Standing on Holy Ground

Exodus 3: 4-

“God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'” Exodus3: 4-5 

We are a forgetful people. Not just the older generation but the younger generation as well. I’m amazed at how often my children can’t remember someone’s name or lose their cell phone or their train of thought. It is very comforting. The film Home Alone, the story of an eight year-old, who is forgotten and accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas, captured the country’s imagination in 1990. I think we all kept asking ourselves if something like that could really happen, and the movie was a hit because it was not only funny but within the realm of possibility at some level.

Forgetting can certainly make us laugh. Robert Levin writes about the short-term memory loss that accompanied his turning 60 this year. He says that forgetting actually has a plus side that outweighs its minus side. He writes, “I’m speaking, of course, of the guarantee it can afford me that a movie I’m going to will be a good one. I’ll notice, for instance, an ad for a movie and tell a friend about it. The friend will advise me that I saw the movie just a week ago. I’ll ask him if I liked it and if he says, “Yeah, you couldn’t stop talking about it,” I’ll think, hey, how often does a movie come with THAT kind of recommendation and I’ll go immediately to see it again. I’m told that I’ve seen “Pearl Harbor” eight times now.”

Forgetting also has it major downside as well. We are so bombarded by information and spend so much time living at a frantic pace that it is easy to forget faces, where we put our glasses or important information. Charles Krauthammer wrote in an article in Time magazine that, “the ultimate instrument for forgetting is television. It is inherent in the medium. The flickering image is impossible to retain. Who remembers the once ubiquitous Mike Douglas? Frank Reynolds? Michael Dukakis? Pastlessness is inherent in video with its fast cuts and dissolving shots and rerecord button, with its moving tape forever recording a vanishing now. For a television society, every day is TODAY, THIS MORNING and TONIGHT. Television life is a rolling present relieved only by commercial breaks. … If the Ten Commandments were given today, they would be flashed on the great Diamond Vision Screen at Yankee Stadium, and by sunup not a soul would remember.”

Remembering, on the other hand, is something the Bible encourages us to do over and over again. Remembering is crucial to a life lived in relationship with God. “Take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” the author of Deuteronomy writes. “You laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands.” “…remember the former things of old. For I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.,” admonishes Isaiah. And each time we take communion we are encouraged to remember all God has done for us. “Holy God,” begins a pre-communion prayer from the Iona Book of Worship, “for when we were nothing, you made us something. When we had no name and no faith and no future, you called us your children. When we lost our way or turned away, you did not abandon us. When we came to you, your arms opened wide in welcome. For us you were born, for us you healed, preached taught, and showed the way to heaven; for us you were crucified and for us after death you rose again. So we do in this place what you did in an upstairs room, send down your Holy Spirit on us and these gifts of bread and wine that they may become for us your body, healing, forgiven and making us whole; and that we may become, for you, your body, loving and caring in the world until your kingdom comes again.” We are to remember God’s presence in all God has done for us.

Gunilla Norris writes in this summer’s edition of Weavings, “Many of us are juggling so many things that we are run by our lives rather than living them as gifts from God. What if we could learn to stop for a moment many times a day? What if in those moments we could decide to notice the sheer miracle of being alive. We would then be taking awe breaks instead of coffee breaks.” For the most part we forget to stop, pay attention and appreciate what is happening in our lives; we forget to watch and to listen, to smell and to taste those holy, God given moments. And that is one very important reason we come here Sunday after Sunday to stop and be reminded to pay attention and remember the power of God at work in the world and in our lives.

In her doctoral thesis on sacred landscapes, Elizabeth Tan wrote, “Most of us cherish a few specific places that have touched us powerfully and marvelously, and we often designate such spots as our sacred spaces….Our secret hideaways or meeting places; our favorite spots in gardens or local cafes; and our fond recollections of childhood haunts or summers at the beach: many of these may acquire a sacred standing in our affections.” Her dissertation explores three contemporary writers – Annie Dillard, Kathleen Norris and Frederick Buechner – and how they represent their religious experience and interpret the varied landscape of American Christianity. Tan says that she is particularly interested in their sacred spaces and what kinds of language they use to discuss the important spiritual places in their lives. “In Buechner’s narratives,” she writes, “anything can testify of God’s existence – a dream, a license plate, a phone call at dinner – since, ‘there is no chance thing through which God cannot speak – even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere.’” (Frederick Buechner, Sacred Journey)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire

with God;

The rest sit round it and pluck

blackberries.

