(A Sermon based on Exodus 33:12-23 from Sunday, October 16, 2011)
Have you ever seen God? Or heard God’s voice? Or felt God’s presence?
Did you tell anybody? Or did you mostly talk yourself out having had the experience in the first place?
We’ve been reading these Moses stories in church for the past few weeks. The guy spent lots of face time with the Almighty! At a burning bush. Up on a mountain. Always off somewhere “alone with God”.Never at the office. Barely available for the people he’s supposedly leading.
“As for this Moses,” they say from time to time, “We don’t know where he is, or why he’s brought us out here…apparently he wants us to die. We’d have been better off in Egypt. He says he sees God and hears from God, but we got nuthin’. We’re hungry. We’re thirsty. We’re homeless. We’re hot. We’re cold. Why did we ever think following him out here would be a good idea? We were duped! We miss our leeks and onions!”
And all the while the people are complaining, Moses is contending with God. In last week’s lesson, God has had enough of the Hebrews and their idolatrous ways. God’s idea? Wipe ‘em out and start over again. But Moses will have none of it! For all the aggravation they are, the Hebrews are the people of God. What sort of God backs out of a promise? So Moses takes up the role of defense attorney for the Hebrews and does such a good job with his closing argument he manages to change God’s mind. Talk about chutzpah!
Then, in today’s reading, Moses wrangles God into giving yet another sign of Divine Presence:
All the plagues in Egypt?
The crossing of the Red Sea?
Pillars of cloud and fire going before the people?
Smoke and mirrors!
Water from a rock? Manna from heaven?
Just words written on stone!
Moses sounds like he’s spent more time in Missouri than Midian: “Show me your glory!” And God does just that! Not the full on, melt-your-face-off glory (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark), though. Refracted glory…muted glory….slanted glory…but glory enough.
Enough glory that Moses still has to be hidden down in a crevice and shielded from it. Enough glory that Moses is left with no doubt as to what he had seen, heard and felt.
Whenever we sing, “Glory to God in the highest!” on Sundays, do we expect any of God’s glory to show up? Even a smidgen?
When we come into this space do we ever wonder if today might be the day when we are overshadowed by the presence of God to such an extent we will leave forever changed by the experience?
When a priest stretches out her hands over the elements in the liturgy and invokes the Holy Spirit to come down and make the bread and wine “the Body and Blood of Christ, the holy food and drink of new and unending life”, do we anticipate seeing, or hearing or feeling any evidence that such a thing has happened?
The Hebrew word for “Glory” (which is often used as a euphemism for God’s presence), literally means “weighty”. There is an awe-some-ness to God’s presence. God’s presence presses down upon us. We cannot bear up under the weight of that glory without being changed.
The Hebrew Scriptures tell us about what happens when human beings are overshadowed by this Glory of God:
Abraham encounters the Glory, leaves home without a map, and never quite stops wandering. Jacob limps for the rest of his life. Moses’ face shines such that he has to wear a veil to keep people from being afraid of him. David dances uncontrollably to the embarrassment of just about everyone around him. Isaiah weeps with unworthiness, but takes up the call to proclaim God’s message.Jonah flees from the Presence only to find the Presence in a whale’s belly.
And from our Christian story: Mary is overshadowed by the Presence, carries that Presence in her belly and becomes the Mother of God.
There is a dynamism to these stories which cannot be reduced to whether or not “they are true”. These stories appeal or repel because they offer us the promise, that we might just be chosen as well. We could very well be the vessels to reveal God’s glory in our time and place. What would that be like?
I confess, even talking about this stuff makes me more than a little nervous. I mean, we’re Episcopalians after all. We have a liturgy to make sure that we worship God in proper ways, with proper posture, using proper words. But I wonder…have our liturgies become ways we seek to control God, rather than channels through which we experience of God?
Over the weekend, at the Diocesan Convention, the Bishop, in his sermon at the Eucharist on Friday evening and in his pastoral address on Saturday morning, invited us to become “people of abundance”. He challenged us not succumb to the culture of scarcity that surrounds us. And then, after his pastoral address, we entered a legislative session which gave witness to the reality living into God’s abundance is easier said than done.
We are easily distracted by everything around us — falling incomes, foreclosed homes, unemployment, economic uncertainty, sparring politicians and political movements — the Tea Party people saying it’s all Big Government’s fault and the Occupiers of Wall Street saying it’s all Big Business’s fault. Angry speaking and finger-pointing are about the only bipartisan activities we get to witness these days.
To talk about abundance in Church seems either to be “out of touch” or “in denial”. Easier to trust in Caesar’s coinage (or the green slips of paper adorned with pictures of dead white guys we carry in our wallets) than to trust in God. Easier to fret about what we don’t have than to offer thanks for what we do have. Easier to seek after our own wills than to seek after God’s will. Easier to chase after the light and airy glories of the world than to submit to the weightiness of the glory of God.
I confess, I don’t know what to do about any of it. I’ve got my own worries and fears. I struggle with how to live my faith just like everybody else. That’s why I need all of you. That’s why we need each other. We Christians claim to follow the same God who called Moses and led Moses to lead God’s people. We claim God is present whenever two or three of us are gathered together. We claim to have Good News to share in a world filled with bad news.
Somehow, we’ve got to do more than claim those things. We’ve got to find ways to live them — in our words AND in our actions. We may not ever gather up enough chutzpah to say to the Almighty, “show us your glory.” But if we are faithful, if we are expectant, if we are open, who knows? We may just get enough courage to share with one another “in here” and the world “out there” when we’ve caught a glimpse of the Glory of God. Or a smelled a whiff of it. Or felt the weight of it.
And we will be changed. And that change may be just enough to change the world.