"Holy Ground"-A Sermon for Proper 17, Exodus 3:1-15
It is so good to back among you. And I mean that with all my heart. When I reflect on being away from my own family for any extended period of time, the first thing I always want to say to them, when we are at last together again, are of course the three most important words, in my opinion, that we humans exchange…I love you. I viscerally look forward to the moment when we regather in each other’s physical presence…looking into each other’s eyes…in flesh and blood…and the words rush out…I love you…with a tight embrace to follow. It’s almost like an eternal urging…a primordial push…I love you flows out like an unstoppable flood the moment we reconnect. The words feel full to overflowing with meaning. In some ways, the three little words “I love you” feel inadequate…and in other ways…they feel succinct and perfect…I love you…with all my heart…with every fiber of my being. And I feel this way now…as I return to my family of faith after a significant time apart. If it feels overly sentimental…my apologies…but I want to say and have to say I love you, each of you, and this family we share. The old adage holds here…absence has indeed made my heart grow fonder. I hope to some degree the same may be true for each of you.
While away, I wondered and wandered. I reveled in uninterrupted family time. A gift for which I am so completely grateful…a thankfulness I can’t adequately describe in words. The wondering took shape in the 10,000 or so words of poetry I wrote while away. Poems that dove into such subjects as Julian of Norwich, marriage, time/space, creation, resurrection, faith, and science. Even Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes made an appearance as subjects…as metaphors…for God’s enduring Spirit and the human paradox of the unimaginable giftedness and painful imperfections that live co-mingled in each of us. The wandering took shape in a 9000-or so-mile road trip along our continents spine, the Rocky Mountains, witnessing places and creatures of unimaginable complexity and beauty…from meadows to mountains…from bears to beavers…from bald eagles to humming birds…from giant, ancient cedars to three-foot pine forests just newly emerging from the ashes of recent fires. All a sight to behold indeed. I worshiped with my family alone, just us, and among many strangers in churches in different cities. And through it all…and through it all…this place, and more specifically this group of folk that have chosen this family of faith we call St. Julian’s, was always present…always near…in my heart, in my thoughts and prayers, beckoning me home…blessedly never letting me go. I checked in often, as Kelly can attest. But doing so was not a distraction from the gift of sabbatical, instead, it was centering, stabilizing, even energizing…as I looked forward to our re-gathering. Hearing of you…made my heart more whole…more complete. I know now more than ever…that God’s call on my life is to be with you…and you with me…sharing this holy ground…sharing with one another the love we have discovered in this place…God’s own love.
And, further, my time away convicted me of the fact that this place is indeed Holy Ground. It made me utterly sure of this fact. Just like Moses knew he was standing on Holy Ground in the presence of the burning bush in our Old Testament lesson. Together we are standing on holy ground established not by the designation given to a particular part of the earth. Like a beautiful church building or a majestic mountaintop…but made holy because of God’s presence with his people…holy because of a deep love shared…the love being God…shared among one another…in the life we live together…the community we build together…the good work we do together. We are holy ground. And our holiness is defined not by bricks and mortar, or boundaries and borders, or even how beautiful or ascetically pleasing a particular place is, but, again, in the depth of the love…which is God…we share with one another.
I am convinced that any sense of meaning or purpose I derived, while on sabbatical, by standing and taking in some of the most quote unquote “beautiful places in this part of God’s creation” was because I stood there, sharing the moment, with those that I love most and a profound sense and deep conviction of God’s presence with us in that very moment. Holiness established, holiness setting us apart, holiness defined, as simply as I can say it, by the love we share with one another. God’s life, a divine life, a love-life, a Jesus-centric life, discovered, again, among the love shared with one another. I once heard the theologian and priest, Sam Wells, argue that the word “with” is of the utmost theological importance. And though I might not be making a point as powerful as his…I entirely agree. With each other…with God…with the love that moves between us, we are shaped, even transformed, more and more, into the holy human beings, into the holy family, we are created to be.
And I share these musing with you today quite purposefully…on the Sunday I return from sabbatical…from much time without you…for the greatest conviction with which I return is that our collective future as a family of faith, our calling to grow our relationships with one another and all those who will come to be with us in the future…our calling to love all well particularly loving those who are disconnected and hurting and abused…those living without…our calling to live into deep loving intimacy with God in Christ…this holy vision God has set before us…is entirely dependent on our willingness to stick with each other…to share God’s profound love in our midst with each other. For there is so much vital and important and life-giving work that lies ahead…so many people in our larger community and beyond that need to know that we are with them…that God is with them…that love is with them. And it all begins, all this good and holy work begins, with the love we share with each other in this place…right now.
Like Moses in the desert, with God, with love itself, Moses with God, in a moment filled to overflowing with love and awe, they delve deeply together into the world’s pain…feeling…really feeling the pain of those living within the back-breaking, soul-sucking, dehumanizing, violent experience of slavery…evil incarnate. And the great irony here is that those who are made less than human by keeping other people in bondage through the use of violence and through hoarding resources are the very ones in the position of privilege and power. The fear of not having enough, the fear of difference, the self-interest that grasps hold of things and people to make them their own…are the very ones who are something less than who God made them to be…something less than a fully alive human…something distorted from the very image, the image of love, in which they were created. There is no with…just us…and them. Now Moses with God, in their loving moment of connection…with each other…are reflecting specifically on the people of Israel in slavery in Egypt. But God is now with us…in this moment in time and space…5000 years later…and asking us…together in this holy ground…in his very presence…in this loving moment with each other…to really feel the pain of those all around us…the horrid pain of our own history of slavery…the pain of those harmed by bigotry and poverty…those discriminated against and abused because of their gender or the person they love…those forced to live in the shadows, without legal recognition, and forced into a new servant class simply because of where they were born. Surely, I could go on…but the point I want to make is this…it is the very love we have for one another, God’s love that we share with one another, in this holy ground…that allows us to feel the pain, to blessedly empathize entirely…and courageously enter into the work of healing, of reconciliation, of turning this violent world on its head. And again, all of this holy work, understanding our place in it, seeking wisdom to know how to respond, and finding courage to change ourselves when needed and enter into it all for God and good…begins right here, in God’s love we share with one another…on this…in this…holy ground.
Much of this good and holy work for us is still taking shape, perhaps it is always taking shape, by things like deepening our partnerships with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue and Crosswork AME Church and our partners in Navajoland and Meals on Wheels and now our work to help folk recover from Harvey…through deepening our own commitment to worship and Christian formation, the care and wellness of our own souls, offered in this place that empowers and informs our work…prioritizing Sunday mornings and other St. Julian’s gatherings as we come to a new school year…through making sacrificial commitments to our Good Soil Capital Campaign this fall that seeks to root us permanently in this part of God’s vineyard where we have been placed to increase the impact of our ministries and welcome more and more people to come be with us on our journey of faith…to join in and with this family…this burning bush suffused with God’s love-filled presence.
And all of this holiness…and this work is indeed holy…requires a deep commitment to this family…to the love we share with one another. It requires a lot of generosity, patience, forgiveness, difficult conversations, good communication, willingness to try and fail and learn. For the love we share, God’s love we share with each other, demands this of us. It makes us fully human…fully alive…and will increase the holy ground that we have begun to establish here together.
God’s call on my life is to be in it with you…and you with me…right now…madly in love…in God’s love…with each other. Amen.