When God Shields Us

“When God Shields Us” – October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23 (33:19-22)

Have you ever known someone who was really important? I mean, really, really a V.I.P.?

Moses was personally acquainted with the biggest V.I.P. in the whole world. Even, in the whole universe. Eileen just read today’s Scripture lesson from Exodus 33, and we heard what an awesome experience Moses had on top of that mountain. Just him and the Lord, they had personal one-on-one time.

Let’s take a closer look at this reading. An overview, so we can understand exactly what is at stake. We can simply take Exodus 33 as a striking word-picture of how awesome, mighty and all-powerful God is, and we would be absolutely correct. Our God is indeed an Awesome God. But, there is so much more involved here.   

Moses and the Lord talk about the presence of God. This is huge! The presence of God is a continuing theme in the book of Exodus, and right here is a particularly important exchange between our two protagonists.  

We could simply watch Moses and the Lord, almost like we are in the audience, or viewing on a television screen. Reading this story from Exodus, we might say “What does this story have to do with me?”  But, we can relate this to our personal situation – each one of us.

To come before the physical presence of God is truly rare – but it was something Moses greatly desired! What is more, he also wanted to be able to reassure the people of Israel with the reality of God’s presence. Is that something that reassures you, today?

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, again and again, we hear about how dangerous it is to approach the Lord. God’s presence is so fearsome that a number of people are immediately struck dead for daring to come in contact with the Lord. For much of Exodus, the Lord is not even sure whether Israel is even worthy enough to sit by and receive that Godly presence. Yet, Moses sees God’s presence and blessing as a beneficial thing, a good and necessary thing.

Have you ever been given the silent treatment? This could be by a parent or other grown-up when you were younger, or perhaps by a sibling or a friend? The silent treatment is particularly sad and jarring, especially when you really respect, even love the person giving you the silent treatment.

That is pretty close to what the Lord wanted to do to the whole nation of Israel by removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. That would be horrible! Like, drinking water, and finding it was dry water. Or, going outside in the middle of the day, and finding there was an eclipse of the sun – permanently. What a traumatic, even cataclysmic event, having the Lord discuss permanently removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. [1]

Yet – God said to Moses, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ And, even further, “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.” That must be so heartwarming, hearing God say, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.”

I remind you, looking on the face of God was fatal, for a number of those in the Hebrew Scriptures. I wonder: is it a fatal act to think that we see God’s glory, that we fully comprehend God, today? The hazard of thinking you’ve got it all figured out becomes a sign of our self-centered, self-involved problem. The idea that we’ve got it figured out, because once we figure that, WE become God to ourselves – our self-centered delusion is that WE are greater than God. This was certainly part of what was going on with the self-involved people of Israel, periodically thinking they were much more important than the presence of God.

If we step back from being self-centered and self-involved, we realize we are invited into a relationship – a relationship with the Lord. Moses knew that to become more aware of the presence of God, he needed to spend time with God. That is exactly what he and God were doing on top of that mountain. And, God and Moses had a number of one-on-one encounters that helped Moses get through his life’s journey.

Knowing that we are always in the presence of God will help us get through many difficult things. Though complicated questions and weighty issues overwhelm us on a regular basis, we can be certain that God walks beside each of us on our journey through life, too. [2]

Are you ready to have a relationship with the Lord? To have one-on-one conversations with God? Sure, our God IS a powerful, mighty, Awesome God. We are also freely invited into the generous, merciful presence of God.

Let us celebrate the presence of God, today. Amen, alleluia.


[1] Brueggemann, Walter, “Exodus,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. I (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1994), 938-39.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/pressing-on/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

We Are Called

“We Are Called”

call of God 1 Cor 1

I Corinthians 1:1-3 – June 12, 2016

Remember the baptism we celebrated here in this sanctuary a few weeks ago? What a wonderful opportunity to welcome a new child to God’s forever family! When we baptized baby Christine, we celebrated a sacrament of the church. And, baptism is a great expression of God calling people to God’s heart. Embracing all God’s children, no matter how young or how old they might be.

Our New Testament scripture reading comes from the beginning of the letter to the believers in the city of Corinth. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to address some problems and answer some questions for the Christians in Corinth, a city not too far from Athens, Greece.

Paul only stayed in some towns and cities for a short time. A few towns—as we saw when we took our postcard trip through Acts last summer—he only was able to stay in for a very short time. But, the city of Corinth? When he was on his second missionary journey, Paul spent eighteen months there. That’s a good long time, in any century.

