Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, Year A

You're Standing on Holy Ground

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-36, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

I have noticed as I have gone through life that God sometimes has some strange ways of attracting my attention. And I have to say, it is just as well, because otherwise I might not listen. Maybe you have experienced something like this. Everything is going along normally. Things are unfolding as I think they should. I am quite happy with my life, quite content. And then something happens that doesn’t make sense. Or it somehow doesn’t fit in with my plans. At that point I realize that somehow God has succeeded in gaining my attention.

Mind you, for me it is not usually quite as amazing as it was for Moses. A burning bush is pretty cool! I suspect that would really get my attention. And it works for Moses! There has been a real change in his life. He is no longer living the life of a prince in the courts of Egypt. Instead he is looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. It is a time of solitude for him, a time to encounter, not only himself, but also God. When he sees the burning bush, he turns aside to find out more. God has his attention. Those are the times to watch out for; because once God has your attention there is always more to follow. “Remove the sandals from your feet,” God says to him, “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Taking your shoes off on sacred ground is hardly an unusual idea. It happens in many faith traditions. Shoes are removed as a sign of respect. But removing our shoes also puts us into a vulnerable position. While it is truly wonderful to walk barefoot on a sandy beach, throw in a few pebbles and the story changes. Footwear protects us from the ground. It also makes it much more difficult to run away.

And so Moses finds himself in a vulnerable position. If he could he would run away, because God is calling him to do what he dreads the most! He needs to go back and face Pharaoh. When he hears what he is to do, he hides his face in fear. He argues with God. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who is he indeed! Everything in his past has prepared him for this moment. He knows the culture. He speaks the language. It is only fear that holds him back. And so God reassures him. “I will be with you.”

Then it is time to put on the sandals, leave the safety of that holy place and set out to do what God has called him to do.

The story of Moses points out a great truth. We do not choose our calling; our calling chooses us. We turn aside from our daily routines to see the burning bush. We find ourselves standing on sacred ground. We stand on that holy ground, safe enough to be whole, to be holy. There we encounter ourselves; there we encounter God. It is when we are standing there barefoot, vulnerable, open, that we most clearly hear God’s call. The question is, do we have the courage to put our sandals back on and respond?

Moses left that sacred space and began the liberation of the people of Israel. It was an awesome experience, but he did not keep it to himself. It became the source for a new way of life. Because Moses stood on holy ground and listened to the call of God, the people of Israel were set free.

What was the burning bush, that moment of truth for the disciples of Jesus? Jesus tells them that he will suffer and die. It is not what they want to hear. They argue with him. Even Peter, who wants so badly to be like Jesus is unable to accept the possibility that Jesus will be killed. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus reminds them, “deny yourselves, pick up your cross and follow me.” This is the disciples at their most vulnerable. They are ready to run for all they are worth.

At that very moment, whether they know it or not, they are standing on holy ground. There is a cross to be taken up. Jesus is stating the reality of life. Taking up the cross has to do with giving of themselves rather than taking. It has to do with accepting responsibility, not refusing it. It has to do with doing what God is calling them to do. Jesus knows that risked, expended, offered beyond itself, life can be demanding and costly. Yet that is the only way that it will flower and grow and ultimately be rewarding. And those same fearful disciples will take up the cross. They will put their sandals on their feet and set out in faith. They will put aside their own fears. They will forget about the cost, and follow in Christ’s footsteps.

What burning bushes do we encounter in our lives? It happens in so many ways in our lives. I have felt it as recognition when I have been privileged to be in the presence of someone who was dying. I have known it in a word of conviction spoken by a friend. I have read it in a note when I most needed a boost. I have experienced it in the prayers of the faithful and in the breaking of the bread.

When we are standing on holy ground, our feet planted firmly, upheld by the experience of encountering God, it is easy to feel a sense of commitment to the gospel. But then realities set in. That is when it is most important to remember God’s promise that we are not alone. “I will be with you,” God said to Moses. “I will be with you,” God says to each of us.

The question remains: Do we put on our sandals and get to work? Does it mean accepting people where they are in order to patiently and lovingly lead them to where God wants them to be? Does it result in reaching out to our neighbours and meeting their needs? Do we identify with humanity irrespective of race, colour, sexual orientation, creed? It means being truly human. It means involving ourselves with the sufferings and sorrows, conflicts and consternations, failures and defeats of others. It means bearing one another’s burdens and sharing in their despair. It means listening actively and with compassion. It means acting to bring justice and dignity and validity to others. It means proclaiming the gospel of God’s love and grace. It means upholding the promises of our baptism.

What is the burning bush for this parish? You are in a time of transition. You face the unknown. You face change as you consider the future of this place. It is time to take off your sandals and stand on holy ground and discern where it is God is calling you as a congregation. It is time for a sense of discipleship that can lead you into the future. It might be risky business. After all, life can be demandng and costly. It certainly means being accountable to God for your actions. It means examining the past but not dwelling in it.

How do we develop an attitude of discipleship? How do we do as Paul says we are called to do? Just consider the list of things that Paul reminds the Romans – love, outdo, serve, rejoice, be patient, contribute, extend hospitality, bless, rejoice, weep, live in harmony, take thought, live peaceably, never avenge, feed. What a parish this would be; never mind parish, what a world we would be living in if we accomplished half of that!

The point is that there must be a difference between how we live and how the world lives. That difference comes about because we are standing on holy ground. God is calling us to be. May we understand the call of God and live in response to that call. May we live worthy of our calling!

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