STILL AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT SINAI
Here we are in week six of our forty day journey to the Promised Land. After this, there is only one week left before the end of the journey. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s do a quick review. Our forty day journey mirrors the forty year journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. And during that time, the people were going to have to learn at least one valuable lesson which was that they can trust God.
In week one, the people gave thanks to God for rescuing them from the slavery of Egypt and placing them in the relative safety of the wilderness. In week two the people grumbled because they had no food so God gave them manna and quails to eat. In week three, not only did the people grumble, so did the leadership. The issue was not food but water and so God gave them water when Moses struck a rock with a stick. So far, so good. The people are beginning to trust God. Or are they? The very next week, the people needed guidance so Moses climbed Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandment. Then he went back up the mountain to get the rest of the laws. But the people grumbled again because Moses took too long in their eyes and so they asked Moses’ brother Aaron to make them an idol which he did. And then God started to grumble. In fact, God threatened to destroy Israel and start afresh with Moses and his offspring. But God did not do that because as Moses reminded God: “You can’t do that God because you’re God and if you destroyed the people then who would trust you and isn’t this all about trust?” God, of course, already knew that but he was testing Moses to see if Moses really knew it, which he did.
This week we come to another story. The people are still at the base of Mount Sinai. They haven’t moved a foot. Lots of stuff has happened at Mount Sinai.
ISRAEL AT A CROSS ROADS
Today finds the people of Israel in a bit of a quandary. They have followed God for a number of months and are now beginning to wonder where they are going? What is God’s plan for them? When will they get to the Promised Land? An element of uncertainty has crept into their minds as they ponder the future.
Even Moses is apprehensive. In Exodus 33:12 (NIV) he says to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but have not let me know whom you will send with me.” What Moses is expressing is an uncertainty about the future. He has been leading the people for quite some time but the weight of leadership is beginning to take its toll. It has become a burden.
What that means is that not only Moses but all of Israel are standing at a crossroads of faith. Here’s the question that is facing them: Are they really going to trust God or not? Will they follow God into the unknown or won’t they? Moses desperately wants to trust God and at this point, he does something that is a bit surprising. He asks God for a sign. Listen to Exodus 33:12b-13 (NIV): “You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If I have found favour in your eyes, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
What is Moses expressing? Once more he is expressing his desire to trust God. He desperately wants to but isn’t sure that he can. And so he wants a sign from God that his trust will not be misplaced. He wants to know that God truly is trustworthy.
And so God responds in the most amazing way. Exodus 33:14 (NIV) says: “The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” Moses asks for a sign and God says that he will supply that sign. We just don’t yet know what kind of a sign Moses wants but God has promised to provide it.
The conversation continues. In Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV) we read, “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?'”
This is interesting because in a round about way, Moses is expressing that he actually does trust God. What he is saying is that the only way he wants to go forward into the unknown – wherever the Promised Land is – is if God goes with him because he has learned that as long as God is with him he has everything that he needs. When he needed food, God provided food. When he needed water, God provided water. When he needed guidance, God provided the Ten Commandments. Everything the people needed God provided. But that is what someone does who is trustworthy. God had told the people even before they left Egypt that he would protect them and provide for them. So far, God has followed through and because he followed through, Moses is having those moments of trust. It’s starting to build and gain momentum. But he still needs that one last sign just to set his heart at peace. And once again, as he always does, God promises to provide exactly what Moses needs. We read it in Exodus 33:17 (NIV): “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.'”
“Yes Moses,” God says, “I will give you what you need. You need a sign. I will give you a sign. And once again, I will show you that I am trustworthy.” But God goes on from there and tells Moses why he will give him the sign. It is because God is pleased with Moses. God is pleased because Moses is showing by what he does and what he says that his trust in God is growing. And that is what pleases God.
Here’s the reality that we live with. God wants us to trust him. God wants us to go to him in our need. God wants to provide for those needs. God wants us to go to him with our joys and God wants to celebrate with us in our joys. God wants us to go to him with our thanks and God is so grateful when we acknowledge all that he has done for us. This is where Moses’ journey of faith is taking him. As he grows in faith, as he grows in trust, he gets closer and closer to the one who brought Israel out of Egypt and fed them with manna and quenched their thirst with water from a rock and gave them the Ten Commandments. God can see that trust growing in incremental steps in Moses and, as we read through the book of Exodus, we can see it growing too.
