Summer vacation is generally understood to mean two consecutive weeks at the beach. It also means no watch, no email, no phone, and most importantly, no shoes. Chan makes me wear shoes to the restaurant and to church, but not without resistance on my part. As soon as the days begin to warm, my shoes begin to feel lonely. I love bare feet in the spring garden or in vacation sand, and I take pride that by summer’s end they’re tough enough to run through the gravel. For me, there’s something oddly sacred about it.
Two years ago at the New Smyrna Beach rental house, a couch pillow stitched with this quote resonated with something deep in my soul: “If you’re not barefooted, you’re overdressed.” The enthusiasm this wisdom stirred in me prompted an “Oh no!” from my daughter, Clair. “We’re gonna hear that in a sermon soon!” I said, “You probably will. That’s a quote from the Bible. God says this sort of thing all the time.” Well, maybe not an exact quote, and maybe not all of the time, but at least once God said something close.
Moses was alone with his sheep when it happened. God appeared in the brush fire, invited Moses to remove his sandals, and promptly recruited him to rescue God’s people from tremendous suffering and oppression in Egypt. The epic drama of liberation that unfolded was to be forever remembered in the annual Passover meal.
Centuries later, Jesus’ disciples climbed the stairs knowing that the upper room floor was holy ground—the celebration meal, full of memory, was waiting for them there. They would have tossed their shoes at the door, and after recovering from the shock that Jesus had washed their dirty feet, would have reclined together at the table to remember the salvation story that began with a barefooted Moses. During supper, Jesus broke the bread, raised the cup and offered his disciples a new commandment to love the world. I really like the fact that none of them were wearing shoes.
“If you’re not barefooted, you’re overdressed,” was a welcome reminder to me that the pace of these days would be different. But my much needed, barefooted vacation experienced a bit of turbulence from every direction. A Time Magazine article detailed horrors endured by Boko Haram victims in Africa. James Baldwin’s book, Fire the Next Time, shared troubling stories of racial injustice. A family dinner conversation left us wondering about the United Methodist quest for a way forward with regard to marriage and ordination for gay people. The television in the pier bait shop reported tragic results from a human smuggling attempt in Texas.
I didn’t hear God’s voice from a burning sand dune, and God didn’t tell me to remove my shoes (they were already off anyway), but I know that people need to be saved from dark things, and that God calls the church to task.
This summer as our beach vacation ends and I reluctantly put on shoes, I feel especially grateful and proud to be your pastor. You value time on holy ground, and you take off your shoes in God’s presence. You hear God calling us into the darkness, so you put your shoes back on. You know we have work to do, and you are not afraid. You know that we are the living body of Christ.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”