How Filled With Awe is This Place

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“How Filled With Awe”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Opening hymn #89 “Joyful, Joyful” / Closing hymn 685 “Now, on Land and Sea Descending”

Exodus 3:1-6

Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, ‘I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am,’ He said, ‘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.

The book of Hebrews says, ‘Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be filled with gratitude, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.’ We are receiving. Let us be filled. Grateful we are. But almost afraid. Drawn forward, we hold back. We hide our face. But still our hearts catch fire and burn. Do you want this intimacy? Do you want to be one with this sovereign demand? Then take off your shoes. Feel the ground with your feet, flowing up to fill you. God is Absolute. God is fire. God says: My flame shall not hurt thee / I only design / thy dross to consume / and thy gold to refine. God cherishes, God wants, God burns for us, it seems. And if God consumes, tis only to give us new life.

The world is changing fast. We stand in a strange place tonight, between the ‘no longer’ and the ‘not yet.’ I know you feel that. Something wondrous wants to be said, some creative energy is building. But in the meantime all seems chaotic. How can Moses, how can I, how can we make a difference? Here’s an idea: Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

We are alive tonight. At Nineteenth and Harrison. In Beaumont, Texas. With cares enough, true. Also beautiful possibilities before us. I call that a miracle.

Take Moses, that curious mix of cares and possibilities. Again and again, the ground had shaken beneath his feet. Son of a Hebrew slave-woman. Prince of Egypt. Exile to Midian. Husband to Zipporah. Son-in-law to Jethro. And now, here he is. So Moses is driving the flock one day, as usual, through the wilderness, guiding them to green pasture, his rod and his staff their comfort, and he sees a burning bush.

A shrub on fire.

Moses says, ‘I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up?’

Well, that’s all the Teacher is waiting for. That’s all the Teacher is ever waiting for! The wonderful curiosity of a human! And so God calls: ‘Moses! Moses!’

Before Moses knows it, his shoes are off, he’s standing on unfamiliar ground, between the ‘no longer’ and the ‘not yet.’

David Orr says, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane.”

The planet needs people, people of moral courage, people who live well in their places. Moses? Each person here tonight, hoping to learn how to live and love in the place between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’? Step forward.

Oh Thou merciful, give us eyes to see and courage to say yes. I like this prayer:

‘Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!’

Blessed is the Eternal One, who sent me to Delaware last week, to spend some time with friends. Blessed is the holy God, who sent me to the southernmost of three counties, to the charming town of Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth is a name rooted in the Hebrew book of Genesis. Rehoboth means a wide place, with plenty of room. In the nineteenth century, Methodists made a beeline to this wide place, for camp meetings and ocean air. How could I resist?

My good friends Brenda and Rix—Methodists—built a place in Rehoboth, on family land. I went to them, I nestled in. They were my refreshment, my Jethro in the wilderness. But they didn’t make me drive their flocks! They did however invite me to consume delicious food and be pampered in every way their kindly hearts could devise.

One delight was a day trip to Lewes. Now, Lewes is a very old town indeed. Much older than Rehoboth. In Lewes is Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, established 1681. Saint Peter’s calls itself ‘the first church in the first town in the first state.’ Open all year, 24/7, for sanctuary, for solace, for healing.

Naturally Brenda and I made a beeline. No burning bushes, but a fenced front yard full of stones stretching back to Margaret Huling, born 1631, lived 76 years, buried 1707. Here lyeth her body. Also the body of Henry F. McCracken, pilot of the Delaware Bay and River, who was buried in 1868 along with his anchor. Yes, his anchor. Part of it (the anchor, not Henry) can be seen sticking up out of the ground.

In this holy, hushed, perfectly manicured yard are crowded the stones of many solid citizens. Generations, all connected, resting in holy ground. Brenda and I were delighted, and all the more when a living person appeared, a cheerful church lady, pushing a kitchen cart down a sidewalk.

We accosted her with a question, and she proceeded at some length to tell us how this church had changed her life. Not creed, not dogma…just, this place. These people. Who welcomed her, and her questions, just as she is. To her, this is miracle.

Inside the church—open 24/7 you’ll recall—we found a simple sacred space. The mountain of God. With the most heavenly stained glass windows. Radiant color, burning with stories, yet not consumed.

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One window, women and angel at the empty tomb, was blocked at the bottom by a stack of chairs. As a roving prayer reporter I made bold to pull up another chair and stand on it, right there in church. Having come this far, I needed to see all of this marvelous window.

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Can you imagine? Are these things miracle enough for you?

Miracles enough. Another day, back in Rehoboth, on Deauville Beach, a bearded little man. Skinny legs in leggings, orange tee shirt cinched around the middle. Not so remarkable, you say? (Except perhaps for the leggings.) Well, the belt around the middle is to anchor his bagpipes, which he plays as he treads the water’s edge. Brenda and I in our bare feet followed his music, his deliberate shoeprints, till he turned aside at his destination. He was playing Beethoven: ‘Joyful, joyful we adore Thee…’

Bagpipers. Storytellers. Peacemakers. Barefoot ladies of a certain age. Lovers of all kinds, living well in their place.

Leaving Rehoboth, the miraculous kept calling. At the Philadelphia airport, in the hall connecting Terminals D and E, right next to a pair of forbidding doors saying something like ‘Do Not Enter on Pain of Death,’ I saw a surprising sign:

‘The Quiet Room. For Solitude. Or Prayer.’

Always open. To be used in silence.

Wait. What? What marvelous sight is this? Your roving prayer reporter stopped. She gazed. She took a step toward the Quiet Room. Then she looked at her watch. Gate D3 is calling. Mustn’t be late.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to miss a single inch of holy ground, and after all, there really is plenty of time, plenty of room to breathe. So I turned aside, and went in. There was a foot washing station for those whose religion requires it. But I kept my shoes on this time, reveled in the holy in my own way. As promised, it was quiet. Also lovely, thoughtfully laid out, all 315 square feet of it. And that was miracle enough for me.

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‘Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!’

Amen.

 

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