Summary: This text reminds us that our goal in life should be neither reaching high ground nor good ground, but rather holy ground; woe be unto us if we use elevation and wealth as substitutes for being holy.
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)
Our text finds a former prince of Egypt leading sheep to graze. A man who once stood in the high and wealthy palaces of Egypt - the bastion of education, military power and international wealth - is now a shepherd. Quite a turn of events for a man who once had the ear of the pharaoh. The text says that while executing his duties, he saw a burning bush on Mount Horeb and also heard the voice of God. Moses was then instructed to remove his footwear, for the place where he was standing was holy ground.
Let’s think about this scenario a bit. The fact that this divine encounter happened on a mountain meant that Moses was on high ground. High ground had military value; it was difficult to attack an elevated enemy. High ground meant that one was safe from floods. High ground also meant being safe from predators who could only survive on low ground. Notice also that there was vegetation there – a bush. That meant that the ground was rich with enough nutrients, sun light and water to sustain life at some level; it was good ground.
Let’s think about that. Moses was in an elevated and sustaining environment. He was on ground that allowed him to look down. He was on ground that produced life. But what made that ground extraordinary was that Moses encountered the presence of God. High ground – yes. Good ground – yes. But the distinguishing element was that the presence of God made it holy ground.
Let’s think about us. We start learning in pre-school and continue through college and for some beyond. We work 50 hours a week and try to impress people that we do not really know with things that we cannot afford. We join groups, friend desired associates on Face Book and drop the names of people who do not remember us. Why? All for the sake of getting to high ground and good ground. Getting that professional degree, getting that promotion, getting a house in that neighborhood, getting our kids into that school, etc. – all for the sake of getting to high ground and good ground. But in our pursuit of that which is high and mighty, I wonder how much time we spend seeking holy ground?
Where is holy ground? Can we find it with Map Quest or Google Earth? Is holy ground in our sanctuaries? The location of holy ground is shared in the text; it is wherever we find the presence of God. Holy ground is any place where we allow God’s presence to enlighten our minds. Holy ground is any place where God’s will is made clear to us. Holy ground is any place that demands that we ‘remove our shoes’ – any place that demands that we discard that which comes between us and God’s holiness. In that light, one may need to take off the shoes of pride, the shoes of selfishness, the shoes of foolishness, the shoes of anger, the shoes of greed, the shoes of jealousy, the shoes of lust, the shoes of hatred, the shoes of revenge. Hence those ‘shoes’ – those things that we wear during our earthly walk will need to be removed if they serve as barriers to God’s holiness.