13th Sunday after Pentecost
I was running behind schedule this week. We all know “life happens,” thus I was wondering if I could find a sermon I had preached in the past to use for this week’ s bulletin mailer. I don’t normally like to do that because like the stories in the Bible that were written for a specific reason, for a specific time, and for a specific people; a sermon is usually specific to the time in which it was delivered and contains specific issues at hand.
I came across the sermon that I preached in 2017 on September 3, 2017. It was the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. August 30, 2020 also happens to be the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. And since I was following the lectionary both times, the scripture lessons are the same.
As I read the sermon, I realized that we are still faced with many of the same things I talked about 3 years ago. With very little editing, I have decided to use this sermon again.
In Exodus Moses’ encounters God on Mt. Sinai. What most folks focus on is the appearance of the burning bush. It is true that it got Moses’ attention! But, what caught my ear was the voice of God asking Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground.
There is a lot being said in that one request. Removing our shoes when we enter a house is a sign of respect. It is also a sign of hospitality between homeowner and guest.
It also is an act that makes us feel comfortable. Moses finds himself in the presence of the Holy One—the awesome, indescribable, inexpressible, the Great “I Am.” God wants Moses to feel comfortable yet also command Moses’ respect.
When we wear shoes we are not in contact with the ground. Normally I love walking barefoot in the grass but this year our lawn is more like the color of straw and it crunches underfoot. However, at the beach, I love the feel of the sand on my feet I walk along the shore—the top layer is warm and underneath it is cool. I also enjoy the feel of the cold ocean waves washing up over my feet and then the water as it recedes and erodes the sand beneath them. I really feel connected to God’s creation. The invitation to remove Moses’ sandals then puts him in touch with God’s good creation. I wonder what difference it would make in our souls,
if we let our soles touch the earth more often even if the grass does crunch a little.
Would we respect the gift we have been given and take better care of it?
Perhaps the most important result of Moses going barefoot was the vulnerability he felt and his openness to hear God’s call. The story itself is important because Moses is called to liberate the Israelites and to tell the people that God is not hidden. God’s people are held as slaves in a foreign land and they might have wondered if anyone was listening to their cry.
We are just beginning to hear and take seriously the cries of the black and brown voices crying out for justice here in our country, our state, our communities. As Christians all lives matter. But it is the voices of our black and brown siblings that are most in need of being lifted up and real conversations taking place to challenge systemic racism.
J. Gerald Janzen writes, “Every cry, with the individual throb of suffering it expresses, is falling, cry for cry, not on deaf ears but on the Heart of God. If God is hidden, God is hidden within the suffering” (Exodus, Westminster Bible Companion). God opened Moses ears and heart. God will open and is opening our ears and hearts.
From the Apostle Paul we heard “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers…If it is possible, so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all” (12:9-13, 18).
These words were delivered to the “new church start” in Rome. This is how Paul understands the proper response to God’s grace. This is what a God centered Spirit led life should look like.
Even a faith community as small as ours can see ourselves as “mustard seeds of goodness”(Flowing exhortations, Sermon Seeds, 9/3/2017) that might just transform everything around us.
In the past few months we have seen the worst of human nature in the violence and hateful rhetoric. We have seen the worst of nature in catastrophic weather events. We have seen injustices inflicted on the marginalized. There has been and continues to be human suffering in epic proportions.
But we have all so witnessed the best of human nature. People exemplifying Paul’s words: “Hate what is evil. Let love be genuine. Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer. Extend hospitality to strangers.”
We face wilderness spaces in our own lives; disease (Covid-19, cancer, Alzheimers),
Intolerable physical pain, record unemployment, food and rent insecurity, drug or alcohol addiction, death of loved ones, balancing work and life with children being taught at home, living with teenagers, role reversal with elderly parents mental illness, navigating menopause, feelings of frustration and hopelessness over the state of politics in general, etc.
Whatever wilderness and suffering we are burdened with hear the good news of these two scripture readings. Every cry of suffering we give voice to, every painful crying out
from our hearts is falling, cry for cry, not on deaf ears but on the very heart of God.
God may appear to be hidden but God is in the midst of the suffering with us.
Persevere in prayer, prayer works. God will respond. God is faithful.
God’s makes and keeps promises.
Rejoice in hope! Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Living a God centered Spirit led life not only transforms us but we become examples and we in turn transform everything around us.
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all” (12:18)
In the greatest of hope, may it be so!