Exodus 33: 12-23 and Isaiah 45:1-7
Life’s hard. Not always. Or exclusively. But hard enough that I suspect each of us has faced, is facing or will face some thing or some time or some one
that causes us to look heavenward and wonder, “How’m I gonna get through this one?”
That’s how I imagine Moses in this passage. His task, understandably, must feel sort of steep, uphill in a way that dwarfs Sinai. He’s supposed to rescue his people from slavery. One man Moses against a nation– Pharaoh and all his armies and empire’s power.
Moses asks, “Who will be there to help me?” Moses pleads, “God, can’t you give me a hint about how you’re going to help pull this one off… how YOU believe I can do this?”
Think of the times you’ve faced situations, tasks, challenges or responsibilities that seemed so patently beyond your abilities? There are at least a few right?…
Remember, Moses has no way of imagining, much less expecting plagues or passover or parting of the seas. All Moses knows is he’s already in trouble with Pharaoh, already an outlaw on the run. The adopted son who turned out bad, who’s no longer welcome in the palace. Pharaoh already’s got him pegged — a murderer who had to run for his life.
And how much worse, Moses foresees, will be when I turn back up to tell Pharaoh, “Now, I’m here to set your slaves free, to take away the workers that have built and maintain and serve your empire.” What response can Moses expect from Pharaoh, when that’s his errand?
God assures Moses, “You won’t be alone: I will be with you.”
Beloved, I don’t know what Moses experience of God’s presence was, but, well, in our time, in those up against the wall moments in my life,
I have to admit, …sometimes God’s presence can be a little hard to grasp,
sometimes when I need God, even God’s help is, at best, a more ambiguous business.
William James, in his “The Variety of Religious Experience,” explained four characteristics of our encounters with God. They are like vocabulary for the SAT, or, Julie, for AP English. James said that our experience of God is:
Transient– it doesn’t last all that long; sooner rather than later, we’re back where God seems unreachably distant.
Ineffable– you can’t adequately put it into words: it’s hard to tell others about, maybe even hard to hold on to or remember yourself.
Noetic– it can leave you with a feeling that you’ve gained something valuable from the experience (even if you can’t quite put it into words!).
Passive– it happen to us, …in other words, there’s not much we can do to bring them on, no matter how badly we might need one about now.
Sure, we come to church to hear each week, to hope it sinks in “God is with us… because God cares about us… because God wants the best for us…”
But, well, on those difficult days, in the most harrowing moments, or facing some of life’s crushing disappointments, am I the only one — maybe it’s just a weakness in my faith — who frets about God’s presence and the difference it makes?
Moses understandably asks, “God, I’m willing to try this impossible mission for you, but could you do something a little special for me too?”
Moses wants a holy encounter. An unambiguous experience, something he can’t forget, that will go with him, all the way to the times and places where his outlook appears the bleakest. Before his challenge, he needs assurance.
A face to face meeting so ground-shaking that it will engender a relationship that’s unshakeable, eternal.
The only thing he can imagine, there on the side of that windy, wild mountain, the only experience he can imagine that could see him through
would be to see God face to face.
God, ever sympathetic, responds, “To see my glory directly is too much for any mortal. But I understand, Moses. I’ll give you a familiar name by which to call me. (I take that to mean, God’s entering into a personal relationship with Moses. This is not just about God and the whole Jewish people. This is also about God and Moses.)
And God goes even further, promising Moses, “I will hide you in the cleft in the rock, and cover your face when I pass by, but in hindsight, you will see my movement, my presence, my shine.”
Beloved, our real-time experience of God’s presence, in the present moment
can still be a bit hard to grasp. After all, we’re only mortal; how can we expect to get our understanding or even our hearts around something as great as Divinity?
Our face to face religious experience is often sketchy, unclear, even uncertain. We, no more than Moses, see God’s glory directly.
But in hindsight, when you look back on our lives, something wonderful begins to happen, you can see when God drew near, and the difference it made, when God spoke and listened to us, and how God provided protection for us, covered us… In hindsight, it’s not so hard to see God’s action in our lives, to recognize God’s hand and heart at work in our world.
This morning, in the 10 o’clock hour, Yajeh Ndimbie and Jackie Williams and Adam Sherr met one on one, face to face with the confirmands, Anna, Madelyn and Warren, for whom they are mentors.
Yajeh, Jackie and Adam’s assignment: Draw a time line of your lives– the highpoints and the difficult periods, the twists and turns, the important decisions and the disappointments. This was in part to have the adults introduce themselves… begin sharing their lives in some detail with the youth.
But there was a second part of the assignment: once they got their lives,
or at least the red letter moments, time-lined out, I asked Yajeh, Jackie and Adam to talk with their confirmands about where they saw God in their stories…
In hindsight, we notice God, maybe not in Divine entirety, but unmistakably in the surprising things that happen when God shows up, when we’re that close to divinity…
Beloved, if you are here today, with something that feels just too big, the unmanageable looming in your life… Even if there’s just some lesser task or some person you’re dreading encountering… Do you believe that God will go with you?
Here’s the spiritual strategy for handling what’s too big for us: Remember when, even if only in hindsight, when you were sure God was with you? Your encounter that nobody, nothing can ever take from you? That meeting that assures you forever and always of the relationship. Often, these were vocational moments: when God called us by name to service that was uniquely ours. Just God and you. Sure enough, close enough, real enough
to see you through…
But, some of your might be asking yourselves, isn’t Moses special? Can we expect burning bushes, an audible voice, to get listened to, to get it written out, to argue back and forth… miracles to go forth by that we might accomplish miracles ourselves, become miracles ourselves?
The Isaiah reading tells us God was as involved with the Persian King, Cyrus as God was close to Moses. Actually, the Hebrew says that Cyrus was annointed by God. God’s Christ. Woa… an outsider of no belief, who God can be intimate with, nonetheless, whom God identifies God’s self to, who shares– no, who is needed by God for– God’s mission, to rebuild Jerusalem and bring the Jewish people home.
On Thursday, I spoke with another one of you. Someone going through great difficulties. The death of a mother. A break with a brother. Loss of work and no immediate or obvious possibilities for making a living. Homelessness. Timing out of the shelter. Health concerns and no way to meet them. The prejudice and hopelessness that walk alongside
being without income in this country.
You know what this person told me? “I’m making it; I’m gonna make it. Why some don’t, but I know I will… it’s because I know God is real. Because I stay that close to God. Trust God. Count on God. No matter how bad it gets, I’m never alone.”
That was my Affirmation of Faith this week.
Our Affirmation of Faith today is an ancient memory of God’s redeeming presence. “Dayenu” has been part of Passover celebration since the ninth century. It tells of God’s saving acts from even earlier. It’s the wrong Jewish High Holy Season, but right in line with our Exodus reading.
At Passover, the song is sung after the telling of the exodus story, before the explanation of the Passover, the matzoh, the unleavened bread and
the maror, the bitter herbs.
Dayenu is about being grateful to God for all the ways God’s already saved us. That’s why there’s actually 15 verses– 5 about leaving slavery: 5 about God’s miracles: and 5 about being with God. It’s an affirmation of how much God has done, how wonderful God has been…had God only given one of these gifts, it would have been enough. In Hebrew, Dayenu means approximately, “It would have been enough for us.”
We’re going to sing 2 verses, because any one would have been enough. But first in English, then in Hebrew. A whole bunch of us at Old First have families that are both Christian and Jewish, and even more of us have been at friend’s Seders, o we know this, and the Hebrew’s not hard…
“Ilu hotsi, hotsi onu
Hotsi onu mi Mitzrayim, Dayenu…
Ilu nosan, nosan lanu
Nosan lanu et Hashabat, Dayenu… “
Let the memories of generations of God’s faithfulness flow threw us and reassure us and strengthen us. Dayenu. It would have been enough…
We’re going to make it. Because remembering God’s past saving acts, we can trust God’s present now and into our future. God will be present and provide. Because God cares and acts. We’ve got important work to do, but we’re never alone… Amen.