Sermon – September 3, 2017 – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Take a moment right now to envision a holy place. What is the most holy, sacred place you can think of? What does it look like? Where is it located? What makes this place sacred?

 

Take another moment and think of a place that has felt holy for you. Can you think off a moment in your life that felt especially sacred? Where were you? Who were you with? What about that place felt set apart from the ordinary? What made it special?

 

Now, my guess is that your first answer and your second were different. There are many different places that are labeled as “holy sites” in our world. In fact, there are entire countries whose economies largely depend on visitors to these holy sites. I’m thinking especially of those religious sites in Christianity; The sites that mark different locations in Jesus’ life and ministry. Like the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached, or the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized, or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is said to be the location of the tomb in which Jesus’ body was laid, be to resurrected three days later.[1] These places specialize in bottling up sacredness for the everyday tourist, making part of the divine accessible for anyone seeking that experience. Honestly, it is pretty awesome that we have the potential walk someplace where it is said that Jesus also walked. However, again my hunch is that, even if you’ve had the opportunity to visit some of these holy sites, that there have been other, more significant moments in your life where you have felt God’s holy presence.

The story that we read earlier from Exodus is one of my favorite stories in the bible. I love the drama of the burning bush and how God spoke to Moses as he was out doing his ordinary tasks. Moses was doing the same job he does every single day, herding sheep. He had probably walked by that bush hundreds of times. There was nothing extraordinary about that day; He wasn’t at a holy shrine, he wasn’t worshipping God, or even praying, but God is there. It takes a flaming bush for Moses to realize that there is something special going on. And then the best part: God says to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for your are standing on holy ground.” God calls Moses to reconnect, to become aware of the sacredness in that time and in that place.

Why does God have Moses take off his sandals? Because Moses needs to feel the earth. He needs to remove all of the barriers that have prevented him from seeing the sacredness in that moment. Moses needed to wake up to be reminded of God’s holy presence. And then what happens? Once Moses sees the sacredness in that ordinary moment, once he takes off his shoes, his purpose changes, his call changes. God calls Moses to go out and rescue his family from oppression. Moses is sent to be the mouthpiece of God, sent to free his people. He will no longer be a shepherd of sheep, but will shepherd the people of Israel to safety and new life. Moses’ holy and sacred experience with God and the burning bush translates to his call. Once Moses realizes that the ground beneath him is holy, the same ground that he spent his entire life walking on, then he is sent onto his holy purpose. Already God is doing something different— God is speaking to ordinary people in their ordinary lives and calling them to do something extraordinary.

So, what makes a place holy? How might we awaken to the sacredness of our lives, even when they seem so utterly ordinary?

When I was in college I had the opportunity to study abroad in Jordan and Egypt. When I was in Jordan, I stayed with a host family and worked with an organization that was promoting a new ecotourism initiative. When I was in Egypt, I stayed in the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula and lived and worked with the Jebeliya, the local bedouin tribe. One of the last things we did in Egypt, after leaving our base camp for Cairo, was climb Jebel Mousa, more commonly known as Mount Sinai. Now, there are two sides to Mount Sinai: One side of the mountain has long windy roads that are packed with tour busses; the other is completely barren, facing out into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. We spent much of the day climbing up the wild side of Mount Sinai and finally made it to a summit where we would make our camp for the night. Each of the six people I was with stepped aside to find a place to reflect. I sat down on a rock to journal and I remember thinking, “Ok God, this is a pretty significant place… inspire me!” But, there was nothing. I remember thinking, “This is pretty cool…Moses could have been sitting on this same exact rock… but why doesn’t this place feel special?” It felt like any other mountain I had climbed on that trip, it felt like a bunch of rocks. This place was supposed to be holy, but I didn’t feel God there.

Then I started reflecting back on the rest of my time in the Middle East. I thought of those moments trying to converse with my host Mom in Jordan and how most of the time we had to act out our words or simply just smile at each other because neither of us had any idea what the other was saying. Or when after a week of working long days on a water dam project, when we had finally finished one of my Jebeliyan hosts was so excited that he exclaimed using the only english words he knew, which were “Thank you, Obama!” and “Happy Easter.” Or all of those evenings spent sitting around the fire, writing and drawing in each other’s journal, not knowing what was said until I had it translated later, just being together. These were the moments and places that felt sacred. These were the moments where the holiness felt palpable, were it felt like I could reach out and touch the divine. These were ordinary moments— sitting, cooking, talking, working— but they were so much more than ordinary. Those moments were about relationship, connection, and life: the roots of our holy purpose.

Sacredness is not something we can curate. It’s not a place we can put on the map and check off of our bucket list. Sacredness is choosing to wake up to the divinity that is all around us, from the breath in our lungs and the lungs of our neighbor, to the birds in the air, to the grit of the gravel below us… our entire world is holy space, holy ground. Our very existence is holy.

What we learn in Moses’ story is that holy space creates holy purpose. If everything, even the most ordinary times are seen as sacred and holy, if our lives are always occupying holy space, then every single moment in our lives is an opportunity to live into our purpose as followers of Jesus. To follow in the sacred footsteps of Jesus’ ministry, perhaps not by following his actual footsteps, but by working towards healing, dismantling oppression, caring for our neighbors, and breathing new life into our world. To do as Jesus called his disciples in our gospel story, to take up our cross and follow him. This is holy purpose. This is what happens when you see your world as holy ground.

We have the choice to take off our sandals so that we might reconnect to the sacredness all around us. May we be compelled to remove any barriers we may have in experiencing this holiness, and may we see our world and each other as sacred.