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Let us pray. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. Melt us. Mold us. Fill us. Use us. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. Amen.
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from the book of Exodus Chapter 33:12-23. This passage comes near the end of the Exodus narrative. Moses has led the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, they are camped at Mount Sinai, God has given Moses the 10 commandments, and as Moses is coming down the mountain back to the people, he finds that they have created an idol for themselves to worship. They have melted their gold and made for themselves a lower case ‘g’ god to worship while Moses was gone. Oh and Moses is now supposed to lead this stiff necked people into the land that God promised to their ancestors. And this is the conversation between Moses and God that follows. Listen now for a word from God.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And Moses said to God, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
The word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.
Growing up in Maryland, every year my family would go to this giant corn maze that was near my house. The maze stretched for what seemed like miles and miles. It was so big that every group that entered the maze had to have a flag with them that they could raise at any point so that they could come and get you out if you were lost. The maze wasn’t just a get it and a get out kind of maze. It was filled with checkpoints and clues. Places that you had to reach in order to complete the maze and clues you had to solve to be able to get through. And they would give you a map that could only be read under the red decoder found at the checkpoints. Every year my Mom was determined that we would finish the maze. That we would reach every checkpoint, solve every clue, and make it out of the maze without having to raise our flag in defeat. With each year the scheme to finish the maze got more elaborate. She would plan out every turn we had to make. The fastest way through the maze. One year she discovered that if she wore those old 3D glasses, you know the blue and red ones she would be able to read the map the whole time. And so she would lead the pack of us in her 3D glasses and map held out in front of her. “Mom’s on a mission” we would say.
I think all of us, even if not to that extreme, we are planning people. We like to have a plan. We like to know the plan. We like to have and know the plan that we’ve planned for if the first, and second, and third plan don’t work out as planned. Having a plan makes us feel comfortable, makes us feel certain, makes us feel like we are in control.
As far as Moses was concerned, things were not going according to plan to say the very least. He led the people out of Egypt and almost immediately things started to spiral out of control. The people started wishing that they were back in Egypt, they refused to follow explicit instructions not to gather and store up manna that they couldn’t eat, and finally most recently they have committed the ultimate sin. They created for themselves an idol, a golden calf to worship, rather than worship God. And as we’ve been learning this whole summer, the story of this stiff-necked people, the Hebrews who have been delivered from their enslavement in Egypt, led through the wilderness, and now camped at the base of Mount Sinai, worshiping their idols, is not just the story of a people thousands of years ago, it is also our story. We are the people who have been delivered, who have been led through the wilderness places of our lives, who have failed to trust that there will be bread enough for tomorrow, and yes who have made idols for ourselves to worship.
In this conversation with God Moses says, “Show me your Glory, I pray.” Show me your glory I God, so I can lead this people into the promised land. Show me your Glory O God so that I can trust you. Show me your Glory O God, so that I know I have found favor in your sight. Show me your glory. As I have read those words over and over again this week, they have taken on a tone of lament. A tone that only comes from a cry that begins deep within my soul. Yes, these words have indeed become my prayer. “Show me your Glory O God.” Show me your Glory O God because there is so much violence in the world. Show me your Glory O God, because there are days when it all gets to be too much, and I don’t know if I can keep going. Show me your Glory O God because it feels like my grasp on love and grace and compassion feels like it is starting to slip, and I need something to cling to. Show me your glory, O God because sometimes it feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.
But it’s not just God’s glory that Moses wants to see, it is God’s face. Moses desperately wants to know what God looks like. He doesn’t feel like he can lead this people into the promised land unless he has seen God’s face. We and Moses are uncomfortable with the idea that we are not entirely in control, and so what can we do but cling to any sense of certainty. “Let me see your face.” “Let me know the plan.” “Let me know why this has happened.” We do this all the time. We say things like “this is all a part of God’s plan.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “God’s plan is not our plan.” We trust in the certainty of “thoughts and prayers” without considering how thoughtfulness and prayerfulness might actually inspire us to be in the world. If we seek certainty for comfort, we remain unchanged. We remain untransformed. It was after all the Israelites want for certainty that led them to create for themselves an idol in the first place. We hope that this type of certainty will bring comfort. We hope that it will give us courage to face what is to come. Instead it turns us around.
As we posture ourselves to see God’s face, we turn away from the direction that God is going. We face the opposite direction of the way God’s glory is moving. We face the opposite direction of the way that God is leading us towards a land and a future that has been promised to us for generations. So friends, let us not face backwards, seeking some sense of false certainty that may never come, because the trauma we have experienced is not part of some divine plan. The death of a friend is not part of God’s plan. The unexpected visit to the hospital is not part of God’s plan. The painful end of a relationship is not part of God’s plan. The shootings in El Paso and in Dayton were not part of God’s plan, and the gun violence that happens every day all over this country are not part of God’s plan. So let us instead find the courage to turn around. To see God’s back, to watch where God is going, and to follow God into a new day.
God says you cannot see my face, but I will place you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand as I pass by. And once I have passed by you can see my back. You see, we find that this job of turning around to watch where God is going, and following God into the promised land is not just about us. Because God orients us not to live in certainty, but to live in faith. To look back on our lives and see that even in the moments when it didn’t feel like it, God was there. Not because it was part of some divine plan for that moment to happen, but because God is leading us into the promised land. God orients us, not to look at Gods face, but God’s back. Not so we can live a world of false certainty, but so we can see the direction that God is leading us and begin to take steps in that direction. We, after all, cannot reach the promised land unless we begin the journey. Led and guided by our God that does not deal in harmful certainty, but uncompromising presence.
So friends, take a deep breath. Breathe deep the love of God. Know that even though there has been pain. There has been weeping and mourning. There has been fear, God has been there. God is here. God will go with us as we journey together into the promised land.
May the LORD bless you and keep you. May the LORD’s face shine upon you and God be gracious unto you. May God give you grace to never sell yourself short. Grace to risk something big for something good. Grace to know that the world is small for anything but truth and too big for anything but love. And now may God take your minds and think through them. May god take your lips and speak through them. May God take your hands and work through them. And may god take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen.