at Ames UCC
on September 29, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details. Lastly, this sermon is somewhat shorter as we also had a powerful testimony from a congregant offered during worship.
If it is easy for you, and you don’t mind, would you please join me in taking off our shoes?
Press your feet down. Wiggle your toes. Feel the wood or the carpet on your soles, the ball of your foot, not quite to your arches.
You are touching holy ground.
Or at least you are suspended above it.
Just below this floor is soil. Dirt that we, and a century of predecessors, have brought into this space, and has built up as it has shifted down through the slats. In some places the soil comes almost to the floor, in others there’s still enough room for someone to crawl. Scattered throughout are the piers that hold the floor up. They are buried to different depths, moldering to different degrees from the water and moisture present down there, too. The piers are both in and returning to holy ground.
Like Moses in today’s story.
We have made a huge leap from Jacob Israel’s story in Genesis last week to Moses’s at beginning of Exodus today.
In between, the descendants of the itinerant Jacob Israel have become settled Israelites in Egypt. Those descendants “grew exceedingly strong” such that “the land (of Egypt) was filled with them,” the new Pharaoh wants them put down. So Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites. Pharaoh tries to have all of their babies killed. And then Pharaoh’s daughter up and adopts one: Moses.
Despite growing up in Pharaoh’s house, Moses knows that he is an Israelite. When he is an adult and he sees a fellow Israelite being beaten by an overseer, Moses kills the overseer, buries him in sand, and flees to nearby Midian. Moses marries Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest. And that should have been that for Moses.
God is not interested in “that should have been that.”
In one of the most compelling testimonies to God’s preference for, God’s special place for the outsider and the imperfect, God does not set a bush afire for a suffering slave in Egypt but for a migrant murderer in Midian.
God compels one who grew up in privilege, and then had the privilege of being able to run away, to go back and be part of freedom.
God demands that Moses recognize the holy ground on which he stands and the holy ground being debased by slavery, one of the most despicable forces of non-being, in his homeland.
God demands the same of us today, though it is something far more pernicious and slippery than slavery we must confront. The force of non-being that we must reject and upend is our collective failure to protect our planet for sustainable life.
WE CAN’T RUN
Because unlike Moses, we don’t have the privilege of running away.
When it comes to the state of our planet—the melting ice caps, the storms, the loss of 29% of songbirds in North America, the delayed crops and terrible flooding here in Iowa—we cannot just go to another land, meet another environment, and start a new human family.
And though we have certainly seen ourselves and our fellow humans whale on and wallop this our one and only planet, unlike Moses we have done pitifully little to stop the slave master that is our lust for consumer products and oil.
But our story offers us hope. Translator and scholar Robert Alter invites us to consider Moses’ leadership qualities.
On the one hand, he has an impassioned sense of justice, as seen in his reaction to the slave beating. But on the other hand, Moses also has a quick temper. He murdered the slave master, he did not begin the non-violent process of organizing that we practice here.
Moses has a selfless compassion. He eventually gives up everything to say yes to God’s holy land. But Moses also has a sense of personal inadequacy:
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses, then, is not a superhero. He is not in any way different than anyone else—we are no different than him. Like Moses, we are flawed and we are capable. It’s just that instead of a bush, the Amazon rainforest, the greatest source of our oxygen and temperature control, is on fire.
This is an enormous task that surrounds us, the slowing of climate change.
When Moses asks on what authority he should dare to fight the greatest power in his world, to ask others to radically change their lives on the basis of faith, God says to tell them that he comes in the name of I AM WHO I AM, also translated I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.
The power we have to confront corporate and government powers, and to ask every other industrialized human being in the world change their lives on the basis of scientific facts, is the same.
God will be who we need God to be: the persistent, flaming reminder that it is not designated sanctuaries alone that are holy, but the whole planet, radiant.
This whole Earth is Holy Ground.
Let us, with the intentional togetherness Jeremy named in his testimonial, invite everyone us to join us in taking off our their shoes and take off their fears in order to walk on it with awe once more so that maybe our children will be able to walk on it at all.