THE SIGN MOSES WANTS
God says that he will give Moses the sign that he has requested. He will provide that which Moses needs to take one more step of faith. And then Moses tells God what sign he wants. That’s pretty bold, don’t you think. “Hey God, I want you to give me a sign that I can trust you. And not only do I want you to give me a sign I want you to give a specific sign.” Let’s find out what it is in Exodus 33:18 (NIV): “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’”
That’s what Moses wants. That’s the sign he needs. He wants to see God’s glory. We don’t really understand how significant that is. And actually, Moses didn’t understand it either because he was asking for a sign without realizing what it might means. And so God explains to Moses that there are some problems with his request. In Exodus 33:19-20 (NIV) we read, “And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’”
So Moses has a problem. He has asked God for something that God cannot give him because the fullness of God’s glory is in his face but if Moses sees God’s face, then he will die. Why is that? There are two major schools of thought on this. The first one is that God perfectly holy and perfectly just and perfectly loving but we aren’t. In fact, we are sinful people and because we are sinful people living in a fallen world, we simply are not equipped to deal with the glory of God. Our sinfulness is simply incompatible with God’s perfection and because our sinfulness cannot coexist with God’s perfection something has to give. What gives is us. Our sinful bodies will die in the presence of God’s perfect holiness. Our sinfulness will be destroyed from an overload of God’s glory. If you want to believe that, then that’s okay.
Now let me give you explanation two. It starts off the same way as the first explanation. God is still perfectly holy, perfectly just and perfectly loving. But if we see that perfect glory, everything on this fallen earth will seem so insignificant by comparison. We will see God as so pure, so perfect and so beautiful that having seen the fullness of his glory just once, we will be so attracted to him that we can not bear to live a second longer without him. And so, in our desire to be in God presence, we will simply die in order to be with him. I like that one better because I think it fits closer with the view that God only wants the very best for his children and the very best that God can give us is being into his presence eternally which, of course, someday in the fullness of time when all things are right.
Now back to Moses. He has a problem. In fact, God also has a problem. God wants to give Moses the sign that he is requesting but he can’t because if he does, than Moses will die and God does not want Moses to die because he still has to lead the people to the Promised Land and we’re not going to get there until next week. So God devises a plan. Listen to what he says in Exodus 33:21-23 (NIV): “Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”
Does that remind you of an old hymn? “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure. Save me from its guilt and power.” That hymn was written by Augustus Toplady in 1763. It seems that he was out walking the countryside of England when a storm broke. He hurried to find shelter and found it in a gap in a nearby gorge. While the lyrics he wrote were about Jesus, his mind wandered to an image in Exodus 33 where God protected Moses in a cleft in a rock. And so Toplady brought together New Testament theology with Old Testament imagery.
In any event, Moses needs a sign but the sign that Moses wants – to see God’s glory – can’t happen because if it does, then Moses will die. But God needs a live Moses to get the people to the Promised Land. How is this going to work out? It’s going to work out the exact same way God has always worked things out. It will work out because God can be trusted to provide that which the people need. When they needed to be feed from Egypt God made it possible for them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. When they needed food, God gave them manna and quails. When they needed water, God made water come from a rock. When they needed direction, God gave them the Ten Commandments. Every time the people needed something from God, God faithfully made sure that they received it. This is just one more example. Moses needed to see God’s glory before he took one more step toward the Promised Land and, as impossible as it might have seemed, God made it happen. He told Moses to go to a rock on Mount Sinai and to wait there. God would then pass by but before that happened, God would cover Moses to ensure that Moses did not see his face. And then after God passed by, he would remove his hand and Moses would be able to see God’s back.
Was there glory in God’s back? Of course there was but it was not as radiant as the glory beaming from God’s face and so Moses could still see God’s glory and live. Moses asked God for one more sign that he could trust him. And God made it happen proving once again that God is trustworthy.
