SERMON from 8-28-11: “On Holy Ground”

Exodus 3:1-15

1 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. 2 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. 3 Then Moses said, I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up. 4 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. 5 Then he said, Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 6 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. 7 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, 8 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. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. 11 But Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? 12 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. 13 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? 14 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. 15 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.

On Holy Ground

This thing which I hold in my hands is proof of just how effective we are becoming at finding, organizing and sharing information. With this thing, which is called an iPad, I can search any number of databases full of information, write an article compiling all that I learned and send it to all of you via email. To do this, I don’t even have to sit or move–or even talk to another human being. It is amazing to think that just forty years ago, I would have to have had an entire room dedicated to series of larger machines that could only do a fraction of this. Is there any downside to all of this efficient communication?

I think it has a global effect on how we interact with others. You have no doubt heard people say that computers and the internet are making people less social. We can go a whole day, put in a long days work and never have to talk or interact with someone who is in the same room with us. I would argue that the problem isn’t that we are becoming less social–what is Facebook, then–but that we are becoming less dependent upon others in our every day lives. And that isn’t good.

Imagine you had a serious, but not immediately life-threatening disease. Ten, twenty or thirty years ago, you were pretty likely to take verbatim what the doctor said in order that you might have the best quantity and quality of life. However, consider the plight of the physician, today. With WebMD and other resources available, people can become somewhat of an expert on their disease before they enter the doctor’s office. Patients can have an idea of what they are facing, and may even have enough information to question a doctor’s treatment plan. Not that you shouldn’t ever question your doctor, but they are the one’s who went to school for this , right? You can’t draw your own spinal tap, can you?

It seems that the more it is we know ourselves, is the less we have to rely on others for help, information, etc. What happens then? When we rely on others less and less, we can get a confidence in ourselves–we can do it all by ourselves. This confidence, I would argue, leads us to an assurance of our own intellect–maybe even of our own power and authority. At that point, how close are we to losing a sense of awe and wonder at things outside of ourselves. If we can come up with the answers on our own, why is it that we have to submit to God and God’s holiness? When we gain an assurance because of our own efforts and abilities, the sacredness in anything can be difficult to find–maybe even impossible.

There, then, is the big question when it comes to humanity’s relationship to God. How assured are we of our own abilities versus how much reverence we give to God.

Exodus 3 tells us of how Moses was forced into a situation which causes him to recognize the sacred–the holy–which comes from without. An interesting thing to recognize in this scripture is that Moses has already noticed that this bush was a divine entity. The way he averted his eyes is a sign that he recognized it was God–because it was a wide belief amongst Moses’ contemporaries that to look upon God meant certain death. Moses knew this bush contained the presence of God. He recognized the holy, and acted accordingly.

The image of Moses taking off his sandals is a vivid one. Most of the time, that act is immortalized in songs and in the minds of believers as the important action within this story. It is, because it is Moses completing a sort of ritual before he would converse with God. I think it is important for other reasons.

Take this scenario: a child summoned inside after playing outside all day. The child’s actions are much slower than the parent wanted, but the child is no less complying. After bursting in the door and not giving a thought to anything else, the parent shouts “STOP!” After two more steps, the child stops. The parent–having just finished cleaning the floor after the mess from this morning–says, “Take those shoes off, I just cleaned up in here!” The child may or may not be aware of the fact that they are supposed to take off their shoes before ever stepping on to the carpet, but heeds the words and does so. The child has recognized the authoritative nature of the person from which the request comes.

Moses, like the child, is summoned to the bush. He is tentative and inquisitive in his approach, being confused by a bush that is not being consumed by the fire. God calls to Moses that he should remove his sandals because the ground upon which he stand is holy. Moses complies, recognizing the authoritative nature of the deity from which the request comes.

Why did Moses initially fail to remove his sandals? Is it because he did not know that the ground he was standing on was holy? I don’t think so. Theologians believe the ground was considered holy by his people before this event. I believe–and it isn’t a far stretch to think so–that Moses was so awe-struck by the fact that the bush wasn’t burning up and that the bush contained God that he just forgot. There it is. Moses hadn’t already taken off his sandals because he just wasn’t cool under pressure. He was so overtaken by the presence of God that he was frozen in response.

