Holy Ground

This scripture has been on my mind lately. Exodus 3:5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Usually when God has something to teach me, he brings it to my attention more than once. I saw a photograph that started this one churning inside my head….then heard someone speak, and then a song, and then words in a book jumped off the page. All regarding holiness and standing upon holy ground, and so, I took notice.
In my mind’s eye, the scene is Moses standing before a bush that burns, but is never consumed. I love how it says he thought “I will go over and see this strange sight…why the bush does not burn up.” I think God probably did some editing on Moses’ thoughts here. They seem entirely too calm and controlled to fit the circumstances of a supernatural visitation. The idea is communicated that he is confused and finds the flame captivating enough to stop his routine and check it out. God halts his movement with “Stop, do not come any closer” and then Moses knows that, indeed something is up. I picture him with his hands up over his head, as if he is being arrested. He is frozen in place, knowing instinctively that if a burning bush says stop, you better do it. His head is still, but his eyes are moving all around trying to find the source of the voice. He trembles, his heart is pumping wildly, thoughts are racing, but he is unable to take another step. His hands shake as he contemplates if he should even try to bend to remove his sandals. I wonder how strong the urge was to flee…to run as far and as fast as possible in the opposite direction. He chooses instead to stay, maybe out of fear, or maybe out of fascination. He slowly, very slowly stoops, all the while keeping his hands in plain view as if he will be shot, or struck dead the instant he makes a wrong move.
Next, God is kind enough to introduce himself as if he needs an introduction, “I am the God of your father, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…just in case you were wondering.” I am sure Moses was wondering what in the world he was getting himself into. I picture that he is relieved to finally get his shoes removed, and decides it is safest to stay as low as possible. He hunches over, face to the ground, occasionally squinting to see if the bush is still burning, but afraid to look upon God. He realizes it is not God’s intent to kill him, because if it had been, he would be dead already.
What I notice, in this section is that Moses didn’t do anything to make the ground holy. He simply showed up to a work already in progress. God is the one who said take off your sandals, because his presence was already there, and His presence is where holiness comes from. When God shows up, Moses responds. It is the same with us; our actions are in response to his presence…not the other way around. The difference may seem trivial, but it is significant. In church, we worship so God will bring his presence, or so we think. However, I believe if he was not already present, we couldn’t worship. Our worship is in response. We are much like a child who jumps up and down at the sign of a brightly wrapped present with his name on it. He rips into the package then dances with glee at its contents. To beg for a present, before it is presented, is to presume upon God. It is not up to us to bring the present, only to open his gift to us and to relish it, enjoying it completely. Then he, as our father, smiles and enjoys how overwhelmed we are by his love for us. He is the one who makes the moment sacred. His joy is what makes our moment holy.
In the next part of the story, God says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them up to a good, a broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Can’t you just see Moses’ smiling in the dirt? Still afraid to look upon God, but now knowing that a miracle has occurred. I picture tears of joy mixing with the dirt to make a mud puddle under the cheeks of Moses. His heart overwhelmed with the truth that God hears AND responds to his people. They are not forgotten or abandoned, and that his love for them is what moves him to action. He is moved with compassion. He comes to their cries…and ours. It does not matter where the pain originates, or whose voice is crying out…his presence shows up wherever there is need of freedom.
This may seem contrary to the first part where I said we do nothing to bring the presence of God, but I do not see it that way. Holiness is found in the presence of God. We do not bring his presence, we simply respond to it. So when the children of Israel cried out to God…it was in response to his presence…IN THE MIDST…of their suffering… IN EGYPT. He was present all along. He was with them…even there…even in their suffering. It was holy ground, because it was where he met them, in their greatest need.
It is a beautiful picture when Moses removes his shoes. Shoes protect the feet. They walk along the road, change direction, give you traction. Depending on your activity, they enhance your running performance, keep your feet safe in the water, and are a fashion statement about who you are. They provide comfort. The symbol of removing shoes represents laying all of that aside. Putting himself, his direction and protection… all of it, in God’s hands. It is a humble acknowledgement of his ability to hear God’s voice. Face down and barefoot.
I wonder what Moses thought God would say next. I’m sure he didn’t bet on “I will send YOU.” But humility on holy ground is…well humbling. In the presence of God, it seems we have nothing to offer, but that is the beauty of it. We don’t. Not really. He doesn’t need us. Yet he still chooses to use us. We wonder and question if what we have to offer is good enough. We wrestle with him when he assures us we are just who he needs to bring his plan to completion. He uses us to deliver his rescue those who are crying out for help (whether they know they are or not) wherever they may be…to deliver his message: He hears you; he has not abandoned you. Moses didn’t go in a proud way…much the opposite…he denied his abilities. I guess it would be hard not to when you are sitting on holy ground next to a burning bush that talks. At that place, it is difficult to do anything but bask in God’s presence. But isn’t that what holy ground is all about?

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