Take Off Your Sandals

Text of the sermon preached on Lent 3C (February 28, 2016) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-9
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

This is a text that personally means a lot to me. The book of Exodus is one of my favorite books in the Bible. This specific passage is why why I go barefoot while celebrating the Eucharist. This. This is holy ground. It is a personal observance of piety for me. But barefeetenough about that. Back to this passage.

Moses just didn’t see it coming. And let’s be realistic with each other — would you? Would I?

In just the previous chapter Moses had committed an act of the utmost evil. He killed a person. That’s right, this young Hebrew man, who would go on to serve as the vehicle for God’s earth-shattering, reality-altering emancipation of the Israelites, was a murderer. A fugitive from both God and Pharaoh, Moses flees to the land of Midian where he finds a lovely wife and has resigned himself to the simple life of a shepherd. Those days by the Nile are sufficiently behind him. He has escaped that messy situation in Egypt and has found his calling in life. Or so he thought.

This morning begins like any other, as he gathers his staff and takes his sheep into the wilderness. The simplicity of the moment is a pleasant reminder of his “comfortable” life, a life in which he is quite content to exist the rest of his days.

But how foolish these hopes turn out to be!

The author of this text reminds us of this by inserting a rather cleverly-placed verse immediately before today’s lectionary passage. You see, right before today’s passage and right after the mention of Moses’ new wife and son, the author of the text slips these verses in the midst of this seemingly “happy” ending.  “After a long time…the Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out…God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”

Just when Moses was getting comfortable, just when he had resigned himself to a life of simplicity and normalcy, God takes notice. God takes notice of a dysfunctional social reality that is in need of being changed. If there is one thing that we, as a worshipping community can say for sure, it is that we have never worshiped a God who has ever been satisfied with the status quo.

It is at this point that we find ourselves standing in the sand next to our friend Moses who has perfected the art of the status quo. But this sand, this earthen floor, is no generic foundation. No, it is something entirely different. So different in fact, that God reminds Moses to remove the sandals from his feet, because the place on which he is standing is holy ground! Holy Ground.

What exactly is this text trying to say to us here and now? What is it that makes this ground, right here beneath our feet at this very moment, so holy? Is it the fact that we come together as a community to worship God in this beautiful sanctuary? No, for Moses is

Sanctuary Christmas Eve

Just because it is beautiful, doesn’t make it holy.

standing in no structure built by human hands. Is it the fact that we have come here today to follow God’s commission? No, that can’t be it either because we can be fairly sure that Moses awoke that morning with no intention other than to watch a flock of sheep.

So what is it that makes this ground holy? We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Our God is not a “comfortable” God. We know this because the same God who became manifest in the flesh, who fed the hungry, healed the sick, and freed those who were enslaved by the chains of society, did a most curious thing. As we find out during Holy Week in a couple of weeks, Jesus shatters into our existence not by amassing an army and overthrowing the Romans as our society might expect, but by dying on a cross next to common criminals and overcoming death, an enemy even the Romans could never defeat. Though we never could have predicted it at the time of his life and death, Jesus reformed and recreated any expectations that you or I could have ever had.

This story is an “echo” of our journey today with Moses. God recreated Moses into something which they could have never predicted through a means that they would have never employed.

God shatters into our status quo — making no small commotion along the way — and invites us into the work of God’s re-creation using people who we would never expect.

That, is what makes this holy ground. These texts force us to re-shape who we thought we were and redirect us to what we are created and called to be. Like Moses, we are witnesses to that which forces us to “turn aside” and behold that which rips us from our comfortable reality and sets us upon a ground that is holy.

Holy — the very word comes from the Hebrew concept of being separate, of something different, something set apart.

This holy text which we engage on this holy ground before our holy God, sets us apart from our preconceived notions of what is right and just. And friends, this is something that we need desperately. Because if left to our own devices, if left to our own conventional thinking, the Israelites would still be in Egypt and Moses would still be in Midian shepherding Jethro’s flock to this day.

But that isn’t the end of the story — and it’s not the end of our own story — for if there is another thing that we, as a worshipping community can say for sure, is that we have never worshiped a God who is happy with leaving us alone. Our job isn’t over. This text reminds us that there are still oppressed peoples in the world and that we, as we stand next to Moses barefoot in the burning sand before that blazing bush, are challenged to do something. As we stand on this holy ground, we have been called and invited to help bring freedom to those who have been robbed of their voice, whose backs are burdened by the oppressive weight of intolerance and ignorance.

Burning Bush

How could I not include an image of the burning bush?

Like Moses, we are forced by this text out of our comfort zone, out of our routine, and into those places where oppressed people cry out to God, for God takes notice. We cannot ignore this holy ground, we must respond. Oh, I suppose that we could continue on our merry way in our comfort and in our status quo. But you and I would do well to remember this fact: that the inaction of Moses would have been just as detrimental to the oppressed people of Israel as any action that Pharaoh could have done to them.

If we take the time to remove the sandals from our feet, we will find ourselves much closer to our foundation, to that through which we have been created and are being created anew each and everyday. If only we turn aside and gaze upon this great sight will we find ourselves carried into places that force us out of ourselves, and into each other. Into the community which God has created us to be. Friends, people are oppressed. They are crying out to God. God has taken notice and you and I must turn aside.

God calls us to go out into the world, outside of our comfort zones, to leave behind the things we thought were signs of his blessing, and to change the world. To get rid of injustice, racism, sexism, violence, and all kinds of discrimination and oppression.

A friend of mine takes her girls to a hair dresser over in Nashville named Jana. And Jana has one simple tattoo on her arm. The tattoo reads, “I am more.” One day while getting her girl’s hair cut, my friend asked Jana what the tattoo meant to her, what it stood for. Jana has quite the life story, which we won’t get into today, but she said that the tattoo is there to remind her everyday that she is capable of more than she thinks she is capable of doing. She is more.

So what is the good news here? The good news is that Jesus triumphed over the power of sin and death and has bound us each to one another in the love of God. And so we will always have each other. Together we will share the faith, embody the love made known to us through Jesus Christ. Together we will shine bright — now and always. And we are more than we think we are. We just need to show up in order to be more. And just like Moses, we are standing on holy ground and must go out of our comfort zones to help others.


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