On Holy Ground
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 5, 2000
On holy ground
was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian,
and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb,
the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in
flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on
fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see
this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."
Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within
the bush, "Moses! Moses!"
said, "Here I am."
come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the
place where you are standing is holy ground."
Revelation 22:7-17 Let those who are holy continue to be holy
I, John, am
the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I
fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but
he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and
your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this
book. Worship God!"
And he said
to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for
the time is near. "Let those who do wrong continue to do wrong, and
those who are filthy continue to be filthy, and those who do right
continue to do right, and those who are holy continue to be holy."
I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay all people according to
what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the
last, the beginning and the end."
those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree
of life and may enter the city by the gates. "Outside are the dogs
and the sorcerers and the fornicators and the murderers and the
idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I
am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say,
"Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who
wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Arcana Coelestia #6845 Holy ground is God's presence in us
ground" means the holiness that flows out from the Lord. So it
means being in the holy influence of the Lord's Divine Humanity. . . .
Unless we are drawn away from our physical senses, which form the
outward levels of our material self--that is, unless we are raised from
our physical senses to our deeper levels--the Divine cannot flow into
us. The things that flow in from the Divine do reach right through to
our outermost parts, meaning the physical senses, which form the outward
levels of our material self. But if these levels of us are completely
occupied with bodily and worldly interests, the Divine influences coming
in are reduced to nothing, since they are incompatible with what is
there. So when we are about to receive the Divine--that is, things
relating to faith and love--we are raised from our physical senses. Then
the Divine no longer flows into the outward level of our senses, but
into the deeper level to which we have been raised.
not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for
the place where you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5)
God has strange ways of getting our attention. We're just moving along
in life, minding our own business, everything is going normally . . .
and then something happens that just doesn't fit into our plans.
Something happens that doesn't make sense. Something happens that we
simply can't figure out. And then, if we are listening, God has our
it happened for Moses.
By this time
in his life, Moses probably figured that he could safely look forward to
a quiet retirement. Yes, he'd seen the trouble of his people, who were
still enslaved in Egypt. In his younger years, when he was still in
Egypt himself, he had even risked his own life by killing an Egyptian to
defend one of his own people. But he'd been found out, and had to flee
for his life. Now he was settled down with a wife and children and
probably grandchildren, too. Because Moses was about eighty years old
when God caught his attention in a strange way, and changed the course
of his life.
Moses was doing what he always did: tending the flocks of his
father-in-law, whose family he had become a part of. Perhaps he'd been
having trouble finding good grazing, so that he had ventured around to
the other side of the desert to find fodder for the flocks. All in a
month's work, really--finding the best food for the flocks so that they
would grow healthy and strong, and yield a good living for their
did not realize was that while looking for the best place to graze his
flocks, he had unwittingly come into the very shadow of Horeb, the
mountain of God. Later on, this same mountain was called Mount Sinai.
Does that sound familiar? Yes, this was the very same mountain where God
gave the Ten Commandments, and all the other laws that transformed the clan
of Israel into the nation of Israel. But none of that had
happened yet. In fact, this is the first place in the Bible where the
mountain is mentioned. As far as Moses was concerned, it was probably
just another mountain in a whole range of mountains. Even today, we are
not quite sure where Mount Horeb (or Mount Sinai) is.
Moses was just minding his own business, when all of a sudden he saw
something that made no sense at all. A bush was burning. That could
happen. Perhaps it was struck by heat lightning. But what was really
strange was that the fire did not seem to be consuming the bush, as any
self-respecting fire would do. So Moses thought, "I will go over
and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up." Then
God had his attention.
Moses!" God called from the burning bush. And now that Moses' usual
ways of thinking about things (you know: fire burns up bushes) had been
on their head, now that he had been drawn aside from his usual paths of
thinking, Moses was ready to listen. "Here I am," he said. And
then God could tell him what had been true all along, but what he had
not realized: "Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for
the place where you are standing is holy ground."
where you are standing! Not some far-off place, but right here,
right now. This is holy ground. That is how this experience, and
those words, must have struck Moses. Like Jacob when he saw the stairway
reaching to heaven, Moses suddenly realized that the place where he was right
now was holy--holy because the special presence of the Lord was
there. Holy because this was a place where he could hear the voice of
making a bit too much of the holy ground being right here, right now.
After all, Mount Horeb was actually a bit removed from Moses' home turf.