MOVING INTO THE UNKNOWN
That is a good lesson for us to remember as we move forward in the ministry of this congregation. My hope is that we as the Church of Jesus Christ will faithfully choose to trust God to lead us he wants us to go even if that is into the unknown. From that standpoint, this congregation is at a similar place to Israel as it camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. We too are a people at a crossroads. At this moment we are facing more challenges than we have faced in a long time. For the past ten years we have been doing very well. But in the last eighteen months much has changed. We have a very new Church Board which is still trying to understand its role and mission. Some of our key people have health problems. Lou-Anne, our lead musician, is taking some time off to look after herself and her family. Our attendance on Sunday is reasonably steady but certainly down from where it once was. That’s because a significant number of our older members are not able to attend on a regular basis. We are blessed that we have an equal number of younger people coming to take their place but because of other commitments they tend to be here a bit more sporadically. And that’s not a criticism; it’s just reality.
We don’t know where we are going but we know that God has a mission and a purpose for us. I have to confess that there are times when I pray something like, “Ok God, there’s a lot going on and I wish you would show me the way ahead. But the light you cast before us is only to reveal the next step. All we can do is take that step with the confidence that you know what’s around the corner and that you will provide for us and protect us on that journey wherever it may lead.” I’m not saying that it never bothers me. And I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes dwell on it because I do but I also know that even when I don’t know what’s going on, God does. And in that I rejoice.
More than once during the Exodus journey, Moses asked God where he was taking them. Interestingly, God never did tell them exactly where they were going. They’d find out when they got there but in one way or another God always said, “Trust me because my Presence will be with you.” Then they followed God even though they had no idea where it would lead them. Are we willing to do that?
That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. We live in a changing world with changing standards of behaviour and morality. We don’t know where this world is going and sometimes that causes us to be concerned about the future. How do we, as the Church respond? How do we act in such a way as to acknowledge God’s promise to be with us as we move forward in faith? Those are good question.
What we do know is that after this experience of God, after seeing God’s glory Moses never turned back. I’m not saying that he didn’t make mistakes along the road to the Promised Land because he most certainly did. But he never turned back from trusting God because he knew that God’s Presence was with him. The uncertainty that he felt about going off into the unknown, melted away and he faithfully followed God and led the people of Israel for the rest of his days.
The Church must be willing to do the same thing. God calls us to follow wherever he leads us. It is only when the Church say, “Yes,” to God and trust in him that we willingly step out into the unknown, that we truly open ourselves up to God’s transforming power so that we can do what he wants us to do and go where he wants us to go even when we don’t know where that is.
It has always been in times of uncertainty when God has transformed the Church. Listen to the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV): “But [God] said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” It is in times of weakness, when we finally realize that on our own we are powerless to be the Church that God wants us to be, that we finally open our lives to God’s transforming power and allow him to do with our Church what we are totally incapable of doing for ourselves.
transforms individuals. He transforms the Church. And through the Church, if we
are faithful to his word, he will transform the world in which we live. That’s
our mission. That’s what can happen when, like Moses, we trust in God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Blessed are you, Lord our God, Maker of the Universe, who creates the world afresh every morning. Thank you for our food. Keep us mindful of those who are less fortunate. Everyday, many bellies are empty. Every minute someone dies of hunger. People ask why you let this happen and we hear your voice asking us how it is that we let it happen. Help us, O God, in some small way, to make a difference.
Our prayers are offered, this morning, for those in Christian ministry around the world in various places and situations. These people not only share the Good News of Jesus, but they also demonstrate your love through their acts of service. We have seen, through their efforts, the true meaning of service evangelism where needs are identified and practical programmes developed to meet those needs. Help us to serve and, when we cannot serve directly, demand that we support those who can.
In a world of struggle, we pray for peace. We pray for the peace makers and the peace keepers – not only the ones who work in large international conflicts but also those who care for those in situations within families and neighbourhoods. May we always remember that true peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. We remember, especially, Canadian military personnel around the world who put their own lives on the line to make the world a better place for others.
