The innocent longing and meddlesome obsessing of Moses (06/26/16)

Moses in the Cleft
Read Exodus 33:12-23
When we think of Moses in the Bible, we usually think of him as a powerful figure – tall, strong, wise. Because of the way Hollywood movies have portrayed him, we think of Moses as almost a superhero, staff in hand, dividing the waters of the Red Sea.
But in our reading today from Exodus, when Moses is talking with God, Moses sounds like a little child: “Show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” (33:13).
In the presence of God, Moses is a little child, a child with an innocent longing for the ways of God. Moses wants to be taught God’s ways. Moses figures, the more he learns about God, the more he’ll make God proud.
As children we all want to do that. “Mom, Dad, teacher, mentor, if you’re pleased with me, teach me your ways so I can learn how to be amazing like you. Then, you’ll really be proud of me!”
What child doesn’t want to find favor in the eyes of the adults they look up to? What child doesn’t look at us adults and see some qualities they want to emulate?
I remember sneaking into my parent’s bedroom as a child. It was like walking into the Holy of Holies. I would open the closet and look at my dad’s clothes and dream of being like him. I remember standing next to him, in awe, watching him shave. I remember saying to him in the car, ‘Daddy, can I get in the front seat and pretend to drive it like you?’ Like Moses, saying, “Show me your ways so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.”
Show me how to ride a bike like you, how to plant a garden like you, how to tie shoelaces like you, how to order from a menu like you, how to catch a fish like you, how to pray like you, how to follow Jesus like you.
There’s an innocent longing in Moses’ request to God: “Show me your ways so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.”
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Moses the child only represents our little ones. Yes, our children look up to us and want us to be proud of them and want to learn our ways, but there is a child in each of us – we are called children of God – and that child in us, like Moses, has an innocent longing to learn the ways of God. And that is good.
But here’s the challenge: as we grow older, as the world around us becomes more complex, more fearful, and more alarmist, our innocent longing turns into something else.
Moses says to God, “How shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?” (33:16) In other words, ‘How can I be certain, Lord, that you will be with us and that you will really accomplish your purposes for us?’ And the Lord says to Moses, “I will do this very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” (33:17).
You would think that would be enough. God has given his word. God is saying, “I love you. I know you. I will be with you.” But Moses wants to be absolutely sure. Moses says to God, “Show me your glory.” (33:18)
Maybe that incident with the people and the golden calf spooked Moses, because now he is anxious, fearful of what the rest of the journey might hold. He wants to know if he’s still in God’s good graces, if God still favors him, still has plans for him.. Nothing short of complete certainty will satisfy Moses. This is where Moses steps out on thin ice, where his innocent longing becomes a meddlesome obsession.
And are we any different? We want certainty in all things. So, in our religion, we split hairs over the specifics of God: whom God favors and doesn’t favor; what God considers sinful, and which church God likes more than others.
And when God doesn’t answer our questions, we get scared. We get anxious. Fear becomes our filter, so our religion descends into a legalistic creed where we’re more concerned with proving that we have it all together, than with helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and loving those who struggle with life.
We become more concerned with defending Christianity from perceived threats of other religions, than with surrendering to our faith, letting it change us from the inside out, so that all of God’s people, no matter who they are or where they come from, are loved.
Our obsessive quest for certainty meddles with the greatest command that Jesus gives us: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
And so, what happens next is God’s answer to Moses’ meddlesome obsession.
God says to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” God says, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” (33:19-20) I hear God telling Moses that he has gone too far, and that God’s business will forever be God’s business.
It’s not for us to know all the details of God’s plans. It is simply given to us to trust in God, that we belong to him, that he is with us, and that he will give us life. Sometimes we think when things go badly for us, that it’s proof of God’s absence, or that God doesn’t love us, or that he doesn’t exist. Jesus reminds us, in our gospel reading that his love is strong for those who are poor, hungry, grieving, and excluded. Perhaps we cannot see God in our difficulties, but God has not forgotten us.
Jesus will remind his disciples later on in Luke chapter 12, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (12:32) God gives us his word.
Let’s try this.
The people on this side of the aisle, and the people of that side of the aisle, turn and face each other. Now, speak these words to each other. Repeat them after me. “Do not be afraid, little flock … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…”
Thank you. God is with you, even when you think he’s not. That’s his word. That’s his promise.
God tells Moses that he will not see God when God passes by. “I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by…You shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (33:23) When God walks with us through the dark valleys in this journey through life, we may not see God with us. Not until we are through the dark valley are we able to look back and see that God was there with us.
In my third year of college, I was having difficulties. I couldn’t focus on my studies. I dropped out of school. It was a real low time for me. I wondered where God was. Looking back I can see how God was there, teaching me persistence, yes, but also showing me a need for something bigger, something beyond myself – showing me my need for God.
Have you ever had a time when you’ve wondered, “God where are you? Why is this so difficult?” We all have those times, don’t we? Often, it’s only when we look back, that we can see God’s hand in our lives. We can look back and see how God was with us as we walked through those years. We can look back and see God’s redemptive work in our lives.
You are living a story. As God says in Isaiah 49:16, “I will not forget you…I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; you are always before me.” God says to you, when you are walking in a dark and deep valley and cannot see God with you – God says to you as God said to Moses – “You have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
The day will come when you will see as you look back, that God has been, and is, with you.

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About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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