Saturday, September 22, 2012

Take Off Your Shoes And Live

22 September 2012/Proper 20B – James 3:13- 4:3, 7-8a/Mark 9:30-37
Take Off Your Shoes
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” – James 4: 8a
Deep in the human heart is an insatiable longing to see the face of God and live. This desire lies at the heart of all world religions, and in the Judeo-Christian traditions finds its most tender expression in the Psalms, ancient songs that express the deepest and broadest spectrum of human desire: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.” Ps 4:6

Yet, we also find the Lord on Mount Sinai warning Moses that no one can see God’s face and live [Exodus 33:17-23]. Christians believe, however, that God himself has responded to our deepest desire in coming to us as one of us in Jesus. Jesus whom the Fourth Gospel, John, identifies as the Word, the logos, which we are told, was with God before creation, and is God, and is the eternal Word that grounds all of creation – everyone and everything there is throughout the vast expanse of interstellar space we call the Universe.

In the face of Jesus we see the face of God “who is the source of all creation and its final end.” [The Glenstal Book of Icons, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN:2002/p43] In Jesus we are offered a vision of God’s eternal Love and Compassion as he places a child in the midst of the disciples and says, “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

His disciples had been arguing, something the Letter of James stridently urges people of God not to do. They were arguing as to who among them is the greatest. Jesus places a child in their midst and self-identifies with the child, and identifies God – the one who sent me – with the child.

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. We are to no longer see them as victims, as leeches sucking the resources out of society, but as those people our Lord loves dearly.

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 called to be. 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. If you wish to draw near to God, if you wish to see the face of God and live, you must welcome those who spend their lives at the very bottom of human society. To have any chance of seeing God you must welcome them into your midst, into your heart, into your life. Archbishop William Temple once said, “The source of humility is the habit of realizing the presence of God.”

Here, says Jesus, is the presence of God. Jesus says the presence of God is in our midst – come forward and welcome the presence of God with humility. 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 our 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.

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 fellowship of God’s journeying people on Earth.

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? Do we consider all persons as Holy Icons of the face of God?

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

To seek and serve Christ, the face of God, in all persons, God asks that we begin by taking off our shoes and acknowledging that the other who stands before us is also standing on Holy Ground. It is something to ponder in a world where we find ourselves constantly tempted by those things and those persons who represent power and status and are always demanding our attention to see them as the greatest, the best and the sole sources of our salvation. So often when we are so tempted we end up dividing ourselves against one another.

Instead we are asked to humble ourselves before the face of God as God is represented in the least of our sisters and brothers – the child in our midst. No one less than Woody Guthrie expressed it well in a song of his that was put to music posthumously by Frank London of The Klezmatics. As we listen to this song, this modern day Psalm, may we be brought closer to God, closer to others, and closer to ourselves:
Holy Ground
Words by Woody Guthrie, 1954, Music by Frank London (The Klezmatics), 2003

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
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 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 © Copyright 2001 Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD

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