Moses may have learned more that day when he came face to face with God than we may ever realize. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” God said to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3:5b NLT). Ever since then it seems we have found reason to think that it was that particular ground where Moses stood that day that God was referring to but without the particular that we read later when it came to the tent of meeting. Was God referring to the ground immediately beneath Moses’ sandals? A seven foot diameter surrounding the bush? This leads us to a most unfortunate conclusion: the ground is holy – the place is holy, only when we have validation, sometimes of our own creation, that God is present or was present or might be present.
I say unfortunate conclusion because there is so much other scripture that tells me that God is everywhere, all the time and not just in these spaces that we declare to be holy. I love the line from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, “Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go see God? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours?” (p. 8).* Our theme this week brings this idea into question even beyond the ripping of the curtain in the temple that separated the people from the inner sanctuary. Our theme this week considers the possibility that all ground is holy – that all space is holy – that we cannot separate the earth into holy and secular for God is everywhere at all times.
It occurs to me that this may be at the heart of some of the disputes that erupts in church around the sanctuary, particularly the platform (chancel area for the traditionalists). Pieces of furniture and built-ins take on a holiness that is not given to the trash that we bag up and put out at the curb each week. The altar, the cross, the outdated Bible and yes, even the stained-glass windows take on a special reverence that cannot be disturbed and certainly are not to be moved or covered with anything other than “approved” artifacts and coverings.
I recall the time when the decision was made to install a screen for video projection one of the objections raised was whether the screen would be an infringement on sacred space. Certainly this interpretation is in full force in some churches where only the ordained can venture beyond the veil that separates the outer area of the platform from the inner sanctuary. This idea dates back to the Jewish Temple where the priest was the only one who could enter the inner temple. A holy space where it was believed that God dwelled.
However, we build altars in places other than in churches just as the characters in the Old Testament did. And we build altars to gods other than the One we claim to serve exclusively just as the characters in the Old Testament did. And we are judged and we suffer just as the characters in the Old Testament were and did. Why? Because we refuse to “take our shoes off” while standing on holy ground. We presume, it seems to me, that holiness is a state that we want to declare and segregate out from our messy lives except during those times when we choose to allow God in our lives.
How about for the next few days we give this idea that all ground is holy a little more thought? Pray for a piece of your neighborhood – a block – a particular house or building. See the holiness in all of God’s creation. If you are part of Asbury perhaps you can pray for one of our gardens, our hoop house, an orchard or Knoblocks Hardware store. Get out and take a walk, or a drive, or a trip in your imagination. Touch the ground even if it is through shoes or images. Ask God to show you the holiness if it is not visible to you.
*Taylor, Barbara Brown (2009). An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. HarperCollins.