Sunday, August 28, 2011

On our holy ground …

These last few days had been quite hard for me to ignore. I have seen some people’s struggles in life; struggles that had a tremendous impact on them and to those in their circles of love. They were struggles that I wish did not have to happen or that, even if they did, could have been relegated to the back burner of my consciousness.

And yet, their severity would not warrant such option. Instead they have induced me to think more deeply on what has caused such events to hover on the lives of those who had been touched by them.

The struggles I am referring to range from relational difficulties on one end to the cessation of life, on the other and a few more in between; with the latter “book ender” involving the demise of two individuals I have known and have loved in my role as pastor of our congregation.

To put this in proper perspective, early Friday, as I was mulling over what to say or better yet, how to say my would-be homily at a parishioner’s funeral, news came to me that another parishioner passed away early that same morning.

These were events that have touched me personally and which, I am sure, have also touched others. Their passing on has made me think of the uncertainty of life; our finiteness and how God has used it to call my attention to the reality of man being just a mere speck in the vast array of the greatness and glory of God.

God, I think, had been using and continues to use a variety of occasions to call our attention towards Him. They may include events like the ones I have just referred to, which, unfortunately, have a veneer of sadness applied to it. God also calls our attention through some amazing events, such as what our Old Testament Reading for today would remind us.

Our lesson from the Book of Exodus (Exodus 3:1-15) captures this extraordinary way of God calling Moses’ attention. Just as our own unforeseen predicaments in life would usually precede God’s calling of our attention, so was the case with Moses.

In the previous chapter, we are told that Moses took the life of an Egyptian and that he fled from the ire of the Pharaoh who sought to kill him. Since his escape from Egypt and his refuge in Midian, there had been some huge changes in his life. He was no longer living the life of a prince in the courts of Egypt. Instead Moses was looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. 

It was at one of those abject chores of shepherding which occasioned God’s calling the attention of Moses. Moses saw a burning bush and when he turned aside to find out more, God by then, had his attention. Immediately thereafter, God said: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

There’s something in that command to “remove” sandals that’s worth our attention; although taking off shoes on sacred ground is hardly an unusual idea. Many faith traditions observe the ritual of removing feet covering as a sign of respect. What is worth our attention is that by removing our feet’s covering, either shoes or sandals, as the case may be, we actually put ourselves into a vulnerable position. Try walking barefoot on our parking lot and you’ll agree with me in no time. And thus was how Moses found himself in a vulnerable position. I could only surmise that should an opportunity for another escape would have presented itself to him, Moses would not have any second thought. He would have fled once more. Moses would have gone hiding again, mainly because he knew that God was about to call him to do what he feared the most! He could very well be sent back and face Pharaoh. 

His suspicion was not far fetched, indeed. When he heard what he was being asked to do, he hid his face in fear. He argued with God and said: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  That argument, as we know, had no effect on Yahweh. He prevailed upon Moses through some words of assurance and was told that Yahweh will be with him. Those words were indicative of Yahweh’s abiding presence and companionship.

The story of Moses and the burning bush and the ensuing calling of his attention to what God wants for him were not particular to Moses. In some sense, we too have our virtual “burning bush” events in life. To some extent, we turn aside from our daily routines in order to see our virtual “burning bush”. 

We, like Moses, also find ourselves standing on “holy ground”, under the sure protection of the Holy One.  It is on such holy ground where we feel safe enough to be whole and become a holy people, as well. And as we encounter ourselves, we also encounter God. It is when we are standing there, barefoot, vulnerable and open, that we most clearly hear God’s call. 

The question, however, is whether we have the courage to “put our sandals back on” and respond to what is being asked of us. In the case of Moses, he left that holy ground to set Israel free from the bondage of Egypt.

Such, however, seems not to be the initial response of those in our Gospel lesson for today. Matthew 16:21-28 gives us another story that deals with the question of how we ought to respond to God’s call. Here we find a similar stance of vulnerability. The disciples found themselves at their weaker stance when Jesus told them that he would soon endure suffering and eventually die. That was never good news to them as exemplified by Peter who was unable to accept the possibility that Jesus will be killed. 

At that very moment, they were standing on holy ground. At their vulnerable stance, Jesus placed them in a crucial situation of choosing the right option; either they put their “sandals on” by carrying the cross which is so integral with discipleship or “flee and escape” by making light of the cost of discipleship.

We know, by now, which path they chose. The disciples “put their sandals on”; took up their cross, followed Jesus and set out in faith; the same faith that they passed on to the budding faith community and to us who, by our baptism, are also being placed in a vulnerable stance in matters of faith.

Our collective attention has been severally called by God through various situations in life; at times, in our struggles, at others, in our little triumphs. Whatever they may be, once God has called our attention, they become our holy ground as we “remove” our protective covering, thereby exposing our vulnerability. Our crossroad then appears before us.

So what does it mean in our lives? If we were to follow the examples as put forth by Moses in the Story of the Burning Bush or that of the disciples in their “taking up of their cross and following” Jesus, it could mean for us, a similar adherence to the faithful practices as St. Paul tells us in our Epistle for today.

It means having genuine love; hating what is evil; holding fast to what is good; loving one another with mutual affection and outdoing one another in giving honor. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, has more suggestions we can follow and I would encourage you to “read, mark and inwardly digest” the biddings found in Romans 12:9-21.

In claiming Paul’s biddings as our own, we will then be able to take a new look at our struggles and triumphs in life. We will be more accepting of people who differ from us, whose predicaments in life happened to be the outcome of inferior decisions.          We will be able to reach out to our neighbors and extend our helping arms, especially when it is in our power to relieve them even if it were to inconvenience us. We will be able to identify with others irrespective of their race, color, sexual orientation and creed and finally, that we will have begun the process of “becoming” the best that we can be.

We may have to leave our zone of comfort and move on and carry the cross the comes with our discipleship. But first, have that attentive ear. God is calling your attention!

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