STANDING IN AWE
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. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’
(Exodus 3:1-5, NRSV)
How do you bring calm into your life? Reading? Yoga? Music? Meditation? Cooking? Praying? Crafting? We all have our fall backs, avenues toward peace. My favorite way to relax is by connecting with nature. Walking through the woods of Christopher Morley Park, admiring fall foliage on Manhasset Woods Road, walking the boardwalk at Jones Beach, camping out east, viewing the sunset through my office windows, noticing the suns’ rays turned colors through our chapel windows, and the pure white rays shining through our 4 etched gospel windows.
I love nature, the way it makes me feel, and its reminder that heaven and earth are connected. Part of my love of nature can be attributed to my grandfather, whom we called Gramps. He was born on 10/10/10, October 10, 1910. So many memories of Gramps are nature memories—the night Gramps caught the 10-pound catfish that I could barely lift with one hand, collecting pecans with him on a piece of land we used to call the jungle because of the thick undergrowth and trees, spotting seven bright red male cardinals near his backyard birdfeeder, him showing me the difference between raccoon tracks and squirrel tracks, his backyard garden ablaze with red and yellow tulips every spring, him showing me a woolly bear caterpillar and explaining how the farmers of old used them to predict winter’s severity (the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the coming winter; the shorter the brown band, the longer and more severe winter will be).
Gramps was a nature lover who saw more than mere wildlife, trees, and stars. Gramps was a deeply religious man who knew when he gazed at creation’s beauty that he was seeing the handiwork of God, our Creator. While surrounded with the beauty of nature’s tapestry, Gramps knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was standing on holy ground.
Thousands of years ago in the middle of the rugged wilderness, Moses learned that he too was standing on holy ground. It was an ordinary day when Moses, an ordinary man, went out to take care of some sheep. Moses was minding his own business, probably more concerned about the little lamb with the limp than with encountering the Almighty, when he saw a bush on fire. It didn’t take long for Moses to notice that this bush flamed brightly but was never consumed. Standing in the warm glow, Moses would have had his socks knocked off had he been wearing any, for out of the burning bush he heard the call of his name. Moses heard the Voice say, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
And Moses said…nothing. Moses said nothing as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. The Voice said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Without hesitation Moses immediately hid his face out of fear. Why? Perhaps he figured he was about to get blasted for the murder he had committed back in Egypt while defending a Hebrew slave. Perhaps he thought God was going to nail him for spending too much time worrying about the sheep and not enough time worrying about God. Perhaps he closed his eyes because in reality Moses just wanted to be left alone to live the quiet life of a shepherd and avoid whatever it was that God had up the divine sleeve. Moses didn’t have to wonder for long because God reminded him of the suffering of God’s people, the Israelites, back in Egypt. Then God let Moses in on a little secret, which I’m guessing Moses heard like this: “The good news is I’m going to liberate my oppressed people from that evil pharaoh. The bad news is that I want you to go and tell that evil pharaoh the good news!”
I wonder which was more frightening to Moses at that point, the fact that he was talking to the Almighty or the fact that he might have to face Pharaoh? Probably the latter because Moses’ next words to God are, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God’s answer, “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you.” Eventually Moses relented and the rest is history. The freedom of a nation all started on an ordinary plot of desert sand that was in fact holy ground, as Moses quickly learned. It was holy ground in the first place because it was part of God’s wondrous creation. And it was holy ground in a more personal sense because on that patch of earth in the middle of nowhere, Moses encountered our holy God.
As with many things in life, it might not have happened like it did. Moses might have taken one look at the bush and decided he was too busy to investigate. He might have thought it a danger to the sheep and quickly herded them elsewhere. He might have made plans to come back the next day and examine the charred remains. “Only then,” Barbara Brown Taylor points out, “he would not have been Moses. He would just have been a guy who got away with murder, without discovering what else his life might have been about.”
If we hope to discover what else our lives might be about, we too need time for reverence, time to pay attention to the details of life all around us, time to remember that we are standing on holy ground.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Reverence stands in awe of something—something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits—so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well…Reverence requires a certain pace. It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan…The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore. To see takes time, like having a friend takes time. It is as simple as turning off the television to learn the song of a single bird.”
In these hurried days of instant communication from any spot on the planet, we must be intentional if we are to cultivate reverence. We will never sense reverence if we let the television blare 24/7. We will never feel reverence if we are always hurrying to the next commitment at a break-neck pace. We will never experience reverence if we keep our eyes fixed on our litany of problems.
The good news for today is that we can cultivate reverence if we choose. Take a moment to quiet yourself and listen. Take a moment to quiet yourself and look. What do you see—the sugar maple aglow with color, the deep crimson mum, your doorstep decked out for fall? What do you hear— a breeze stirring the trees, a squirrel scampering along the power line overhead, the rhythm of your breath through your nostrils? What do you smell—smoke from a hearth, dinner simmering on the stove, the scent of rain on warm pavement? What do you feel—the sun on your face, the watch ticking on your wrist, the beating of your own heart? Take off your shoes Moses, for you stand on holy ground, as do we all. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
October 28, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
 Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p. 25
 Ibid. p. 21, 24, 33
Loving God, Giver of life, Creator of the universe, open our eyes this morning to your presence in our lives. As we gaze at your glistening seas, as we notice the glories of nature, as we observe the tiniest wildflower, make us mindful of the blessing of your beautiful creation. As we walk this earth, remind us that every square inch is holy ground because you created it. Remind us as well that every moment buds with potential for a meaningful encounter with you. Help us slow down and cultivate a life of reverence that we might notice the world that teems with life around us.
Fill us with your Spirit and draw us closer to one another, through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.