Sermon 10-25-20 by The Rev. Lorrie Skinner
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 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “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 Lordcontinued, “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 book of Exodus is full of drama and suspense. The people are captive in Egypt; will they escape? Moses escapes Pharaoh’s wrath but questions his own ability to respond to God’s call to be a leader; the Lord appears in a burning bush and then promises freedom; Pharaoh is caught short by the plagues; the first Passover is instituted; and finally the Red Sea is crossed and the long journey in the wilderness begins. Will they make it to the promise land? We know they do but not without much struggle and hardship. Guidance is provided in the Ten Commandments but impatience and uncertainty rule the day making it necessary for Moses to go to the Lord, over and over again for help. While he is away on Mt. Sinai receiving the covenant — 2 tablets of stone as the scripture tells us, “written with the finger of God”, chaos erupts as the people rebel, angry at Moses’ absence, frustrated with a perceived lack of direction and leadership, fearful of what the future holds, grumbling and complaining to Aaron who wasn’t up to the task of reassuring them. He succumbed to their wishes. This is the famous story of the Golden Calf, a substitute for the Lord to whom they had promised not to worship false gods. Aaron, in his attempt to restore the status quo gave them what they wanted. When Moses returned he was angry. He smashed the stone tablets and destroyed the golden calf… but, too late. Things were already out of control and the result was the death of 3 thousand people. And God is so angry that God tells Moses to go ahead and lead but now God will not go with them.
And that brings us to the passage we read earlier. Princeton Seminary professor Dennis Olson says that God’s yearning to be “with” Israel and in their midst is the reason why the people’s rebellion in worshipping the golden calf in Exodus 32 is such a devastating event. Israel’s worship of the golden calf violated the first and important commandment about worshiping God alone. This covenant-breaking act endangered God’s whole project of deliverance, God’s intent to stay with the people of Israel, dwelling in their midst.
So we find Moses interceding for this “stiff-necked” nation of people. He is persistent. The Message translates it this way: “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?” If we are looking for a lesson in how to pray, here it is. Here is prayer that is not afraid to hold God to God’s promises, prayer that is not afraid to appeal to God’s love for God’s people, even over and against God’s anger. Moses, through this audacious prayer, succeeds in securing God’s promise that God will indeed abide with the Israelites throughout their long wilderness wandering.
The Biblical witness makes it clear: Through it all we are made aware of God’s own yearning, a consistent yearning to become Immanuel — God With Us. In Exodus 33, we hear a powerful echo to a future witness to the unfolding character and name of God: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory … full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” (Olson)
Thus it is the church that embodies the way of Moses, that provides the kind of leadership he models for us, the efforts he puts into searching for and struggling with a relationship with God, his determination to hold up his people before God, his ability to persist and finally change God’s mind, his pleading with God to be shown God’s glory. It is the church who brings hope in the midst of despair.
Two months from today we will celebrate Christmas. That’s when the church brings us into focus is on Immanuel, the coming of God into the world to live among us and to show us the way. That’s how much God yearns, longs to be with humanity. The church, grounded in that certainty of Immanuel, God with us, a life-giving God in Jesus Christ, keeps the Covenant with God made so many centuries ago, held firmly in God’s promises of hope, and of presence, to be with us no matter what.