Standing on holy ground (Sunday 22, Year A, 28 August 2011)

Standing on holy ground

Exodus 3.1-15
Matthew 16.21-28 

According to William Shakespeare, names aren’t that important. As Juliet says to Romeo,

What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.

But they end up dead, all because their surnames are Montague and Capulet.

Names often do have meanings. Captain Cook found some dangerous shoals as he was exploring the east coast over two hundred years ago, so he named a nearby landmark ‘Mt Warning’. As a warning to other seafarers. The first people, the Bundjalung people, had previously named it ‘Wollumbin’. In their dreaming stories, Wollumbin was said to be Warrior Chief of the mountain. The spirits of the mountains were warriors. The wounds they received in battles can be seen as landslides on the side of the mountain and thunder and lightning were the effects of their battles.

The story you tell, the name you speak, depends on the place on which you stand.

Moses stood before a burning bush. But he came from somewhere. He was an Israelite baby, saved from death and raised in Pharaoh’s palace. He’d killed an Egyptian for mistreating an Israelite—yet the Israelites didn’t trust him. Moses was lying low in the middle of nowhere herding sheep.

How might Moses be named? What name would suit him? Again, it depends where you stand. An Egyptian might name him ‘murderer’. An Israelite could call him ‘distrusted’, or ‘one of “them”’. Either way, he was ‘unwanted’.

Maybe that’s why Moses said to God at the bush, ‘Who am I?’, for he had no idea who he really was. Yet God had given him new names: ‘leader’, ‘saviour’, ‘prophet’, ‘deliverer’. We can understand why Moses said,

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?

Moses sees things that we don’t see. We see that he was brought up in a palace, that he could have a different iPad for each day of the week if he wanted it. But Moses sees very little in himself. He doesn’t belong, he has a speech impediment, no one will listen to him. But God sees ‘something more’ in Moses. Something more than the privileged upbringing, the awkwardness inside. God sees a heart for the poor. God can use that heart. God shares that heart.

God sees more in you and me as well. What is that ‘something more’ that God sees in you and wants to grow more of? You may find yourself standing on holy ground one day, and find out. You’ll find out that you are a work in progress, that you’re still becoming fully human.

The Apostle Peter was only just becoming fully human. He had a loooong way to go. He was capable of both great and foolish things.

What’s in a name? Jesus gave him the name ‘Peter’, a Rock. His faith and his confession that Jesus is the Christ of God were the rock on which Jesus would build.

But now Jesus names this ‘rock’ a ‘stumbling block’, a loose rock on the path that you can stumble and trip over. Jesus names him ‘Satan’, because through Peter’s words he feels the satanic temptation to avoid the cross. What’s in a name?

The story you tell, the name you speak, depends on the place on which you stand. Aren’t you standing on holy ground?

Some people are named ‘sinner’, some ‘saint’. Studdert Kennedy was a British Army chaplain in the First World War. They called him ‘Woodbine Willie’, and he wrote some powerful poetry in very everyday language. In one of his poems, he’s imagining the thoughts of an ordinary soldier who’s told by some that he’s a saint and by others that he deserves to go to hell. The soldier knows he’s neither sinner nor saint. ‘Woodbine Willie’ writes:

I’m a man, and a man’s a mixture,
Right down from his very birth,
For part of him comes from heaven,
And part of him comes from earth.
There’s nothing in him that’s perfect;
There’s nothing that’s all complete.
He’s nobbut a great beginning
From his head to the soles of his feet.

I love those last couple of lines. We are nothing but a ‘great beginning’ from our heads to the soles of our feet. Moses, Peter, we are works in progress. We are becoming fully human on this holy ground on which we stand.

Listen to a lovely Jewish story:

Once, the great Hasidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

‘Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!’

‘I have had a vision. I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.’

The followers were puzzled. ‘Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?’

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. ‘I have learned that the angels will not ask me, “Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?”’

His followers persisted. ‘So, what will they ask you?’

‘And I have learned,’ Zusia sighed, ‘that the angels will not ask me, “Why weren‘t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?”’

One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, ‘But what will they ask you?’

They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?’

The story you tell, the name you speak, depends on the place on which you stand. Where am I standing?

God doesn’t want me to be Bruce Johnson, or David Baker, or even Katie Wallis. God wants me to be Paul Walton. I’m the only person who can do that, and that’s what he made me for.

When God calls us, we are aware of our imperfections. And we’re in good company! Think of the people God called:

Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Mary was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zacchaeus was short, Abraham was old and Lazarus was dead.

Now….. what’s YOUR reason for thinking God won’t use you?

God called all these people to be the best ‘selves’ they could be. God didn’t call Jacob to be a Peter; that was for Peter to do. God called Sarah to be Sarah, not Mary. And God equipped them and equips us through the gift of the Spirit.

Who is this God who calls and equips us? What is his name? Moses wants to know God’s name. And God says, I AM WHO I AM. Or I AM WHAT I AM or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. What kind of name is that? It’s a mysterious name, not a name we can pin down. We are on holy ground just uttering that name.

And it’s not the name we often want God to have. We often want God to be called I AM WHAT YOU WANT ME TO BE. We try to make God fit our ideas of who God is.

God is I AM WHO I AM, and God uses whoever God chooses. We’ve all got faults, some of us have skeletons in the cupboard, doesn’t matter to the great I AM.

The story you tell, the name you speak, depends on the place on which you stand. And aren’t we always on holy ground?

Moses was standing on holy ground, but he didn’t really get it at first. When God called him, he thought he was standing on the unholy ground of his fears and inadequacies. But no, he was standing on the holy ground God had provided.

We too stand on holy ground, the ground of God’s call to join in God’s mission of hearing the cries of the oppressed and the captives and work in the name of Jesus to bring freedom to them.

We stand on holy ground, the ground of God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ. God calls and equips us. God sends his Spirit upon us and among us and within us. Thanks be to God.



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