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Sunday, 31 August 2014

The whole world is holy ground

"A man named Moses is tending his sheep in the land of Midian when he comes across a burning bush. He moves closer to see more and hears the voice of God, speaking to him about his people and their need to be delivered from the land of Egypt. God tells Moses to take off his sandals, for the ground he is standing on is holy.” (R. Bell, Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, 2005)

Holy Ground is an art installation by Paul Hobbs which includes a collection of shoes and stories from Christians all around the world. The stories are short statements about what it means for each person to believe in Christ in their particular situation. Among those represented are: a thief, a refugee, the despised, the rejected – people who Jesus specially sought out – as well as those who have known great opportunity, wealth and success. There are those who are beautiful, those who are disabled, those struggling to make a living and raise a family, those who have known great loss and tragedy, and those asking the deep questions of life. All have encountered the living God, arriving at a place of holy ground; where they must, metaphorically at least, remove their shoes in acknowledgement of God’s holiness.

Some contributors are persecuted and despised for their faith, yet retain confidence in the living God. Several people need to be anonymous due to the lack of religious freedom in their lands. For others, anonymity allows them to speak more easily. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5/10).

For some the idea of giving up their shoes for this project seemed amusing and culturally odd. For others it was costly to give their only pair of shoes in exchange for another. For some it was an honour to be featured in this way, to have their story told to represent others from their situation. For many, it was an expression of thankfulness to be able to share their stories with others.

At the burning bush, God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3/2-5). Similarly, acknowledging God’s holiness is the beginning of life as a Christian.

What would your story be of metaphorically taking off your sandals in acknowledgement of God’s holiness?

Hobbs goes on to say that “as a believer follows Jesus Christ, he or she finds that this holy God is also a servant king, humbly and lovingly attending to one’s needs, just as when he washed his disciples feet (John 13/3-5).

As testified in many of the stories, Christians are encouraged to bring this gospel to others with “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6/14-15) and thus they realise the prophecy of Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation” (Isaiah 52/7).”

So he “trusts that this collection of shoes and stories will show the rich variety of believers across the world, their strength of faith despite hardship, and their joy in knowing Christ. The collection also demonstrates God’s love to all types of people, and is a testimony of how the gospel has spread - often at great cost - throughout the world over the last two thousand years, and how it is reaching every part of the globe.

Please pray for people like these – many of whom make great sacrifices and take great risks to follow Christ where they live.” In this way he reminds us of those, such as Christians in North Iraq at present, who need our prayers, our giving and our action on their behalf. He says, “I am struck, in looking at these shoes, by Jesus’ words, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10/31).”

Here is a very different figure; this time a sculpture by the Canadian artist David RobinsonIrena Tippett writes: “Dressed in his finest uniform (suit, tie, pants perfectly pressed) the bronze figure would blend in well with the teeming businessmen of the city. He is tidy. His hair is groomed. Not too young, not too old, he is in his prime, at the top of his game. One expects his head to be held high and it is. Is he, like everyone else, focused on the horizon of his ambition?

Thousands might note in passing that this is no hero, no grand general and no great statesman; in fact the crowds of the morning rush might not find him notable at all. Yet, though in business there is never a minute to spare, allowing him even a moment’s notice would pay off a hundredfold. Would some turn aside and see that he is not rushing as they are? Would anyone take time to look at his hands, to look at his feet?

Bare feet. What has caused this perfectly dressed businessman to humbly remove his shoes? In the stillness of the erect figure, face looking upward, we do not see what he sees but we can perceive a heavenly and personal encounter. Perhaps it is a gesture of repentance that he holds his shoes so lightly?”

These details should bring to mind that “man of another era who similarly, while busy at his workday job, had an encounter which changed his life forever.” As we have heard, “while minding his father-in-law’s sheep in the desert, this man came upon a contradiction: a green bush aflame but not consumed. He could have hastened on his way but for some reason did not.”

“As the story goes, when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, he called to him from out of the bush by name, saying, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

It is by no means certain that everyone would catch the allusion to Moses’ powerful call in the wilderness or know how in that place he met the living God face to face. Nevertheless, David Robinson’s sculpture speaks clearly. Today, under the bare feet of his everyday man, there is holy ground.

Like Barbra Streisand in her song ‘On Holy Ground’ we’re much more comfortable with the concept of God’s being limited to churches or other sacred spaces. Yet the universal message of the sculpture is clear: the whole world is potentially holy ground. Look how the globe extends beneath those shoeless feet.”

Reflecting on this sculpture Irena Tippett concludes, “So here is the truth: There is no time or place immune to the intrusion (if you will) of the living God. Even in a city strident with buying and selling, God is able to reveal himself to people. And a corollary is this: There is no one immune to an encounter with him. Through Jesus Christ God’s great mercy extends to all who hear his voice.”

American Pastor Rob Bell makes a similar point: "Moses has been tending his sheep in this region for forty years. How many times has he passed by this spot? How many times has he stood in this exact place? And now God tells him the ground is holy?

Has the ground been holy the whole time and Moses is just becoming aware of it for the first time?

Do you and I walk on holy ground all the time, but we are moving so fast and returning so many calls and writing so many emails and having such long lists to get done that we miss it?" (R. Bell, Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, 2005)

One of my favourite quote comes from David Adam. You will no doubt have heard me use it before, but it bears repeating: “If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God. Our work, our travels, our joys and our sorrows are enfolded in His loving care. We cannot for a moment fall out of the hands of God. Typing pool and workshop, office and factory are all as sacred as the church. The presence of God pervades the work place as much as He does a church sanctuary.” (Power Lines: Celtic Prayers about Work, SPCK, 1992)

So, in the words of Woody Guthrie:

“Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The spot you’re standing, its holy ground

These words I heard in my burning bush
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
I heard my fiery voice speak to me
This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground

That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground
Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground

Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Every spot it’s holy ground
Every little inch it’s holy ground
Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground”


The Klezmatics - Holy Ground.

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