passage, God sets on fire and speaks through a very ordinary bush. But he does it for extraordinary reasons. Firstly, he wants us to reveal himself to people that he loves, namely Moses and the Israelites. He identifies himself as 'I AM'. Why? Because he is comparable to no one and nothing else. He wants the people of Israel to him not as a distant God, but as a personal God. Secondly he wants to set the people of Israel free from the bondage of the Egyptians. It is through this bush that God makes promises to his people that they will see the end of their captivity and that they will live in a land flowing with milk and honey. God says and does extraordinary things through this simple and ordinary bush.
As I watched our church proclaim who God is to its community and offer a message of hope; that God wants to set them free, it struck me how brilliant an image this burning bush is for the church. In Granshaw, God has taken a very normal group of people and he has set them on fire. He has given them a passion for Jesus that does not burn out. This passion turns people’s heads. How come these people want to give up a week of their summer to run football camps and holiday bible clubs for my children for nothing? How come these teenagers want to pray for me? God has set the hearts of Granshaw on fire to turn the heads of our local community.
He does this so that, through us, he can reveal himself and proclaim a message of hope. This summer well over 100 different kids have heard about Jesus' love for them. Over 100 little mouths have been singing praise to their heavenly Father.
30 teenagers have been spreading the news of the cross not just all over Northern Ireland, but also on mission teams in Poland, Spain, Uganda and Canada. Teenagers have been sharing stories of how God has changed their life with friends. Young people have been praying over the prayer requests of a whole community, giving their money away to bless people. God has done extraordinary things through this ordinary little bush.
After this crazy summer, and mad Louder week you could be forgiven for expecting everyone to breathe out a sigh of relief, put their feet up and reflect on how well we have done. And yet that's not the case. I know that this fire in the hearts of Granshaw is fuelled by God because I can see that it isn't going out anytime soon. Our young people and adults are 'ardens sed virens', 'burning but flourishing'. The fire doesn’t go out, it only gets stronger.
Even though the 'Louder week' is over for another 51 weeks, Louder continues for the rest of the year. Our prayer to be Loud about the Jesus that we love never stops. Unfortunately we can't have Holiday Bible club and Football Fun Week every week, but we can proclaim who God is and what he wants for us all 365 days of the year. My challenge to you after the end of an amazing summer is this, 'How do you now make the heart of Louder the centre of your everyday life?' How do you allow God to speak through you in work or school? Or in the queue for the bank? How do you tell people who God is in the middle of your Zumba class? How do you tell an old friend you’ve caught up with about the plans that God has for them, when they feel like they have no future?
The Louder week might be over but the Louder lifestyle is not. Can I encourage you to use the gifts, skills and life that God has given to you to make his name Louder. God has given you a new purpose in life. Your purpose is not to make money, or to have a perfect family, or to get yourself up in time for church each Sunday morning. Your purpose is much greater than that. You have been appointed 'as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and what you will see of God' (Acts 26:16). Your purpose is to make the name of Jesus louder.
I am immensely privileged to serve alongside a group of people like those in Granshaw. I thank you all for a wonderful summer with great memories and I look forward to many more.