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The shoes of the Alpha Male

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

The social life of the teenager is remarkably complicated, these days. It’s perhaps most pronounced in the relationships between teenage girls. There is always some form of popularity contest going on and, if you win this contest, you are rewarded with a group of friends vying for your approval.

But aren’t all human social groups a bit like that? There is always a top dog, and others coveting attention from that top dog. Can you see it in your life? Can you see it here in Church?

It seems that the same is true with Our Lord and His disciples. We see James and John wanting the best seats in Heaven. And you can understand the other disciples’ reactions, can’t you?

Why should James and John have the best seats? You’ve given up just as much of your life for Jesus as they have? You’ve been there and listened to His sermons. You’ve tried to put His teaching into practice. You’re as much a disciple as they are, aren’t you?

This is quite normal human behaviour for human beings, something we perhaps share with the apes, but we know the strife that it causes.

But we cannot blames James and John. If we were present with James and John, would we not want to get close to Jesus? Of course we would! But would it be because Jesus is popular, or would it be because of something else?


Look at how the disciples started out. Peter, Andrew, James, John – all leave their boats to follow Jesus at one word from Him! It seems like the disciples are drawn to Him like moths to a flame. Now where have we seen that before? Moses and the Disciples are drawn to the fire of God. For Moses, it burns in a bush; for the Disciples, it shines in the very life and work of Jesus. An ordinary bush, an ordinary man – both extraordinary! In these most ordinary of things, we find ourselves struggling not to behave in an ordinary way. Moses has to be told to put off his shoes because the ground on which he walks is holy. Likewise, James and John are told not to behave like other human beings and see Jesus as just a charismatic teacher.


Moses’ feet touch the ground, the very dust from which we human beings have been made by the hand of God. He is grounded in reality. And standing here, on the ground, in the reality that he has always known, he finds himself in the presence of the God Who says, “I Am That I Am.” Moses is told in no uncertain terms that God is the One Who Is – and that the very act of being comes from God alone. The ground becomes holy precisely because God says it is. Things become holy because God separates them out for His purposes. By taking off his shoes and touching the ground, Moses becomes humble. In being humble, he is made holy by God for the purposes of redeeming Israel from Egypt.


The Disciples find themselves in the presence of the Man Jesus and when they begin that usual process of seeing Him as the top dog and vying for His attention, He tells them to be humble. He tells them to put aside this meaningless popularity contest and start being real human beings being neither greater nor lesser than another, but all of immeasurable value to the Creator. The Disciples live and move and have their being with God Incarnate. In the act of the Word being made Flesh and dwelling among us, we are presented with the fact that each one of us – every single human being, without exception – can be made holy. That is the call of the Church. The Church is Holy, and we are called to become holy, to live holy lives, to centre them on Christ, to repent TO Him.


Our calling to become members of the Church is a call to take off our shoes and stand on holy ground. It is a call to put off lives of competition for limited resources and find lives which are rooted in the business of being human shared with the Infinite Being of God Himself. We are made holy only by God, irrespective of other’s holiness. Not even priesthood makes a man holy – ordination sets that man apart to distribute the sacraments irrespective of his holiness. We can never say that the Bishop is automatically holier than the one that sits in the pew. In many circumstances, it has been the other way around. It is in living God-centred lives in prayer and obedience that helps us draw closer to Him and from Him find our holiness.


To become holy, we must put off our shoes, forget about social status, and commit ourselves to the reality of God that only touches our understanding and experience briefly. To become holy, we must stand on the ground from which we are made and gaze into the Infinity of Love: only then -ONLY then - will the cold, dark world around us catch His fire.

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