God and Big Dot

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Exodus 33:12-33

If you could ask God anything, what would you ask of God? Perhaps you would ask what Moses asked:

“If I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know yon and find favor in your sight.”

 That sounds like a familiar request I have said or heard myself from people of faith.

“Show me your way, Lord…”
“Guide my feet, while I run this race because I don’t want to run this race in vain”…
“Day by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray… to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day”
Sound familiar?

This is intimate and loving language… and God promises to show Moses the way… even to lead Moses and the people on their way… the Lord will be our shepherd, and we will not want…

Which leads to Mose’s second request: “Show me your glory God”… “Let me behold your Presence…”

Seems reasonable… who doesn’t want to see God more clearly… but (after hearing this text)  I wonder… do we know what we are asking for?

Moses doesn’t seem to realize that what he is asking for might kill him. But God will explain:“Moses, you cannot seem my face; for no one shall see me and live”

But God will do what God can… he will provide protection for Moses… a place in a cleft of a rock… and God will pass by so he can have a glimpse… of God’s back…”

It’s a powerful scene that raises a powerful question for me. When was the last time you thought of God as so powerful, so holy, so majestic… that you were afraid just being in the presence of God might kill you?

Are we as in awe of being in the presence of God as we would be in the presence of a celebrity? Or Governor McCrory… or President Obama? Do you worry about what you will wear or say when you are in the presence of God? Or have we domesticated God to the point that we no longer fear or respect God? We love God like we love our great grandfather… but respect? Who respects their elders anymore?

Barbara Brown Taylor commenting on these stories of God in the book of Exodus says:

“It is hard to get from a story like (these) to a bumper sticker that says, ‘God is love.”

What would Moses say to people who feel free to ask God for good weekend weather and safe travel to away games? The God of Moses is not the grandfatherly type, a kind old deity who can be counted on to take the kids exciting places without letting them get hurt. The God of Moses is holy, offering no seat belts or other safety features to those who wish to climb the mountain and enter the dark cloud of divine presence. Those who go assume all risk and give up all claim to reward. Those who return say the dazzling dark inside the cloud is reward enough”[i]

(We might say… the glimpse of God is reward enough)

Eugene Peterson once suggested that churches should post signs outside their buildings that read: “BEWARE THE GOD”.  Perhaps we should have caution signs and yellow blinking lights posted outside our sanctuary.

For the God of Israel – and the God of Jesus—is not to be taken lightly. One of our elders led me to a book called, “You Can’t Tame god, So stop Trying”… in which the author, an evangelical Christian, says,

“We love talking about God’s love. Drop in on almost any evangelical church service and listen. You’ll hear worship choruses dripping with emotive lyrics that border on the romantic. The sermon will gush with assurances of God’s inexhaustible affection. While such affirmations are good, we need to be reminded that God is also a holy God… a God to be feared… “  (This text will offer that reminder)

He said he remembered having this point made by a Jewish guide, Amir, on a trip to the Holy Land… he knew his scriptures. At each site they visited, he would explain the biblical and theological significance of that site. When they stopped at the Mount of Olives, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe, “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked,” he said, “But here’s the problem.”

He leaned toward the group and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow. ‘His presence is like radiation, more dangerous than plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near.

If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. It would be like a thousand nuclear bombs exploding at once. We would all die!”

That’s what God was trying to warn Moses of when he said, you can’t take it. I can’t reveal my full self to you… because you would die. So, let me protect you… put on a radiation suit… and I’ll give you a glimpse…

I don’t know when we lost this fear of God… a holy and healthy fear… perhaps we think of fear as the opposite of love. Perhaps a better word for us would be a respect… what ever became of our respect for God. Love God? Sure. Respect God?  I don’t know.

Perhaps you think fear and love don’t go together. But then I was reminded of Dorothy Thomas a few weeks ago. My High School chemistry teacher. Miss Thomas, “Big Dot”—we called her, not to her face… was a woman… both loved, hated (by some) feared and respected. By the time I had her, she had taught my older brother John, and many of the parents of my classmates. She was a big woman with a strong voice and demanding discipline that put the fear of God in you without even bringing up the name of God.

On the first day of class she showed us a red bottle of liquid and said, “If anyone comes after her, she will mark them with this liquid… it will sting and they will not like it.”

