Seeking Holy Ground
Aug. 30th Exodus 3:1-15 Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c (UMH 828) Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28
In our school district, this was our final week of delivering lunches for the summer. Monday through Thursday, we first picked up bagged lunches from one of our cafeterias and then went to different schools and handed them out as folks drove up or came on foot. It will be nice to have the coming week off, but I will miss the kids and their parents. At this point, we are scheduled to return to work for the school year on September 8th but have no idea just what that is going to look like, as we will start the year with distance learning for the kids. We don’t know if we will continue doing lunches but hope that we will as it benefits so many people, including those of us who serve. This work has kept me sane during this difficult summer. Not only did it keep me busy and connected with our community, but every day we have had people tell us how grateful they are for the work we do, with the occasional “God bless you” amongst many thanks. School may be starting soon, but unlike past years when we felt like we were getting back to normal after the summer break, this year the anxiety and uncertainties will continue. Parents will struggle to balance kids and careers, with a very different schedule, and those who work for school districts don’t know what exactly they will be doing or if they will be able support their families. We probably all thought that this Covid thing would have blown over by now, and things would have gotten back to how they were, but this has yet to happen, and probably won’t. Right now, it is easy to feel lost and unsure of where we are going.
Every morning before leaving the bus barn we have a meeting, outside, to discuss procedures, share news and a few laughs, and reconnect before heading out. One day this week, one of the guys came up to me at this meeting and said: “Do you think this is a God thing yet?” referring to the pandemic and all the changes it has brought. He thinks so, but says it is not necessarily a sign of the end times. What do you think? Thinking that God may have somehow caused what we view as tragic makes us very uneasy, for we don’t like to think that God causes harm, or if He didn’t cause it, He at least let it happen. When we look at the stories of the Bible, especially the plagues, wars and other horrible things, we note that God uses them to bring about good things, and yes, sometimes to punish His people for their sins and unfaithfulness, but in the end brings them back into a right relationship with Him. What do you think of that? Can you see anything good coming out of this summer?
When we find ourselves struggling to understand the latest tragedy, we often ask why God allows bad things to happen, or even ask where He is in all if this, as if He were absent. We want to understand what is going on, get some sense of meaning, perhaps find our purpose in what is going on, and retain our sense of hope that things will get better. Right now, there are few answers. But we still seek God and what is holy, trying to understand and see where we fit in.
Moses and the Burning Bush is a very vibrant story, one that is easy for us to see in our minds. We can feel the sand and pebbles between our toes, the heat of the sun in the desert, perhaps we are even exhausted after a long journey. Midian was in the NW corner of the Sinai Peninsula, so Moses has already had a long journey from Egypt and now goes farther into the desert to reach Mt. Horeb. But when you think about it, he is closer to Israel than he ever has been before, closer to his true home, which he will never reach.
We are coming in half-way through the story, after a difficult time for Moses, but it is used by God as a turning point in Moses’ development as a leader. At this point, Moses has fled into the wilderness of Midian after killing an Egyptian who was cruel to one of the Israelites working in bondage to the Egyptians. Moses had been afraid for his life, ready to give up perhaps, feeling like his life was at its end, perhaps like he was all alone in the world and didn’t know where to go. But God had much more in store for Moses. He rests at a well, and the daughters of Jethro come to water their animals. Moses helps them, and in return, Jethro gives him one of his daughters to Moses to be his wife. In addition to providing Moses with a wife and a home, apparently, Jethro also gives Moses a job, and now he is out tending his father-in-law’s flock. What may have seemed like happenstance to Moses was part of God’s plan, for it all leads to this moment when Moses steps onto holy ground.
How many of us can identify with this story? We felt like we were wandering lost in the desert, but all along God was leading us to where we needed to be? Whether Moses, like us at such times, was holy when he stepped onto holy ground is not an issue and obviously is not necessary. When we least expect it, God reveals Himself to us. There are so many stories of the lost being found in the Bible, we should expect God to show up unexpectedly by now. But when it is us who are lost, we tend to forget that God is with us. Moses is just out doing his job, minding his own business, and God breaks into what at the time was probably a quiet and predictable life, even if Moses was not doing what God had created him to do yet. God uses this meeting in the desert for His purposes: He shows a measure of His glory, creates a unique relationship with Moses, and gives Moses a job that he is rightly overwhelmed by.
After a dark time, God meets Moses and gives him a purpose. God does the same thing for us. He not only turns Moses’ life around, but in doing so, brings release from bondage for His people. Can you share a time in your life when you were wandering aimlessly through life, just to find God had been with you all along, and then turned things around for you? He uses such times to wake us up, stretch us, and bring us into new phases of growth and discernment. God may not use a burning bush with us, but when we least expect it, we find ourselves standing on holy ground.
As good as it is to be meeting again, we would probably all prefer to be inside, in a space we recognize as holy ground, where we go to seek God and enter his presence. But churches of course do not hold a monopoly on where God is found, we find Him here also. This is holy ground. We find Him wherever we go. It is helpful to have a place at home where you can enter into God’s presence daily, sometimes called a prayer closet, but perhaps a spot in your backyard or some other place that you set aside as holy ground. A quiet place where you can meet God in good times and in bad, read Scripture, pray, meditate, or just relax and be with God. A place for renewal and encouragement in the Spirit. In times of trouble, return to this space and find the Spirit’s comfort and guidance.
As glorious as this episode with the burning bush may be, we recognize that we are at the beginning of a new phase in Moses’ life, and in the history of the Israelites. Great conflict and tribulation will come before the Israelites will enter the Promised Land, and almost all of those who start the journey will not live to see the end of the journey. As much as we would like to feel closure, sometimes we must keep on the journey even when we know that we won’t see the end. But we can never forget that God is with us, even when we can’t seem to see him. We are on such a journey now.
All of our readings today encourage us to keep looking for God in our daily lives. Too often, we get so caught up with our day-to-day affairs that we need Sunday to come around again to bring us back to God. Even when we are disciplined, we sometimes forget to seek God daily in prayer and Bible study. We get so busy that we lose sight of what really matters. We find God again in those special, holy places and get centered and grounded again. Paul tells us to be at peace with all people, and that begins with being at peace with God and at peace with ourselves, obtained by spending time alone with God. We might not know if what is going on in our lives is a “God thing” or not until we have passed through it, but He is always with us, and calls us to enter into His presence, waiting for us to respond. He is always with us, but we must be intentional about spending time with Him daily to be aware of His presence. Wherever we are is holy ground when we meet God there.