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October 6, 2013 - Exodus 33.1-3, 12-23

“DON’T LEAVE ME GOD!!”

Exodus 33:1-3,12-23

October 6, 2013

 

33 The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

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 God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And Moses said to God, “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 God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” God said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “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.”

 

Ever been scared that someone was going to leave you?  Ever go to your sweetheart and plead, “Baby, don’t leave me baby! Please baby, please!”  It’s a very human thing to fear that someone close to you will leave you.  That’s one reason that one of our highest held virtues is loyalty.  We want to know that those close to us are not going to leave us.  They will remain close, and true and by our side.  From our earliest days as a toddler, we do not want to be left alone.  Make no mistake about it, as much as someone loves you in this life, there may and probably will come a time when they will leave you.  The most loyal only leave through death, but even then, that comes for us all.

 

I am very fortunate in that some of my most cherished friends and family have never left me.  I am thankful that I have never been left to my own devices.  But beyond my human friends and family, God has always been there for me.  I know there will come a time when it’s just me and God.  How scared would I be if I thought God was going to leave me?  I would probably be just as scared as Moses.

 

We are eavesdropping on a conversation this evening.  We are listening in to a very private conversation between Moses and God.  After hearing this conversation, I have just one question that I’d like to ask Moses:  “ARE YOU CRAZY?”

 

Moses is really pushing God’s buttons here.  Moses is desperate.  He wants to see God’s face.  You can’t do that.  It kills you.  Read the bible, to see the face of God would kill a person.  I mean, Moses is either crazy or incredibly desperate.  This is a really tense situation; tense enough for Moses to play chicken with God.

 

God is fed up with the Israelites and has said that “this is it.”  The covenant is over. Done.  Kaput.  God made a promise to Abraham to get his children to this place and He did and now he is done with these stiff-necked, stubborn, golden bovine bow-downers.  Good riddance.  God says, “Here you are.  Have fun.  I am leaving.  I am going to go start over with the Jebusites, or the Hittites, or Dolomites or the Dynomites or somebody.”

 

But Moses says: “NO!”  If you ain’t going with us, we aren’t going.”

God: “OK”.

Moses: “No really.  I’m serious.  If you won’t be with us, YOUR CHOSEN PEOPLE, then we might as well just die here in the desert.”

God:  (SIGH) “Ok.  I’ll go with you.”

Moses:  “Then show me your face.  If you really love me show me your face.”

God:  “Be serious.”

Moses:  “I am.  Show me all of your glory.”

God:  (SIGH)  “Listen.  I will pass by you and you will get to see some of my glory.  If you saw my face, your eyes would burn up and your face would melt off and people won’t listen to a prophet without a face.  I’ll stick you in the crack of this rock and protect you there and you will feel my robe rub against you and then you will see my back.”

Moses: “OK…”

 

They invented a word for what Moses had to let him do this:  chutzpah.  Take note.  Moses is persistent in his prayer. His prayer is life or death, it is intensely theological, and is concerned with the person and presence of God.  Moses is fully aware and cognizant of whom he is speaking with.  He says, I REALLY need you God.  Why?  Because he is scared.  He is scared of his future.  He is scared that things are going to fall apart.  Does this sound familiar to you?

 

Before I ever came to North Dakota the first time over 20 years ago, I had never seen the horizon anywhere but at the beach.  I love the horizon now, it’s one of my favorite sights. Ancient sailors were scared of the horizon – they thought they were going to fall off the edge of the earth.  The horizon is actually an illusion.  We can’t see beyond the horizon, but there are things there. If we believe with our eyes, we would think that there is nothing beyond the horizon.  But we do move beyond it as long as we have the faith to believe that God has created all that lies beyond it.

 

The horizon is scary.  It is an optical illusion but it scares us.  We can see the wilderness and we have learned to make our way in it.  It is the security of the known versus the insecurity of the unknown.  Many of us live in a wilderness and the horizon looms over us and scares us.  Some are in the wilderness of a life transition: the one who is newly widowed looks and sees a horizon of life without that other person, the one who is leaving an old job for a new one, the one who is seeing the last of her children grow up and leave the house, the one that is faced with the horizon of possibly placing his parent in a nursing facility, tragedy, divorce, death, aging, new babies, changes in the community, all of these loom beyond the horizon, and they can scare us.  We live in a world that is changing faster than we have an explanation for.  We live in a time that defines itself by the changes we have seen that scare us:  we are now living in a time that is post-terrorists, post-9/11, post-modern, post-nuclear, post-toasties, and we can’t keep up and it scares us.

