Last Sunday, I heard a poignant sermon reflecting primarily on the Exodus 3 account of Moses and the burning bush, wherein the LORD tells Moses (among other things): “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
The preacher shared an anecdote about praying with a friend in a mundane conference room at a Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, thereby turning the boring, tacky-carpeted ground into a sort of holy ground. He made the point that encounters with God happen in churches, to be sure, but perhaps more often in hospital rooms, living rooms, hotel conference rooms, and myriad other sorts of rooms.
I came away wondering: “Where have I been on holy ground?”
Conveniently, there’s a song called “We Are Standing on Holy Ground.” And, remarkably, I’ve witnessed it sung in some unusual places.
In 2007, I was on a short-term mission trip in Mexico City, primarily serving communities of people living in garbage dumps just outside the city. My group offered basic medical, dental, and optical care, as well as activities for children. As we set up one day, perhaps to get our minds off of the garbage stench surrounding us, a group leader and native Mexican started singing “We Are Standing On Holy Ground.” That day, the garbage dump was a difficult experience for perhaps all five our physical senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and certainly smell — and yet the garbage dump was a beautiful experience for our spiritual sensibilities. It’s hard to describe how that can be. But I know there’s not many places where I’ve felt as alive and focused and full of love as I did that day, singing and serving and sitting alongside precious people who are precious purely because they are people (not because of where or how they live).
And then, during my recent 2016 trip to San Ignacio, Belize…it happened again. (Holy ground just won’t leave me alone!) While visiting a classroom at Santa Elena Baptist School, the students and their teacher offered to sing for us. We stood back, listened, and let the goosebumps come.
“We are standing on holy ground
And I know that there are angels all around
Let us praise Jesus now
For we are standing in His presence on holy ground
What makes a classroom holy? What makes a garbage dump holy? (Wouldn’t the holy thing, I wonder, be to move the dump’s residents out of the dump? There’s truth in that, I’m sure.)
Let’s let Moses provide the answer. Based on Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, it looks like God’s presence — and man’s prayerful pause to notice God’s presence — makes a place holy. God repeatedly promises his presence, saying “I am” (vv. 6, 14) and “I will be with you” (v. 12).
To us, too, God promises His presence, saying “I am” and “I will be with you.” With you and me, with people in San Ignacio and Mexico City, in classrooms and conference rooms, in coffee shops and cubicles. Turning our very ground into holy ground.