Sunday, February 10, 2013

holy ground--a sermon for Transfiguration

side note: We're not reading the Transfiguration story from Luke 9, but it will come up in Sunday School and the children's moment, and is referenced a few times without being directly read. I'm hoping it's *just* familiar enough. 
Just before the sermon, the children will have collected a special offering of socks for the guests at our Wednesday night shelter. Earlier in the week, an email went out inviting people to come to church in sandals or even the original sermon title ("Shoeless") made perfect sense, but didn't make its way into the sermon in the way I expected.

Rev. Teri Peterson
Holy Ground
Exodus 3.1-12, John 13.1-15
10 February 2013, Transfiguration, Barefoot/Sock-Drive Sunday

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, 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.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Take off your shoes, for this is holy ground.
Take off your shoes, Jesus wants to wash your feet.
Take off your shoes, you’ll track mud into the house.
Take off your shoes, you need to let your socks dry out overnight so you can wear them again tomorrow.
Take off your shoes, and feel the cold and solidity of the floor, the vulnerability with which we walk the earth.
Take off your shoes, even if you think your feet are ugly, for the prophet Isaiah says that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful.

This is holy ground.

Of course, it’s easy to think of the sanctuary as holy ground. I wonder though, when Moses turned off the path and wandered out into the desert to see this thing that had caught his peripheral vision…did that feel like holy ground? It’s easy to imagine that the disciples who followed Jesus up the mountain and saw him shining next to Moses and Elijah felt they were on holy ground…what about when we follow Jesus downstairs into the shelter, bleach in one hand and cookies in the other—does that feel like holy ground radiating with God’s light?

And what is the deal with holy ground anyway? Is some land holy while other land is unholy? How are we to know the difference? And if we’re busy following Jesus, do we have time to figure it out and stop to untie our shoes? Shouldn’t we be heading down the mountain to get to work?

Well…Moses was out doing his job, tending the flocks. He was a busy man. We like to imagine that the flaming bush appeared in his path, so obvious he couldn’t possibly ignore it. “If only we could have a burning bush,” we lament, “then we would know what to do.” But did you catch what the story said? “Moses said, “I must turn aside to see…” He had to turn off the path and go to where the bush was. Which means he had to have been paying attention to his surroundings, not just walking along with his head down, eyes on the sheep. And then he had to leave his business and indulge his curiosity. I wonder how often our eyes are open to catch what God is doing in our peripheral vision? How often are we curious enough to look for God somewhere off the prescribed path, away from the ways we’ve always done it, or off the side of the career ladder? The first step toward Holy Ground is to wonder and desire—and the second is to wander closer. Being open to the presence of God makes us more vulnerable to divine light, to glimpses of God’s reality…and so we take off our shoes, because any place, no matter how strange, can be Holy Ground.

Unless, of course, we’re busy protesting that this isn’t the way things are done. After all, it’s slaves who get down on the floor to wash feet, not master rabbis. And yet, Peter gets a glimpse of God’s reality too, with Jesus kneeling in front of him, having perhaps the strangest conversation of either of their lives. Jesus has the bowl and the towel, and Peter asks the obvious: “are you going to wash my feet? That’s not the way it’s done!” and when Jesus insists that it’s exactly the way it’s done, Peter does a complete 180 and wants Jesus to give him a bath! You can never say that Peter did anything halfway—he was either all in or all out. But his own understanding of the way things are supposed to work are impeding his vision—he can’t see what God is doing through Jesus because it doesn’t fit into his box for how God does things. And yet he too finds holy ground, taking off his shoes along with the all the other disciples—including Judas, who had his feet washed along with the rest of them—to get a glimpse of God’s reality.

Where is our vision of holy ground obscured by our insistence on having things our way? When might we be missing the beautiful experience of Jesus caring for us, or the wonder of having an honest conversation, or the relief of laying down our burdens, because we can’t imagine it any other way than how it’s always been? Are there times in your life, or in the life of our church, when God’s light wasn’t quite bright enough to break through our own pride or tradition or policies and procedures?

Take off your shoes, for this is holy ground and you are surrounded by holy companions, each of us simultaneously broken and whole, each of us at the same time seeking and resisting, each of us hoping and dreaming and working and failing and loving, all together. That’s part of what makes this ground holy.

All these stories—of a bush aflame with the voice of God, of Jesus shining on a mountaintop, of Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends, of people with cold wet feet wandering the streets by day and being greeted with warm food and warm blankets in our basement by night—all of them are places where we get a glimpse of God’s reality. They are not escapism: they are breaks in perception that allow us to see the kingdom, to see with God’s eyes. In that light, our own unwillingness to take off our shoes is treated gently, as is our rush to either save the moment with a statue or to get back to normal as quickly as possible. In that light, our own narrow vision is broadened. In that light, we experience the love of God in so many unimaginable ways. The transfiguration story talks about Jesus shining whiter than white—and in that light is all color and manner of light, a refraction for all of us to see by.

That glimpse of real reality is what we’re looking for when we take off our shoes, and when we put them back on. It’s what we’re looking for when we drive to work and when we go out for lunch, when we stop to pray for a friend and when we ask others to pray for us, when we interact with our neighbors and our families, when we work hard and when we stop to rest, when we serve and when we allow ourselves to be served. Once we’ve seen it on the mountaintop, or beside the wilderness bush, or kneeling at our feet, we find ourselves repeating steps one and two over and over again: wanting to see more, and going off the beaten path to look. Sometimes that may take us into shelters and food pantries. Sometimes we might find ourselves walking the streets in prayer. Sometimes that may take us to the halls of congress or the phone line to the white house. Sometimes our looking may bring us into this sanctuary. Sometimes it may take us diving into the scripture or seeking new ways of praying. Sometimes that desire and wonder may take us to the local pub or the Saturday night concert.

Wherever our seeking takes us, we can be sure of one thing: It will be holy ground. And our experience there will fill us with the desire to make God’s reality a reality here and now, to live in the kingdom of God here and now, to let light shine through us so others may see it too. The way of life in the kingdom of heaven isn’t just for heaven—it’s for earth, for us, for everyone. May we seek God’s light, and soak it up, so we can let it shine on all the holy ground.

1 comment:

  1. This is great, Teri. I especially love this line: They are not escapism: they are breaks in perception that allow us to see the kingdom, to see with God’s eyes.