He had gone over to the other side of the desert to get there. This was
not a large desert, mind you, but it could well have taken several days
or weeks of journeying to get there. However, most herdsmen of those
days were nomadic or semi-nomadic, so traveling around like this was a
regular part of the job. And Moses was still simply doing his job that
how God reaches out to us, too? It would be nice for me to think that
each of you hears the voice of God mainly here in the church! But God
speaks to us everywhere, not just in church. And sometimes God can reach
us most powerfully when we are simply going about our day-to-day tasks;
when we are simply doing our job. Because in church, we expect
there to be a lot of talk about God and spirit and heaven and hell and
all that stuff. And we tend to think that the rest of our lives out
there in the workaday world are somehow more distant from God's
So it is
right in our everyday lives that the sudden, unexpected presence of God
is most likely to catch our attention and get us to turn aside from the
sometimes rutted path of our usual ways of thinking and feeling. It is
when we are simply minding our own business, going about our tasks, that
the unexpected burning bush of the living presence of Divine love and
wisdom catches our attention, and causes us to look at our lives
many messages that can be drawn from the story of Moses and the burning
bush. The one that strikes me most forcefully right now is that we
are always on holy ground, even when we are just going about our
routine lives. We are always approaching the mountain of God,
even when we think we are just making our living and taking care of our
responsibilities here on earth.
presence is not limited to any particular time or place. Yes, we build
churches to help create an atmosphere in which we hope to be especially
receptive to God's voice speaking to us, and God's love flowing into us.
But God is there for us all the time, whether we're at church or not.
And not only that, but God wants us to realize that the Divine
presence is there for us all week, and every moment, even when we are
not consciously thinking about spiritual things. God wants us to be
continually opening up the ears of our minds and hearts to hear that
voice from within, calling our name, giving us the message that the very
ground we are standing on right now is holy ground.
there is a risk in listening to that voice! Moses had made a quiet life
for himself, and he was quite satisfied with it. And now, just because
he turned aside to see this strange sight, God was calling him to leave
all the comforts and satisfactions of the life he had been living for
decades, and take on a difficult and dangerous task. If we read on in
the story, we find God's message for Moses was that he must return to
Egypt--that land where his people were being oppressed--and lead them
out of slavery to freedom.
not want the job. In fact, he tried very hard to get out of it. He made
excuse after excuse, until finally God, much like a parent frustrated at
a child's stubbornness, had to raise his voice to Moses, overcome his
excuses, and send Moses to do the task that was required of him.
We may make
excuses, too, when we have a plan in mind for our life, and God is
telling us we must do something else. We may have had it all figured out
what we were going to do with our life; and then, so it seems, God
throws in a monkey wrench in, and all our visions and dreams for the
rest of our life are shattered.
in the middle of having them shattered, it can look like the end of life
as we know it. I know that's how it has felt for me at several points in
my life when I suddenly realized that the plans I had made simply were
not going to happen! One of those times was when I had just
graduated from seminary and had it all figured out that I would serve
our churches in Bridgewater and Yarmouthport as a yoked pastorate. When
the Yarmouthport side fell through, it felt like everything was falling
apart around me. I didn't even have a place for my family to live, since
we had planned live in the parsonage at Yarmouthport.
after the initial shock and disappointment wore off, and I was forced to
accept the fact that things were not going to go as I'd planned, new
doors began to open up that I hadn't seriously considered before. In
particular, the position as editor of Our Daily Bread, which I
had turned down before, was offered to me again. This time I said yes.
And what a wonderful ministry Our Daily Bread continues to be!
is a risk in lifting our minds and hearts above our usual material
concerns and listening to the voice of God calling us from within. There
is a risk that things will not go the way we planned or expected. There
is a risk that we will have to do difficult things--things that may be
financially, socially, or emotionally dangerous. There is a risk that we
will have to stretch ourselves in ways we have never stretched before,
and go in directions that we had never seriously considered.
that what life is all about? I mean real, growing, human life? We
were not created just to plod along on this earth, tending to the
material flocks and herds of our physical bodies and our material
fortunes. We are not merely biological and social beings; we are spiritual
beings, with potentials far beyond what this physical plane has to
unexpected event hits; when things just don't go the way they were
supposed to; when something happens that is just plain strange,
try taking off the sandals of your usual, everyday ways of thinking.
Then listen for God's voice calling your name. Because even when we
don't realize it, we are standing on holy ground. Amen.
Winds of Time
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer