This sermon based on Exodus 33 was written by Rev. KJ Norris and delivered at Kerr Presbyterian Church on November 15, 2020.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Today we are closing our study of Exodus and moving towards Christ the King Sunday next week and then Advent. I hope that you have enjoyed this sermon series as much as I have. For me, studying Exodus has been a delight because it is so foundational to our faith. The book of Exodus is all about learning the very character of God. Who is this God that we worship? Liberator, Guide, Teacher, Provider, One who is Merciful.
And we also learn our call through the eyes of some of the first people to ever follow God. We come to see ourselves as ones in need of redemption, ones who God loves enough to give us a code for living an abundant life, ones who are feed by God, ones who are forgiven.
Today as we close our study we are pulled yet again into this great story of mystery and invited to meet God as God is—not as how we expect God to be or how we would like God to be but how God is. And we find ourselves being taught what it is like to stand in relationship with God. How should we behave in relation to God? How do we know God? How do we speak to God?
So let us turn for one last time to the Book of Exodus, Chapter 33:7-23. And as I read, listen to see if you can catch the opposites.
So did you catch it? This section of Scripture tells us two things about God at exactly the same time which seem like they are complete opposites.
VS 11—Moses spoke with God face to face, as one who speaks to a friend.
VS 20—You cannot see my face for no one shall see me and live.
In the beginning verses we see Moses pitching a tent and going outside to meet with God and God’s presence comes down and meets with him and Scripture tells us they spoke face to face.
And nine verses later Moses asks to see God and God must hide him in the cleft of the rock and only allow Moses to catch a glimpse of his back because if Moses sees more than this, he will die.
Wow! Mind blown.
So, if you are me, you first go back and read it three or four more times and ask a whole lot of questions. What is going on here? At first maybe you start thinking, well maybe Moses had special privileges—that’s how he could see God face to face. And then you realize, oh wait, nope, both stories are about Moses. It’s in the same chapter of Exodus.
So, the Bible is asking us to hold two things in tension: Moses sees God face to face AND he cannot see God’s face or else he will die.
Now, some will tell you that this is proof that the Bible is full of bologna. They will. Skeptics read this chapter and they say: Ah Huh! See I told you that Scripture could not be true. Look, in the Bible, even in the same chapter, Scripture contradicts itself. Why read that book? It cannot be true.
I respect the skeptic. Perhaps some of us are those skeptics, asking that question today, wondering if we can trust God to tell the truth, when there are things like this in Scripture. If that is you today, that is okay. God invites us in to ask hard questions. God is big enough to take our big questions.
And notice that those who wrote down the stories of faith aren’t hiding this from us. Both statements are in the same chapter. We are being asked to consider both at the same time. We are being asked to hold both truths in our heads at the same time. Scripture is affirming that both statements are true. Both. We cannot see God face to face or we will die AND Moses spoke to talk to God like a friend, face to face.
There are a lot of things in life that true and yet hard to see at first glance.
One famous one is this image. What do you see?
Do you see both a rabbit and a duck? Depending on how you look at the image, both animals can be seen.
And how about in this image, what do you see?
Depending on where you are standing, you can see this image as either a 6 or a 9. Both perspectives are true.
Likewise, the truth of the gospel is: we cannot see God face to face and yet we are invited into conversation with God face to face. Both things are true. And in fact, we do not know the whole truth, unless we can look and see how both things are true.
So, first, we can see God face to face.
This one, I think is fairly easy to accept in our day and age.
We sing songs like, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” And “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” We as a culture have gotten very comfortable with the idea that God is with us every day in casual ways. We have bumper stickers that say things like, “God is my co-pilate,” and I heard a sermon one time where the preacher encouraged us to climb up into our heavenly father’s lap as if God was some kind of cosmic Santa Clause.
Although this, perhaps, is going a little too far, the idea that God is our friend does have Biblical roots.
In John 14:9 Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” We have fully seen God in the person of Jesus Christ. God did not just make a human a puppet for God; no, instead “God came to earth in the flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth—we have seen God’s glory” (John 1:14, paraphrase).
And as Jesus lived among us and shared our burdens and healed the sick and taught us how to live, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
It’s everywhere in the New Testament, but it is also here in the Old Testament where we see Moses asking if God will be with the people. Moses is very clear that he doesn’t want to go anywhere if God’s own self will not be with them and God assures Moses that God is with them.
Plus, we are given an entire book of prayers, the Psalms. Where we see people pouring out their hearts, their burdens, their struggles, their joys, to the Lord. We are invited to come to God. We are invited to see God.
