Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Christ

Greymouth Uniting Church

Take off your shoes

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15, Psalms 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28.

Watching the burning bush burn...

There is an age-old question in protestant theology, 'Which comes first - the experience of God or the Word of God?' And some theologians believe that this question is answered in this burning bush moment. Because before Moses heard God, before Moses listened or argued or named, Moses felt, Moses experienced.

And all of you know what he felt, what he experienced. All of you too have experienced the divine in your lives:

  • the birth of a child
  • the death of a love
  • the feeling of the wind in your face
  • the deeps of a night-time dream
  • staring at a tree out your window
  • a dew-covered spider's web

In all these ordinary and extra-ordinary moments God has called to you and said:

Take off your shoes
Take off your shoes
You are standing on Holy Ground

Moses chose to observe, chose to watch, chose to see the wonder that was happening, and chose to stop and ask Why? Why is this different. Why is this tree not turned to ashes? And as he stops to wonder God calls Moses, and calls us, by name.

Do not be afraid. I am with you. I have called you by your name. You are mine.

This is a God who knows us, who calls us and who challenges: This is a God with a plan and it's a plan that each one of us has a specific role in ....... for Moses it was about leading people out of oppression. Our role as followers of Jesus is joining the work God is already doing in the world. The first commandment God gave Moses was "Take off your shoes!". In our world, going without shoes is a place of comfort - when we're warm, when the surface is smooth enough and so to us this commandment can be seen as an invitation to be at ease with God, to be comfortable. But one of the rabbinic interpretations of this passage gives a more profound insight. The context is that Moses is in the desert. The desert in that part of the world is rough. It's full of scorpions. It is tremendously difficult to cross. And the only way to go across that desert is to have shoes on. You can't do it bare footed.

Moses take off your shoes so you can't run away. Take off your shoes. I want you here. You're going to want to run away. You can't stand to see the face of God. You are going to slink away and wriggle out of things. So, take off your shoes. I want you here.

So Moses didn't start out by being the leader God had him planned to be. God's plan is all about potential. It's about finding and following, discerning and discovering.

And it's all about God being with you and in you every step of the way. Which makes every step, every moment a God step, a God moment.

Early last century a preacher gave this illustration in his children's talk, of a pair of scissors in two halves. Each part by itself - alone - was rather useless. So it is with God and people. Without God, human beings are not good for much. And without women and men, boys and girls, God can't accomplish very much. Put the parts of scissors together - unite the parts into a single working pair of scissors. "You see, fastened together they have now become a marvellous, competent instrument."

This is what happens when we attach ourselves to God in loving relationship. As an instrument of God we develop the power, the freedom, to play our part in God's plan for good for the world. See what Moses went on to do with God alongside.

And I think this is part of what is meant by both of our New Testament readings. Of taking up our cross and the characteristics that mark out a life lived like Christ's.

Because taking up a cross can call us to go into places and situations where we might feel uncomfortable - in the world as into unfamiliar places or into ourselves to face unwanted aspects of self. It is a call to listen and embrace difficult 'bits', to not 'run away' to our comfortable place. We often talk of being inside or outside our 'comfort zone'. God's call to take off our shoes, Christ's call to take up our cross is a call to move out of our comfort zone, to move into God's work zone - to befriend and bless, to pray and search rather than reject and destroy.

Teilhard de Chardin, a French theologian wrote

after mastering
the winds, the waves,
the tides and gravity,
we shall harness for God
the energies of love,

and then,
for a second time
in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire.

Light, warmth, healing, sharing - fire that doesn't consume but causes wonder and calls forth discovery.

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

--- E B Browning.