IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
The people of Israel have been freed by God from the slavery of Egypt. By God’s hand, Moses has led them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.
Currently, they are camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses has been up on the mountain receiving from God what we now call the Ten Commandments. He has carried them down on two stone tablets. What Moses does not realize is that since being in God’s presence he has been changed. Let’s read what happens in Exodus 34:29-35 (NIV):
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.
When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.
Something has happened to Moses. Verse 29 says that he is not aware that his face is radiant. Basically, what this is saying is that, because Moses was with God, he was impacted to a great degree. In fact, he is radiant. He is glowing. He doesn’t actually realize it but everyone else could see it in his face.
So, here’s a question for you: Are you radiant after being in God’s presence? Can people see the Lord in you? After you’ve been in God’s presence, can people see it in your face? Or do you just blandly go on your way as though nothing has happened? That’s something to think about.
Verse 34 says that Moses entered into the Lord’s presence. But what does it mean to be in the presence of the Lord? Let’s take a few moments to talk about that. Quite simply, it is this; anytime you are seeking to be in communion with God, you are in presence of the Lord. That means that when you worship, you are in God’s presence. When you are praying you are in God’s presence. When you are reading your Bible, you are in God’s presence. When you come together in your small groups you are in God’s presence. When you help others in Jesus’ name, you are in God’s presence. Whenever you intentionally and purposefully seek to be in communion with God, you are in his presence.
That’s a surprise for some people who mistakenly think that all of us are always in God’s presence. The logic goes something like this: if God is everywhere – and God is – then wherever I am God must be there. Right? In a sense that’s true. God is everywhere which means that you can’t go anywhere where God isn’t.
But that’s not what the Bible means when it talks about being in God’s presence. The Bible talks about people going into and coming out of God’s presence. Exodus 28:30 says that Aaron entered into the presence of the Lord. If he could enter into the presence of the Lord, than it only makes sense that he could also leave the presence of the Lord. He could, he did and so can we.
The presence of the Lord is not about God’s omnipresence, about God being everywhere. The presence of the Lord is about us purposefully and intentionally seeking to be in communion with God. Do you see the difference? It’s about us wanting to humble ourselves and give reverence to God as we seek his will and way.
BEING IN GOD’S PRESENCE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Moses went into the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai and, when he came down from the mountain, he was so affected by his experience of God that he was changed. He was changed so much that people could see the difference in him. They could, in fact and quite literally, see it in his face.
I will go back to a previous question: After you’ve been in the presence of the Lord, can people see the difference in you? Does worship change you? Does receiving communion change you? Does reading your Bible change you? Does prayer change you? Does meeting with your small group or in Bible study change you? Does helping the poor in Jesus’ name change you? Does any of this have any affect on you – because it should.
God has a purpose for your life and God has a plan for your life. I don’t pretend to know what God’s plan and purpose is for you. But I do know what it’s not. It is not to stand still in your walk with him. God does not what you to be a stagnant believer. God wants you to mature in your faith. God wants you to increase in your biblical knowledge. God wants you to develop in your understanding. God wants you to grow in your relationship with him. He doesn’t want you standing still. He wants you to grow up and mature into a fully committed Christ follower. You can’t do that by doing nothing. The only way that you can do that is by seeking to be the presence of the Lord.
So, here’s a question: are you seeking to be in the presence of the Lord? Are you seeking to be in communion with him? Are you attending worship? Are you reading your Bible? Are you developing in your prayer life? Are you involved in Bible study or a small group? Are you fellowshipping with other believers so that you can grow in faith together? Those are all things that we need to do if we want to be in the presence of the Lord.
HOW ARE YOU AFFECTED?
When Moses came down from being in the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai, his experience of God was so amazing that it changed him. It says that he was radiant. In fact, it changed him so much that people could see the change in his face.
Here’s another question – and this is the key one – How are you affected by being in God’s presence? How does his Spirit impact your life? Being in God’s presence will change you. That is an inescapable fact. You simply cannot truly be in the presence of the Lord and come away from that experience unchanged. It may be a big change. Maybe it’s only a little change that’s hardly noticeable but a bunch of little changes over time add up to big changes before too long.
But someone is bound to say something like, “I don’t think anything ever changes in me after I worship or read the Bible or pray.” Maybe that’s true but if you haven’t experienced real change in your life, then maybe you really haven’t been in God’s presence at all. Here’s something else to think about; being in the presence of the Lord is not just about doing the right things. It’s not just about going to worship on Sunday morning, or reading your Bible or spending time on your knees in silence with your head bowed. It’s not just about helping the poor and supporting the food bank. You can do all of those things – in fact, lots and lots of people do – and never be in the presence of the Lord.
That’s because being in the presence of the Lord is not about doing the right things. It is about approaching God with the right heart. Psalm 40:6 (CEV) says, “Sacrifices and offerings are not what please you; gifts and payments for sin are not what you demand. But you made me willing to listen and obey.” What this tells us is that being in the presence of the Lord is not about the stuff that we do. You can go to church twenty-four hours a day. You can read your Bible cover to cover. You can wear out the knees of your pants from bowing in prayer. But if you haven’t opened your heart to let God in, then you’re just going through the motions. You’re spitting in the wind. You’re cutting the lawn with a pair of nail clippers or shoveling the snow with a teaspoon. You might be busy doing all the right things in all the right places but you’re not getting anything of any consequence done. God doesn’t want your sacrifices. God doesn’t want your offerings. He wants you to open your heart to him because as many times as you come before him with an open heart, you stand in his presence.
I was thinking about that this week as I was preparing this message. And I have to admit that I struggled with this message. I was thinking of what it means to be in the presence of the Lord and then I was thinking of what the people of the Ukraine are going through right now. What does it mean to be in the presence of the Lord when your homeland is being invaded?
As you may know, I seldom talk about politics in worship. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that this congregation consists of people who are all over the map on political and social issues. There are few issues on which we have any kind of consensus and we want you to feel welcomed regardless of your political or social stripe. And while I certainly have my own viewpoints, I think it very inappropriate to share them with you from the pulpit. That being said, if you want to find out where I stand on any issue, I’d love to have that conversation – just not here.
The second reason I steer clear of such things is because my role here is not to pontificate to you about politics. My job is to share the gospel message and allow to you to reflect on that message and put your faith into action with regards to the things that you find important and how the Holy Spirit speaks to you.
But today I am going to make an exception probably because I expect that we are all on the same page with what is going on in the Ukraine and wondering what that says about being in the presence of the Lord.
There are a couple of interesting factors at play here. First, the Ukraine is one of the most Christian countries in Europe. In fact, unlike much of the West, in the Ukraine, the proportion of people who self-identify as Christian is increasing whereas the percentage of people who identify as non-religious is declining. Most Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians. Ironically, the President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, isn’t a Christian. He’s Jewish. The Prime Minister of the Ukraine is also Jewish. But that’s okay because the Christians in the Ukraine democratically elected two Jewish men to the top offices in the country. That shows an incredible openness that we should seek to mirror.
The other interesting factor here is the Vladimir Putin himself self-identifies as a Christian and is a vocal supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church. While his father was an atheist, his mother was a devote Christian and had him baptized as a boy. He was raised in the faith and now makes frequent references to the Bible in his speeches.
So, what do we do with that? What does it mean to be in the presence of the Lord in that situation? I’ve struggled with that. I’ve struggled with it a lot this week. I’ve struggled with it as I’ve watched the news cast on TV this past few days.
Let’s go back to Moses. What happened to him when he was in the presence of the Lord? He was transformed. You could see it in his face which was radiant. Why was it radiant? It was radiant because he had not only done the right thing – in this case meaning that he had gone up on Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments – he had also opened his heart up to the Lord. Again, Psalm 40:6 (CEV) says, “Sacrifices and offerings are not what please you; gifts and payments for sin are not what you demand. But you made me willing to listen and obey.”
The Ukraine is a Christian nation with Jewish leadership. Putin claims to be a Christian man. So, who’s just going through the motion of faithfulness without being transformed. And who is seeking to be obedient to God? Whose heart is open? I don’t know. I can’t tell what’s in a person’s heart and either can you. But I can tell you what I see. I see one large nation invading a smaller nation with no other goal than political power and influence. I’m sure it’s not that simple. I’m sure that it has something to do with NATO. And I’m sure it has something to do with the vast natural resources that exist within the Ukraine. And I’m sure that it has something to do with lots of things of which we are not even aware.
But when I look into the face of Vladimir Putin, what do I see? I see a stone cold visage that is dull and faded. I do not see the radiance of the face of Moses when he came down from the mountain after being in the presence of God and glowed before the people. Instead I see in Putin a man who may worship, who may pray, who may read his Bible and support his church but whose heart is a cold as a frozen winter’s day in Siberia.
Is that judgmental? Yes, I suppose it is because, as I’ve already said, I don’t know his heart. But what is in a person’s heart is invariably reflected in their actions. And I see nothing of Jesus in the actions of Vladimir Putin.
WHAT DO OTHERS SEE?
That’s enough politics because nothing we can do will change that. Let’s focus now on us because that’s where we can make a difference. Here’s the question: have you been transformed by the presence of the Lord?: Have you changed? Are you the same person you were when you first gave your heart to Jesus or is he changing you, your attitudes, your actions and your desires? I hope you’re changing because you cannot stand in God’s presence and not be changed. Moses couldn’t do it. Aaron couldn’t do it. Paul couldn’t do it. Peter, James and John couldn’t do it. If they couldn’t do it, then either can we.
The real challenge is this: can others see the change in you? People could see the change in Moses. They could see it in his face. Can people see the changes in your life? That’s a tough question that demands some honest answers. Can other people see Jesus working in your life?
Remember, it’s not just about doing the churchy things. Lots of people do that. They worship consistently. They serve on a committee or two. The put money in the offering plate. Maybe they sing in the choir or teach Sunday School. But does anyone outside of the Church know anything about that? Do their lives from Monday to Saturday reflect the faith that they proclaim on Sunday? If you asked the people they work with or go to school with or golf with; if you asked their friends and their neighbours if they had any idea of that person’s faith in Christ, would they say, “Joe’s different that way. He really takes his faith seriously and it’s pretty obvious to all of us.” Or would they say, “Oh no, Joe’s not one of those Jesus Freaks. He’s just like the rest of us.”
Here’s the kicker: God does not want us to be like the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean that God wants you to be obnoxious or insensitive or pushy about your faith but God does want your faith to be noticeable. God wants people to know that you are a Christ follower. God wants your friends, neighbours, co-workers, fellow students, whatever, to know why you live by a higher standard because of your faith in Christ.
Moses might have worn a veil to shield the Israelites from the glory of God shining from his face but God does not want us to do that. In fact, God wants our faith to be obvious to everyone we meet. He wants our faces to be radiant from being in his presence and he wants the world to notice. Why does he want the world to notice? Because he wants the unbelievers in your life to ask you what makes you so different. And then he wants you to use that opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ and what he has done for you.
Do you remember the Order of the Purple Cross? We haven’t done that for quite a few years now. It revolves around this big honking purple cross. If you recall, people were invited to take the cross for a week and wear it everywhere they went. Yes, you could take it off when you went to bed. But if you took the cross you had to wear it pretty well everywhere else: at home, at work, at school, shopping, at your service club or the bowling alley. You had to wear it everywhere. The point was that there are all sorts of anonymous Christians in this world. Someone could be a Christian their whole life and no one would ever know it. But when you show up for a week with a big honking purple cross, suddenly you’re not anonymous anymore. Suddenly people can see the difference. It may not be written on your face but it sure is plastered all across your chest.
I was thinking that maybe it’s about time to pull the purple cross out again and see if anyone else wants to take up the challenge. I will leave it up here after worship and if you feel called by God to take up that cross and wear it for a week, please do so. Go out into the world and be that shining example of the difference that Jesus can make.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Your blessings, O God, flow to us like a river of hope washing over our cares and concerns. We thank you for your presence in our lives. When we call you are there. When we are blinded, you enable us to see. When we are deaf, you open our ears. By your love, you invite us to enter into life fully and freely in Jesus’ name.
We offer thanks for your many gifts. For warmth and sunshine, cool evenings and crisp winter snow, for lakes and trees, buildings and structures. We thank you for our health care systems, educational programmes, clean drinking water and indoor plumbing.
Thank you for your limitless unconditional love which gives us the assurance that you are available to us at any time. Remind us daily that you will never leave us or stop loving us for we are always safe within your care. Thank you also for the love that is shared in families between husbands and wives, parents and children and siblings. May the love that you have for us be mirrored in the way that we are with one another.
There is much for which we can give thanks. We, also, lift up our concerns for the world. Our prayers are lifted for the people of the Ukraine as they seek to stave off invasion and occupation. Bless them we pray and bless the allies who support them. We also pray for the people of Russia that you would turn their hearts onto a godly road.
We pray, finally, for those who are sick at home or in hospital. We think, especially of Carol, Mark, Ron and Rachel. Bless him with your healing touch and fill them with your Spirit.
God of Love, we want to live fully and we know that we can do that when we make you the priority of our lives. Help us to seek you, to understand your wisdom and heed your instruction. In so doing, we can rest peacefully knowing without doubt or concern that the blessing You have promised will surely follow. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 27, 2022 / Transfiguration
Exodus 34: 29‑35; Psalm 99; Luke 9: 28‑36; 2 Corinthians 3: 12‑4: 2
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come before God, the Ruler of Creation.
Beneath God’s throne, the earth shakes. Holy is the LORD!
We come before God, Supreme over the nations.
We rejoice at God’s great and majestic name. Holy is the LORD!
We come before God, the Author of justice.
Praise be to God, whom we worship on this day. Holy is the LORD!
Come to us, O God, and speak your word of grace. At the sound of your voice, the earth trembles. By the touch of your hand, the hills are made sacred. You spoke to the Prophets and they listened. They called upon you and, in love and power, you answered. Share with us your news of hope and salvation. Enable us to walk with you that we might experience your presence in honest and trustworthy ways. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, the way of life is often clouded. Clouded by competing desires. Clouded by temptations. Clouded by fires that burn around us. Clouded by smoke of our own making. You have shone your light into the world but its brightness has frightened us. We have turned away for fear that it might reveal things that we would rather hide. Shine your light into our clouded existence and forgive our sins. Draw us back, once again, and renew us…
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
There is no mountain that can not be climbed. There is no ocean that can not be crossed. There are no clouds that are thick enough to hide us from the truth. There is no sin that is so great that God’s mercy cannot forgive.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We bring our offerings to you, Ever‑giving God, for your work. Many hunger. Many thirst. Many seek justice. Many yearn for salvation. May these gifts, in some small way, enable the transformation which your Kingdom requires. Amen.
God’s light has, once again, shone into our lives.
May it glow within us as a sign of hope to our hurting world.