Consecration Sunday Acts 16:9-15; Exodus 3:1-15
In her book, An Altar in the World (p. 19), Barbara Brown Taylor shares a story from when she was seven. Her father woke her up in the middle of the night and told her to come with him and bring the blue blanket off of her bed to wrap around herself. She followed him out to the porch where she and her sister, laid down, one on each side of him and did what he did— looked up at the sky. The first time she saw a star fall she couldn’t believe her eyes. And then soon there were hundreds of them— and she felt at once both big for being part of the universe and so su-per small. That night her perspective of herself, the world around her, her father, and what is sa-cred shifted a bit as she learned reverence and awe.
There are moments in our lives that we will never forget for this reason or that reason. And then there are moments in our lives when we experience the holy through healing or forgiveness or a ray of sunlight or a smell, and we realize that that Something that is bigger than us, the holy that we've been reaching for, the love that we name God, is reaching out to us at the same time. Some people call these mystical experiences. In other traditions they call them conversion mo-ments. John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism said that his heart was strangely warmed when he experienced a presence of God that changed his life and his ministry forever. In Celtic Christianity they call them "thin places.” These are times when heaven and earth come so close you almost can't tell which is which. Interestingly enough, in the Celtic tradition, the distance be-tween heaven and earth was said to only be three feet— that’s not very far. These are the mo-ments when the reality of what we’ve been experiencing is transformed into something else en-tirely— when we recognize that we have been standing on holy ground.
Moses had at least one experience like that. Saved as an infant by Pharoah’s daughter, Moses has grown up knowing that God has been a part of his life, but there are no stories before this one that give us any notion that he has experienced the holy— the sacred— up until this mo-ment. He had a troubled young adulthood in which he actually killed a man and had to flee Egypt in order to save his life. And now, well into adulthood, he has settled into married and family life and a career caring for his father-in-law’s sheep. If someone had interviewed him up until this point, he probably would’ve said that he expected to keep doing what he was doing until he died. Except that on this day, he found out that heaven and earth aren’t so far apart. He sees the burning bush, he walks over to inspect how it could be on fire and yet not be consumed, and then God gets a hold of him, telling him to take off his shoes— that he’s standing on holy ground.
Lydia apparently had a similar experience. She was a business woman— someone who deals in purple cloth, an extravagant consumer item of her day. She is along the river where a prayer meeting has gathered. Paul and the other followers of Jesus show up to pray, and then they begin to share what they know about Jesus. Lydia listens passionately to everything that is said, and before they can even finish she is asking to be baptized. She realizes that she is standing on holy ground— that she can respond to the love offered her in Jesus Christ, and so she im-mediately chooses to be baptized, to have her family baptized, and then welcomes Paul and his fellow travelers to come stay at her house, not willing to take no for an answer.
When we find ourselves on holy ground, life shifts beneath our feet. We recognize that God has been with us the whole time— that God indeed has been listening and speaking and longing to connect with us— and our lives are changed.
I wonder what would happen if we dared to share these stories of mystery. So often we don't talk about them— even in the church. Somewhere along the way, our faith and Christianity became an intellectual exercise in which we memorize a creed or make sure we think the right way. And as someone who studies theology and the Bible, I love that. What we believe does matter in how we live our lives. But too often we stop there. And we miss out on what really matters-- that the God who created the entire universe longs to connect with us, surround us, and love us. Too often we focus on talking about God, rather than talking to God.
That’s why we have been taking time in worship for people to share parts of their stories. We need each other. And we need to hear from each other. I realize this is a countercultural way of being in our midwest quiet community. We aren’t used to putting ourselves out there. We aren’t comfortable with being vulnerable and sharing the stories that we have within us. So often we keep those stories to ourselves unless someone asks to hear them. But I’m telling you this morning, we need to hear your story. We all need to hear about how God is at work in our lives so that we can fill this world with love and hope and joy. It is now, at this juncture of our country and our community that we need to be telling these stories of thin places— to remember that God is with us— that our every step is on holy ground. Or, as Paul D’Arcy once said, “God comes to you disguised as your life.”
We may read these Biblical stories and see heroes of our faith. We may read these stories and see these people as just characters that did the right thing. But if we do that, we will be missing out. Because Moses was a man who lived a life just as complex if not more complex than ours; a life in which he suffered and found joy; a life in which he questioned himself and God just as much if not more than you and I do. And it is in the ordinariness of his life that God called him.
Lydia too, although only mentioned briefly in the book of Acts, is a woman to wonder about. She was somehow a business woman in her day. She must’ve been fairly wealthy to have a home to call her own. She had a full life of stories that we will never hear or know— a life of sorrow and of joy. And yet, on that specific day, she recognizes God’s Spirit in those traveling homeless missionaries and she invites them inside because her life is being changed by God’s Spirit and she wants to celebrate.
God is at work daily in our lives! I wonder how often we take the time to look for God— to expect God to do amazing things. How often do we take time to celebrate and share the moments in which we experience the holy— instead of explaining them away or intellectualizing them. I wonder what it would take for us to embrace the ways in which God is reaching out to us, loving us, always coming to us to warm our hearts in strange ways; to wake us up to the reality of God's Kingdom which is breaking in; to transform our lives so that we can be part of transform-ing our church, our community, our world.
One part of Moses’ story that I always find so meaningful, is that what God tells Moses is that God has been listening to the people. God has been listening to their cries. God has been aware of the pain in their lives. And God is choosing to respond by calling Moses— not someone outside of the pain, but someone who has experienced it firsthand. And when Moses isn’t so sure he’s up to the task, God assures him that Aaron, his brother, will be by his side. And when that seems shaky, Miriam, his sister, leads the Israelite people at times too. And on and on and on. God’s first call may have been to Moses, but Moses did not lead the people out of Egypt alone. God kept calling people by name until every last Israelite walked over to the Promised Land.
Bidden or unbidden, God comes. God speaks to us, calls us by name, and surrounds us with love. We are standing on holy ground. You are sitting on holy pews. But they aren’t holy because we said some magic words! They are holy because people have come and with your presence you have blessed this place. With your words, you have spoken blessing into this space and onto each other. Today in this worship you will pledge your resources to keep giving to God through the ministry of this church. And then, as we all go out, after we have enjoyed a piece of pie and the blessing of each other, we will go into the world with the power to bless those around us. And God will go with us.
We are standing on holy ground. We are breathing in holy air. May we learn to cherish the mo-ments in our lives where we can see the thin places— and be renewed for the work of sharing God’s love with this world.