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Exodus 33:12-23 (read from CEV)
Today, we bring to a conclusion the sermon series on the Exodus. Next week we’ll make the move to Matthew and the Gospel. For those of you who are tired of wandering in the wilderness, hearing the whining and complaining of the God’s special people… of commandments and sin and God’s seemingly endless quarrel with his children… this may come as a welcome word.
Today I want to close the series by looking closely at Moses… where Moses has travelled on this journey with God over the years. And how we may find our journey with God intersected with Moses.
In today’s passage, it is clear that Moses and God have developed not just a relationship… but a friendship. Does it sound that way to you? This is a passage that evokes intimacy…it is so conversational. Moses asking God who his assistant will be… asking God to reveal God’s plans for him and his people… reminding God that God chose them… God responding, "I will go with you…" and Moses replying, "If you aren’t going with us, please don’t make us leave this place…" (You wonder if Moses is listening to God… God just said he would go with them… but haven’t you ever been in a conversation with a friend where you didn’t fully listen?)… Then the Lord says, I will do what you have asked because I am your friend and I am pleased with you."
And the conversation continues with Moses asking to see God’s face… God won’t let him because it would kill Moses… a friend protects a friend you know… but God will let him see the back of God… as much as possible.
But the phrase that sticks out for me in this passage is this: "for I am your friend." What a wonderful thing for Moses to hear: "for I am your friend" …
You remember, it didn’t start out that way. They didn’t start out as friends, not at all. You remember that don’t you? When the story began, Moses wasn’t looking for friendship with God. Moses was a small business person running a shepherding business. He wasn’t even going to church. His goal was to make a living, feed his family and have a good life. That would be enough thank you.
But God had other things in mind for Moses. Moses stumbles upon the burning bush that starts the whole thing off. Moses wasn’t looking for a burning bush or for God… but God was looking for Moses. That’s where the friendship began.
Makes you wonder where God might be seeking us out. At the burning bush Moses was afraid to look at God so Moses hid his face. Today, Moses asks to see the face of God… my, how their relationship has changed over the years.
Remember the beginning? God tells Moses that he has a job for him… a job needing to be done… to lead his people who are crying… suffering under Pharoah… to freedom… God needs Moses. Moses isn’t interested in the job, thank you. He wasn’t running for the office of liberator. He’s a shepherd.
Moses tells God all the reasons he cannot do what God asks: he can’t speak… who is he to go to the King… he has no position of power or influence in the kingdom… he’s a shepherd after all.He could have added that he was busy… he didn’t know God at all… so why would he follow this God… surely someone else would be better qualified for this leadership task… someone more intimately connected with God.
But you know, God doesn’t take "no" for an answer easily. And so their story began… their friendship began… a friendship tested and forged as Moses, with God’s help, took on the powerful Pharaoh and his armies… where Moses became the mediator between God and his people… where Moses led them through the wilderness-that time when everyone’s faith was tested and I’m sure Moses’ friendship with God was tested.
By the time we get to this passage today… God and Moses have been together for a long time… on the mountain… both sharing anger and disappointment in the sinful ungratefulness of God’s people as they make that golden calf.
They have come a long way together… through thick and thin… just like friends. Becoming the best of friends.
Makes you sort of wonder. Maybe that’s the point of the journey. Not to reach a destination… but to forge a friendship with God. Perhaps it is on our journey of life and faith that we are given the most important opportunity of all: a chance at an intimate friendship with the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
Look at the text. Moses asks for God to give him the plans for the journey. Notice that God doesn’t give him the plans. He just says, "I will go with you and give you peace." I recall what a professor said to me… I’ve repeated it to many of you: "Lord knows, but he ain’t telling"… but I want to add… the only thing we need to know is that the Lord will be with us.
When you think about it, the story of Moses and God’s people is more than a story of political liberation and escape from oppression. It is that, but there is more to it. It is the story of a God who hears his children crying… God responding to those cries… but even more than that… it is the story of our God seeking us out… to offer friendship to us.
Makes you think, if we feel distant from God, perhaps we are the ones who have resisted or been doing the hiding.
