Standing on holy ground

It has become my habit to post my sermons on or near the date on which they are preached; however, I feel that a notice is owed my readers as I have been experimenting with less text and more "off the cuff" delivery. So, in what follows there is a section of bullet points - you'll have to imagine the flesh on those bones. There are also some choppy transitions (actually, non-existent transitions). When you encounter one of these. . . think pause and that will give you a sense of the flow.

This was a challenging sermon for me to preach, but it was, on the whole, well-received. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday
Church of the Transfiguration

Today is Trinity Sunday – the pivotal halfway point in our church year. Up until today - Advent through Pentecost - we largely focused on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through these milestones of Jesus’ career we consider the inexpressible awesomeness, mystery and inner-relatedness that are the very center of the living God we worship. But today, on Trinity Sunday, our focus changes and we begin to explore our response – our response to the Trinitarian God of Christianity.1 For this triune God, who despite our frustrated attempts to find just the right metaphor or expression to explain the three-in-oneness of God’s self, this God is a God with the power to transform our lives and the world.

The reading from Exodus, this morning, is one of my favorite stories of this transformative power.

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; Moses looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. . .
Moses, Man of the Mountain – that’s the title of Zora Neale Hurston’s 1939 novel about the life of Moses. But, you and I all know the story of Moses – or at least parts of the story.

· Birth
· Kills an Egyptian
· Flees Egypt
· Ends up in Midian where he marries the priest’s daughter

And, then today’s story of the encounter with God at the un-burning burning bush. But here is where Zora Neale Hurston’s novel comes in to the picture. While it takes Scripture only two quick chapters to relay the whole of Moses’ life story up to this moment at the burning bush, Hurston, in her novel puts a bit more meat on the bones of the story.

In her version Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, has been trying to convince Moses for years to go back to Egypt to fight the Pharaoh, and win freedom for his people. Jethro’s motivation is largely evangelical – he is a priest after all – and he says,

“Those … Hebrews, need help, Moses. And besides, we could convert ‘em, maybe. That really would be something – a big crowd like that coming through religion, all at one time.”
But Moses refused to go to Egypt. Sometime later Jethro prods Moses once again, “Well, what is it then, Moses, that you don’t want to go?”

This time Moses offers his answer, putting an end to the argument:

“I’m just satisfied with my life right here. I got everything that a man could want . . . I just want to sit on the mountain and ask God some questions about life.”2
Moses was comfortable just where he was. I can appreciate that. Aren’t there times in all of our lives when we are comfortable and we just don’t want to be bothered?

Last Monday, June 5th, marked 25 years since the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first warning about a rare form of pneumonia appearing in several young gay men in Los Angeles – later it was determined that this pneumonia was AIDS related. During the 80s I remember hearing a lot about AIDS; we were a nation in panic and understandably so – because by the mid-80s more than 5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and 160,000 Americans per year were being newly infected.3, 4, 5

Since then innovative drug cocktails are prolonging the lives of HIV/AIDS victims in America and consistent and accurate education about how the disease is transmitted and how it can be prevented is decreasing the incidence of HIV in the United States. And our country has become comfortable just where we are. And, as a nation, our comfort has led to silence. And our silence has led to the silencing of the painful places in people’s lives who continue to be affected by AIDS. And the AIDS Quilt, once a magnificent tribute to lives lost and a powerful reminder of loved one’s pain, anguish, and shame is now stored in a corrugated-steel warehouse in Atlanta.6 The silence can be deafening sometimes.

But Moses said to his father-in-law, Jethro, “I’m just satisfied with my life right here. I got everything that a man could want . . . I just want to sit on the mountain and ask God some questions about life.” And then . . . a few weeks later, while Moses is out tending Jethro’s flock – tending the flock out beyond the wilderness - God calls out to Moses from the burning bush saying ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Our God is a God who transforms our lives and our world. At the burning bush, the ground becomes holy; Moses becomes fearful. And his world, his life, and the lives of the Hebrew people were forever changed by that encounter with God - an encounter that called Moses out beyond himself, out beyond the wilderness – an encounter that called Moses to enter the silent, painful places in the lives of others.

Last week we welcomed a new member to our Christian family - Trevor John was baptized by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. And, you and I - as witnesses to that baptism and through the renewal of our own baptismal covenant - recommitted ourselves to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We promised to seek out the silent, painful places in our world.

I invite you to look around you this morning and in the days and weeks to come. Where are the silent, painful places in the lives of those around you? Where are the silent, painful places in your own life? Like Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, we are tempted to say, “I got everything a person could want. . . I’m just satisfied with my life right here.”

But my friends, God didn’t call us to be satisfied and comfortable with life as it is. Moses heard God’s call out beyond the wilderness, out beyond his own comfortable life. Likewise, God calls us from our complacency and invites us to enter into the silent pain of our neighbors. God calls us by name, just as he called Moses by name at Mount Horeb, and reminds us that the ground we are standing on is holy ground.

Our General Convention will begin meeting on Tuesday. And, The Rev. Jennifer Phillips, Vicar of St. Augustine’s Church in Kingston, Rhode Island was commissioned to write a prayer for participants in the upcoming Convention. I have taken the liberty of recasting her words for our use this morning. Let us pray:

God of light and life,
Fill us with the Spirit’s energy for the work before us;
Show us your surprising face in the people around us;
Delight us afresh with the variety of your creation;
Inspire us with a vision of your justice becoming concrete in the world;
And above all, teach us to love you and our neighbors more fully, less grudgingly, and with more forbearance day by day,
And give us the grace of good humor, the leaven of laughter, and the tonic of hope through it all, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 7

“Moses, Moses! . . . Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” How are you being transformed as God calls your name?


1 Paul J. Achtemeier. Romans. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.

3 “AIDS at 25.” Newsweek Health Online. Accessed
on June 8, 2006.

2 Zora Neale Hurston. Moses, Man of the Mountain. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.

4 Jennifer Kates. “AIDS at 25: An Overview of Major Trends in the U.S. Epidemic.” Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, June 2006.

5 Jennifer Kates and Alicia Carbaugh. “HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet: The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation May 2006.

7Jennifer Phillips. “Prayers for the 75th General Convention: For Participants.” Octave of Prayer. New York: Episcopal Church USA General Convention Office. Accessed on June 8, 2006.

6Alan Zarembo. “AIDS at 25: The Quilt Fades to Obscurity.” Los Angeles Times. June 4, 2006. Accessed on June 10, 2006.