When my colleagues and friends ask me what I enjoy most about serving as a pastor amid an academic community, there are many things that come to mind. Students, of course, are at the top of the list. I truly love walking with emerging adults at this critical time in life.
But I also enjoy the atmosphere, the environment of a community committed to learning, growing, becoming. I especially love being a part of an academic community that thrives at the nexus of faith and reason, wrestling with how we live faithfully as people endowed with the capacity to think and also endowed with the gift of faith.
Out of this nexus grows my passion for seeing things from a new perspective, a different angle, an orientation that I had not previously considered. How can my own thinking and believing be enriched by ideas that grow out of reflections different from my own? I find such questions energizing and life-giving.
Last week, as I was preparing for the first Candlelight of this academic year, I came across a perspective on a biblical story that not only changed what I thought about that story but opened up a whole new level of understanding.
The story is the call of Moses in the book of Exodus. Let me remind you of the backstory. God’s people ended up in Egypt during a famine. They became enslaved and suffered under terribly harsh treatment, including the slaughter of children. Moses, however, as the story goes, was saved as a baby when his mother put him in a basket and floated him down the river to hide him from the death squads. The Pharaoh’s daughter found him, kept him, and raised him in her own household. When he grew up, he killed an Egyptian whom he saw beating one of the Hebrew people. Fearing for his life, Moses fled to the land of Midian. There he settled and married.
Through all of this, Moses lost all sense of home. He was not welcome among his own people. The household in which he was raised put a price on his head, and the people with whom he settled considered him a foreigner.
Then one day, God appeared in a fire amid a bush. God told Moses to take off his shoes, as he was standing on holy ground. I have always thought that God’s word to Moses to remove his shoes was all about being in the presence of holiness. Moses was asked to take off his shoes out of reverence for the divine.
Then I read an essay by Dennis Olson, the Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology at Princeton. Olson suggest this. “Taking off one’s sandals is a gesture of many traditional cultures that is associated with entering not only a worship space but also a home. Thus, here at the foot of the mountain of God, Moses … has at last found a true home.” Moses was at home on holy ground.
Reading that new perspective from Olson immediately brought to mind for me a wall hanging that I saw in the home of friends years ago. Their names were Ed and Helen. Ed was a retired Air Force pilot, and because of that, they traveled the world over many, many times. In their travels, they met countless people and formed countless friendships. Through these meetings, they invited people from all over the world to stay in their house. They even provided them a map of their garage to show them where the key to the back door was kept, just in case they were gone when people needed a place to stay.
I had not thought of Ed and Helen for years, but Olson’s reflections on the Moses story brought them —and the wall hanging by their front door — to mind. I do not remember it exactly, but it read something like this:
Come on in.
Take off your shoes
Make yourself at home.
When you are here
You are home.
Take off your shoes
You are home.
Take off your shoes, you are on holy ground. Take off your shoes, you are home. As we settle into the rhythm of this academic year, I invite you to consider anew the wide variety of opportunities for worship that we provide at the Chapel of the Resurrection — opportunities to experience the presence of God, opportunities to pause for a moment on holy ground.
Eight times a week — Sunday through Friday at 10:00 a.m. and Sunday and Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. — you are invited to come to the Chapel, to find respite amid the journey of your life, to hear God’s promises for you, to join in praise, to be reminded of the beloved child of God that you are, and then to go back out into your work and into your play — renewed and refreshed for the tasks ahead.
So, come. Sit. Eat. Drink. Stay awhile. Rest. Make yourself at home. When you are here, you are home. The Chapel of the Resurrection — Home on Holy Ground. See you soon.