Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 28, 2011
How many of you have ever been to the Grand Canyon?
I grew up in Arizona, but it wasn’t until I was in third grade that I made it there. And I was with my Mom and my grandma. And I remember so vividly the first time I stepped up to the edge of the South Rim and looked down. I think for the first time I felt awe. (not “awwwww” but “AWE.”) Awe is that mix of deep beauty and fear. Awe is what happens when you are confronted with something real and deep and big.
Experiences of awe like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon astound and scare us. They fill us with wonder and fear. When we step up to big deep places, we feel a connection with those big, deep places inside of us.
And we want to be quiet, but we’re uncomfortable enough with the awe that we’re actually a little relieved when a car comes up or someone tells a joke. It returns life back to our illusion of control.
If you were here Thursday night you might have met two amazing women named Sheila and Katrina, who came with Becca Stevens from Nashville. They are graduates of the Magdalene program, and amazing series of communities that save the lives of women who have deep histories of abuse, prostitution, drug addiction and violence. The communities are the way God does the healing. And if you were here for the Making Disciples conference yesterday in Schuyler Hall, you heard them tell their stories.
Sheila was six when the first of a series of her mother’s boyfriends and husbands began abusing her. By age 14 she had run away from home and was using drugs and selling herself on the street. And from that came the seemingly endless cycle of arrest, jail and being back out on the streets. And then she heard about the Magdalene program and at first it just seemed like a way to cut short some jail time but when she got there she realized – and it was so hard to believe it – that this was about deep love being for her, deep love that could lead her through the hard, hard work of healing. Deep love that could save her life.
I saw her tell this story in front of more than 100 people in Schuyler. With trembling voice and lots of “ums.” She was scared because it was her story and it was full of so many things that we shame each other for – sex, drug use, imprisonment, running away. Yet the people in the room were gifted with the grace to be willing to receive and see and hear. To not be the people who bring the boom box to the Grand Canyon. And because of that we sat transfixed, in awe.
We were in awe of Sheila’s courage to be that vulnerable.
We were in awe because her story was so real. And we realized the deep beauty in it. And that the stuff that we are most afraid of revealing – the stuff we look at ourselves and count as failure and cringe in shame and bury deep so no one else will see or hear of it. That stuff was the heart of the beauty. Because that stuff, our cries, is the heart of our deepest beauty – when we have the courage to share and when others have the grace to receive.
Isn’t it ironic that what we fear most is our deepest beauty? That we hide our deepest beauty. Isn’t it tragic that our world takes that stuff of our deepest humanity, our deepest wounds, the stuff that could be our deepest beauty and shames us for it, tells us to bury it deep, tells us to believe that because it’s there we are each less than beloved by God?
We were in awe because Sheila’s story was so real and it touched our deep, real stories that we hardly ever take out for a walk to get some air. And the tears we shed were not pity for another, they were the truest tears, when deep beauty and deep pain meet and we feel the presence of God and something in us says “It’s OK. It’s safe enough. You can let go and let it out for a second.”
And Schuyler Hall became sacred ground. Because it was there we met beauty and pain within and without. It was there we felt the power of God.
I love this morning’s story from Exodus. Because it is so deeply true.
The first thing we notice is that Moses doesn’t have to take some special pilgrimage to find God. God was right there where he was. He just had to turn aside and stop and notice.
The second thing we notice is why God is present. God is not on a sightseeing trip. God is present because where our pain is, God is. Listen again:
Then 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, and 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. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He 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."
Listen to the verbs:
-I have heard their cry.
-I know their sufferings
-I have come down to deliver them
-I will send you
-I will be with you.
I have heard, I know, I have come down, I will send, I will be with you. That is God’s eternal chorus to us. All the stuff we hide. All the stuff we’re told to be ashamed of. God looks at it and says that is where I will be. That is what I will heal. I have heard. I know. I have come down. I will send. I will be with you.
And then our response, our acknowledgment that we know God is present and that we want not to wallow in our pain but to let God heal and deliver us out of it, is that we will worship. The sign is we shall worship God on this mountain.
God’s presence is where the cry of the people is. Where the reality of life’s rubber hits the road. Where we bring all that stuff that keeps us up nights, that ties our stomachs in knots, that makes our shoulders sag, and our heart afraid. All of those things that we think “Oh, if they found out they wouldn’t like me. If they only knew, they wouldn’t let me be in a place like this or sit at table with them.” Where that is, God is, and it is holy.
The third thing we notice is how God tells Moses to receive God’s presence. Take off your shoes. God has to tell Moses this because often that’s not our first reaction when we see the presence of God. Our first reaction is often fear and uncomfortability. The presence of God is a fearful thing so our first reaction is often to avoid or to try to make it go away. Moses hid his face out of fear. We have to be reminded, when God’s presence emerges, when we see the burning bush, DON’T GRAB THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER and don’t run away. Stay right there, and listen, and behold, and take off our shoes and tread gently. And be with God in that space. Just be.
And then together, we can follow God as God does the healing.
I will deliver
I will send
I will be with you.
The elements, those amazing verbs of the Exodus story are the same verbs that Sheila used to describe her life.
-God heard her cry.
-God knew her sufferings
-God came down to delivered her from the streets
-God sent her into a new life
-God has been and always will be with her.
And the same is true for all of us. God meets us as we are but does not leave us as we are . There is no wallowing in pain in the Exodus. And there is no endless wallowing in pain for us. God didn’t come down and stay with the people in Egypt but led them on a hard journey of looking honestly at where they are and looking honestly at how they got there and then helping them chart a course and walking with them into a new and better land. As Sheila says, you’ve got to deal to heal. We’ve got to deal with where we are and how we got there if we’re going to let God get us to that new and better land. You’ve got to deal to heal.
And that means we have to let the fire burn openly and honestly and know that we will not be consumed. Know that even though none of us can heal ourselves and none of us can heal each other, that we have a God who hears and knows and delivers and sends and is always with us. And that is all we need .
And that place where God meets us. Where God is revealed in the midst of your pain and mine. That is the church. That is who we can be for each other. That is who we can be for the world, one life at a time. We can be the place in our lives where we let that deep beauty, that deep stuff inside that we fear, where we start to let it out. But the only way we can be that place is if we remember. If we remember that what the world counts as shameful, God looks on with compassion. And to take our shoes off as we walk on the most sacred ground in creation. The ground of each other’s stories. The ground of each other’s lives.
If we remember that we can’t fix each other but together we can look for the God who hears, knows, delivers, sends and is with us, knowing that God can heal anything.
If we remember that we are not destined to stay in Egypt but that we are destined for a new and better and promised land. And that the journey of healing and deliverance will be long and hard but that God will guide us there together if we will follow. And though we, like the people of Israel, will stumble and fall and complain and chase after other gods, God will always be with us an urge us on the way.
And this will be the sign of our life together. That we will gather here, together, in honesty and fear and beauty and awe. That we will gather here each Sunday on this mountain and worship.