Friday, 1 September 2017

Moses, the burning bush & Holy Ground

The story of Moses turning aside to meet God in the burning bush is one that is both well known and well loved by many people.  It is also a story which has great depth of meaning and can challenge us on many levels.

This morning I want to explore with you a number of aspects of the story and how they relate to us today.

First, I want us to consider the concept of Holy Ground.

Second, to think about, where it is that we might meet God.

Third, will be to consider what happens when meet God and how we will most likely respond.

Lastly, we will be looking at the concept of God’s presence through the lens of Jesus.

So, to the concept of Holy Ground!  When Moses turns aside to see the burning bush God instructs him to take off his shoes because he is standing on Holy Ground.  I took off my shoes this morning at the beginning of the worship to get you to think about this idea of reverence in God’s presence.

Why is this ground Holy?  I think that the holiness is not in the earth itself, the dust and grit and grime, but rather the place is made Holy at that moment because God is there in a particular way with Moses.

This is an important distinction to make because I believe that throughout the history of both Judaism and Christianity we do see a tendency towards idolatry of place.

In the story of the healing of Naaman the leper by Elisha, which occurs in the second book of Kings, it is interesting to see Naaman request 2 cartloads of the soil to take home with him so that he might worship Elisha’s God.  It is as if God is located in the soil itself.

This kind of overplaying of the importance of land or ground or Holy Space has long been with us.  It is not that I think have buildings or special places in which we believe we encounter is unimportant but I would want to challenge when we begin to hold on to the Holy Space or Ground over against the relationship with God, even unintentionally.

Think for a moment about our own church buildings and the concept of Holy Ground.  This morning I was very deliberate about the acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Turbaal people.  We have built our buildings and laid claim to this as Holy Ground over the top of another people, for which this land itself may have been sacred in some way.

As an aside in this last month it was the anniversary of the  pastoral workers strike led by Vincent Lingiari.  A strike that went for 8 years and led to one of those iconic images that is etched into our Australian history of the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring a handful of sand from his hand into Vincent’s hand.  It was a symbolic retuning of sacred ground.

In terms of this building in which we meet whilst it may carry sentimental and historical value for us as a sacred space it should also be understood in a broader history of who we are as Australian people and that we have set this space aside for us to meet with God.  I wonder this morning did you have that sense of taking of your shoes, did you come expecting that God would speak to you and call you to ministry or are you simply here going through the motions?  The space only retains its value if we are expectant and responsive to the God who will send us from here.

As I thought about this taking off our shoes to enter God’s presence on Holy ground I was struck by me memories of the times I have been into Mosques to observe Islamic worship.  There are rows of racks where the worshippers place their shoes before entering the worship space.  They take off their shoes as they meet with God.

Yet I am also aware that in their daily prayer, which they are to engage in 5 times each and every day, people cannot always come to the mosque.  So they take off their shoes wherever they are and facing Mecca pray.

The point seems to be that it is not the venue itself that is Holy but God’s presence whenever we enter into it.  A concept which I believe we could learn from.

This leads me from these thoughts about Holy Ground to what it is that Moses was doing when saw the burning bush.  Moses hadn’t gone to church; he wasn’t at daily prayer or listening to a sermon.  Moses was at work.

He had fled Egypt and was accepted into the Midianite family that he had come into contact with, marrying one of Jethro’s daughters.  Such was his place that he was trusted with the flock the family’s wealth.

Moses had not gone seeking God, no God had come to him in the midst of his mundane and probably quite difficult task of tending the flock.

When Moses saw the burning bush he turned aside; he stopped to be with God.

This is a reminder for all of us that Holy ground is not somewhere we construct like this building but somewhere, anywhere that God comes to us.

In the midst of our daily labour whether we are at home or in the community we should be looking out for the burning bush of God’s presence and we should like Moses be prepared to turn aside and listen for what God might have to say.

Too often I believe we want to restrict the possibilities of God speaking to us to church on a Sunday, or our daily devotionals, or when we are gathered in some holy huddle.  But God speaks to us and meet with us anywhere and when he does God calls us.

This brings me to the third point about Moses response to God’s call.  Moses response is to question his value, his gifts, his very existence: who am I?

This existential crisis for Moses is a denial and dodging of God’s call – I’m not good enough, why me, I’m not holy enough, can’t someone else do it.

I want to share my favourite story about the burning bush, it is a story told by Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the world Dominican order.

"In May 2004 I was taken to the monastery of St Catherine's, at the foot of Mt Sinai. At 3:30 pm in the afternoon, when all sensible people are asleep and 'only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun', we walked past the shrine of the burning bush and climbed the mountain of the Lord... As I walked past the shrine of the burning bush, I was delighted to notice beside it a large red fire extinguisher. It looked so old it might have been there since Moses. It seemed to symbolise our ambivalent relationship to the word that comes from the burning bush, and the perpetual temptation to quench it."

Timothy Radcliffe "Do Not Put Out The Burning Bush" in Don't Put out the Burning Bush ed. Vivian Boland, ATF Press 2008.

I wonder at times whether too many of us in our ambivalence are carrying a fire extinguisher in fear that the burning bush of God’s presence might come to us and God might call us to follow and serve.

Yet for those of us who are Christians is this not meant to be what we do.  Listen for God and respond obediently to God’s call on our lives – even when we don’t think we have the capacity to do what God is asking of us.

Every one of us who is baptised is called into the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ – in our work place, in our relationships, in our families, in our community, the places where we can and do meet God.

This brings me to the promise of God and the conclusion of this sermon.  God’s response to Moses existential crisis and doubt is the promise that God will be with him.  It is a promise which gives Moses the courage to respond to God’s call.

As Christians reading this story the idea that God is with us is powerfully altered by the advent of Jesus Christ who is called Emmanuel – which literally means God is with us.

In Jesus God walks among us and the promise of the Holy Spirit is that our lives our drawn into Christ’s life, that he is with us and we are with him.  But more than that, Jesus indicates that we will meet him in poor and prisoner and the hungry and the sick.  God is with us in each other and in the people in the world around us.

This too is Holy Ground: people’s lives and their stories.  I met a man in the coffee shop the other day and he shared with me some of his story.  In that moment I knew I was on Holy Ground, the Holy Ground of his life, and that in our conversation I believe God was speaking to me.

The story of Moses and the burning bush takes us deep into our faith and what it means to meet with God, to listen to God, to respond God and to serve God’s purposes.

We are on Holy Ground now not because of these walls around us but because here God speaks the good news of Jesus Christ to us and calls us to go out into the world to meet God again and again in the moments of our days and our weeks and to respond in faith.

Now in the silence I invite you to remember God’s presence and listen for what God is calling you to do this day.  Amen.