May these words be in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna. They ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Seems like a rather insignificant verse from the Book of Joshua. But if you’d been eating manna for forty years, it would be a very significant time in your life. None of us quite clear what manna is, but the guess is it’s something like grits, without the cheese, without the butter and the pepper, and forty years of grits will get to you. And now they’re eating the crops of the land.

They’d been wandering for forty years, forty years for that which is not really filling, forty years with that which is somewhat fake, forty years of that which is not really the best that they can have. And now they have arrived at the Promised Land, and they can eat their fill of that which is wonderful. And the prodigal son comes home and there is celebration and festivity. The wandering is over, and now homecoming.

Now that’s our story, of course. The prodigal son story is the story of the ever-present God and the ever-present human tendency to wander away, in some cases, the run away, to a distant country, whether that distant country is described in terms of one’s rebellion or one’s rigidity, nonetheless, not the country of God.

It’s our story.

And it’s recognized, I think, straight forwardly in the very first commandment that God gave to Moses. The very first commandment God gave to Moses was: “Take off your shoes.” You remember that one? I was raised in Florida and therefore in a culture that in May we kids would take our shoes off and put them back on again in September. For us the idea of going without shoes conveyed comfort. I began to realize as I grew up that this Biblical passage where God commands Moses to take off his shoes could very well be conceived as an invitation to be at ease with God, to be comfortable, but also recognizing that this is Holy Ground, and you shouldn’t let this strip of leather stand between you and reality. Allow yourself to be enmeshed in reality.

But one of the rabbis in a Talmudic statement gave, what I think is even a more profound interpretation of this verse. The context is that Moses is in the dessert, and the dessert is not like the sands of Daytona Beach on and on and on. The dessert in that part of the world is more like the dessert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. It’s rough. It’s full of scorpions. It is tremendously difficult to cross. Someone described Phoenix, Arizona, as ten thousand acres of kitty litter. But it is rougher than that. And the only way to go across that dessert is to have shoes on. You can’t do it bare footed.

“Moses, take off your shoes, so you can’t run away. Take off your shoes. I want you here. You’re going to want to run away. You can’t stand to see the face of God. You have been hit straightforwardly with the perfection of God, and you are going to run away. You are going to slink away. You are going to find that this is impossible for you to fathom, and so therefore, take off your shoes. I want you here.”

In the Lesson from Second Corinthians we get a clue from St. Paul as to why we tend to run away, and that is because if anyone is in Christ, if anyone is imbedded in this incarnational God, that person is going to be changed. There is a new creation. And although we all recognize that what we have now is not enough, we all recognize the insufficiency of the gifts as they are now constituted, nonetheless, a word that says you’re going to be changed, and it’s going to be God’s direction doing it, not your own, scares the daylights out of us.

And so when we are confronted by the God who creates, the God continues to create, the God who continues to make new, the God who continues to surprise, it is a very natural and normal thing for us to run away.

But eventually, sooner or later, we come to ourselves. And when we come to ourselves, we don’t simply have recognition of the inadequacies of our life. But we begin to have recognition of what our lives truly constitute.

A number of years ago I was in Scotland in a very rural part of Scotland, and got on the train in one of those small little compartments in the Agatha Christie movies, each part of the train has its own little door, and I sat by the window, of course, in the seat facing the direction of the train. I hate to sit with my back to the direction of the vehicle. It’s just very uncomfortable. At the next station, a very old woman, with about three suitcases, a huge bouquet of flowers and a large hat, came into my compartment, and said, “Could we change places? I don’t like to sit with my back to the way we’re going.” And right then I discovered that I did not like this person. She asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I was a clergyman. And that gave her the exciting possibility of hitting me right between the eyes so she did. She said, “Then tell me, what is your definition of God?” So I hit her back. I decided that I would get really theological on her. And I said that the best definition of God that I have yet to discover is one that Paul Tillich has articulated based on medieval philosophy that he had studied. And he therefore calls God the Ground of our Being. And she looked at me, and she said, “Ground of our being. Isn’t that a rather earthy metaphor for a metaphysical reality?” And she had me!

I carried her suitcases through Edinburgh. She had me! If I had been smarter, and I wasn’t, I would have said to her, “Anyone who has seen God in Jesus recognizes that every metaphor we use for God has to be an earthy metaphor. That’s just the nature of it.” Of course, I wasn’t quick enough on that. I’m going to have a calling card made that say’s “Give me 24 hours, and I will have a devastating retort.”

But the devastating retorts always come later. But Tillich’s understanding of God as the Ground of our Being, God is that in which we are grounded, imbedded; that when you strip away all of the facades and get down to the very basis of your being and you discover your true self, you discover that you are rooted and grounded in God. Everybody is. Over the years, there has been an accretion after accretion built onto our personalities, and that keeps us from recognizing that the essence of our being is that we are in communion with God, that we are in fact in Christ.

And so when we come to ourselves, we discover God. And when we come to God, we discover ourselves.

And there will be change, but it’s going to be good. When essence begins to be known in one’s actual existence, then all sorts of reconciliation can become possible because now there real you begins to live on the surface of things, and the real you rooted and grounded in the love of God, begins to determined everything that is a part of your life.

And so, St. Paul again, when this happens, when we come to ourselves, we can be ambassadors for Christ, for the Christ who grounds everybody in this creation, but they don’t know it. We can proclaim to others the truth of their own being, that they are made in the imagine and likeness of God, and that they are rooted and grounded in love. That they are closer to God than they are to themselves. And as we come to know ourselves, when we quit wandering in the wilderness and feeding ourselves only with manna, but return home to ourselves, we discover God. Or, when after wandering in the wilderness we turn to God, we discover ourselves.

I stayed at the home of a Roman Catholic priest one time, and when I got there he said that he would put me in the Cardinal’s Room. I was rather impressed. “This is the room where the Cardinal stays when he visits?” “Yes.” “How often does the Cardinal visit?” “He’s never come. But if he were to come, this is the room in which we would put him.” And of course this room has collected all of the junk furniture that had been around. It was just there. It was the guest bedroom that being used, and there I was. On the wall there was a mirror. And it was somewhat of a monstrosity. On one side of the mirror was a bad painting of St. Christopher, the Christ-bearer, the one who carried the Christ. We now have learned that St. Christopher is really mythological. So let’s say that there was a picture of Mr. Christopher. I found out about this at Mr. Patrick’s Cathedral, by the way. But here is Christopher. And on the other side of the mirror is the other great Christ-bearer, Mary. Christopher. Mary. Come with me into that room, and look at that mirror, and what will you see? You will see Christopher, the Christ-bearer. Mary the Christ-bearer, and you, the Christ-bearer. Christopher. Mary, and you. And you are the only one who can move. You are the only one alive in that picture. You are the ambassador for Christ.

St. Paul, again, “God is making his appeal through us. We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

And so the First Commandment is this: “Take off your shoes. Don’t run away. Recognize who you are. Christopher, that’s who you are. And rejoice. There is a new creation. Everything has become new. Everything is becoming new. Everything will become new, and we will no longer be eating manna. But we are going to feast on the food that gives life!