When was the last time you were frozen in the presence of God? When was the last time you stood in awe of God? I think it happens less and less nowadays because we are becoming all the more assured who we are and what we know. Like I said, when we know so much it becomes so easy for us to come up with explanations for what happens around us. The problem with that is we often miss the experience of it because we are trying to analyze it.

It was once said of middle-class Americans that they “worship at their work, work at their play and play at their worship.” Yeah, that sounds about right. How many times have you heard statements like these? I just gotta get to work. I have been working really hard to get the boat ready for the water. I can’t wait to see John at church this week, that guy is a riot. It’s important to recognize and observe those times when we find ourselves on holy ground, lest we become those have our priorities seriously out of place.

Moses shows us the nature of what it is to be found on holy ground, but there is a downside. “What’s that?” you say. “The pastor is saying there is something negative about being in the presence of God.” Yes. Just as with everything, moderation is the key. What, then, are the pitfalls to out holy ground experiences?

The first one is closely related to what we have been talking about this morning. Think about the old joke about the guy whose house is in danger of being flooded by the nearby river. He turns down transportation to a nearby shelter saying God is going to save him. He turns down the sheriff riding by in a boat who offers him a ride, saying God will save him. He waves off a National Guard helicopter saying God will save me. Eventually, the water comes over the roof of his house and the man drowns. Confused, he runs through the gates of heaven and asks God why He didn’t save him. God says, “What did you want? I sent you a car, a boat and a helicopter!” This man just wasn’t looking as hen was in the presence of God.

God is God. In the scripture this morning, Moses learns God’s name to be “I am who I am.” While that may be initially confusing, consider how mind-bending it could be to consider that name for God. AND…isn’t that the way it should be? God is so much God that it is nearly impossible for humans to be able to comprehend Him. When you begin to consider something like that, you may very well be standing on holy ground.

Lastly, we must not find that holy ground–or that “holy ground” experience–and enshrine it. You have heard the expression, “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good?” That’s about what I am talking about. If you have ever been on a Walk to Emmaus, you may have an idea of what I am talking about. If you have ever been on some kind of retreat or youth camp, you have no doubt felt a let down shortly afterwards. Sometimes, that letdown is so great that not even weekly worship could bring you out of the doldrums.

Holy ground is a way for God to pull us away for a retreat or solace from the world. It’s an opportunity for us to escape the mundane or routine of our lives. It’s an opportunity for us to take a second and go “WOW!” in presence of God. Moses had that opportunity, then God sent him back to Egypt to free God’s people. As if God said, “take a breather in my presence…now get to work.” There is a purpose to which God calls each and every one of us, and he isn’t going to force us to do it without an opportunity to catch our breath in His presence.

As I close, I couldn’t think of a better way to illustrate the holy-ground-for-a-holy-purpose thing than kids. More specifically, that time right after your children are born. Many of you know what I am talking about. You hold your children for the first time, and there is nothing else in the world like it. Who would deny that as a time in our lives when we are standing on holy ground? Emily and I had a little different experience with this.

Ella was our most traditional post-birth experience. Emily and I both got to hold her and have that feeling–that one that is like none other in the world. However, shortly after that time, you have to begin feeding, cleaning and changing the little buggers. It’s as if God is saying to us, “take a breather in my presence…now get to work.” Nate was a little different. Nate had come to live with us when he was 6. The morning after he arrived, I read his med schedule wrong. This meant I gave him his night meds in the morning. He fells asleep and stayed asleep so long Emily and I wondered what went wrong. The mistake was realized and corrected. I pulled up next to him in the chair he was sleeping, rubbed his back, and was able to have that same feeling.

Carter was all-together different. We met Carter in the NICU and this was before we had any of our other kids. We were both nervous to meet him and I remember being intimidated by all the serious life stuff that other parents were all around us. Not to mention, Emily and I had talked all the way to the hospital about how we weren’t sure we could handle a child if they were to have special needs. Then, Emily held him. And I held him. We walked out of the NICU, had a conversation with the representative from the adoption agency that neither Emily or I cared about at that time, and hopped in our car. After driving for quite some time in silence, we looked at each other and knew that we were going to be Carter’s parents. And we have been to work ever since.

It doesn’t matter how much information we know or how efficiently we are able to share it, God will always create holy ground upon which we may take time to be in and with Him. The trick is recognizing it and actually taking time to bask in it. Let us take that time this day and whenever it is we find ourselves in it. AMEN.

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