Hudson Valley Holy Ground. August 30

Hudson Valley Holy Ground

Exodus 3:1-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Palenville and Catskill United Methodist Churches; August 30, 2020


This is it.  This is the foundational story of all of Hebrew scripture.  Genesis may speak of earlier events, and the actual written text of the tale of Deborah in the book of Judges is almost certainly written down before this text, but this is the story around which the rest of scripture is formed.  This happening, this occurrence, this witness and self-revelation of God to Moses, which results in Moses stepping away from his comfortable life to confront Pharaoh and lead the people into freedom.  This is it. 


The last we heard of Moses he was growing up in the home of Pharaoh, in the heart of Egyptian privilege and power.   As an adult, he sees the pain and the suffering of the slaves who labor for Pharaoh, and he kills an Egyptian overseer who beats a slave.  Privileged or not, he’s in trouble if he stays in Egypt, so he leaves.  He heads southeast to Midian, which is in the northwest of what is now Saudi Arabia.  There he marries the daughter of an priest of the people, and becomes a shepherd.  He has left Egypt behind him. 


So he thought.  Until he wanders onto Mount Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, also called Mount Sinai later on in Exodus.  They seem to be the same place.  Once there, Moses notices this strange bush, on fire, but not actually burning up.  He turns to look at this phenomenon, to investigate, and as he takes notice, he hears the voice – ‘take off your shoes, Moses, this is holy ground.’   This is the place, this is the time, when God speaks to you, God touches your heart, God calls to your soul.  ‘Moses, I have heard the cry of my people and I am come down to help them.’ 


‘Excellent,’ thinks Moses.  ‘Great idea!’

‘And I’m sending you to talk to Pharaoh.’

‘Me?  Not such a great idea, actually.  Not at all.

Who am I to take on such a project?  No, no, no.’


‘You are mine,’ says God.  ‘I will go with you.’


Moses turns the question around – ‘so who are you?’

“I AM who I AM.” 

I am being and essence, power to be and to do. 

I will be who I will be and I will do what I will do.


YHWH sort of says all that and more and not exactly that, too.  Four letters, no vowels, some odd, possibly archaic version of the Hebrew verb ‘to be.’ Figuring it out precisely is a scholar’s task, and scholars and rabbis have studied it and discussed it and argued about its meaning for centuries.

Understanding its importance and its basicness is clear.  God is.  Then, now and tomorrow as well.   This God who calls Moses is the God of being, the source of life, the actor who can do great things.


This word to Moses by the burning bush takes.  Moses changes his life.  He leaves the sheep behind, takes his wife and his family, and some of her family as well, and heads back to Egypt.  And he and God ultimately come to a workable, if horrendous, deal with Pharaoh, and the people are freed; from bondage and slavery into freedom and life!  God comes to free the people through the work and effort of Moses.  Moses accomplishes what he does because God has promised to go with him.


This is the format God continues to use, throughout the stories of scripture and beyond.  God calls someone, who is gifted and imperfect, to accomplish the task that God needs done for the people.   The one who is called is often reluctant; God promises to come alongside; and the task is accomplished.


This encounter with the burning bush is incredibly meaningful and important to Moses.  Because of God’s call, he is changed, from a simple shepherd to a diplomat who negotiates freedom for his people.  God’s call and encouragement must have been a real shot in the arm for Moses.  But if he had simply left that conversation with God a changed man, more confident and feeling beloved and cherished by God, and gone back to the sheep, he’d have failed.  God needed and wanted the people freed.  Moses was touched deeply by hearing God and being encouraged by God’s trust in him.  But he needed not to stop there.  He needed to go on, to travel back to Egypt, to confront Pharaoh over and over again, to inspire the people to follow him when Pharaoh finally relented, to lead the people back to Mount Horeb and receive the law there, and to keep the people in line and connected to hope as they wandered through the wilderness for decades after they left Egypt. 


This is holy ground, here in Palenville, here in Catskill, because this is where God reaches us.  God still hears the cries of those who suffer, and God still speaks to people, still touches their hearts and invites them to follow the divine lead.  God still has projects that need to be accomplished, people who are sick who need to be cured, people who are in bondage – to addiction, to poverty, to fear, to systemic injustice – and God needs followers, disciples willing to be transformed by God’s love and presence and promise.  Too often I hear people talk about their life of faith as a moment of salvation and understanding and acceptance of God’s love and grace, and then, nothing more.  Moses accepted God’s invitation to claim his gifts and work on his public speaking ability, then he went and put those gifts to work. 


God’s self-revelation here in the beginning of Exodus is surpassed only in God’s self-revelation in Jesus, the Word made flesh, God with us.  In Jesus we see God more clearly than we ever have, before or since.  And in Jesus, we are given grace, and freedom to live in love.  We are not invited to claim the grace and sit back down where we were when Jesus found us.  Disciples are those who live their lives for love because Christ lived his life for us in love.  Justice for the poor, for the suffering, for the refugees and the sojourner is love shared in the public square.  God cares about you and me, and God cares about all the people living in slavery and suffering and oppression, just as God cared about the slaves in Egypt.  God cares about all the people whose lives have been upended by hurricanes and fires and derechos in the past weeks.  And God calls us to be instruments of peace, workers of justice, assistants for housing and clean-up, just as God called Moses. 


Like Moses, we can’t do it alone.  We can do the work before us with God by our side.  Take up your cross, says Jesus, take the love and power Jesus offers us as disciples and act, transforming the world in the process.  March for justice, feed the hungry, speak up for those who have been left behind or ignored.   And go with confidence and grace, because God, our God, the great I AM, goes with you, by your side, to strengthen you and uphold you, now and forever.  Amen.




Exodus 3:1-15

3Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.


7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”


11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.


Romans 12:9-21

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

10love one another with mutual affection;

   outdo one another in showing honor.

11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.


14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

16Live in harmony with one another;

do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;

do not claim to be wiser than you are.

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil,

   but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;

for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them;

if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;

for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.



Matthew 16:21-28

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”



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