Standing on Holy Ground - Sermon for Pentecost 13A (Exodus 3)

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was on his way to work tending sheep for his father-in-law. When he got to Mount Horeb, he noticed a bush burning on the horizon. Since that’s not an everyday occurrence, he decided to check out this strange sight. When he got to the bush, he heard a voice calling his name: “Moses, Moses.” And Moses replied, “Here I am.” Then the voice said, “don’t come any closer and remove your sandals because you’re standing on holy ground.” 

When it comes to removing his sandals, Ron Allen and Clark Williamson comment that “to be invited to remove one’s sandals was to be welcomed. Moses is welcomed into relationship with God as God simultaneously draws an ultimate respect from Moses. Moses is no longer an ‘alien’ (Exod. 2:22) but a guest.” [Preaching the Old Testament, p. 80]. Now, Moses is ready to hear the next word in which God declares: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” 

As we contemplate this story, perhaps we can envision our own experiences of standing on holy ground. At that moment Moses was standing on the mountain of God. But what has been holy ground for you? 

Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer have broadened that definition in their book America’s Holy Ground. Brad and Bruce suggest that perhaps our National Parks are holy ground. Then in a sequel titled America’s Sacred Sites, they add sites such as National Monuments, seashores, recreation areas, and historic sites. So, how might Crater Lake National Park or Mount Rushmore be holy ground for Americans? What about the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, which includes Dr. King’s birthplace and Ebenezer Baptist Church? Might this be a pilgrimage site? Brad and Bruce write about this site that it’s “less about a place and more about how a man who grew up in this particular neighborhood became the very embodiment of hope as the most notable leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.” [America’s Sacred Sites, p. 55].

We might think of these kinds of sites as “thin places,” where the membrane separating heaven and earth becomes thin enough that we can feel God’s presence in unique ways. 

I’ve not visited Mount Horeb or Ebenezer Baptist Church, but I know the feeling that comes from being on ground that stirs the spirit so I can feel God’s presence. I think back to this fall when we were in the Alps. There was something enthralling about that experience. That was an experience of God’s creation, but I also found my spirit stirred during my visit to the Cathedral at Speyer, Germany. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I just felt God’s presence in a unique way. I was standing on holy ground.

Here is what Bruce Epperly has to say about standing on holy ground. Pointing to Moses’ experience, Bruce suggests that when it comes to God’s attempts to communicate with us, “God is always calling and sometimes we notice.” So, on that day, perhaps it was because of the strangeness of the sight, Moses stopped and opened his eyes and his ears and he heard God’s call. So, when it comes to “thin places,” Bruce writes that “we are always on Holy Ground.” In fact, “the world is full of ‘thin places,’ and every so often we stop, take off our sandals, and bathe ourselves in the constancy of divine revelation.” [Adventurous Lectionary]. 

After Moses took off his sandals he was ready to listen to God’s next word, and this word had to do with God’s plan of liberation. This word revealed that God had noticed the misery of God’s people and had heard their cries. God is ready to deliver them from slavery and lead them to a land filled with milk and honey. Here is where Moses comes in. God needs a partner and that partner is going to be Moses.  

As you might expect, Moses wasn’t too sure about this new calling. He was happy tending sheep. So like most prophets, he asked “why me?” “Who am I that Pharaoh would listen to me?” God simply said, don’t worry, I’ll be with you. Just go tell Pharaoh that my people need to worship me at this holy mountain. Go and do as I ask.  

Moses isn’t quite ready to sign onto this new job offer. He pushes back a bit. He needs more information if he’s going to pull this off. That’s because he not only has to convince Pharaoh, he has to convince the people to follow him. So, Moses, not surprisingly, asks for more information. He tells God, so you’ve told me that you are the God of our ancestors. That’s fine, but I need your name. Remember in the ancient world there was power in names. If you knew the name of a deity, you might gain control. I think that’s what Moses is up to, but God doesn’t play along. God simply says: “I am who I am.” Or even better: “I Will Be Whoever I Will Be.” In other words, it doesn’t matter the name or the title given to God, because they’re all inadequate to describe what lies beyond our comprehension. This must be sufficient credentialing. Just tell them “I Will Be” has sent me. Oh, and remember I will be with you. 

That calling given to Moses as he stood on holy ground has been extended to us. We’ve been entrusted with a message of liberation and reconciliation. Each of us will find ways of participating in God’s work, if we keep our eyes and ears open to God’s call. And with this calling comes a promise. Frederick Buechner writes that: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” [Wishful Thinking, p. 95].

If the world is full of holy places, might we stop today and listen for God’s call on our lives. May we join with God in the work of liberation and reconciliation so the world might experience healing and wholeness.

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Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
August 30, 2020
Pentecost 13A

Moses and the Burning Bush, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved August 29, 2020]. Original source:


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