Good morning, and a word of welcome. It is a great morning for St. Andrew’s, as we’re going to be gathering immediately following the service today for a luncheon over in Brooks Hall. Just about a year since a brunch was held to announce the formation of a planning group and committee to consider some of the challenges and opportunities we all face here in this parish family as we consider our direction and resources for ministry in the decades and really in the century ahead. And after many months of planning meetings, and lots of brainstorming on 5 x 8 cards, discussion groups, and with the foundation of commitments from our vestry and core group of parish leadership, to open today a view of the future that our committee has given the wonderful name, “Opening Doors.” What a great name, capturing in two words the spirit of what God has been doing in and through St. Andrew’s not just for years but for generations, for 176 years. Opening Doors. Welcoming new friends and family, generation after generation, in the name of our Lord, and then Opening Doors to go out into the world to carry in so many ways the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s an exciting moment, and I hope you will stay, have something to eat, talk with friends, and then hear the news.
And with a continued word of encouragement as we walk along the journey, guided by our Church Calendar—the journey from the Manger to the Cross, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, now to begin the third full week of Lent and perhaps in the far distance to begin in our imaginations to see the Holy City Jerusalem on the horizon in front of us, and with a sense almost we might say of a gathering storm. Certainly that’s true in the church office and I’m sure in the music office as well. And deeper stirrings in the story, touching our hearts and our imaginations. March already, and it will be Holy Week and Good Friday before we know it.
As we move along together, I would just set before us again, as I have each of these Sundays in Lent, the invitation in the Prayer Book service for Ash Wednesday: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There isn't just one way in Lent that’s right for everybody, and sometimes we might find that what was right and meaningful for us one year doesn't seem to make sense in another year. But again, however it is unfolding for you, blessings and a good word along the way.
Last Sunday the Old Testament Lesson from Genesis gave us that great watershed moment in the story of the life of Abraham, as God in this visionary experience revealed his divine purpose to Abraham and promised Abraham that he would be the Father of a chosen nation and people, as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that through him and his descendants would come the blessing of all nations and peoples.
And to see how Abraham like Mary so many centuries and generations later, says yes, trusts God’s promise. Let it be to me as you have said. And this is a pattern, of course. Again and again through the holy story of scripture. A pattern that is intended to speak to us in a deep and meaningful way. God goes first, but then leaves us in freedom to answer. Abraham and David and Jeremiah and St. Mary the Virgin, and on and on. A pattern.
Today one of my favorite stories of scriptures, the call of Moses. I notice that if I talk about the story of the Prophet Samuel and young David very often at baptisms, as I mentioned last Sunday, I find myself again and again drawn to this story from Exodus when I preach at weddings.
Moses out in the wilderness keeping an eye on his father-in-law’s herds. The strange site in the distance. The bush, engulfed in flames, burning with a ferocious intensity, yet, somehow, inexplicably, not consuming itself in the flames. And the voice –as I always like to say, I imagine the voice of James Earl Jones: Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.
Holy ground, in God’s presence. Because it is at this moment when God’s plan for his life is revealed to Moses.
You didn't realize it along the way, Moses, but all your life has been a preparation for this, and now the time has come. You are going to go back to Egypt, and to go into the very throne-room of Pharaoh. And as you put your whole trust in me, I will give you the words to speak and the power that you will need to lead my Chosen People from slavery to freedom. If you will trust in me, I will be with you every step of the way.
A moment about vocation. About God revealing to us what is deep and true about who we are, about what our true identity is, about destiny. A plan for your life. A sacred invitation.
Take off your shoes, Moses. For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.
It’s a familiar story. A pattern. Like Abraham’s story was an old story. And Jeremiah. And Mary, when the Angel Gabriel came to her. But if this is a story repeated again and again and again in the Bible, it is also to say that this a story not just that we have heard, but that is and can be our story as well. For the first time that we are aware of God’s presence, the first stirrings. And then not to run. Like Jonah. Although some of us have run away, once or many times. Because it is, it can be, such a terrifying thing. Because it involves so much being honest. And because it involves a prayer not that he would remake himself in our image, but that he would remake us in his image.
But does seek us out, again and again, and find us. These “burning bush” moments. Could be in our Bible reading, our conversations in study and with friends, the still small voice in times of prayer and reflection. Each time we are invited to the Holy Table, to remember Jesus and his sacrifice, which was all for us.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. The knock at the door. A powerful thing, to sense for the first time that God has a claim on your life. I thought I was on my own here. That I could pretty much make my way forward according to my own plans and preferences. Then a glimpse of that flaming bush out in the wilderness. The voice in the dream. The angel suddenly standing beside us.
And the then the time when what was true for Abraham and true for Moses and true for David and true for Mary and for Peter and James and John and Andrew and Paul and so many, to be true for us also. As we would choose to trust him. Which is a decision. Again, like Mary and the Angel. Let it be as you have said.
We might think this morning, even as we come together to talk about “Opening Doors” here at St. Andrew’s Highland Park, to open new possibilities for our life and ministry.
Moses says, Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh? We know how that feels. And God replies, and this of course is the key. Moses, I will be with you. I will be with you.
In Lent. Walking with Jesus on the way to the Cross. Making ourselves available. When we open the Bible so often it seems that we begin to read stories about other people, a long time ago and far, far away. And then, almost before we know it is happening, we find that it is about us. And for us. God speaking directly to us and into the present moment of our lives. That these stories are our story. And that it is thousands of years ago in the Arabian desert, and here and now. Third Sunday in Lent, St. Andrew’s Highland Park. Moses and Pharaoh, you and me—he wants it this morning I know to be about us. If we can take a breath and let it be so.
Take off your shoes. Never can tell when you’re going to hear those words. Ready or not. Take off your shoes. For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.