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Exodus 3:1-15

Our lesson from Exodus places us in the middle of the wilderness with Moses in a time long, long ago. He’s tending to this father-in-law’s flock. As he gets to Horeb, which is later named Sinai, he encounters this strange sight of a bush that is ablaze yet not consumed by the fire. He naturally is curious as to what is happening, and as he steps closer to get a better look, a voice that we learn to be God calls out to him: “Moses!”, to which he responds, “Here I am.”

“Come no closer!”, God commands him. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

When I was a teenager, I used to wear the baseball-style caps almost every day that I wasn’t at school. My two favorite hats were of my two favorite sports teams: the Indiana Hoosiers and, of course, the Yankees. My parents would let me wear those just about anywhere; we didn’t have rules about hats at the dinner table, and they were wonderful to wear when I was outside playing football in the backyard. But the one place that I could not wear a hat was in a church. There’s a time and a place for wearing one, but sitting in God’s house was not that time or place. For my parents and many of the elders in the church, it was a sign of irreverence and disrespect.

And as I grew up with this story of Moses, I always perceived that God commanding Moses to take off his shoes was for a similar kind of reason. There’s a time and a place for wearing shoes, but when you’re standing on holy ground, it’s irreverent. For Moses to continue wearing those dirty sandals in the presence of God would have been disrespectful; it’s not how you behave when you’re talking with the creator of the universe.

As we read further into the story, however, we find that this respect and reverence seems to be missing in Moses’s interactions with God. God continues on and tells Moses of his plan to liberate the Israelites from Egypt and bring them to the land flowing with milk and honey; and at the center of this divine plan is Moses, who will confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people out. Rather than showing submission and reverence to this God, however, Moses is tentative and resistant.

“Hold on. Why me? I can’t do this!”

Our passage ends at verse 15, but the story really continues through chapter 4. And throughout this narrative, Moses is talking back to God, telling of all the reasons that he is not the right person for such an important mission.

“Why will they believe me?” [1]

“I can’t even talk well; isn’t there someone else you could send?” [2]

“Please, send anyone else!” [3]

This back and forth eventually hits a boiling point in Chapter 4, where the text tells us that God gets angry at Moses for his refusals and excuses. [4]

So much for reverence and respect in the presence of God. Yet even in the midst of his questions and refusals, God never stops calling Moses to such an important task. He is never struck down by lightning for showing such blatant disrespect towards God, and we know how God ends up working through Moses to liberate the Israelites and lead them into the wilderness.

I have to admit, then, that I’m beginning to believe that taking off his sandals was not as much a requirement based on respect or reverence. I really began to fixate on this in my preparation this week, because it’s so puzzling to me. But I had a flashback to a pastor-friend of mine that I think helps me look at this in a new way.

The first time that I went to Dana’s house was for a community meal when I was a sophomore in college. I had only been to the church two or three times, and yet I had somehow been wrangled into going to the parsonage for a midweek dinner. I was terrified, of course, because I did not know one single person at this church, and I am terrible at awkward small talk. After I sat in my car, working up the courage to step outside, I finally made my way up the stairs to ring the doorbell. She welcomed me in with a hug, but then she immediately told me to take off my shoes before I walked in any further. I briefly panicked, wondering if my socks matched, but I took my shoes off and made my way to where everyone else was sitting.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that first dinner was the beginning of my long relationship with her and that community.

It kind of became a running joke for many of us, knowing that the first thing we ever did upon walking into her house was to take our shoes off. I had the chance to ask Dana about it a couple of year later, and she told me that people somehow tend to be more open and engaging when they all had to remove their shoes. After all, the only place that we are ever really without shoes is in our own homes or in the homes of those we trust most dearly. Shoes are a form of protection and mask, in some way, because they cover up our mismatched socks and our deformed toes. The CEO of your company doesn’t know what your feet look like; they only know your accomplishments and your work. They don’t know you — what makes you tick, your hopes and dreams, your fears and concerns. Those conversations happen when you’re able to get truly comfortable, shoes off and curled up on a couch, not sitting across from someone in a business suit behind a desk.

But with Dana, I could walk in and know that I was in a welcoming and safe space; I knew that I was in the company of family, with whom I could always be straight-forward and honest. It was a vulnerable feeling, of course, but everyone had the same vulnerability upon walking into that house. We walked in knowing that we could be ourselves in that place, regardless of the fact that it was the pastor’s home. We could walk in with whatever we were carrying, whatever it was that we were dealing with, and we would find open ears and open hearts. We entered as ourselves with no pretense, no masks, and no need to hide who we were.

And as I was reminded of this part of life this week, I found myself asking, “What if it is also this way with God?”

What if the command for Moses to take off his shoes was a call for Moses to be truly Moses in that moment? Even as Moses was rattling off all of the reasons as to why he was a bad fit for this calling, God would reply, “I know, and I called you.” Perhaps there was something about Moses — with his troubled and complicated past, with his troubling speech, and with his tenacity to ask so many questions of God — that God saw and thought, “I want him.” Perhaps God’s call to Moses was not to be a perfect, ideal leader but just to be Moses. And perhaps God’s call this morning is not for a you that is someone else but authentically you.

In just a few moments, we will come forward to the Lord’s Table to receive this means of transformative grace. I’m not going to have us take off our shoes, because I don’t know if we can handle the smell.

But as you do come forward, listen closely for Christ calling you; not who you will be in ten years, not after you have time to change into matching socks, or not the person you wish you could be.

You who are convinced that you’re not worthy or welcome at this table – come.

You who would rather have some time to prepare yourself before making your way up – come.

You who think that there are some others who are far more qualified to be called – come.

You who have questions and doubts about what this journey looks like – come.

You who have so many regrets that even sitting in a church pew took an enormous amount of courage this morning – come.

You. Here. In this moment. Come.

For Christ is calling each and every single one of us to pick up our own crosses. Christ is calling us to lose our lives in grace and love so that we might somehow find them on the other side, to join in the work of transforming the world that has been in motion since the beginning of time.

It may hurt. We might be like Moses and fight back. But God knows us fully, and God is still calling each of us. And if we all can hear that God is calling us now, we can have hope that God will bring us through to that land of milk and honey, to resurrection, and to life everlasting.

Christ is calling us to this table: “Come closer. Take off your shoes and get comfortable. Let’s talk this out.”

Amen.

 

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Footnotes

[1] Exodus 4:1

[2] Exodus 4:10

[3] Exodus 4:13

[4] Exodus 4:14