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St. Paul’s – Proper 17 – 9/3/2023

I’m guessing that the HS you heard is a story that I bet you have heard before. Moses and the burning bush [Exodus 3:1-15]. Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Moses is now 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 an exodus – 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. 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 who Jesus is and 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 the episode with Jesus and Peter make sense [Matthew 16:21-28]. 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 christos, 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? Peter seems to have no idea that he 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 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. Peter thinks he knows better; only he knows what ‘christos’ means; only he knows all about God and what Jesus describes cannot be God. Those abandoning our experience of Jesus as God AND Man have this hubris. 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 this hubris business is.

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, all founded on hubris. Or let’s look at something current…..A number of years ago over 150 “Evangelical Leaders” signed The Nashville Statement – the statement declares, in part, WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual  immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian  faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.  Talk about hubris. Judging and condemning whole groups of human beings, despite claiming to follow Jesus who says, in Luke chapter 6, among other things, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.

I agree with Father James Martin who responded in part: I affirm: That LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know. I deny: That Jesus wants us to judge others, when he clearly forbade it. I affirm that the Father loves LGBT people, the Son calls them and the Holy Spirit guides them. I deny nothing about God’s love for them.

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 – most especially discrimination declared In His Name.

Woody Guthrie wrote a song called Holy Ground – a modern-day psalm, really. Here are some of the lyrics:

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

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

Who knows, this could become one of the Hymns of the month because 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. Taking off our shoes begins with believing that this is God’s world, God’s creation, the earth and everything and everyone therein (Psalm 124). It means accepting that all people are God’s people. Taking off our shoes means recognizing that we stand on Holy Ground on this earth, before God and before one another. Each and every person is holy and also stands on holy ground. Each speck of dust, each cell, each atom, every little inch – it’s holy ground.

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 in 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 finally recognized and accepted as God’s people.

When we get right down to it, this familiar story about the burning bush brings us to understand that the burning bush is not just some visual aid, some highway road sign advertising burgers or fries on a wayside griddle. Neither is it a warning of hell or a threat of agony for the unwary. It is a picture of the very heart of God. Moses discovered the truth at the center of the universe. God is on fire with love for you and all of God’s creation. May you feel this fire today. May it draw you without consuming you, embrace you without destroying you. May it give you identity and purpose, and may it set you free. And, while you are in the Big Bend, may you catch fire with love for God, that your heart too may blaze with love for people and longing to set them free, until the time when, ablaze for God as he is for you, you become all flame. AMEN+