United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Who is God to You?”

Exodus 33:1-7,12-23

by Rev. Mike Capron

October 22, 2017

  1. Suppose you are living with your mom, and she comes to you and in a kind of a huffy voice, she says, “You keep the house; you keep the bank accounts. I’m leaving. You won’t hear from me again.”
  2. For most people, people who have a good relationship with their mom, I think this would produce surprised concern…
  3. “What’s going on? What’s wrong? What can I do to help? How can we make this better?”
  4. <pause>
  5. Now let’s imagine something different.
  6. Your banker comes to your front door, and in a huffy voice says, “I’m tearing up your mortgage. You keep the house; you keep the bank accounts. I’m leaving. You won’t hear from me again.”
  7. I’m sure there would be surprise, but I’m not sure there would be quite the same effort to talk your banker out of the whole thing.
  8. <pause>
  9. So here is my summary of Exodus 33. Is God more like your mom or your banker?
  10. Because in a huffy voice, God starts the chapter by saying, “You keep the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. I’m going to send an angel with you to handle all the obstacles. But I’m leaving. You won’t hear from me again.”
  11. In other words, God is going to give you all the stuff. But God won’t be with you.
  12. Now, to be fair, this didn’t come out of nowhere. The people’s relationship with God is very strained.
  13. Last week you all talked about how they made the Golden Calf, how angry God was about that and how God punished them.
  14. So now when God is going to leave, their first thought is that it is about the calf.
  15. They had taken their gold and melted it down to make the calf. So their first thought is to ditch all their ornaments.
  16. That doesn’t seem to solve everything though, so Moses goes to God and speaks with him starting in verse 12.
  17. There is a distinctive way that Moses always prays. It is worth noting. He always begins by reminding God of who God is and what God has already done or promised.
  18. Feel free to imitate it. When you pray, you could start out with something like, “Loving God”, or “God who has always cared for me”, or “God who liberates people from trouble”… 
  19. You could even get specific, “God who brought me through that thing I thought I was going to die from…”
  20. If it was good enough for Moses, it is good enough for us.
  21. <pause>
  22. So Moses starts by reminding God that God told him to bring this people up out of Egypt.
  23. God, you said that you know me by name. You said I had found favor in your sight.
  24. Well, if I have found favor in your sight, then “show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people. If you aren’t going with us, we don’t want to leave!”  <p>
  25. And that’s all it took. God changes God’s mind and says: “Okay, I will go with you and I will give you rest.” <p>
  26. Okay, problem solved. Everything back to normal.
  27. But Moses isn’t done.
  28. If God is more like a mom than a banker, Moses isn’t satisfied with just going back to the status quo.
  29. He wants the relationship to be healed.
  30. And he isn’t even satisfied with it being healed, he wants it to grow deeper.
  31. Look again at that phrase Moses used, “Show me your ways.”
  32. Moses really wants to know God, to know what God loves and to be shaped to be more and more like God.
  33. He wants it so bad that he makes this unusual and dangerous request: “Show me your glory, I pray!”
  34. And God says yes.
  35. Yes, my goodness will pass by you and I will pronounce my name.
  36. My friends, this is serious stuff.
  37. God is so different from us… so Holy compared to us… I’m not even sure what to compare it to.
  38. Maybe nuclear energy. Used rightly, megawatts of electricity. Used incorrectly, boom, mushroom clouds.
  39. Or maybe it is like the sun. The sun is beautiful; it makes life possible; but don’t stare at it or you will go blind.
  40. Do you remember all those elaborate precautions we all had to take to look at the solar eclipse a few months ago? You either had to have glasses so dark they wouldn’t show you anything but the sun, or you had to only look at the sun’s shadow through a pinhole in a cereal box.
  41. This is that sort of thing. God tells Moses that no one could stand to look at his face. They would be overwhelmed and die.
  42. So God will place Moses in the cleft of the rock and cover him until God has passed by—then Moses can get a glimpse of God from the backside. He should be able to survive that.
  43. And that is what happens.
  44. Dangerous as it was, I’m jealous of Moses for that moment. To have seen the goodness of God that directly, that purely… it must have been awe-inspiring.
  45. It is a strangely intimate moment between mortal person and immortal God.
  46. Two things that can’t quite mix, do contact each other.
  47. Finity and Infinity glimpsing one another, the creator affecting creation, regular stone protecting regular flesh.
  48. <pause>
  49. I’m going to hit “pause” there and take us into prayer.
  50. We are invited to bring our mortal fears and wishes to the Lord of All, in prayer, to enter into that intimacy with our creator whose holiness is almost too great to bear.
  51. What a gift!
  52. Let’s do that, and then I will give you the last little bit of my sermon when we turn to the table….