TIS 693: Come as you are
TIS 132: Holy, holy, holy
TIS 446: Glorious things of you are spoken
TIS 215: You servants of God
TIS 222: Rock of Ages, cleft for me
TIS 569: Guide me, O thou great Redeemer
Prayers of Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Confession
We adore you, God, a God of truth, a God interested in all that goes in amongst your creation,
A God who is mystery, yet made known to us,
And found by all who seek you with their whole heart.
You are a God of mystery, a God of glory.
Your awe-inspiring power shakes the mountains and stirs the seas-but your face is hidden from us.
We see what you do and we learn of your nature through Jesus, but, like Moses, we cannot see your face.
It is by faith, and not by sight, that we know you and trust your love.
Reveal yourself anew to this this day, so that we may taste afresh your goodness and marvel at your grace.
We thank you, God,
That you require us to see with the eyes of faith, and to know with a heart of loving trust.
We thank you for all the ways in which we come to know you
-for the Bible
-for family and friends
-for the church
-and especially for Jesus Christ.
O Glorious God, your face is too radiant for our earthly eyes.
Allow us to see the refection of your power, so that we know your presence goes before us throughout our whole journey through life.
Yet, we confess our liking for the tangible, and the touchable.
We trust what we can experience with our human senses and doubt what we cannot.
We want proof.
Like Moses, we want to see you, to seek an experience of your glory that we can behold on our own terms.
Forgive the arrogance and ignorance of such desire,
Forgive the resistance to live by faith alone.
Forgive us for thinking we can command you or somehow fully know your mind.
Forgive us our other sins
(and in a time of silence we bring those items before you).
God has made goodness ‘pass before us’ in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Because of this , we know our God is kind and merciful, slow to anger and quick to forgive.
Hear then the word of grace and the assurance of pardon:
Our sins are forgiven
(thanks be to God)
Take hold of this forgiveness, and live your lives as forgiven, much loved, people.
Exodus 33: 12-23
1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Matthew 22: 15-22
H. G. Wells said: “There was a time when I looked up at the stars and felt a sense of awe and wonder. Now, I look at the stars in the same sense that I look at the wall paper in a train station waiting room.”
-A loss of the sense of awe and wonder
Today’s reading from the Book of Exodus is enveloped in mystery
-it’s about distance and nearness, transcendence and immanence (religious speak for distance and nearness!)
Moses knew the voice of God.
In Exodus it says that God ‘used to speak to Moses face-to-face as one speaks to a friend.’
Ever since that day at the burning bush, Moses and God were on a first-name basis.
Once free of Egyptian slavery, out in the wilderness, God calls Moses up to Mt Sinai.
The people are left down in the valley.
Moses is delayed.
Do you remember what happened ?
The people grew restless.
“Is God here for us or not?” they demanded.
Not content with some distant, faceless Tod up on the mountain, they take matters into their own hands.
-they fashion for themselves a calf made out of gold, they bow down and then dance around it,
They worship a golden calf-there in their midst-in place of God, who is distant, away from them.
God is furious!
Having delivered the people from slavery, promising to be their God if they will be God’s people, God is angered by this breaking of covenant, this idolatry:
“Get out of here,” God commands, telling them that this time they will make the journey through the desert along.
Exodus 33:3: ‘Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people!”
-they’re on their own.
The people let up a tremendous wail, they mourn their actions, for they know that out here in the wilderness, along with no God to guide or protect them-they’re history!
This could be the end of the road for Israel.
“Let me talk to God,” says Moses.
“I’ll do what I can.” replies Moses.
Moses intercedes for Israel.
He moves into action.
Moses reminds God that this Exodus- freeing the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt-and ‘going out’- (the word Exodus means ‘going out into the way) in a new way, a new direction, to the promised land-was God’s idea in the first place!
-it wasn’t Moses’s idea!
Listen to Moses’s boldness…
Exodus 33:12-the opening verse on today’s reading:
‘Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you wills end to me.”
In other words-Moses is saying-you were going to send me helpers, assistants-where are they?
‘Besides,’ continues Moses, ‘This nation is your people’
Vs 13: ‘Consider too that this nation is your people.’
In other words- you created them, you called them, you promised to be with them, now they’re your problem!
Moses is brash, bold.
Moses reminds God that God had not kept his side of the bargain.
‘This nation is your people.’
-what makes this people distinctive is that God’s presence is with them.
Moses was not timid in prayer!
‘Show me your ways, so that I many know you…’demands Moses.
We expect God to get angry, to say ‘Who do you think you are? Barging in, reminding me of who I am and what I said and…telling me I should do this…
God relents, despite his anger.
God days, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
BUT Moses keeps going-it’s almost as though God’s assent is given too quickly-Moses races on-
“If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”
Without God’s presence, there is no reason for the community to go on.
Nothing can take its place-numbers, security, wealth-are no indication that God is pleased with his people.