Imagine a town with loose morals. Think Las Vegas, pretty much any time of the year, and New Orleans, especially during Mardi Gras. Combine them into one city, and you have an idea of what the city of Corinth was like. Corinth was known throughout the Roman empire—and beyond—for being a loose-living, rough-and-tumble city. Lacking moral character. Yet, God tapped the prim and proper Apostle Paul on the shoulder and had him spend a year and a half here in this town. And, what a town it was!

We are taking a close look at the greeting in Paul’s letter. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” It’s like the address label or identifying mark, telling the recipients who is sending the letter.

Yes, this letter is from Paul and “our brother Sosthenes.” Except, I want us to look more closely at one particular phrase: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”

This word “called?” A fascinating word. Paul is identifying himself as an apostle. Not just because he said so, or because he’s calling himself that, but because God said so! “Called” is the Greek verb kaleo, used dozens of times in the New Testament. It means “to call, invite or summon.” (Depending on who is doing the action. Friends invite, whereas kings summon!) This word can also be translated “to name.” (As in this case.) God has named Paul an Apostle. [1]

Paul is called as an Apostle, and given a specific job or task. We are probably familiar with the term “pulpit committee,” for filling the pulpit when a church is looking for a new pastor. When the church decides on a prospective pastor, they “call” that pastor. The church is choosing her or him to come and work for them. The church “invites” or “calls” the pastor. Kaleo.  A very biblical term!

The next verse of the greeting is in several parts. First, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

There is that word again! “Called.” Kaleo. The believers in Corinth have been called to be God’s holy people! Wait, I thought Corinth was Sin City! I thought the city was a cross between Las Vegas and New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras! Well, yes. You would be correct. Except—this is God who is doing the calling!

God can call people out of all kinds of places. God can name individuals to be whatever God wants them to be. To do. To act. To love. To show mercy. To give. Whatever we are called to do, God summons us to fill that task, or calling. Even though many of us may never be a minister like Pastor Gordon, or a church musician like Angela, or a chaplain like I used to be, in the hospital, but God still calls.

All believers are still invited to follow God. And, that is not all. Let’s listen to this verse again. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

The believers in Corinth were sanctified. There are other places in the New Testament where believers are described in just this way: “sanctified.” Which is a fancy word for “set apart,” or “separated.”

Believers are called as hagiois – saints, separated or set apart. Now, who wants to be “set apart” or “separated?” To the typical non-Christian Corinthian, that does not sound like very much fun. I do not think many of these non-Christian friends had much patience for that. However, Paul and his Christian friends did not withdraw from society and isolate. Instead, Paul and his friends lived together with the others in Corinth. They had a special quality that marked them and made them special. “Set apart” or “separated.” That is how Paul describes us as believers.

This is a difficult concept to some, but not in all contexts. Athletes set themselves apart often. They train hard, eat healthy, have particular foods and drink. A commentator mentions, “I wonder if that isn’t just another way of saying that [they’re] set apart or dedicated. That kind of language might work better for us. People are quite ready to talk in that way in our culture. Athletes set themselves aside. They dedicate themselves toward particular ends. There is a sense in which Paul is saying, ‘You are a dedicated people; you have been set apart.’” [2]

So, not only Paul is called—or named—as an Apostle of God. The believers at Corinth are called—or named—as a set apart, dedicated people of God. By extension, we—that is, all of us!—are named as a separated people of God. Not dedicated to loose living, or of low moral character; instead, set apart. Called, invited to be God’s people.

I am turning to the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. You all have it as an insert in your bulletins. We are on the second part of the preamble today. Please read along: “we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission (John 20:21) and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called (1 Cor 1:1-3) and commit ourselves.”

This second part of the preamble, “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called,” is an identification. We are not only finding out about the believers in the church at Corinth, we find out about us. About you and me, today.

We all are called! We have been invited by God, named as Christians by God. Just as baby Christine was loved by God and welcomed into God’s forever family through baptism, so God loves us and names us as part of God’s forever family, too.

This is important. The United Church of Christ is awfully particular about who receives this Statement of Mission. We all do! We all are called. We all are named as believers. And, we all are encouraged to follow this statement of mission, to carry it out.

Last, to return to our greeting from this letter, Paul has all believers everywhere calling on God. Another verb “kaleo,” another instance of us naming Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Their Lord and ours. You can look at it as an identifying mark or label. We call Jesus Christ our Lord.

If we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord, we are certainly ready for anything. In the weeks ahead, we will find out in more detail what the UCC Statement of Mission has for us to do. God willing, I will be ready. Will you?

[1] https://billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kaleo. (Thank you, Dr. Mounce.)

[2] http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/15-4_Nations/15-4_Dinovo.pdf, Dinovo, Terrence L., “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” Word & World, Volume XV, Number 4, Fall 1995.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)