Make no mistake… she was putting fear into us. During the year, if we fell asleep in class, she’d come up with a yardstick and beat it on our desk to wake us up.” This woman was not to be trifled with.

But strange thing about Miss Thomas. She loved her students… in a way, far more than many other teachers loved us. She wanted us to learn… she disciplined and demanded much of us… And… at the end of the year she did something no other teacher ever did. She took us out for a celebration and paid for a meal at the Beach Blvd Fried Chicken Restaurant… with homemade biscuits (far better than Bojangles)  gravy or honey (you choose)… all served family style.

God for Moses and the Israelites… was to be feared… but also loved… and this God loved them more than they knew. He kept telling them… he told them they had found favor in his sigth… He told them, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy…”

Which is significant as well. God is for us. Even this Old Testament to be feared and respected God is for us. Christians see that most clearly of course in Jesus. Jesus is the human face of God. We know God is for us because we know Jesus is for us. The almighty God has stooped to our level to make sure we know… we know how loved we are… God has stooped to our level to show us God’s ways… to reveal God’s mercy to those who think they were long forgotten by God.

Which is where Christians may disagree with the Jewish guide Amir. Remember how he said, “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked”?

There is some truth in that… but only partial truth.  The God who came down to earth, revealed in Jesus is hard on the self-righteous who have no mercy on sinners… They are the ones who should fear God’s judgment… the God revealed in Jesus is hard on those who ignore the poor (story of rich man Lazarus… last Judgment based on how you treated the least, last, lonely and lost… ) they are judged above… The God revealed in Jesus is merciful toward sinners… even took on the wickedness of the world and bore that on the cross. Thank God. Literally, thank God.

For if God comes down to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked… is there anyone here who could stand that judgment?” Is there anyone here so righteous, so right, so holy, you can stand on your merits before the almighty and radioactive God? Anyone here who has followed God’s law completely? (Sabbath keeping going… or coveting… or idolatry…)

Of course not… And the almighty and merciful God knows this… Because God knows us… in fact, he knows us by name… He knows each of us personally and knows our names…

The Lord says to Moses, “I know you by name.”

You know it is not possible to overestimate what that can mean to a person. When someone knows our name, it makes a difference in the relationship. Wearing your nametags is very important… learning the names of people who worship with you… very important… learning names can change a life.

It did for Dale Milligan.  A Presbyterian pastor…He was founder of the LOGOS ministry which many of you know was an important part of my life during my time in Newton. LOGOS is one of the most significant children and youth ministries to be offered to the church in the last century. Dale’s life was changed when someone learned his name. He was the child of deeply faithful parents… he was at church every week, three times a week, yet his encounters with the church were difficult.

He suffered the indignity of having three older brothers who were  the envy of every parent. They were good and successful children and Dale knew he would never live up to that, and so he didn’t. To say he was a handful would be an understatement. He said he was thrown out of at least half of the church classes and activities he attended. The people expected the worst from him and he lived down to their expectations.

He wasn’t known by his name but by his reputation. The ministers and members of the church had coined their own lengthy name for him: “Too bad about that fourth Milligan boy, the others are such fine boys.”

Sunday school teachers and youth leaders timed their retirement to coincide with the Sunday before Dale arrived. The only thing they wanted was to steer clear of him.

One day a new minister arrived and one Sunday Milligan was walking down a hallway when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He swung around ready to fight, but it was the new minister, smiling and grinning. The minister said, “Your name is Dale Milligan, isn’t it?”

This was the first person in the church who took the trouble to find him and know him by name. And further, the minister asked Dale to help him with something. For the first time, the minister, a member of the body of Christ, had made the effort to open the door of relationship, friendship and nothing would ever be the same for Dale Milligan.

For the first time, someone, instead of trying to get rid of him, was asking Dale to be his friend. Dr. Milligan said this minister was imaging God in Christ for him…”

That minister, calling him by name, changed his life… And in those days, pastors were feared… they were people with authority… well respected… people who in those days was to be feared by children… that person knew his name.

God knows our name. God knows your name. Each one of your names. God knows you better than you know yourself… and is ready to show us his way… the way that leads to life… If you ask me, this God deserves more than our love… this God deserves our respect

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark p58