Only God’s presence provides that, shows that.
‘For how shall it be known that I have found favour n your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct…’
Moses’s intercession is successful.
‘The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight.”
But Moses doesn’t stop!
He is bold.
God’s promise of divine presence is not enough.
“Show me your glory!” demands Moses.
God has promised Moses his presence, his guiding words, but it’s not enough for Moses.
Moses wants it all
-Moses wants it all!
He wants to see God, to see God in all God’s unveiled glory.
“Show me your glory!”
And that’s when God says “No!”
“I’ll make all my goodness pass before you. I’ll tell you my name.
I’ll be gracious. I’ll be merciful.
BUT you cannot see my face.
Nobody can see my face and live.”
Consider this for a moment.
God’s face is, like your face, revelation of God’s innermost self,
Who God really is.
When we gaze on someone’s face (remember falling in love?)-
Look someone in the eye- we know them.
-they say the eyes are the windows of the soul.
Moses knows God’s name-Yahweh-the Lord- back in Exodus 3-
Moses knows God’s ways are merciful
he shall not see God’s face and live.
Remember- Moses asked for knowledge of God’s ways-back in v. 13.
“Show me your ways.”
Moses wants God to be his guide through the wilderness, to give explicit instructions and give directions for the next part of the journey.
But Moses doesn’t receive directions,
He is promised God’s presence.
This gracious God keeps His promises, even though His people don’t always keep theirs.
God will be present.
-God will be present.
Sometimes we ask, as Moses did: ‘Show me your glory!”
Give us PROOF!
-so we know for certain that we haven’t wasted our time believing in you.
-Show me your glory…so I know you exist.
BUT God says “I will show you my goodness.”
-we see God’s glory, God’s goodness-in love, in acts of mercy and grace.
Now, an interesting point.
In our Bible vs 14: ‘My presence will go with you…’
BUT in the Hebrew there is no ‘with you’
Maybe, just maybe, all God said was “My presence will go.”
I will not move in with you.
I won’t settle down and be tamed by you. No, I will go on ahead into the wilderness, toward the land of promise.’
Which may explain why Moses only sees God’s back.
Perhaps Moses. Asking to see God’s face, is wanting to pin God down, BUT to know God is beyond human capabilities.
We cannot know and comprehend God.
God is mystery.
We may know something of the ways of God-but the ultimate mystery of God’s nature is hidden from us.
Nobody was on more familiar terms with God than Moss.
Yet, even for Moses, the closest he ever got to a glimpse of God was seeing the back of God.
God will go. Moses won’t be able to see the face of God-who could do that and live?
The story doesn’t say that God is invisible.
It says that to gaze directly at God is death, not life.
You can gaze at a golden calf, or another idol-but they’re dead, lifeless.
God passes by Moses-puts Moses safely in the cleft of a rock and covers him protectively with his hand.
“I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back.’(Vss 22-23)
The living, moving God is large, vital, free, life-giving.
We see God-where God has passed by.
We know God- by God’s past actions.
-like Moses-gazing at God’s back-if we contemplate our lives and that of others- we see how God’s glory has shone through in acts and deeds of loving kindness, of grace, of mercy.
There is distance between ourselves and God.
We cannot limit God to our ideas and images.
In today’s story, there is, on the one hand-the closeness of Moses to God-the familiarity, the prompting, the reminding, the closeness. Immanence-closeness.
On the other hand, the story reminds us of God’s transcendence, or distance. Which is mystery.
Nearness and distance.
I can’t explain God to you, or to myself.
God is relationship-not theory.
God is love.
Will you go with this God?
That’s the question left for the Hebrews at the end of the story.
Will you trust the goodness, venture forth into the wilderness, through the wilderness and unknown of covid-19-walk behind, trusting, following, the back of God?
God’s hand is reaching out-for yours.
Prayers of the People
Creator of the world and all that is, we turn to you to offer prayers for our world.
We acknowledge that it is not always easy to know how to pray, for the world can be a hostile place, where your will is disregarded and your purposes ignored.
We pray for an end to evil, violence and oppression.
We pray for a ceasing of war, and suffering.
We pray that where children go hungry, and refugees are cast aside, these rwrongs will be corrected.
We pray for the sick, the dying, those awaiting test result.
We pray that institutions and governments of the world who ignore the needs of ordinary people, will see the errors of their ways and correct them.
We pray for creation, for animals that are endangered, for polluted waters, for areas about to be felled of their oxygen generating trees.
Forgive us, forgive our arrogant ways.
And in a time of silence, we remember other matters-causes, or people, who need out prayers
As you have heard our prayers, please listen to our final one, which we learned from our Lord:
‘Our Father in heaven…’
May the Father’s hand
keep you from stumbling,
the footprints of Jesus
give you confidence to follow,
and the fire of the Spirit
keep you warm and safe
in your walk with God this day, and always,
(adapted from a blessing by John Birch)