Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5
Almost a year ago, I stood on the Mount of Olives, looking down at Jerusalem at sunset. It was just a few hours and a short bus ride after landing in Tel Aviv. Gazing over the lights of minarets, the graves of a preeminent Jewish cemetery, and the crosses at Augusta Victoria hospital, we were asked: “What makes a land holy?” It’s a good question, for a place called the “Holy Land” by so many. Is it holy because of what happened long ago? Is it holy because God is more present than in other lands? Is it holy because we expect it to be?
I have recently revisited the question of what makes a place holy. As you’ve no doubt noticed, worship feels different at home through a screen than it does in our building. I have noticed that leading worship in the sanctuary feels different by myself than it does when you’re here! Can we worship outside of the holy ground we know?
When I teach kids about what “holy” means, I tell them that “holy” is another word for special to God. We describe our worship spaces as holy because we have set them apart as special to God. And yet, it’s not just church buildings that are holy. Any place where we listen for God or feel God’s presence is holy.
I have been getting quite a lesson in holy ground lately. For one thing, I have been walking around Tipton in the cooler evening hours, noticing as I walk past the homes of people I know. I often pray as I walk, so I started to pray for the people whose homes I passed. Two weeks ago, I began to vary my route, deliberately going past the homes of people in our congregation. By now, I’ve walked and prayed my way past many of your homes. In between the homes I know, I pray for people who don’t live close enough to walk past. I still need to get to the southwestern quarter of town. Then, I’ll start over again. When you see me walking past your house, know that I’m praying for you.
As I have prayed and walked, I have realized that the sidewalks and streets of Tipton are holy ground. They are special to God. When I pray in the street, God hears me as well as when I pray in the sanctuary. As strange as it might sound, I realize that the streets of our cities and towns are holy ground. God considers them just as special as our sanctuary.
In my own home, I have realized, a bit to my surprise, that the holiest place appears to be the kitchen. I call it the holiest place in my house because that is where God seems to speak most clearly to me! It is often the place where my ideas come together to form a sermon or a devotion. It is where, over the past week, I have cried to God: “Your children are behaving badly, God, and we need you to sort us out.” It is where I have most strongly felt the presence of God when I am worried or sad.
Where is your holy ground? Where do you know that you are in God’s presence? Maybe it is our church building, and you are missing it right now. That’s okay. Maybe it’s a place in your home, like my kitchen. Maybe it’s your garden or front porch. Maybe it’s being in your car, windows down, radio blasting.
What I have come to understand is that holy ground is all around us. God makes it holy by being present with us, and we accept its holiness by recognizing God’s presence. If we learn anything from being apart so long, may our awareness of God’s presence on these holy grounds grow.
God of sanctuaries and streets, kitchens and cathedrals, be present with us wherever we are. Show us your holy ground wherever we stand. Amen.