It’s hardly a place you would expect to find a $1 million painting.
But one March morning, Elizabeth Gibson was on her way to get coffee, as usual, when she spotted a large and colorful abstract canvas nestled between two big garbage bags in front of an apartment building in Manhattan, New York.
“I had a real debate with myself,” said Ms. Gibson, a writer and self-professed dumpster diver. “I almost left it there because it was so big, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why are you taking this back to your cramped apartment?’” She felt she simply had to have the 38-by-51-inch painting, because “it had a strange power.”
Art experts would agree with her. As it turns out, the painting was “Three People,” a 1970 canvas by the celebrated 20th-century Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. The painting was stolen 20 years ago and is the subject of an F.B.I. investigation. Experts say the painting — a largely abstract depiction of a man, a woman in vibrant purples, oranges and yellows — is in miraculously good condition and worth about $1 million.
Ms. Gibson hung the painting in her living room, but remained curious about it. She had gone back to the apartment building the day after taking it home and asked the doormen for more information. “No one remembered anything,” she said. “All they said was that 20 minutes after I took it, the garbage truck arrived. This was truly an appointment with destiny.”
It took three years for her to realize that she possessed a stolen painting.
A Houston collector and businessman had purchased “Three People” at a Sotheby’s auction in 1977 as a birthday present for his wife. He paid $55,000 for it. Ten years later, when the couple were in the midst of moving from a house to an apartment in Houston, they put the painting into storage at a local warehouse. It was there that it disappeared.
Eventually Ms. Gibson returned the painting to its rightful owners. She was paid a significant finders fee and the painting is now on display at Sotheby’s Art Gallery.
A million dollar painting in the midst of yesterday’s garbage.
In a much higher and holier way, Scripture tells a similar story. Scripture tells of God showing himself to a lowly shepherd in the form of a burning bush.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Moses found something of enormous value in an unexpected place. Moses found God and learned that God is personal and steadfast.
Moses was tending the flock. Of course, he was – Moses was a shepherd. This was something he did everyday. This was his routine. The text tells us that Moses led the sheep to the “far side of the desert.” Maybe this area offered more suitable grazing. Maybe this was just another part of the routine. But, what happened next was not. Moses was not aware of it yet, but he was about to have a face-to-face experience with God.
Moses – the Hebrew turned Egyptian, turned exile, turned shepherd – had an audience with God.
God gave him two commands, both which are justified on the basis that Moses was on holy ground and in the presence of a holy God: “Do not come any closer” and “take off your sandals.” We can understand the command “Do not come any closer,” after all, Moses was the presence of the creator of the heavens and the earth. Why take of the sandals? This is a sign of reverence common in the ancient Near East, a practice that still continues to this day. Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals. Moses was in the presence of God.
God announced himself to Moses as “God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” We must not take this lightly. God was showing Moses that he has been with his ancestors. He is God of the past. Moses was hiding his face from the burning bush at the very moment. He is the God of the present. And God was about to tell Moses that he will deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. He is the God of the future.
God was saying, “Moses, I have been here. I am here. I will be here.”
Perhaps, God is saying the same to me.
“Jeff, I have been here. I am here. I will be here.”
Perhaps, God is saying the same to you …
Will we break from the routine?