Tuesday, July 26, 2005

take off your shoes (exodus 3)

A woman looks back at her life and remembers this experience: “I grew up knowing that I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others; a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.

“When schoolmates would ask, “What happened to your lip?”, I would tell them that I had fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.

“There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored- Mrs. Leonard was her name. She was short, round and happy—a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. We would stand against the door and cover one ear, and the teacher, sitting at her desk, would whisper something, and we would say it back, something like “the sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?” I waited there for those words that God would put into her mouth, those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, “I wish you were my little girl.”

Moses has grown up, is married, and has been drafted into the family business, working for his father-in-law. He is keeping watch over his flock, when suddenly something interrupts the ordinary. No this is not Christmas eve, we are not in Bethlehem. We are on Horeb, Sinai, what we would later call the mountain of God. There is a burning bush, a sign. Moses says, to himself, “I’d better pay attention to this”. And so he stops what he is doing, he turns aside.

The turning aside is important. Most of us are so involved in the everyday---working, keeping appointments, shuttling kids from one place to the next, staying current with the mail that comes our way, maintaining relationships with family and friends---most of us are so involved in the everyday that we don’t always turn aside. I will confess---I don’t. I cannot faithfully say that I always notice the burning bush.

Moses turns aside, and a voice speaks: “Moses, Moses”. Almost a whisper. Most of us don’t hear an audible voice, we are a little skeptical of people who hear audible voices, those are people who show up on the dangerous sides of the psychiatric scale, right? But Moses hears something, his name being whispered. He listens, like that girl in the presence of her teacher. He responds, “I’m here”.

“You don’t need to come any closer. Take off your shoes, for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground”. What does it mean when God says, to Moses, to us, “take off your shoes.

There are a couple of meanings. First, it has to do with mystery. Pam and I traveled a few years ago to Israel and went into the Dome of the Rock, a magnificent mosque built over the place where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and where Mohammed, according to Muslim tradition, ascended. When you enter you take off your shoes, as a sign of reverence. Years ago I was involved in youth mission training event in Arizona, and spent the night with a Navajo family. As I entered their home, they invited me to remove my shoes.

Take off your shoes, Moses! What does this mean? It says something about being in the presence of God. It says something about our entering into a different place, a sacred place, a mysterious place, a place set apart. God is holy, his name is above all names, God is not our buddy, our chum, our pal. God transcends all of that, and so when we are in the presence of the God of the Bible, we take off our shoes.

There is another interpretation. When we “take off your shoes”, we are more connected to the earth, whether we are walking barefoot through grass, or squeezing mud between our toes, or soaking our feet in the cold water of a rushing river, or stepping on a rough rock. God created us from the elements of the earth (Genesis 2) and when we take off our shoes, we reconnect with the One who shaped and formed us.

Take off your shoes---mystery. Take off your shoes---earthiness. Both are biblical. God is above us, beyond us, but also within us and in the midst of us. We are created in the image of God, and from the dust of the earth. And then God speaks: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob”. This is not a generic God, this is not an amorphous religious experience. This is the God of your fathers and mothers.

Moses hides his face. It is too much to take in. Moses, in the presence of God…what is going on, in the mind of God, what is God thinking? “I have seen the affliction of my people”, God says. Think of the teacher who noticed the affliction of a little girl. “God is watching us, from a distance”, the Africa University Choir sang, a few weeks ago. We can hide human suffering and torture, but God sees. “I have seen the affliction of my people, and I know their suffering”. The biblical word for know means to be intimate with. God is personally connected to human suffering. That teacher was connected to the suffering of her student: “I wish you were my little girl”. When human beings suffer, the God of the Bible suffers.

“I have seen the affliction of my people, I know their suffering, I have come down to deliver them”. God takes sides. God is not neutral. God always comes down on the side of human suffering. “I have come down to deliver them”, God says. “How?” Here is where it gets interesting. God says, “I have come down to deliver them…I am sending you!” I am sending you to Pharoah! 300 miles to the west were the Pyramids. Think of the power, the size, of all they represented. Think of the most powerful human being on the planet. Go back to the guy just going about his business, Moses.

“I am sending you to Pharoah”, God says. Have you ever been asked to do something that was beyond your strength, your expertise, your power? Well, Moses has been there too. God is calling him to do something big, something that will alleviate the suffering of his people. “You are going to free my people”, God says. “You are going to bring them out of Egypt”, God says.

