Holy Ground

Exodus 3:1-12; Matthew 16:21-28 – August 30, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS 3:1-12

There arose a “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” He oppressed the Hebrews and asked them to make bricks without straw. This new Pharaoh was threatened by the sheer numbers of the Hebrew slaves and issued an edict that all the Hebrew baby boys to be killed when they were born.  Two of the Hebrew midwives named Shipra and Puah defied those orders and baby boys continued to be born. (It was a midwife crisis!) Because the Hebrews continued to increase the Pharaoh issued another order that all the baby boys to be killed, but one boy was put in the river and rescued and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.  The royal princess named that baby Moses. That baby boy grew up as a prince of Egypt. One day saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave and in anger he rose up and killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.  Moses fled and went to the land of Midian where he went through a midlife crisis and changed his career from a prince to a shepherd.  One day, while Moses was minding his own business Moses heard God’s call. Hear the word of God from Exodus 3:1-10

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 16:21-28

Centuries later in another deserted place Jesus is with his disciples.  Peter has just made the most brilliant statement of his time with Jesus.  Peter said about Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!”  Jesus congratulates Peter on receiving this revelation directly from God.

But as we continue reading in chapter 16, we see Peter, the Rock, who got it right just moments before, now gets it wrong.  What he says moments after getting it right, is so contrary to what Jesus’ mission is that Jesus accuses Peter of being in league with the ultimate enemy – Satan.

***

I once read about Queen Isabella of Spain who finally agreed to let Columbus try a fourth time to find a route to the Indies.  She said that she had only bathed twice in her life when she was born and the day she was married. (eww).

Moses had not bathed in a long time.  He was dirty and sweaty.  He arrives at this place on the barren north forty where he has taken the flock to graze. There is nothing holy about that place. There is no shrine, no temple. Moses is minding his own business, tending sheep, when he stumbles his way into this unlikeliest of places to encounter God… on a mountain.  Suddenly this bush flames up. In West Texas we know about burning bushes.  a piece of glass reflecting light can light a fire that will burn acres of bushes. California knows about burning forests.

This burning bush fires Moses curiosity. It is burning …but it is not.  It is burning but it is not being consumed.  It is not enough that a bush burns but does not burn mysteriously, but then the BUSH STARTS TALKING!

On Animal Planet the other night I saw a dog that could say “I Rove you.”  (in a Scooby Doo accent) But at least a dog has vocal chords.   A bush does not.

This unburning talking shrubbery not only talks, it calls Moses by name!  twice!  “Moses. Moses.”

There is something about somebody calling our names that makes us pay attention. It could mean life or death, particularly if we are crossing the street at the time.  When my daughter was in the 7th grade, she was crossing the street from her Jr. High in the crosswalk and someone called her name and she stopped, and a car hit her.  It was a glancing blow.  It hit her arm and her arm knocked the side mirror off the door of the car.  The woman who hit her wanted us to pay for the damage to her car because Abbey stopped in the crosswalk. She was in the cross walk in a school zone!   We did not pay.

Moses hears his name and he is drawn closer. Next comes an invitation to make contact, physical contact. The voice from the bush says, “Moses, take off your shoes.” Too often, I think, we interpret this to mean, “Take off your shoes so you don’t defile God.” If that were the case, though, we would leave our shoes on, because our smelly feet would be even more offensive than our sandals, wouldn’t they? (Remember Queen Isabella?)  Consider instead that this was an invitation to make contact.  Moses cannot touch the bush, but his feet can come in contact with the ground with which the bush is in contact.

God, who centuries later would come among us as Jesus, is not worried about remaining antiseptically remote from us. God wants to come and be with us, to make contact, not to avoid it.

God says to Moses, “Take off your shoes.  I know, Moses, that you are a murderer and a fugitive. I know all about you. I am God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. I created you.  Come on, take off your shoes, Moses, and spend some time with me.”. Take off your shoes and come into direct contact with me. Touch me. Experience me. Moses. It has been a long, hard road for you, Moses. Relax. And do not worry. Take off your shoes.”

Holiness does not depend on the condition of the place nor the condition of the person. Holiness depends on the presence of God.  What makes this deserted place on top of a mountain holy is the presence of God.  God is present wherever you are watching this service. It is a holy place. It is holy ground.  I wonder… would you join me in a little experiment?   I want to invite you to take off your shoes.  This is your mountain this morning. The Lord is present even on the other end of a screen.  Your feet are on holy ground.  Get ready for God’s call to you.

After a while, Moses is asked by this voice from the bush, “Do something for me, will you, Moses?  My people in Egypt are suffering from heat, overwork, exhaustion, dehydration, loss of liberty — and I feel for them. Go and help them, will you, Moses? Tell them I sent you. I will be with you. You will not see me, and that is the tough part, Moses. You will not see me any more than you see me now, but I will be with you. I promise.”

Moses answers God something like this. “God, I’ll look like a fool — saying you sent me, especially if you’re not visible. They’ll say, ‘We don’t see him. What’ll I do to prove it was you who sent me?”

God answers, “You can try a few miracles, but in the end you can only say, ‘God sent me.”

Then Moses falls back on his disability. “I can’t speak very well, God.” (Even though he grew up speaking Egyptian).  He is basically saying, “Here I am, send Aaron.”  To that, God replies, “I know that Moses.  But you are the one I want.  You can take your brother Aaron along. He would love to try public speaking. He enjoys getting up in front of crowds. I’ll be with both of you.”

When God calls your name, especially when he says it twice, we better take it seriously.  When God calls your name, whether it’s to serve as an elder or a deacon or to sing the choir, to teach a class or to take a call to be an interim pastor for Joyful Life Lutheran in Magnolia, or to take a person to lunch or to share your faith with a friend or…a stranger.  …take it seriously.  as Moses took it seriously when he answered God’s call.

