We may not think about this very often, if at all, but what is often the first thing we notice when we walk into a church, especially in the often cold, rainy and wintry weather of Wisconsin? The coat racks. Not all of you may use a coat rack, but, if we didn’t have coat racks, many people would consider our church not to be as well prepared for people coming to worship as we need to be. It’s just not comfortable wearing a cold, wet top coat or jacket while trying to concentrate on worship. That’s just something we have to think about living in Wisconsin.
Well, if you have traveled to other countries, you may be very well aware that in some cultures the first thing you might notice is not coat racks, but shoe racks – and for them this is serious business. In some countries, churches or temples or other places of worship have entryways filled with places for people to put their shoes, because it is customary to remove their shoes when they come into God’s house, just as for different reasons it may be customary for you to ask your guests to remove their shoes when they walk into your house.
In our Lesson for this morning, the prophet Moses was in the wilderness near a mountain, but he was also in God’s house when he came into the presence of the Lord God himself in the form of that burning bush, which kept burning, but did not burn up. God did not tell him to do anything with his coat, but, as we heard, he did tell him to do something with his shoes. Verse 5: “’Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” As we continue to walk on the path to a different mountain — Calvary’s holy mountain — I pray the Lord will use these words to enable every single one of us to say in total humility, but also with total joy, “I Need to Take Off My Shoes because of Who I Am!”
Moses was very aware very quickly of who he was, because he knew he was on holy ground. In the upcoming years Moses would be allowed to talk to God and to have God himself give him a glimpse of his glory on this very same mountain range, because Mt. Sinai of the Ten Commandments was part of this range of Mt. Horeb. But he knew very well this was something far beyond what he could ever possibly have expected or deserved because of who he was. For one thing, Moses was a murderer. That, in fact, was why he was away from his native country of Egypt in the first place, because he had killed an Egyptian man who was mistreating an Israelite man, and it had been found out, leading him to flee far away – far from his royal upbringing in the house of the Pharaoh of Egypt – that same royal house he would later go back into to tell that Pharaoh that God had said, “Let my people go. Let them leave this horrible place of slavery and make their way to the land of promise where my Son – the greatest prophet of all – will be born as the Savior of every person of the world.” The only reason Moses would ever need to prophesy about a Savior from sin was because Moses himself was one of the “every person of the world” who fit the category of someone who needed a Savior from sin.
That means of course that you and I are in that same category. God looks at us and, yes, he has the same concern about the suffering we go through as he had for the people of Israel back in the land of Egypt, but every single one of us needs to take off our shoes spiritually when we think about that kind of concern from God, because of who we are. We are the ones who by our actions against our Creator God have caused the suffering and who have deserved the suffering. All we can do with our shoes thrown off is the same as did Moses, who hid his face because he was afraid to look at God – the holy God on this holy ground.
But God did not stop looking at Moses, did he? That burning bush did not consume Moses, did it? That command of God to go to Pharaoh did not come without comfort and a promise, did it? When we take off our shoes with humility because of who I am, then we can also take off our shoes with joy because of who I Am is!
This is what I mean. Did you catch God’s constant repeating of the words “I Am?” “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” who is talking to you. Or when Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me” if the people of Israel ask me who told you to say these things? “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.” And if you notice in verse 14, where God says these things, those words “I Am Who I Am” and “I Am has sent you” are capitalized, giving us a huge hint as to what God is saying here. You may know this very well, but the words “I Am” are the words God uses for the name he calls himself. That’s why he says in the last verse – verse 15 – that this is “the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” We usually use the words “The Lord” or “Jehovah” to call him by this name, but that name “Lord” or “Jehovah” literally is “I Am.” He just simply is The One – the one who exists all by himself and is responsible to no one, the one who is responsible for the existence of everyone else who has ever lived, the one to whom everyone who has ever lived is responsible, the one who has taken upon himself the responsibility of saving us from our irresponsible actions. And that’s why we can take off our shoes with joy because of who I Am is. He is not just the great and holy I Am. He is also the great and holy and loving and compassionate and forgiving I Am.
It is that compassion that led the Lord to tell Moses to do the work that scared Moses so — that led Moses to ask “Who am I” to be able to do something like this. God wasn’t going to leave him on his own in any way whatsoever. The “I Am” said “I will be.” “I will be with you.” And it is that promise of God that led Moses to be able to do what the love of God asked him to do so that more people could know the love of God and the power of God.
God works in the very same way for you and me. The promise of God is what leads us to able to do what the love of God asks us to do. He has seen our misery, too, the things we get confused by or consumed by or carried away by in our emotions or our nervousness. He has seen our tears, whether they are streaming down our face or silently filling up our heart. He has heard our questions about why everyone else seems to get all the breaks, and we just seem to get broken. He has felt our pain when someone has spoken words to us that we just can’t believe they could be so mean or heartless to say, or when we have spoken last words to a loved one before they have closed their eyes and can say no more. The same “I Am” who said I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt, and I have heard them crying out, and I am concerned about their suffering says the very same things and acts in the very same way toward us today. “I am” says to you and me, too: “I will be with you.” After all, what did the apostle Paul promise in our Second Lesson? The Lord will provide a way for us to endure every trial or temptation we have heard or seen as we entrust it to him. He will be with us. And what did God promise he would do because of what he had heard and seen in Egypt? Verse 8 in the middle: “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” He would come to be with them, and that is what he did!
And what was the whole reason for making a promise to be with them and to get them to the Promised Land of Israel? It was so he could come down another time to rescue his people. It was so he could keep his ultimate promise of having his own Son be born there in that Promised Land, not just for those people, but for the sake all people in the world – his own eternal Son who, though eternal, would be born there and who would teach wonderfully there and who would prove his divinity there by performing his miracles and who would live perfectly there and suffer horribly there and die innocently there and rise triumphantly there and who from there would return to the place where he as the Great I Am had always been – the place from which he sometimes appeared to people like he did here in the form of a burning bush, so we could know as dearly loved children why we have reason with total joy to take off our shoes because of who I am now because of who I Am has always been – our Lord Jesus Christ, who took our place in love because of who we were and who in that way made us who we are through faith in him – holy people on the holy ground of his Holy Word in the Bible who in that way are able to face whatever his loving plan wants us to face that day. May that promise and that peace go with all of you this day, wherever God allows your feet to take you! Amen.