“Holy Ground”

As Pastor Deb continues her vacation, Elder Mary Lee Miller took the pulpit with these important and relevant thoughts:

February 23, 2014
Exodus 3:1-12

         For Moses it was probably a typical day:  up early to avoid the high heat of the day; same sheep; same extensive pasture; he was content with the routine.  Totally predictable.  And, then in a flash, nothing would ever be predictable again. A bush spontaneously bursts into flames.  A voice from the fire calls him by name. And there he is, standing barefoot on Holy Ground and being summoned by the Almighty to a very different life.

          I don’t envy Moses one bit.  I like the predictable. The more routine, the better.  Nor would I want to meet up with the Divine in visions like Ezekiel, dry bones coming to life.  Holy ground for the prophets was always high drama.  Just give me candlelight, soft sacred music, and stained glass.

          Holy ground.  What is it? Where is it? A translation note.  Holy ground comes from the Latin sacer meaning sacred and sacred comes from the Greek hagia meaning holy. Let’s agree they are the same and reserve the Lord for the one we worship and serve when we are on Holy Ground.

          The need to focus on Holy Ground seems more and more urgent as time speeds toward huge change for us.  We will either be staying for a few years at 4 East Henrietta Rd (but owned by someone else) or re-locating to a brand new address.  For me (and I am quite certain for many of you) it may feel as if we are standing on shifting, not Holy, ground.  Then again, there are others who are more than anxious to get this building off our backs and launch into a new form of ministry without the “churchy” connections.  It will be our strength if we continue to listen carefully to each other.

          Let’s give ear to the emotional disruption that some feel.  Intellectually, we know that God hasn’t set up housekeeping at 4 east Henrietta Rd.  However, we do feel deeply that God has been experienced in the life events that have been celebrated within these walls. The baptisms (Marirose Dempsey, Luke Updegraff, Arram, etc).  The marriages (the Rickners, the Sixby’s, Suarez and Preston).  The memorial services (too many of them lately). (Harriet Babcock and all the saints who came before us, Ray and JoAnne King, Fran Forrest, Betty Elliot, Marion). The potluck suppers (with at least 4 tuna casseroles).  The choir numbering in the 30’s.  Ernestine Fischer finishing her organ playing days with a blaze of glory with Widor’s Toccata.

          Of course, we are deeply attached to this place.  It is where we have loved and been loved.  Such could be the definition of Holy Ground.

          Our situation reminds me of that of another faith community who were forced to live countries away from where their homeland.  Listen to the lament of the Israelites: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.  On the willows we hung our harps.  How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  Psalm137.

           A good question.  Let me suggest that we look for Holy Ground in places we may not have walked before. Foreign land, you might say, yet close to home: Wherever justice is done, wholeness restored, and community established, that is where Holy Ground is.

          Let’s ask a few people where Holy Ground has been for them.  We won’t ask Moses, however.  That was tried once.  Our 43rd president, G.W., was waiting for connection in the Atlanta when he noticed a man who looked just like Moses.  Barefoot, long white hair, flowing robe, carrying some heavy stones.  This person who looked like Moses was simply staring straight ahead as if looking for something.  Well, G. W., excited, call to him:  Moses!  Moses!  The man did not respond.  He tried again:  Moses. Moses!  Again, no response. Finally, G. W. was getting perturbed.  He shouted MOSES, why don’t you speak to me?  Moses replied:  the last time I spoke to a bush I was wandering around in the desert for 40 years.

          Let’s ask Sister Barbara Moore who at one time ministered to prisoners.  Her ministry was to help them adjust to life outside and to find community.  Holy Ground from behind bars and into community.

          Let’s ask Kenneth Sager, social studies high school teacher in Appleton Wisconsin.  His Holy Ground was found in his classroom where he helped a young teen who had been abused at home. He could barely speak and had little self –confidence.  Mr. Sager helped him find his voice and start a journey back to wholeness.

          Let’s finally ask Thomas Ferraro. When he was a young man helping out at a food cupboard, he became acutely aware of the widespread hunger in Rochester.  The injustice of it. He set out to do something about it.  Started by appealing to the CEO’s of Thomas’s English Muffins.  Got them to fill a school bus with English muffins to distribute to food cupboards and soup kitchens.  Today, the organization he founded has 500 volunteers.  Foodlink today distributes thousands of pounds of food annually. As an advocate for the hungry, Tom found Holy Ground in an old school bus.  Justice in action!

          Does finding and establishing other Holy Grounds heal the sadness of leaving this place?  I’d say no.  Not right away.  There is not even a balm in Gilead that could quickly do that.  But it may remind us that the acts of our faith:  justice; wholeness; the building of community, favors no one place. The ground may feel as if it is shifting under us, but God is our bedrock. Always has been.  Always will be.  He is our God and we are his people.  It’s an ageless covenant. Can’t be broken as long as we follow in the Way of the One we have chosen to serve.

I like to think of this congregation as a beautiful flowering plant that has thrived for years.  It becomes necessary for it to be transplanted.  We know that the roots are going to suffer transplant shock at first.  But, we will find that if the new soil is carefully prepared and if the plant is conscientiously nurtured, it will regain its vigor.  We may even begin to see perhaps   some new blossoms where they were not previously seen.

Our tasks in the a-typical days ahead are four-fold:

  1. Take care of each other.
  2. In the words of the psalmist, Look unto the hills from which our help comes.
  3. Be faithful to God.
  4. Oh, and keep you shoes on.  We are about to strike out on the journey of a lifetime.          
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