Saturday, September 19, 2009

Draw Near To God

20 September 2009/Proper 20 – James 3:13- 4:3, 7-8a/Mark 9:30-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Draw Near to God

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” – James 4: 8a
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” -Mark 9: 37

This is the time in the Liturgy of the Word when we seek to find a way to apply the Word of God to our day to day lives, and our life of corporate worship. We recall that one of the Four Holy Habits is Weekly Corporate Worship – The Eucharist, an act of Thanksgiving.

Whatever else our Epistle and Gospel may be about, one readily sees a common theme at the end of each lesson: draw near to God, welcome God – the one who sent Jesus to be among us.

At the core of what we believe our Sunday mornings are all about is a belief that Jesus is present – in theological parlance we call this The Real Presence of Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. That’s a mouthful, for sure.

So how have and how do God’s people welcome God’s presence? How do we acknowledge God’s presence?

There is a full spectrum of behaviors ranging from silence and taking off one’s shoes to flat-out joyful celebration. The Eucharist attempts to blend all of this together.

One thing we evidently are not to do is argue with one another! Arguing is not only a poor way to welcome Jesus and draw near to God, but it just does not appeal to visitors and others who might come in the door. Jesus repeatedly shows little interest in “getting things right” or finding out who is right and who is wrong when it comes to worship and life in general.

Jesus comes from a tradition that begins with taking off our shoes. Recall Moses at the burning bush where the bush, the voice of God, tells Moses to take off his shoes. “Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is Holy Ground.” Exodus 3: 5

Now in a number of places and cultures this is still taken literally: enter a Mosque and you are required to take off your shoes. Enter a home in Japan and you are expected to take off your shoes. It is a sign of respect, and a sign of humility. It is such humility that Jesus finds lacking in his disciples. The same is true today.

In God’s kingdom there is no room for those who think they are the greatest! There is plenty of room for those who welcome the least of our sisters and brothers into their midst – children represent those people who live every day at the bottom of the human totem pole – at the bottom of our society.

Children had the status of just above dog or slave in those days – so the metaphor is rich and telling of the kind of people we are. Children were not cuddly, and fawned over, but were generally cast aside – if they survived infancy, so be it. If not, so be it. By placing a child in the disciples midst, Jesus makes a statement of radical acceptance of all people among his followers.

Jesus wants us to take off our shoes. The Letter of James has been explicit about the radical inclusion of all people into the fellowship of Christ, the Church.

Taking off our shoes may also be a metaphor – remove those things that might signify stature among one another. Show respect for others by treating each person we meet as Holy Ground – as we stand before one another, do we respect one another as Holy?

There is no more important question to ask ourselves. In our baptism we promise to Seek and Serve Christ in ALL persons – see others, all others, as Holy, Sacred, God’s own Beloved. Treat others as we would treat God’s presence.

And God asks us to take off, take off our shoes. It is something to ponder as we gather week by week for corporate worship. In many places it means not talking during the prelude and postlude – treating that as Holy Time, quiet time, time to draw near to God.

It may mean observing the Silence called for before we Confess our Sins, and as the Body of Christ is Broken at the Altar. There are many ways to draw near to God. As we do, God draws near to us.

Take off, take off your shoes
The place you’re standing, is Holy Ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The place you’re standing, is Holy Ground

This place is Holy, Holy Ground
God made this place, His Holy Ground
This place is Holy, Holy Ground
God made this place, His Holy Ground
( Words - Woody Guthrie)

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