We offer out thanks that ISIS has been essentially defeated in Syria and that as more territory is reclaimed, the people may return to rebuild their shattered lives. We also pray for the refugees who now call Canada their home. May their contributions to our national well-being be appreciated by all who call this great nation home.
As the fall harvest continues, O God, make us thankful on a daily basis for all that provide to meet our needs. And as we experience your abundance, let our trust in you grow and blossom so that we may follow you wherever you lead us.
We pray, this morning, for those who are sick or recovering at home or in hospital, remembering especially Don, Millicent, Sharon, Helen and Jacqui.
Calm us, O God, as you stilled the storm.
Still us, O God, keep us from harm.
Let all the tumult within us cease.
Enfold us, God, in your peace.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
October 22, 2017 / Pentecost 20 / Proper 24
Exodus 33:12-33; Psalm 99; Matthew 22:15-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
CALL TO WORSHIP
We are God’s people joining together to worship the Lord, forgiven and free to be all that we were made to be. Let us proclaim the greatness of the Lord to every generation.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Worship awaits us, O God, as the songbird waits for the morning dawn. Give voice to our praise and prayers. Open our ears to the words of your Scripture. Enlighten and renew our minds by the infilling of your Holy Spirit. Give us the strength to physically complete the works that you have called us to do. Feed our faith, O God of the Ages, and lead us into your challenge and peace. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, we are grateful for the patience which you extend to us. We are not yet all that you created us to be but neither are we what we used to be for your Spirit is at work within us. Help us to be patient with ourselves and others when we make mistakes or fail to do your will. Cleanse us from all unrighteousness as you lead us ever more nearer to your Kingdom. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God loves us and has chosen us to be a holy people, a royal nation, disciples belonging to the Lord. Be assured that we are forgiven and that we are loved as God’s own children.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We give thanks that you have chosen us, O God, to receive your great and redeeming love. You have called us to share this Good News with our sisters and brothers. Grant that the gifts which we bring this day will enable others to come to the mercy seat and receive the blessings that only you can offer. Amen.
are called to not only be hearers of the Word. We, also, are called to be doers
of God’s will. Our mission is to share the love of God at any and every
opportunity. As we leave, let us be mindful of this high calling and may the
Spirit of Christ guide us in all that we do. God in peace to love and serve the
Pastor Kim Gilliland
October 22, 2017
GIVING GOD THE GLORY
ISRAEL AT A CROSSROADS
Israel was in a quandary and Moses was apprehensive about the future.
Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but have not let me know whom you will send with me.” Exodus 33:12a (NIV)
You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” If I have found favour in your eyes, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people. Exodus 33:12b-13 (NIV)
God promises to be with Moses throughout the journey to the Promised Land.
The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Exodus 33:14 (NIV)
Moses is showing signs of trust. He has learned that God’s Presence is important for the journey.
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)
And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17 (NIV)
THE SIGN MOSES WANTS
Moses now asks for a specific sign. He wants to see God’s glory.
Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.” Exodus 33:18 (NIV)
But Moses does not know what he is asking for.
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Exodus 33:19-20 (NIV)
But why do people die because they see God’s face? There are two explanations:
1. Because our sinfulness can no co-exist with God’s perfect holiness.
2. After experiencing the holiness of God, we want to die to be with him eternally.
God devises a plan so that Moses can see his glory but not his face.
Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
Exodus 33:21-23 (NIV)
Once again God provides that which Moses needs and protected him at the same time.
Whether it be food, water or guidance, God proves that he can be trusted to supply Moses’ needs.
There are two important lessons for us.
1. God still provides.
2. God also protects.
MOVING INTO THE UNKNOWN
In a changing world the church needs to trust in God to provide and protect.
It is a matter of trust as we continue on our journeys as the people of God.
Moses knew that as long as God’s Presence was with him, he would succeed.
He would follow him wherever he led.
The Church needs to make the same commitment as it leaves the familiar and moves into the unknown ahead of us.
It is often in times of uncertainty when the Church transforms because in its weakness it needs to rely totally upon God.
But [God] said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)