One Bible scholar I read this week spoke about his daily devotional practice. He has a room with a chair where he has his prayer time every morning. And there is a little table next to the chair where he puts his Bible and prayer book and journal and cup of coffee. And he goes there to pray.
That’s something I strongly recommend to all of us. Hopefully every one of us has a space where we can read our Bibles and pray every day.
But he has something I do not have. Beside his chair is a sofa. And this person of faith says he imagines God’s very presence in the room with him everyday. God with him. The very Emmanuel, reclining on the sofa.
And this Biblical scholar doesn’t just talk to God in the chair, but he does something exceptionally important. He practices listening to God. He shuts down his brain and waits to hear from God. He listens, recognizing that talking with God is not a one-way conversation.
We are taught throughout Scripture that we are invited to see God face to face. We are invited to do as Moses did and pitch a tent in the back yard where we can go out spend time with God or to find a comfy sofa and wait in expectation that God will come and speak to us. It is true that we are children of God and that Jesus has called us friend. God speaks. And we are invited into conversation with God.
AND at the very same time, we must also never lose sight that we are talking to GOD, not to another human being.
God is Holy and Mighty. God is the Creator of all things and by God’s will all things are sustained. God is eternal, has no beginning nor end; we are creatures, created in God’s plan, by God’s hand.
When we start for one second to think we really know God, we have to check ourselves.
And this is especially true for we preachers. When we think we know the will of God. When we think we understand how God works, what we are really doing is trying to put God in a box. We are trying to control God. And God is described as a mighty wind or a blazing fire. We cannot control God, God is great and we are small.
Scripture reminds us over and over again that we are like grass—here today and gone tomorrow. We are not perfect; we all have fallen short of the glory of God. God says it this way in Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” and Romans quotes Job when asking, “who has known the mind of the Lord?” (see Romans 11:33-34 and Job 42:1-6).
The truth of Scripture is this, if we have come to believe that we know the mind of God. If we approach God as if we know all the answers, then we have become like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day who thought they had it all figured out and Jesus came to them saying, “Woe to you, blind guides.”
In 1 Cor 13:12 we are told, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly.”
How do we see God? We see glimpses of God. If we were to see all of God at once it would be like looking into the sun. We would be blinded by the brilliance. God tells us that our mortal selves could not live through such an event. Even Moses could only see God’s back and live. God held Moses in the cleft of the rock and passed by so that Moses might catch a glimpse. This is what we long for as well.
The promise of God is: we are invited, right now, to talk with God face to face AND as we speak with God, we must continuously remember that in this life we can only see glimpses of God.
So if this is the promise of God, how can we live out that promise?
What does it look like to live our lives everyday knowing both that we are invited to talk with God and that we can only see a glimpse of God’s back?
Well, first, it reminds us that we are called to a life of humility. The prophet Micah famously asks, “What does the Lord require of me?” and receives the answer, “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.”
We are invited to walk with God. God does not hide from us. God is not distant from us. We can and should bring our whole-selves to God—our fears, our worries, our joys, our loves. Everything we are, we are invited to bring into the presence God.
We are encouraged to create a tent or a couch, a place where we set aside time to be with the God of the universe because God is Emmanuel—God is with us.
AND. And. We are called to approach God humbly. The truth is we are too small. I am too small. Even the greatest minds and most faithful humans on earth are too small. Even Moses, even Isaiah, even Paul were too small to comprehend the mind of God.
We must remember that we only see glimpses of God’s glory. And we need one another to help us gain more perspective. One of the things I love most about Kerr is that we approach things from different view points. I can guarantee you that if someone here sees a duck, someone else sees a rabbit. And if someone sees a 6, someone else sees a 9.
This is how it is suppose to be. As Paul says the church is the place where Jews and Greeks come together—two groups who would almost never be seen together outside the church. And as James tells us the church is where the rich and poor gather together. Again, two groups that societally would not be seen together.
The church is suppose to be a diverse place, and we are. All of us are created as children of God and all of us, as one diverse family love God and are called by God. All of us see in the mirror dimly. All of us may only be able to see one perspective. But together, as we listen to one another. As we stay in community with one another. As we strive to live in humility, not seeing ourselves as better than others or as ones who know the truth while others are just confused—but instead seeing the very image of God in one another. As we love one another, we gain a more full picture of God’s plan and purposes. This is our calling. This is how we live into the promise of God.
So let us come to the Lord with our hearts turned humbly before God. Let us pray.