Earth is in fact crammed with heaven and most of us never notice it. We think of heaven as a place that we may someday “get” to, when in fact heaven is all around us.

In Exodus “God called to Moses out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And Moses answered saying, ‘Here I am.’ As is often the case in human encounters with the divine, Moses came into the presence of God unexpectedly while he was engaged in an everyday activity tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. A messenger of God appeared to him in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush. That is the last we hear of this messenger, for when Moses approached the bush to see more closely, it is God who called to him out of the bush. Then [God] said, ‘Come no closer! Remove your sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God warns Moses to remove his sandals as an act of respect and willing submission. God is present and God’s presence transforms everything. The ground is now holy because God has been there, not because it is already holy, because it has been set apart for a holy use. The place has been transformed by the presence and speech of God. And who is this God? “I am who I am. I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” said the voice. God calls Moses and sends him to win the release of the Israelites with this promise, “I will be with you always.” “What is clear,” writes Terence Fretheim, “is that God will be with Moses in all that he undertakes. Moses is assured of a constant divine presence; in all that he does he will not be left to his own resources. Moses’ question of competence is answered simply with the assurance of divine presence; Moses will not have to act alone.” Even though we are not prophets or saints we, also, never have to act alone. God is present with us in every aspect of our lives.

One day a certain father went to visit his son’s preschool. It was a day when dads could come to visit. But when he got there, he was surprised to discover that only a handful of fathers had come to be with their children.

Later on that morning, all the children were sitting on the floor in a circle. The teacher asked the children to tell the group something about their fathers, something that was special. One little boy said, “Well, my daddy is a lawyer. He makes a lot of money and we live in a big house.” Another child said, “My father is very smart. He teaches at the college and a lot of important people know him.” Finally it was time for this father’s son to say something special about his dad. The little boy looked up at his father, then he looked around the circle of his friends, and then he just smiled and proudly said, “My dad … my dad is here!” William Butler Yeats wrote about the lightning effect of God’s presence in his poem, Vacillation:

My fiftieth year had come and gone,

I sat, a solitary man,

In a crowded London shop,

An open book and empty cup

On the marble table -top.

While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness,

That I was blessed and could bless.

So what are the consequences of forgetting that, as Woodie Guthrie wrote about in his song Holy Ground:

Every spot it’s holy ground

Every little inch, it’s holy ground

Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground

Every spot I walk it’s holy ground?

We risk a life lived on the surface. We risk a life lived without the breathtaking joy that comes with being in touch with something larger than our own lives at both the most exciting and mundane moments of our lives. We risk only experiencing coffee breaks and never the joy of awe breaks. We risk a life that misses our calling.

In her sermon last Sunday Sarah Garcia told about how, as a high school and college student she became alienated from God and was unable to see God in the world around her. Bitter and hardened all she saw in the world was grief, senseless pain and loneliness. Then on a year-long sojourn in Brazil, working with abused and abandoned children at the New Horizons Youth Ranch in Christianopolis, Brazil, she began to see God in the lives of the children as they were transformed by the love of the Christian community there. Opening her eyes to the love of God in the most difficult and horrible of circumstances she felt drawn to share hope and healing with others who were feeling broken and bitter. Opening her eyes to the love of God in the most difficult and horrible of circumstances, Sarah began to see God here and then there in her life and then the possibility that God was present throughout her life.

In a sermon on 30 Good Minutes, preacher Joanna Adams, reflecting on our lives in the context of God’s call to Moses said, “God has not left you alone to find your way. The question is whether or not you and I are listening to the ups and the downs in our lives, listening to the people around us who believe in us, listening to the surprise developments that come, truly, out of nowhere.”

When we open our eyes to God around us, life takes on a different hue, a different feeling, a different sound. Believing we live on holy ground allows us to relax and let go and follow God. When we feel that the world around us is holy ground it always leads to an opening of ourselves to God and God’s purpose for us.

St. Patrick prayed:

Christ be with me, Christ

within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ

above me,

Christ in quiet, and in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me.

Christ in mouth of friend and

stranger.

Patrick saw God, in Christ, everywhere. Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us was God’s greatest evidence of his presence with us and faithfulness to us. What more could we want? What more could we need? God in us; God in the world; a world transformed by the wonder of God’s presence making all of life holy. May it be so. Amen.