It is all sinking in, with Moses, the enormity of it all, the impossibility of it all. And then along with the call, a promise, in chapter three, verse 12: “I will be with you”.
God has interrupted Moses’ life, and God is laying on him a pretty big assignment. Moses is working it out in his own mind, and in the remainder of chapters three and four he carries on this conversation. Moses gives four reasons why God has asked the wrong person.

First, Moses says, “who am I?” to do this. In other words, when God wants to do something big in the world, God chooses a big person, right. “I am not that kind of person”. This is the way the world thinks. I was a part of a group of citizens, working on a project that would improve our city and even our region. How could we get it done? Let’s ask __________ (you fill in the blank) to be the chair of it! Then it would happen.

Listen to these words from I Corinthians 1. 26-29. "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise, by human standards. Not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and dispised in the world, things that are not, To reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God".

God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We think, “I’m not capable, I’m not special, I’m not worthy”…God responds by saying, “Are you available?” Availability trumps capability and credentials every time.

Second, Moses says, “Who are you?” Who will I say has sent me? Where does my authority come from? What knowledge do I have to share? We do sometimes hesitate to speak for God, to share his name, because we think I need more authority (let the preacher do it) or I need more training (then I would feel comfortable. Who are you? God says, I AM WHO I AM. In other words, “God’s name is enough, God’s power is enough, if we trust in the name of God and speak it, it will make its own way.

Third, Moses says, “What if I fail? What if they don’t believe me?” None of us wants to fail. I’ve been called to teach a children’s Sunday School class…what if I can’t control them? I’ve been called to lead a group of youth..what if they don’t like me? I’ve been called to lead a committee…what if I make some kind of mistake? I’ve been called to visit newcomers…what if I ‘m terrible at it? I’ve been called to be the senior minister of Providence United Methodist Church? What if I really mess it up?

God gives Moses a sign, actually three signs. We will talk about the signs and plagues in a couple of weeks. Often God gives us a sign. Yes, it’s a challenge sometimes, but if it weren’t a challenge, you wouldn’t need God, would you, you wouldn’t have to trust, would you?

The last excuse. Moses says, “You want me to speak to Pharoah, but I’m really not a good speaker…now my brother Aaron, he is a good speaker. Send someone else!” Have you ever found yourself saying that…you must have me confused with someone else, ask them! The excuses come easily for Moses---they do for us as well---but Moses is obedient. He goes to Pharoah, and says, “let my people go”. God uses Moses, just like God uses us. God calls Moses, and God calls you, and me.

The holy ground is the place where God becomes real to us, where we hear a call to do something, where we wrestle with it, and where we respond in obedience.

Some of us might need to turn aside and listen, and maybe for the first time in your life God is real, God is speaking, God is calling for some kind of decision. Some of us might need to take off your shoes. Church, religion, has become too familiar. God is calling you to remember his holiness. Some of us are wrestling with God over some call. It just doesn’t go away. Some of us are ready to do something courageous. Why not? Why not confront Pharoah? If God is for us, who can be against us? God is real, the bush is burning, the ground is holy, Pharoah is there. God is whispering our name. What will we say? What will we do? God is waiting.

Sources: John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason. New Interpreter’s Bible: Exodus. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, www.gratefulness.org, “Sacramental Life: Take Off Your Shoes”. Maxie Dunnam, The Communicator’s Commentary, “Exodus”.

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Blogger Diana said...

Exodus (Greek: "departure") is the second book of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament, in which Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt. The book opens with the Israelites in Egypt, having been welcomed there at the end of Genesis. The Israelites settle in Egypt and grow in numbers. A new Pharaoh oppresses them to the point of ordering that the male Israelite babies be massacred. A Levite couple hides their infant son to protect him, and a daughter of the Pharaoh finds him, names him Moses, sportsbook, and raises him as her son. After killing an Egyptian guard who had been whipping Israelites, Moses flees Egypt. He meets God, who tells him to return to Egypt to liberate the Israelites. Moses returns, and God sends plagues to demonstrate his power. Finally, the Pharaoh relents and lets Moses lead the Israelites away. They travel for years through the wilderness, receive a covenant and its laws, and then displease God by creating a golden calf to worship. Moses wins God's forgiveness for his people, and they build the tabernacle. http://www.enterbet.com

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