September 3, 2017

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

“Holy Ground”

It is September – a wonderful time for new beginnings! I wonder if it is a good time for you, right now, as September begins, to make a new start in your life of faith. And I wonder what that would look like for you.

Today’s story from the Book of Exodus is all about a new beginning for Moses that leads to a new beginning for God’s People, Israel, in a new land and with a new freedom. And it starts with God speaking.

Moses was going about his work, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, not looking for a change, not searching for adventure, not trying to figure out what his next big mission should be. But God speaks to him, and everything changes.

God gets his attention with a burning bush, calls him by name, and then explains that God has a task for him to do… to go to the Pharaoh, and bring God’s People out of slavery in Egypt.

God speaks to others too. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, back before his name was changed, and he was Saul. He was travelling along the road to Damascus when it happened. God got Saul’s attention by blinding him with a bright light. And then he heard Jesus’ voice asking him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Or how about those fishermen that Jesus met by the Sea of Galilee? Simon & Andrew, James & John. In some tellings of the story, Jesus got their attention by providing a miraculously huge catch of fish. And then he said, “Follow me, and we will fish for people together.”

Has God ever gotten your attention before? I wonder if God is trying to get your attention now? It likely won’t be through a burning bush, a blinding light, or Jesus literally standing in front of you. But God does still get our attention, and God does still speak.

God got my attention over a year ago now. Like Moses, I was contentedly going about my work, when my attention was drawn in a new direction. It was shortly after your last minister had left for a new call in Vancouver. I was attending a training conference at Crieff Hills in Ontario, the Presbyterian retreat centre. And one of your elders said to me (in an off-hand kind of way), “You wouldn’t want to come and be our minister in Regina, would you?”

And I said, “Oh, I don’t know about that,” or something along those lines, and I thought that would be all. But then the idea stuck in the back of my mind. I started to imagine being in a new place, doing new things, meeting new people, having a new beginning.

A few months later, my husband’s boss announced that he was being moved to Regina to become the Archbishop, and we began to consider whether God might be calling us both to make a move. We began to listen.

We explored what a ministry position for Nick might look like in Regina. We found out more about First Church, your ministry, and your hopes and expectations for a new minister. We came and visited the city to look around, attended worship here one summer Sunday, and eventually went through the discernment process with your Search Committee.

It wasn’t as spectacular as a burning bush or as obvious as an articulated message, but we heard God’s voice speaking to us and calling us to a new mission, and when you heard it too that added confirmation for us also.

I think I’ll always remember the places I was standing when I began to hear God calling me, when it started to become clear to me that it was time for a new beginning. The meeting room at Crieff Hills where the idea was planted. My house in Saskatoon where we heard that Bishop Don was moving. The Morris Room where my interview took place. And I’ll remember those places as “Holy Ground” – places where God spoke, gently, but persistently, calling us to something new.

This morning, we have the joy of being able to stand together with Marie Hirota as she makes her first public profession of faith, and receives the Sacrament of Baptism. And if there is anything that marks a new beginning in a Christian’s life, it has to be baptism!

As Marie thinks back over the journey that led her to this moment, I expect that she will remember God speaking to her also. Perhaps through her aunt, who first introduced her to Christianity. Perhaps through the Scriptures themselves, as she began to read and study them together with other Christians. Perhaps through the worship and community she experienced here at First Church over the last year. Perhaps through some of the conversations that she and I shared over the last month as I introduced her to Christian doctrine and The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Marie won’t be staying with us here at First Church. She’ll be going back to Japan for a few weeks, and then moving to Ontario, getting married, and finding a congregation to join in her new community. But I expect that she will remember this place as “Holy Ground.” Because she met God in this place, and she heard God’s call, and she responded in faith by turning her life over to God as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Although these new beginnings are overflowing with joy and wonder, Marie and I both know that responding to God’s call will come with plenty of challenges and hardships as well. This morning we heard the Apostle Paul’s description of the Christian life as he presented it to the new Christians in Rome. He said, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

He said, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… live peaceably with all…”

And, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Or perhaps we should remember how Jesus described the life of discipleship. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Christian baptism has layers of meaning and significance. In baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are cleansed from our sin, and received into the family of God. But in baptism, we also believe that we die to ourselves and rise again with Christ. We give up our lives (or at least we give up the idea that we are the sole directors and decision-makers for our lives) and we invite God to get our attention, to speak to us, and to guide us on our journey through life.

God’s promise for Marie, and for each one of us, is that in losing our lives for Jesus’ sake, we will indeed find new life and joy. Even when we face challenges, hardships, and struggles with evil all around… we will have the power to overcome evil with good. And most important, as God promised Moses when he sent him back to Egypt, God says to us, “I will be with you.” “I will be with you.”

As we stand together on this “Holy Ground,” in the presence of God who is with us now, I invite you to let this moment be a new beginning for you also. Allow God to get your attention through Word and Sacraments this morning. Listen for what God might be saying directly to you. And open your heart to the possibility of something new.