Shoes On – A Sermon

It is not my intention to turn this into a Sermon Site. I don’t write enough of my sermons for that to make sense. This week I wrote down some of my thoughts, however, and some have asked that I share them.

Here’s the Audio File:

I turned the knob slowly, believing that anything I could do to preserve a few more minutes of silence would be worth it. Hannah, who falls asleep more slowly was the first to respond. “Is it time?” She said. “Yes, it’s time again. Get up little girl, grab your things.”  


I walked over to her brother’s bed. “Aaron wake up son.” No movement. “Aaron, c’mon. It’s time.” He rolled over, obviously still sleeping. Eyes closed. Somnambulant but obedient.”Grab your things, son. And put on your shoes.”


We staggered, the three of us, into the hallway to join Erica.

Growing up, it seemed to me that there were two types of people in the world: those that wore their shoes in the house and those that didn’t. Callahams were of the former type. I married into the later.


I always used to think that the difference between the two as one of cleanliness. Neat people left their shoes at the door, fastidiously looking after the whiteness of their carpets and the sheen of their linoleum. People less concerned about clean – and those that had hard-wood floors and didn’t want splinters in their feet – let shoes on, mostly. Taking a chance only when comfort or sleep demanded.

But there’s something more to it than that, right? Something more spiritual. “Kick your shoes off and sit a spell” is what the old folks said, isn’t it? Even those who had dirt floors. Shoes off in the house is about more than cleanliness and comfort, it’s about ease and inhabiting space. Shoes off in the house is a about a sense of safety that transcends the avoidance of splinters. It’s about Sabbath. The end of a day’s work. The end of a day’s anxiety. Shoes-off is how we want to live, at least in a metaphorical sense.

If things really got bad there would be room in the closet. But this was still just a Tornado Warning. There would still be time. Time for breaking glass, time for the sound of the freight train, time to duck inside and shut the door and hold on for our lives – all our lives.  So, for the moment, Erica and I sat in the hall, kids uneasily dozing in the closet, everyone with their shoes on waiting for the storm. Each of us counting down the minutes until the all-clear sounded and the kids could go back to bed – shoes off, it’s tough to sleep in your shoes – and Erica and I could go back to our worry – eyes on weather-app, ears tuned for the next tornado warning. Shoes on. Vigilant, prepared to make a run for it. Prepared to move.

This is how The Callahams spent three long days at the end of last month. Never leaving the house, but running from a storm nonetheless. Three days with our shoes on ready for the worst.

And this was the scene that came pouring back to me when I first opened the lectionary texts for this week. The image that filled my mind with a new appreciation for the  Hebrew Slave who were ordered to eat “with their shoes on. Ready to depart their Slavery in Egypt. Ready for the Passover of the Lord their God.

Now, I don’t necessarily mean to equate the trials that Houston faced in the last two weeks with those of the Hebrews 3500 years ago. Urban living in the 21st century is as far Iron Age slavery as the weather patterns of Houston are from those of North Africa.

Neither do I wish to compare the momentary inconveniences that my family and I experienced over several sleepless nights and boring days with the horror and heroism of those who were literally out in the storm fighting to ensure the safety of their homes, their families and their neighbors. All of these stories are NOT the same . . . Except the shoes.

I wonder how the Hebrews felt as they cleaned up their final evening meal in Goshen – you shall leave none of ’till the morning. The text is unclear about the amount of time that elapsed between the end of the meal and the actual Passover. There must have been some quiet, anxious moments to wonder about whether all the preparation, all of the rhetoric, all of the worry had actually been worth it – whether the magic of the blood on the doorpost would actually work.  Or would the morning simply bring another hardening of the heart of pharaoh and a redoubling of the painful pogrom of work and death. Did the Hebrew Children dose as the waters of worry and the storm of anxiety raged around them? Did the people take comfort in the discomfort of dining shoes-on as they waited to move with a moment’s notice? Does the fear I felt while waiting for the all-clear to come through the Iphone speaker have anything to do with the hope that we read was the food for the Hebrews for so many years?

I wonder, sometimes, if fear and hope are two sides of the same coin.

In recent days, the inevitable question that accompanies most natural disasters has been raised. “Where was God in the Midst of our storm?” Predictably, the voices that have risen to the top of the media are not those most prepared by reflection or experience to answer. Rather celebrities and pundits suggest one of two troubling things. Principally and tragically some suggest that God was the cause of the storm, that tantamount to some contemporary 11th plague, God was seeking to turn the hardened hearts of one group or another by exacting punishment on the assembled masses. This is wrong and it shows neither understanding of the basic story of the bible nor nuance in its interpretation. The citizens of our city were not waiting for salvation . . . at least not a salvation of this type and God has shown repeatedly that the wanton destruction of life and property is not longer his game, even if it ever was.

More pleasant, but similarly challenging is the assertion that God was present in the storm in the hearts and hands and feet of heroic rescuers and first responder who like so many contemporary Moseses parted seas in boat and trucks to free those trapped by rising water. This is closer to the truth. But it still disenfranchises so many who cowered in closets, shivered on rooftops and waited with anxiety for phone-calls from loved ones separated by the storm. Yes, we owe a debt of gratitude to our rescuers and their bass boats. But was God not also present in the lives of the others as well?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus wraps up what is seemingly a lesson early church discipline with what has become something of an aphorism for Christians throughout the ages. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.” While this may have originally been meant as a reason to favor group discernment or even a warning against thinking we are ever out from under Jesus’ watchful eye, in the context of this conversation about God and shoes and storms it takes on new and wonderful meaning.

Where was God in the midst of our storm? He was sitting in that hallway right next to me. He was in the back of a city dump truck comforting those who had lost everything. He was in the George R. Brown reassuring those displaced that though separated from family and friends they were never truly alone. He was praying with purpose that the creation that he authored would not take the life of another of his children. He was dining with his shoes on. Treading the line between hope and fear as he did on the night of the Passover and the night of the Last Supper and as he will tonight in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic and the Florida keys.

God was in the midst of the storm, friends. And I can see on your faces that you saw him there, too.

So what next?

I’m happy to report that shoes are the only things in closets at the Vicarage these days, at least from supper time on. And I pray that if this is not the case at your house that it soon will be. The God who initiated the Passover and rode out the storm with us also ordained the Sabbath a time of refreshment, of inhabiting rather than combating creation, a time for the finding of holy ground and removing your shoes.


(By the way, this is a metaphor . . . please note that the floor of the Cathedral is hardwood and prone to splintering).   


As we find our Sabbath rest today in this sacred place. As we gather around this table for this Eucharistic Meal, Let us be mindful of those who still dine with shoes on. And let us recommit ourselves to be with them as Christ was with us and is with us in the midst of the storm. Let us commit ourselves to find and spread hope where fear seems to reign. In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.




One comment

  1. Dear Art… I never wear shoes at home…not even slippers. Wonderful Sermon! I have been very under the weather for the past four days; or you would have heard my good wishes and lauds in person… Glad y’all are OK… Blest be… C+2


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