In our gospel lesson Peter has just answered Jesus’ question about who people say that he is. In verse 21 we read, From this moment on. From what moment on?  From the moment Peter made his insightful comment, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”  From that moment on Jesus began explaining to his disciples what was ahead for him for God’s call on his life.  From that moment on Jesus began to speak about the cross.   

Perhaps you already know this, but it is the key to understanding this scripture. Peter, the disciples, the crowds, the Jewish leaders, all of them, the whole nation saw the coming Messiah as a military man who would unite the country to overthrow the Romans.  They were oppressed.  They expected their savior to deliver them from their oppression just at Moses delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. 

But from the moment that Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God Jesus began to tell his disciples of his defeat and death on a cross.

But Peter will have no part of it. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Let us suppose for a moment that it never did happen.  Let us assume what it would have been like for Jesus to not go to the cross. Where would that leave us?  

The Christian faith without the cross is a sect without a savior. It would leave us with a man from Nazareth who proclaimed great truths but who never demonstrated that he was any more than an innovative inspiring teacher. It would leave us with a common Jew who some labeled as Messiah but who did not establish a Kingdom of Heaven nor a kingdom on earth. It would leave us with a poor Palestinian peasant who got the attention of Rome but who never occupied a seat of power. It would leave us with a self-styled prophet who warned of the end times but whose time came to an end.  Without the cross we are left without a savior. Christianity without a cross is a creed without a cause. 

Jesus had some news for the disciples. If they were going to follow Him on into Jerusalem it would mean not only his death but a certain kind of death for them as well. We call it by many names: Self-denial, sacrificial behavior, servant hood, following the golden rule. Jesus explained it this way: If you want to become my follower you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.

Peter is in denial.  But he is not denying himself.  He is denying what Jesus has said.  Before it is all over, he will deny even knowing Jesus 3 times despite his denial that he would never deny Jesus.

 Peter supposes he knows more than his teacher and for that he is rebuked. His response that Jesus should not go to the cross is answered with a harsh rebuke: “Get behind me Satan,” says Jesus.

Scholars throughout history have tried to understand this. Was Satan really using Peter or was this just Jesus disciplining a disciple?  We will never know for sure. But it certainly means that Peter is being told to resume his proper role as a disciple. He is to learn from the master, not to try and teach him.  Jesus says, “You’re out of line.  Get back behind me and follow me.”
Peter got back in line.  Peter picked up his cross and followed Jesus. How about you?  Are you full of excuses like Moses saying, “I can’t speak well,” or “They can’t see you, or can we take this bush on the road?”  Are you confused and in denial or coming up with wrong ideas like Peter saying, “Jesus, you can’t go to Jerusalem?” 

Forget the excuses.  Jesus can use you.  If God can use a murderer and a fugitive to deliver Israel from Egypt, God can use you.  If God can use a guy who gets it right one minute and then gets it wrong a few minutes later to preach the first sermon of the church that nets 3,000 folks for the kingdom, God can use you.  If God can use me.  God can use you. 

When Charles Swindoll was a young boy, he was greatly influenced by this remark from an old Texan: “The problem with the Christian life is that it’s so daily.”

It is true. Following Jesus is a lifestyle that builds on past lessons and decisions, but it also depends on our dedication day by day. We cannot live off yesterday’s successes, last week’s prayers, or the Bible stories we heard when we were kids.

Each new day is both a challenge and an opportunity. Our faith will be challenged, and we can use that challenge as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself said that those who wanted to be His disciples were expected to be in a continual attitude of self-denial and obedience to Him.  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”.

As each day unfolds, we must pause and remind ourselves that this is a day dedicated to God, that it is to be used for His glory, and that it is best lived with a continual recollection of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Starting today, let us look at life that way. It is a daily commitment. Start each day with this question, “Lord how do you want to use me today?  Who will you bring into my path that you want me to love?  What do you want me to witness that will bring me closer to you, that will give me a clearer understanding of your Call on my life?”

Keith Miller puts it this way:  “It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day in, day out guts of our business lives and never realize it.

Jesus did not say “Take up your cross and follow me to church on Sunday morning, then you can do whatever you like the rest of the week.” Cross-bearing is a day-to-day activity for those who would follow Jesus”.

Would you please stand?  Where you are standing this morning is holy ground.  It is not holy because of the place it is… The ground is not holy because of the people standing on it. –we’re sinners like Moses and Peter… This is holy ground because of the presence of God where you are. 

The ground at the foot of the bush from which Moses received his call was holy ground. The ground at the foot of the cross from which Jesus fulfilled his call was holy ground.  The ground underneath the roof above you is holy ground.  For those who choose, for those who decide to take up their cross  DAILY and follow Jesus, the Lord is with them and wherever their feet take them, whether they have their shoes on or not, is holy ground.  Holy ground is underfoot wherever people listen and hear and obey God’s call. 

Let us pray. (Singing) We are standing on holy ground.  And I know that there are angels all around.  Let us praise Jesus now.  we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

Thank you, Lord, that you are in this place and that we, like Moses and Peter, stand on holy ground.  You are on the move.  You are not limited by time and space or to one place.  Thank you that you sought out Moses and called him and used him in a mighty way.  Thank you that you called Peter and used him in a mighty way.  Thank you that you have called us or even at this moment are calling some of us to say, “Yes, I will follow.”  We know you have mighty things in store for us. May our lives be filled with joy and may the abundant LIFE that Jesus came to give be ours because we have come into contact with You and have had a holy ground experience and have responded to God’s call.

  1. Our Daily Bread, February 12, 1997

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