Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES
September 6, 2017
There is a very popular TED talk out there called “Start with Why”. You should look it up, it’s a great talk by a guy who has done some research on why some businesses fail and why some succeed. His answer is that that ones that succeed know what it is they are all about. In other words they start with “Why”. Why are we in existence? Why do we make what we do or provide the service we provide? Why should you buy from us? And his thesis is that if you provide a compelling “why” then people will want in – because as humans we are designed for purpose. We want to know the bigger plan, the deeper reason, we want to know why.
As we kick off this new season of The Gathering I wonder if it might be beneficial to remind ourselves of the why of The Gathering. Of course, a worship service is not a business. But it's still important to think about they why.
On the inside flap of your worship guide you will see our why:
~ rest from our hectic and broken lives, bringing our whole selves before God
~ connection with God through God’s Spirit
~ encouragement to live as Christ-followers in the world
This is our Why. This is why we do what we do in the way we do it. We are glad that you are here with us – part of this journey. Let us pray…
God as we open your word this night we pray that you will give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand what it is you want us to know and learn. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our scripture tonight is from Exodus Chapter 3 verses 1-15 and it’s the first part of the story of the calling of Moses. The whole story of his calling takes place throughout chapter 3 but the lectionary pulls out just verses 1 – 15 for us tonight. So you can follow along on the back of your worship guide or in your Bible or on your device but listen to the Word of God for the People of God from Exodus 3:1-15
3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
Tonight I want us to look at what it means to take off our shoes before God, what it means to recognize the sacred and holy in our lives and what it means to be vulnerable and open to that sacredness.
So you will remember that Moses is actually in hiding. He grew up in Egypt as part of Pharaoh’s household – but he was a Hebrew raised by Pharaoh’s daughter as a basket from the Nile refugee. So he saw what was happening to his people – but he saw it from a distance. Except one day he came upon it face to face. On this day he saw an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew slave. And Moses exploded with anger and killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Moses became a hunted man. So he fled Egypt, settled down, got married and started a new life as a sheep herder.
And really, if you think about it, the story of Moses should have stopped there with him being just a forgotten sheep herder in a forgotten land. But God had a plan for Moses and God shows up to share that plan in a most awesome way.
Which brings us to our text tonight which starts with Moses just doing his thing: keeping the flock of his father-in-law. He’s just going about his normal business when God decides to interrupt. You know sometimes we experience God when we are really focused– trying to be in touch with God - maybe in a worship service or a retreat or maybe when we are praying or reading the Bible. But then sometimes God shows up when we aren’t even expecting it – when we, like Moses, are just doing our thing: Commuting to work, picking up kids, buying peanut butter, watching the news. God shows up while Moses is going about his life and sometimes that’s when God shows up in ours as well.
Now of course God has to get Moses’ attention – just as God has to get our attention sometimes as well. I wonder what that would be for you? What would it take for God to get your attention? For Moses it’s seeing an angel and a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. I think that would do it for me as well. The bigger question is would we stop what we are doing long enough to investigate this attention getting thing that God has put in our lives? Moses does stop. And the text tells us that he turns and puts his attention on the bush that is burning but not burning up.
And it’s here that we notice something interesting. Notice that Moses does not hear the voice of God until God has Moses’ attention. (vs. 4 “When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.”) It’s almost as if God is saying, “Hey, I’m not going to harass you or scream at you or throw directions at you – until I’m sure that I have your attention. Until I know that you are listening.” I think this is why it’s so important that we regularly set aside time to say, God, you’ve got my attention. But not only that, I think we have to be prepared to see the burning bushes in our lives.
I think that if that bush had been burning in Buckhead most people would have just walked on by and not even noticed. Pay attention to God! And then God will speak.
So God starts speaking and Moses responds in well, really, the only way one can respond to God’s call: Here I am.
Which brings us to the place where I’d like us to sit with the text, just for a little bit, tonight. The very first thing God tells Moses is not: “Do not fear” which we often hear from angelic appearances. It’s not a declaration of who God is – we get that later in the text. Rather it’s a command: Come no further – take off your shoes.
Take off your shoes. What does this mean exactly?
Well the first thing we have to remember is our Middle Eastern culture. In this culture and even to this day – feet are seen as the most unclean, lowest part of the body. And shoes, which are associated with feet are also seen as dirty and certainly not holy.
So if you really want to insult someone in an Arab culture, you show them the bottom of your shoe. If you really, really want to insult them take off your shoe and hit them with it or throw it at them. We saw this when President Bush as visiting Iraq once and a report threw a shoe at him. Shoes are the opposite of holy.
And holiness is the reason God gives for wanting Moses to take off his shoes. Moses has stumbled onto Holy Ground and as such keeping his shoes one is an affront to that holiness and sacredness. Moses has to take off his shoes because his shoes represent the secular and the ground he is on is sacred.
Too often I think we miss it when we are faced with holiness. I think we blow past the sacred in our lives and keep on walking with our shoes on. By taking off his shoes Moses is intentionally recognizing the holy place that he is in. Do we do that? Not take off our shoes – but do we recognize the holy in our lives when we come across it? I think too often the answer is no.
Last week I had to take our son Evan to the doctor. And as you know, Evan has autism. This was a medicine check up. We have started him on some medication that is supposed to help with his anxiety and it’s been working great. And one reason I know it’s been working great is that at the Doctor’s office (which he normally hates) he just rolled with everything. Normally he would get upset and anxious but at this visit he was doing great. But then he had to take off his shoes to get weighed. Which he did great. But instead of just carrying his shoes to the examination room he had to put them back on and then walk to the examination room and then take them off again. And I found in that moment that I was the one getting anxious. I was the one not dealing well with life. And I totally missed the holiness of that moment. He was walking to the examination room without crying, without running, just doing his thing. And it was holy. And I missed it.
God tells Moses to take off his shoes because God wants Moses to recognize that what is happening to him is holy. Maybe tonight God is asking US to take off our shoes and recognize what is holy in our lives as well.
I think there is a second reason God asks Moses to take off his shoes and that is vulnerability. You see when we take off our shoes we are exposed. We feel a little out there. The worst part of flying is having to take off your shoes – right? It just feels vulnerable. What if I have to run? What if people see my socks? What if my feet get some feet disease from all the other feet that have walked here before me?
When we take off our shoes we are vulnerable.
But I wonder if that’s not the point? You see we like to be in charge. We like to have our crap together. We like to look as though we know what we are doing. And so we will tend to take steps to bolster that image and that feeling. But God seems to be saying here that when you come to me – you have to be vulnerable. You have to be broken. You have to stop with the act and the masks and the false perfection. We come to God as broken people – not as perfect people.
This is SO hard for us to do. We live in a city where brokenness is not a virtue. We live in a culture where vulnerability is seen as weakness. We live our lives with our fists up, protecting ourselves from what might be coming at us. But God is saying – no, if you want to hear my voice, you’re going to have to take off your shoes. You’re going to have to come to me just as you are – in your brokenness and sin and pain because that’s what brings connection.
Brene’ Brown has written: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.” I think she’s right.
So as we come to the table tonight let us remember two things. We are standing on holy ground. And we come to God with brokenness and vulnerability.
Let us pray.