It is one of the most familiar passages of all scripture. He is one of the most recognizable figures in the Old Testament. It is one of the most popular stories of all time. But what is the object used to identify the significance of this epic story? What item illustrates such a remarkable encounter? What thing comes to symbolize the moment as holy?
Moses, standing in amazement gawking at a bush that was engulfed in what appeared to be flames but it was not burning up. When he went near to investigate, the Spirit of God said “take off your shoes, this is holy ground.”
Take off your shoes. That’s odd, most people believed that when you stood in the presence of a proclaimed god, king, or great ruler you brought riches, extravagant gifts, or something of great value to the one giving it. Not that Moese had much, but God didn’t say throw down your nice, warm, well-made shepherd's coat, remove your hand woven head covering, or get those stinky sheep off my mountain. God said, “take off your shoes.” Sandals in this case - nothing more than old dusty, probably well worn, straps of leather tied to a solid piece for the sole that protected the foot from the rough terrain.
The story of Moses and the burning presence of God has been told thousands of times in a thousand different ways. Yet when was the last time you heard a sermon about his shoes?
How often do you think about your shoes? Oh, I know there are some who obsess over their shoes (or maybe have too many boots) and I am fully aware that the question I am about to ask is a first-world kind of question: How many of you own more than two pairs of shoes? More than four or five? I would imagine you have various dress shoes. Work shoes. Yard work or lawn-mowing shoes. Everyday shoes. Going out shoes. Athletic or sport-specific type shoes (golf, running, dance, etc.). Summer sandals. Winter boots. Spring in Indiana boots. Lounge around the house shoes. Just for fun, “I had to have them” kind of shoes. Slip ons. Tie ups. Velcro closure.
But have you ever thought about the shoes sitting in your closet or lost under the bed as symbols of your walk with God? Have you considered the metaphorical message your shoes might be telling you? We talk about taking off the masks we hide behind. We talk about taking off that extra layer of guilt or resentment that we wear like a heavy coat. We talk about taking off or setting down the baggage we carry with us. But what about our shoes?
We can take off and let go of all that other stuff but it strikes me that if we don’t take off our shoes and touch the very dust from which God created us and ground ourselves in God, then we still walk in or walk from a place, mindset, or paradigm that keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God.
Have there been times in your life you needed to take off your shoes - take off that which kept you from fully experiencing what God had for you? Is now the time? Could this season of Lent be a time to take off the false narratives you walk around with? A time to take off the dirt of gossip, cynicism, and judgmentalism that keeps you from enjoying the good around you? Or that keeps you from hearing and seeing others as God sees them? Do you need to take off your shoes of control and recognize God’s faithfulness? God’s timing? God’s way? Is it time to unlace / untie certain expectations, assumptions, or speculations and feel your feet sink into the presence of God; being grounded once again?
I think part of what Moses had to remove was his being comfortable. I think he needed to take off his security and learn to trust God. Moses could not approach God until he took off that which was stuck to the bottom of his shoes. It is not until we do the same that we can stand on the holy ground and recognize God in our midst; recognize God revealing God’s self to us in ways you don’t expect; recognize that God may not be what we have always thought God was. It is then we see more clearly what God is doing and how we are a part of it.
You’ll notice Moses doesn’t take off his shoes, step in that moment with God and then stay there barefoot and blinded by what God is doing and asking of him. He steps back out and does what? He puts his shoes back on. But here’s the thing, I bet they felt different. Once you have stood on holy ground, your shoes don’t fit the same.
Maybe they feel lighter. Maybe they fit better than before. Maybe you have more room for growth or maybe they were reshaped for the journey ahead. Maybe they don’t fit at all and you have to put on new shoes - different shoes for new understanding, new insights, new ways of thinking, doing, and being. Maybe you feel stronger, more determined to walk on; or maybe you feel like what I like to call confidently terrified yet ready to take those next steps. The point is, those ordinary shoes illustrate an extraordinary encounter with the holy.
May we, like Moses, take off our shoes, and be transformed, inspired, challenged, affirmed, and encouraged. May we continue to see God in plain sight. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine