On Holy Ground

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 5, 2000

Readings

Exodus 3:1-5 On holy ground

Now Moses 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."

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"

And Moses said, "Here I am."

"Do not 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."

"Behold, 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."

Blessed are 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.

"I, 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."

The Spirit 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

"Holy 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.


Sermon

"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5)

Sometimes 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 attention.

That's how 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.

That day 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 keepers.

What Moses 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.

That day, 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! 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."

The place 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 the Lord.

Perhaps I'm 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 day.

Isn't this 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 presence.

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 differently.

There are 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.

God's living 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.

Of course, 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.

Moses did 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.

When we're 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.

And yet, 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!

Yes, there 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.

But isn't 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 offer.

When that 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.


Background Set
Courtesy of:

Music: Winds of Time
1999 Bruce DeBoer