First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Sermon by Rev. Kate Dalton
September 29, 2019
Scripture: Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15; Mark 12:26-27a
In a reflection posted on the Working Preacher website, independent scholar Karla Suomala recalls traveling in Japan with her husband. One thing that stood out to her during their travels was shoe etiquette.
She says, “Every time we entered our room, we took off our shoes. Every time we visited a museum, we took off our shoes. Every time we entered a shrine or temple, we took our shoes off. And in most instances, we replaced our shoes with slippers.”
Upon returning home, Suomala wanted to better understand the Japanese customs around shoes. In her investigations she found that 98% of Japanese follow the shoe customs. In one survey she read about the custom she discovered:
“81 percent of the people identified not one, but two equally important reasons for taking their shoes off when they enter their homes: 1) to keep their houses and floors clean; and 2) to be able to relax and be themselves.”
Suomala notes that since Moses was in the desert – it’s unlikely there was a cleanliness issue going on. Additionally, while some may say removing shoes is a sign of respect – Moses doesn’t seem to be necessarily humbled to be standing on holy ground. After all, he does proceed to argue with God and try to escape God’s request.
And so, Suomala wonders this:
“Is it possible that God tells Moses to take his shoes off because he wants Moses to be himself? To remove all pretense? To be vulnerable and open to what God has to say? The closest analogy I can think of is walking into the CEO’s office for an important meeting with my shoes off –something I can hardly imagine doing because I would feel too exposed.”
“Here in this text, God lays out the single largest rescue operation in the entire Bible. God could have done it alone or God could have chosen anyone on earth for the job. But God specifically selected Moses. In doing so, there must have been something about Moses, with all of his flaws, gifts, and unique qualities, that God was interested in using.”
There are many different aspects of this story that are sermon worthy – but as we take time to think about who God is calling – this focus caught my attention. When we are called by God, the calling stems from who we already are – not who God wishes we would become. God calls us to act in the world based on the unique gifts God bestowed to us. Every person a different combination. Every person a different ability to affect the world.
This premise is how I understand engagement at First Parish. As I encourage you to consider your involvement here over the next year, I want you to understand that I wholeheartedly believe that we are all best served when we serve from our gifts and our strengths. Sometimes in church communities this can feel extremely frustrating – what will happen to X ministry, no one else is willing to do it? And lots of anxiety ensues. But what if we instead thought this way, at some point X ministry may not continue because it’s not suited to the gifts of our community – I wonder what will else will emerge that is suited to the gifts of our community. What if we approached with curiosity instead of pre-conceived notions about what should happen?
Of course, there are times when we are hesitant to get involved at all – even when involvement means using our gifts. Clearly, Moses was not convinced that he was the best person for this job. He argues with God. I suspect that many of us have also consciously or sub-consciously argued with God when it comes to using our gifts to make a difference in the world. Fear can easily block us from following. We make excuses. We imagine what could go wrong. We doubt ourselves. We doubt God.
But there’s another important lesson to note in this scripture. God hears Moses fears and offers relationship. God responds to Moses and says,” I will be with you.” Later, God pairs Aaron with Moses so that he has the support he needs to carry out his task.
Relationships are what enable us to move through fear and live into our gifts. And so I believe relationships are the bedrock of what makes us a church. It’s not about a building. Here in the United Church of Christ, it’s not about a specific way of understanding God. But what it is about is understanding the power of relationships to enable us to live authentic lives. The power of relationships to support us so that we are brave enough to take off our shoes and bring who we are to the world. The power of relationships to remind us that we are not only enough, just as we are, but we are beloved children of God. We have been given gifts to offer – but not one of us has all of the gifts. So we intentionally gather in community – calling each other forward, celebrating what we have been given by God and discerning how God is calling us to be in the world. May God bless us on this journey. Amen.