Saturday, August 27, 2011

Take Off, Take Off Your Shoes

28 August 2011/Proper 17A – Exodus 3:1-15/Romans 12:9-21/Matthew 16:21-28
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
Take Off, Take Off Your Shoes
Moses and the burning bush. Moses is a fugitive on the run. He is tending his father-in-law’s flock. A bush is burning but is not consumed. A voice speaks to him from the burning bush. Moses approaches the bush but the voice says, “Stop and come no closer. Remove your sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses, the fugitive from the law, is then called to lead a mission – to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt into new life in a new land. Moses wants to know to whom he is speaking. Wouldn’t we all?

In perhaps the single most iconic moment in the Bible the bush replies, “I am who I am….tell them ‘I am’ has sent me to you.” This is key to understanding the entire New Testament.

Jesus repeatedly says to people, “I am….” “I am the true vine,” “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven,” “I am the way….”

Remembering all this gives this episode with Jesus and Peter make sense. Jesus tells everyone willing to listen that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed and on the third day rise again from the dead. Peter says, in effect, “No way! God forbid! I just identified you as the Christ, God’s anointed one, God’s messiah, and now you are saying this? This must never happen!”

Do we see what happens in that moment? Peter forgets to take off his shoes. Peter forgets he is standing on Holy Ground? For you see, Peter is talking to “I am.”

This is the great scandal of Christianity – Jesus and the voice in the bush are one and the same. This has been a scandal from the very beginning. Peter is not alone. Well meaning Christians, bishops even, are writing books right now saying, “God forbid! This cannot be! Jesus was just a man like you and me. Nothing more, nothing less.”

If those who deny our Lord is Lord of all are right we might as well sleep in on Sunday morning. The only sin greater than idolatry would be the sin of hubris – excessive pride or arrogance. Peter has it. Those abandoning our experience of Jesus as God AND Man have it. The Church often has it. Our nation often has it. And the moment that I identify someone else as having it, I am in danger of having it. That’s just how pervasive and tricky hubris is.

Listening to Naomi Tutu addressing the Opening Convocation at Saint Timothy’s School for Girls on Saturday, her main point was that a good education should help you to see and to learn those things about which you are wrong, but usually feel that you are so right. Like Peter, we really don’t like that. We never want to learn that we are wrong about anything – and that is when hubris gets in our way.

Look at the Church’s history. A long history of Anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, complicity with slavery, racism….the list goes on and on. Our country, arguably the best nation on earth, frequently suffers from the sort hubris that believes that the entire world would be better off if every country and everyone were just like us. Not to mention just how we have utterly ignored the urgings of Saint Paul to leave vengeance to the Lord, to feed our enemies if hungry, and give them something to drink if they are thirsty. Jesus himself urges us to love our enemies. How often do these words appear in our public rhetoric? There are all kinds of assertions that ours is a “Christian” nation. Just where do humility and love of enemies play a role in our nation’s common life? Whether those enemies are on the other side of the world or just on the other side of the aisle?

I believe we are meant to see that the antidote to hubris is taking off our shoes. We are to honor others, not vilify them. We are to remember we are standing on Holy Ground. Shoes are a sign of affluence, bare feet are a sign of humility and solidarity with those Jesus loves, the poor, the disadvantaged, those who are lonely and isolated due to bigotry and discrimination of all kinds.

Taking off our shoes begins with believing that this is God’s world, God’s creation, the earth and everything therein (Psalm 124). It begins with an attitude of gratitude, of thanksgiving for all that this good earth has to provide for us. Taking off our shoes means recognizing that we stand on Holy Ground on this earth, before God and before one another.

Some years ago, at least 60 or more, Woody Guthrie wrote this song – a modern-day psalm, really. Singing it may help to bring us back to an understanding of where we are, which may help us remember who we are and whose we are. Peter, like Moses before him, eventually took off his shoes and listened to the Lord. With any luck we may, like Peter, get back to our rightful places behind Jesus and let him lead us the way to life in its fullest. Or, like Moses, against all odds, strive for justice and peace for all people, leading people out of bondage into freedom – helping the world to be a place where all people are recognized as God’s people.


Holy Ground
Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The spot you’re standing, its holy ground

These words I heard in my burning bush
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
I heard my fiery voice speak to me
This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground

That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Every spot it’s holy ground
Every little inch it’s holy ground
Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Words –Woody Guthrie, copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc 2001


Hear Holy Ground: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ILetyPjTBw

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