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United Church of Jaffrey
September 8th, 2019
It’s been a while since I was a kid.
Looks it’s been a while for some of you too.
But I don’t care how old you are,
I’ll bet you remember how it feels to be a kid walking around…
When you’re a kid and you go around barefoot
an amazing thing happens!
It’s like, all of a sudden you have a whole new way to experience the world!
…with the soles of your feet.
It’s a wonderful world!
But then… AAh!
when you’re a kid and you’re parading around barefoot,
there’s nothing worse than a gravel road!
Help! You really have to slow down
Beloved of Christ…
One of the great joys of the Christian ministry is the opportunity one gets to ruminate over with readings like the one you just heard.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this morning’s reading is one of the most powerful and enigmatic moments in the Old Testament.
- In a few short verses, a sheepherder becomes the leader of a liberation movement,
- God assumes a new and enigmatic name,
- and the sweep of history is set in motion for the Israelites, the Egyptians the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
Once Moses “turns aside to look at this great sight…”
nothing will ever be the same again.
There’s enough material here to keep us busy for many, many Sundays.
And, of course, the best way to wreck a sermon
Is to try to cover it all… Big mistake.
So this morning we’re just going to talk about…shoes
Or rather the lack thereof –
Because among the many amazing things that this passage succeeds in doing, one of them is this –
it makes “barefeet” a theological topic.
After God gets Moses’ attention, God says:
“Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
The first two things that God says to Moses are orders.
I get the “Come no closer!” bit. That makes sense to me. Approaching God is a serious matter that is not to be taken lightly.
But what’s this about removing his sandals? I have to think more about this.
Here’s something to consider…
This idea of taking off your shoes in a holy place is the accepted practice in many of the world’s religious traditions.
If you go to a Mosque, a Hindu temple or a Buddhist Stupa and you will discover a multitude of shoes patiently waiting for pious feet to return and claim them.
The world over, when people go to worship, they take off their shoes.
Well, for one thing, ritual purity is often connected with physical cleanliness. Showing respect for the divine, than, involves approaching without all the dirt that you carry on your shoes.
Another impulse behind these traditions — the one that I’m really interested in this morning, is this:
Removing one’s shoes immediately changes a person’s spiritual outlook.
Remember my little interpretive dance? Channeling my inner kid, I demonstrated two things that happen when you take off your shoes—
First, your sensation is heightened.
Cool grass! (Ahh)
Mud between your toes! (Squishy, squishy)…
Second, you make yourself vulnerable.
Gravel! (ooh, ah!)
When you feel your environment more intensely and you’re a little wary that you might step on something sharp—you instinctively become more attentive –
you slow down.
Now let’s get back to Moses.
When God called this meeting with Moses, God had a big agenda!
I 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, 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…
The matter at hand was one of great concern to God, and so God wanted Moses to approach the problem with the right attitude.
God wanted Moses to be alert and mindful.
God wanted Moses to be aware of immediate danger.
God wanted Moses to be attentive to the urgency of the situation.
These are very spiritual imperatives – God wanted Moses’ spirit to be finely attuned to the importance of the mission.
This spiritual concern, though – and herein lies the beauty of this story – God’s spiritual intention for Moses, was achieved in a very physical way – by awakening the shepherd’s instincts, his sensations, his vulnerability.
The role that God planned for Moses was not going to be easy.
Immense geo-political movements would be set in motion. Moses would encounter forceful opposition, suffer terrible setbacks. Large numbers of people would die. Hunger and plague and deprivation would beset his people.
It would not be all grass and mud. The road would be mostly gravel.
This is a reality that we all face in our lives.
To live a spiritual life, is to live a life that is awakened, alert, heightened, vulnerable, attentive.
A spiritual life is a removed-shoes life.
A removed-shoes-life is a beautiful, free life. The grass is cool, and the mud makes wonderful squishy sounds between our toes.
But the removed shoes life is also a vulnerable life – a gravel road life.
Is it worth it? Is the spiritual life worth walking barefoot on a gravel road?
I suppose the answer to this depends, at least in part, on what the stakes are.
God, articulated the stakes in this way:
I 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…
Are there any stakes that we face in the United States of America, on this, the second Sunday of September 2019, that are worth taking off our shoes and venturing, heightened, vulnerable, and attentive into the wilderness?
Are there concerns that are crying out to God?
A few short weeks ago – on the first Sunday in August, we received news of a shooting in Dayton Ohio.
A man walked into the Ned Peppers Bar in the Oregon Historic district of Dayton at 1AM on Sunday August 4th.
He was carrying a Semi-Automatic weapon called an AM-15. The weapon had a magazine that contained 100 rounds.
He started shooting into the crowd.
Unlike many other mass shootings, law enforcement was on the scene, and the shooter was killed within 32 seconds.
But within 32 seconds nine people were dead.
As Christians, we believe that every person is made in the image of God.
Life is a sacred gift.
So, as Christians, we see nine little parts of God, extinguished in 32 seconds.
They are not just nine people.
In those 32 seconds, our brothers died
And Dayton was only the latest shooting in a string of Mass shootings that have occurred this year.
The Wikipedia page for mass shootings in 2019 lists reports that, as of September 4th, 344 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States in 2019.
Today is the second Sunday in September,
Today, I take off my shoes! With an awakened, alert, heightened, vulnerable and attentive heart, I proclaim that gun violence is a spiritual problem in this land and that we must struggle to be liberated from it.
It may put us on a gravel road, but I believe the church must be unequivocal about “pulpitizing” these tragedies.
God hears the cries of those who have been lost.