Take Off Your Shoes!

Take Off Your Shoes!

14th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Mitch Coggin September 3, 2023 Proper 17 A

As we heard last week, Moses grew up in Egypt in Pharaoh’s court. He grew up with privilege and later learned of his people’s plight when he killed an Egyptian man abusing a Hebrew. Moses fled when Pharaoh sought to kill him and he escaped to Midian. There he married and was keeping his father-in-law’s flock when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

As Moses approached Horeb, something far from normal happened to him. He saw a bush burning without being consumed. Obviously, this piqued his interest so he decided to have a closer look. Then God called to him out of the bush and even called him by name, “Moses. Moses.”

Moses rightfully thought, “I need to pay attention to this. I need to stop what I am doing and listen.”

God instructed him, “Don’t come any closer, take off your sandals because where you are standing is holy ground.”

Why would this common place be considered holy ground? Isn’t this just dirt and rocks and maybe some grass that he was able to find for the sheep? Perhaps there is a new understanding for holy ground. It is the place where God’s presence is seen and felt. It is the place God spoke to Moses to get his attention so Moses is able to hear what God has for him to do.

Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look. I think we can understand that. This was a supernatural event that would rattle any of us. God calms Moses’ fear. God says, I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God wants Moses to remember who he is by reminding him who God is. Moses had forgotten his Hebrew heritage and what was important to him.

God explains to Moses that he was in touch with the misery of his people in Egypt and had heard their cry. He had seen their suffering and he had come to deliver them. God explains to Moses his mission to free the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s rule and lead God’s people out of Egypt. God reminded Moses that he would be with him just as he was in that place at that moment.

In the very beginning, God asked Moses to take off his shoes to get ready for what God was preparing him to do. God was asking Moses to do what seemed impossible. On what holy ground do we stand, without even being aware?

In the second passage we read, Paul shows his love for this Roman church and his letter details how they were to become a Christian community in a secular city. Chapter 12 begins, “Do not be conformed but transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect which is your spiritual worship.” This sets the stage for Paul’s instruction in verses 9-21 that we read.

In these verses there are 23 separate imperatives that guide how we are to act, think, and behave as a transformed community. These imperatives include: “let your love be genuine, hold fast to what is good, serve the Lord, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” Do these seem like impossible tasks?

Transformed individuals become a transformed community. What does it mean to be a transformed community? What would it mean to consider people’s actions assuming that their motives are good even if at first glance we may expect the opposite?

You may have seen this article in Thursday’s Times Colonist. UBC researchers gave an unconditional cash transfer of $7,500 to 50 people experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver. They compared the people’s spending for the next 12 months.

In a parallel U.S. survey, the researchers reported people predicted that unhoused recipients of the cash would spend 81% on temptations– such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Contrary to those assumptions, the B.C. study showed that the cash helped reduce homelessness. The recipients actually spent the money on housing, clothing, food, and transit. The results disproved people’s perceptions.

This story is an example of the imperatives about which Apostle Paul writes. “Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not repay evil for evil but take thought for what is nobel in the sight of all; and extend hospitality to strangers. That is how we reflect generosity toward those both in and outside of the church.

What perceptions do we have in our own community that need to be challenged and changed? This is the seemingly impossible task of “taking off our shoes” to which we are called.

Walter Brueggeman describes that to live in harmony requires us to swallow some of our favorite agenda in order that the world can see the power of God that draws us beyond our own righteous purposes.

We return to the place and call where God shows us the impossible and guides us to do the difficult ministries that we think we can’t do.

Take off your shoes, where you are standing is holy ground.