Exodus 3:2-6 (NRSV)
2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Be respectful and take off your shoes! Let there be nothing between you and the holy ground you stand upon - between you and your God.
I don’t know when it became acceptable to wear shoes in the sanctuary. Maybe it goes all the way back to the house churches of the 1st century. The Jewish Christians were accustomed to taking off their shoes to enter the Temple, but their Lord’s Day gatherings were in each other’s houses… No, that can’t be right, because we know they took off their shoes when they entered someone’s home. Hence the stories about Jesus having his feet washed and washing the feet of his disciples. . . However, it was not required to take off one’s shoes when entering a synagogue, so maybe that’s where it comes from. After all, many of our practices and rituals around worship do come from the earliest days of the Church.
Modern practice is to wear shoes all the time for fear of dirt and bacteria. Additonally, outdoors there is the possibility of stepping on things that hurt when barefoot. I have even seen articles in which some “expert” says you should never go barefoot - not even in your own home or in your own shower, because - dirt. *sigh* That’s why we have soap, to deal with dirt and bacteria.
We don’t like our feet very much. We think they are ugly. Even when we beautify them with pedicures and pretty colors on our toes, we still tend to hide them away. This is especially evident on Maundy Thursday, when people often apologize for the ugliness of their feet as they sit in front of me to have them washed. Most people won’t take off their shoes even to receive this gift of service, preferring to keep their feet hidden.
We learn that feet are ugly pretty early. Mothers start putting shoes on babies when they are much too young to walk or have any need for shoes. Babies get rid of those shoes as quickly as possible, because they know that feet are wondrous and beautiful, just like all the rest of their bodies, because God made them.
God told Moses to take off his sandals. “You are standing in front of the place from which I speak to you. You are standing on holy ground.” If we consider the places where we worship as places from which God speaks to us, as holy ground, perhaps we too should take off our shoes as a sign of respect.
O God, who spoke to Moses from a burning bush, we come before you with humility and respect, knowing that where ever we are when you speak to us is holy ground. Amen