Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Sermon for Sunday, September 3, 2017 Exodus 3:1-15 Holy Ground

They came to the communion rail barefoot. One woman, wrapped in a yellow sari with gold embroidery. A man with gray hair wearing a white kurta – that ubiquitous tunic shirt that men of the Indian subcontinent all wear. Two teenagers with painted toenails, giggling a bit. A young mother juggling her baby on her hip – how do those saris stay wrapped when your baby is trying to wriggle out of your arms? There were others in the congregation, Americans, Canadians, Scots, Brits, a few who had lived in so many places that it was unclear where they would claim as home. Those others hesitated a bit if they were new, wondering if in this church in this place, they too were expected to take off their shoes to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

But the old hands here knew the tradition. These Christians who were a part of the Church of South India, Christians whose tradition said that they were actually evangelized by St. Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD, understood that this school gym where we expats attended our weekly service was holy ground. And so they removed their shoes before coming to the rail, an echo of the story from the Old Testament this morning where God instructs Moses to remove his sandals.

Now when we have heard this story, we have usually concluded that God is commanding Moses not to bring his dirty sandals onto sacred ground. But those of you who have walked on hot dirty ground know that while the sandals you wear may have dirt on them, your feet aren’t exactly gardens of roses either. Sweaty, smelly, dirty, dusty. So maybe it isn’t about the shoes, per se. But what else could it be?

Anybody here ever participate in a foot-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday? Some of you, yes. Is there anything that can make you feel more shy than showing your feet to a stranger who will actually bathe your feet? Our feet are not really the prettiest part of our body. As I get older, my feet look more and more wretched, and I’m shy about them. Did you know that nail salons do record business on Maundy Thursday with all those who want their feet to look nice for the foot-washing? We are shy about being barefoot, where everyone can see our bunions and hammertoes and that toe where the nail fell off after we ran the marathon, and the rough skin. When our feet are exposed, we feel vulnerable. Part of that vulnerability is the look of them, part of it is the fact that if we step on the wrong thing, they’ll hurt. Any parent who has stepped barefoot on a Lego in the idle of the night can attest to that. Vulnerable, open, showing a part of ourselves that we may not necessarily be comfortable showing. Taking away the pretense that we are in control…because in our hearts we know we are not.

I wonder if what God was doing when he had that conversation with Moses and told him to take his sandals off was to deliberately put him into a place of vulnerability. After all, taking off foot protection in a part of the world where the sand can be 120 degrees and where there are scorpions…that’s a risk, right? Is he willing to engage in a conversation with God while his feet are so vulnerable? Is he willing to engage in a conversation with God while his heart is so vulnerable? Perhaps God wants him to stop wearing a mask of a simple shepherd married to a Midianite woman and live in to who he truly is.

After all, Moses is something of an outlaw. He’s got more than bunions to hide. He had once had a great relationship with Pharaoh – he was a foster child in Pharaoh’s family, remember from last week? – but now he is a runaway and suspect by the Hebrews because he’d grown up in Pharaoh’s household and suspect by the Egyptians because he killed a slave master who had been beating a Hebrew slave. He is someone who is looking over his shoulder, even in Midian, wondering when his complicated past is going to catch up with him.

But it is not his past that catches up with him, it is his future. A future that he hears in the voice from the burning bush, giving him orders that he cannot imagine carrying out. And the only way he can live into the command he is given, to help the Israelites be free from the yoke of Pharaoh, to lead them to a new land, is to shed all the things that he believes protect him.

It’s no surprise that Moses’ response to this command is one we might identify with: “Who, me? The Israelites have no reason to believe me.”

And God gives instructions to this complicated and frightened man. He tells him what the future’s promise is, and it is being Moses’ imagining. He tells him to be vulnerable and brave. And so begins a chapter in the story of God’s people that requires all who are freed from the yoke of Pharaoh to be both vulnerable and brave.

They are to take off the familiar feeling of painful oppression – we sometimes cling to the present existence even if it is painful because at least we know what it is and that which is unknown is scary – and they are to go on a journey. They have no idea it’s going to take 40 years, but they must be vulnerable and brave if they are to be the people of God.

I think of that when I remember those sari-clad women in an Anglican church in the Middle East, where Christianity is not the dominant religion, taking off their shoes to come to the rail. And those feet, some old and cracked, some young with chipped nail polish…so very human, so very vulnerable…and so very brave.

They, like the rest of us in that church, were strangers in another land. None of us knew whether we would be viewed as friends or as aliens there. But in that church on the Persian Gulf, we all were vulnerable. We all were aliens. But we all were on a journey. Perhaps we were working there. Perhaps we were studying there. Perhaps we were teaching there. Members of that church ranged from ambassadors to taxi drivers, from nannies to deans of universities. None of us knew what the future would bring. And yet, we were together in that holy place on holy ground, stripping ourselves of all that we were using to mask our true selves, making our selves vulnerable and brave.

This church is on a journey. It has been wonderful and painful and eye-opening and difficult. Here’s the good news: we’re almost there. We’ve made ourselves vulnerable and brave. Sometimes we’ve shown our best selves. Sometimes, not so much. That’s part of being human, isn’t it? Even Moses messed up every now and again.

So stand on this holy ground. Know that the great I AM stands here with us. Know that Canaan awaits. Keep your shoes off so you remember what vulnerability feels like. Keep your hearts open so you can hear God’s voice, because our hearts are holy ground. Stand on this holy ground, and thank God for it, for all that has gone before and all that is to come.

Take off all pretense that you are in control. God is in control. Thanks be to God.


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