I think of a story Brian Blount, the President of Union-PSCE told about himself as a child. (inauguration speech) He said, "When I was ten years old, something happened to me that has never happened again. Some time in the dark, dreamy part of the night, I was certain that Jesus stood alongside my bed. As soon as that feeling came over me, one single, crucial thought popped into my head: "Hide!" I slept with my head under the covers when I was growing up, so hiding meant staying put until Jesus got tired of waiting for me to come out and went back to heaven, or at least walked over to one of my brothers’ beds. See, that’s how human logic works-with my head strategically tucked beneath the covers. I was ready to outlast the eternal God. I cannot tell you how I knew for sure that a supernatural presence beckoned that I uncover myself and engage the encounter that was being offered. I have no evidence. I just know it was Jesus. And I know that what I felt in that knowledge was fear. So I stayed where I was beneath the covers of my bed, hidden, out of reach, out of touch. I do not recall when I breathed again. I do recall sleeping. And waking. And realizing that with the coming of the morning light, Jesus was gone. Woven into that dream, or whatever it was, was a sensation, a feeling, a clarity, perhaps an opportunity, that would , in the 40 some years that have followed, return to me never again. I was too young, I suppose. I wasn’t ready for the feeling I had or the presence I felt. And so I lost it. I let it get away. I have very few regrets in my life. But the ones I have haunt me. One of them is that I did not pull back the covers and see what it was that I felt standing in the darkness beside my bed that night. I will always regret that when God came looking for me, I hid. I was not ready to be found." 1.
That does not mean, of course, that God is not ready to find us. Or that God will not find us. Which is why Moses’ story gives me hope. If God can find Moses, God can find any of us.
One of the things I enjoy reading are the stories of those who hid from God but God found them anyway. And what I learn in almost every one of them is that in this spiritual game of hide and seek… when we are found or willing to be found… a profound intimacy is born of that relationship. Read the stories of the spiritual giants of the church… and they mostly tell you stories of people who played hide and seek with God… but when they are found… a profound friendship with God is discovered.
One of the stories I love to tell (again maybe) is that of Ann Lamott. Her story gives me hope for my story and for the stories of many people I know. Her coming to faith, she writes, "did not start with a leap but rather with a series of staggers." (sounds like Moses!) She tells a strong story, in strong language… but it is a very real story. She was raised in a non religious household. But during her childhood and teenage years, religious questions kept surfacing in her life. (Pay attention to your questions… they often lead us on the journey with God). As an adult, life became very difficult for her. Her father, a life long heavy drinker, developed a brain tumor and started to die. Her best friend, a source of stability and sanity since childhood, developed cancer and started to die. Nothing was working-personal relationships, family, her writing career-and she was drinking and using drugs heavily… Slowly, she came to life and her encounter with a small Presbyterian church located near a flea market was crucial. She went to the flea market to watch people, enjoy wonderful ethnic food and check out tools, clothes, household wares… most of it stolen. And then she began to hear music, gospel music coming from a little 30 member church across the street: "St. Andrews Presbyterian Church". It was a homely and impoverished church… rundown. A choir of 5 black women and 1 Amish looking white man. She watched that small congregation and they radiated warmth and kindness. During the time when people hugged and greeted each other, various people would come back to where I stood to shake my hand or try to hug me. I was as frozen and still as Richard Nixon." She stood in the doorway for months, listening to the singing, watching as this poor little congregation brought huge tubs of food for the homeless people… She said it was the people, their singing together, that drew her back week after week…
Finally, after a medical crisis of her own, one Sunday morning the dam broke and the flood gates opened. She began to cry, walked home, and said to God,
"I quit. All right, you can come in." She reduced her dependence on chemicals and eventually stopped drinking. A year later was baptized. Now she is an elder in that church. "
Ever since reading that story in her book, Traveling Mercies, I’ve been reading Ann Lamott. And what I’ve noticed, is that from that day of her conversion, a beautiful friendship was born. I love hear her talk about how she relates to our God. It is a beautiful, intimate friendship.
When she talks about what to pray-prayer you know is simply the means by which we have a conversation with God-and conversation is a way we develop friendship with anyone… but when she talks about her prayers this is how she describes them:
"When faced with a crucial decision she prays, "O God, tell me what to do-would it be so much skin off your nose to give me a sign?" Scared about the possibility of skin cancer, she writes a note to God and puts it in the cookie jar:"I’m a little anxious", the note says, "Help me to remember that you are with me even now. I am going to take my sticky fingers off the control panel until I hear from you." That’s the way she often prays. She writes a note to God-perfectly honest, straight from the heart, no bull!-.. and she puts in a jar she keeps beside her bed- she calls it her God jar.
She says the two best prayers she knows are "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." A woman she knows, says for her morning prayer, "Whatever" and then for the evening "Oh Well."
She says, I pray a lot differently in church, which is to pray more communally. Often crying out during the prayers just from my own heart, if something is really troubling me, or if I’m just feeling a great need to express praise. I talk to God a lot very causally as a friend during the course of the day."
Ann… Moses… and a heavenly and earthly host of other saints have discovered an important truth… that when we stop hiding from the God who seeks us out… a friendship… I mean, an intimate friendship with God is often found.
Which at the end of the day… may just be what the journey was all about to begin with. Don’t you think? Amen.
1. From Brian Blounts inauguration sermon at Union-PSCE in May, 2008