 

We play these little games of self-control that give us the illusion we can handle it all by ourselves.  It is merely an illusion we create to help us deal with the illusion of the horizon.  We must remember who created the horizon and all that lies beyond it.

 

But it is not just our individual selves that must adjust.  Every church in our country faces questions about its future that are hard to even ask, much less answer.  75% of churches in this country are declining.  24% are growing because of the relocation of Christians.  This church is facing questions about its future, just like all churches.  Ed Young says that every church will have its future decided like a multiple choice exam.  Will you A) move to the suburbs of a growing city to stay alive, B) become a servant to your community to meet its changing needs with the gospel letting nothing stand in your way, or C) Stay where you are, stay like you are, keep doing exactly what you are doing and die gracefully.  The future is scary.  What lies beyond the horizon?  We don’t know.  Like Moses – who is going with us God? If you feel like you have not felt God in a while, you might be desperately asking the question “When is God coming back?  When will I feel God again?  Like Moses – I gotta know!”

 

Sometimes your bootstraps are enough to pull you out of the mud.   There are lots of problems that every church can face and solve all by itself.  There are lots of problems that you can face and solve by yourself.  But there are some that are way to big for us to even think about tackling them alone.  More so, why would we even risk our future since God has a given future in store for us?  Whatever future you can imagine for yourself is not as good as the future God has for you.  Whatever future we could build is not as good as the future that God has planned.  So what will it be? God’s plans, or whatever we can all piece together? We like to think of ourselves as people that pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Sometimes we can do that, but there are times when you just can’t.   There is no such thing as halfway relying on God.  Either you do or you don’t.  Either we know that God is in charge of the future, or we don’t.  Either we submit to God’s Lordship or we try to do it ourselves.  Then we wonder why things aren’t happening like they should...we wonder why we don’t feel God like we used to.

 

I am reminded of my favorite story about the old couple in their pick up.  It was a big truck with a lot of room in the front seat.  Flo turned to her husband, Ebb, and said “Ebb honey, where did the magic go?  We used to cuddle in this truck, snuggled up next to each other.  Now we sit all spread apart – like there is a distance between us.  What happened Ebb?  Where did the fire go?”

Ebb said, “I don’t know Flo, I ain’t the one that moved.”

 

God never leaves us.  We leave God.  God does not change.  We do.  Either our focus is on God’s vision, or our focus is on our idea of what we ought to be; going back to pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

 

There is a Jeremiah passage about clay.  Jeremiah is led to the potter’s house. God makes Jeremiah watch the potter.  Spins the pot on the wheel and the potter finds a flaw in the clay. So the potter takes the clay, and starts over, undoing what he had been done before.  God says that he can do the same thing with Israel.  That’s the process.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes we don’t understand it.  But we aren’t the potter, we are the clay, and a potter must work the clay until it yields to his hands.  Let’s say we are that clay.  We cannot wait until we feel like it to yield to God’s Spirit.  That simply makes the process harder for us.  Our future will be determined by how we yield to God’s Spirit.

 

Sometimes we don’t feel like praying.  Or singing.  Or reading the Bible.  Or doing good deeds.  Or worshiping.  Sometimes we just don’t feel like it.  The measure of our submission to God’s Will is found in whether we do those things simply because we know we should, and not just when we feel like it.  The desire to do those things comes back when we do them through the tough times.  All Christians and all churches go through times that are flat.  I thank God that we are in an exciting place and we are growing.  But we must remember that God has a vision for us, and keep our eyes focused on that.  We can’t rely on our vision – we must rely on God’s.  God will be faithful.  The question is, will we?

 

I would love to be able to say that I have always pulled myself up by my boot straps.  I know some people who think that way.  But what happens if your boot straps break?  Or someone takes your boots?  What do you do then?”  Then you’re just stuck in the mud.  We can get so wrapped up pulling up our bootstraps, that we forget that as the church, we stand on holy ground. When you stand on holy ground, you take your boots off.