The ideas for this Sermon for Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 were gleaned from the Sermon Seeds written by Kathryn Matthews Huey in her reflections on the website http://ucc.org. The scriptures used were Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12: 9-21, and Matthew 16:21-28. The title was as listed above, “Holy Ground.”
I don’t know how you are when company comes, but I get pretty frantic about how things should look. We have known for a time that our daughters were coming home for Labor Day, but I didn’t plan drastic action until Friday night. Well, let’s say I tried to plan. Anyway, without giving away too many of the family secrets, let’s just say, I get a bit stressed out about how I want thing to be arranged, and the rest just want to relax and have a fun time together. Perhaps if I paid more day to day attention to how things looked around my place, I wouldn’t get so frazzled when I have someone coming to visit. I guess each of us does our thing as we do it.
I bring this up and share it with you because the text that we have in Exodus is a tish bit related to hospitality. When Moses finally realized that there was something strange about that burning bush and that there was someone in or near it, or at least a voice coming from it, he went closer to investigate. And as he got to a certain distance from the bush, he was told to take his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground.
Now this might make perfect sense to us, this taking off shoes when standing on holy ground. This is something quite sacred that Moses is experiencing. It is probably the most important moment of his life, and God tells him to remove his shoes. Not really out of line in that sacred moment, (pause) but what else could it mean. Let’s think about coming into this church sanctuary. Apparently we don’t look at it as that sacred. We don’t take our shoes off when we come in. Of course it really isn’t a custom in our area to take off shoes in public. I think there is a health concern about what might be on feet. We can’t be barefoot in a public eating place.
Ok, so now I might be back to the house cleaning and hospitality and such. I do NOT demand people take their shoes off at my place unless we have really got some major particular reason for it. We have hardwood floors, as in the old original hardwood floors at our place, and frankly, they are not as soft or nice as carpet to walk on. You also feel every stinking little stone or piece of dirt on them, so I would just as soon keep my shoes on thank you very much, and besides that, if I walk around without a good arch support for too long my shoes hurt. So, you will always hear me say, “Leave the shoes on, this house is for living in,” if you show up at my house, unless of course they are full of mud or such, but that is a different story.
Part of hospitality and taking our shoes off when we enter a home might have to do with comfort. According to one of the commentaries on this scripture, removing one’s shoes is a sign of being at home, feeling the comfort of being at home, and so relaxing in the presence of others with our shoes off. Hmmm, the scripture directly says to take the shoes off because the ground is sacred, but the implication for the time and culture of where Moses lived could also be the comfort of home. What if being in the presence of God is like being at home? I don’t know about you, but that changes a whole lot of the meaning of this passage for me.
Here we are with one of those many Biblical paradoxes. We have a scripture that seems to have two meanings at the same time, and yet both are true. Moses is told that he is standing on sacred ground. This would mean he needs to show the greatest of respect for the place and the time, and mostly for what he is about to be told. Moses, when we talked about him last week, was just a little baby floating around in the river inside a basket, being watched over by his big sister, and then found by the Pharaoh’s daughter when she goes to take a bath.
Today our text has Moses as a fully grown man, living far away from Pharaoh and all the riches that he grew up with. He is in a foreign land working for his father-in-law, basically a felon hiding out because he has killed one of the Egyptian over seers. That was quite a fast forward for us to handle, but we know that story. Again it is one many of us would have learned as youngsters. But did we pay that close attention to all of it? It is pretty far-fetched after all. Maybe he was just suffering from some delusions brought on by dehydration. It must be that he is just seeing things out there, alone in the desert. A bush wouldn’t just start burning without being consumed and then voices come from it.
But it is happening to Moses. It is all true, and it is because God wants to tell Moses what he must do. Moses is God’s guest in a place that is ordinary yet at the same time sacred because God is present. See, anyplace that God is present is sacred. Anyplace that we open ourselves up to the presence of God is a sacred place for us. At the same time it was home. Moses was a foreigner, an alien. He didn’t fit it. Sort of like that old Ugly Duckling video we had when our daughters were young. The theme song was “Your not one of us, it’s plain to see that when it comes to ducks you’re just Ugggly.” Moses was not of the people who his wife was born to. He was an Israelite.
God came to him with a very specific task in terms of his own people. It was a task above all tasks and the New Testament Pharisees and religious leaders centered everything around what Moses said and did and the law that he eventually brought to the people from God. Moses was being chosen for a very special task, not just to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, but to bring the rules and the laws of God to the people. God invited him to sacred ground and to his home, into his presence to tell him all the things that he needed him to know.
Wow, it must have been pretty amazing to have been Moses. It must be pretty amazing to even have known Moses. Isn’t it great that we can read stories and hear messages about guys like Moses who have all those wonderful tasks and get brought into the presence of God? I guess, you know by now that the story doesn’t end here. The sacred ground wasn’t just up on that mountain where Moses was watching over the sheep. Being in the presence of God isn’t just for Moses or the prophets or even the disciples. It is for all of us. We have that opportunity to stand on that sacred ground every time we take our joys our concerns, our cares and our gratitude’s to God.
Let’s just remember that when we stand on that sacred ground we need to have the attitude of Peter, not as he was seen in the text in Matthew today, but the Peter who led the disciples after the ascension of Jesus. We don’t want to be rebuked like the Peter we read about today, who thought only about the time and day, the moment they were living. Jesus was clear, that if we want to follow, if we want to stand on that sacred ground, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow him.
I am guessing God won’t be demanding the same sort of thing that he demanded of Moses, or what was demanded of Peter, but we know that it will be something, and it probably won’t be what we had figured it would be. And yet, in truth, though we might want to say, who are we? We won’t be given a task nearly as important as someone else, all tasks are important in the eyes of God. All things that we are asked to do—matter.
One thing we know for sure, God doesn’t let anyone hide out in the pastures with the sheep unless there is something out there that we are supposed to do. Paul tells us so well in chapter 12 what is expected of all Christians, and though we don’t always want to hear it, we know we must; his final verse says it so well, that we are not to let evil take over us, but instead we should over-come the evil with good. We can do that if we just keep remembering that we too are invited to stand on sacred ground, to be in the presence of God. All we have to do is take the time to listen to the nudging we hear when we take our cares to God. Amen!