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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Seeing God

Seeing God

Exodus 33:12-23

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Here’s the story so far:  Moses has led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness and they are encamped on the mountain.  Moses has gone up the mountain to talk with God and has been gone long enough for the people to ask Aaron to make them something they can worship. As we pick up the story Moses is interceding on behalf of the people.  He wants God to stay with the Israelites, but Moses wants so much more.  Let’s hear today’s story.  (read Exodus 22:12-23)

My daughter wanted a computer desk for her home, so we looked in stores until we found and unassembled one that seemed suited to her needs. The picture on the box showed us what the finished product would look like when we put it together and with the expectations that we would see it take shape we brought it home and took all the parts out of the box.  We sorted through and made sure the parts were there and arranged them according to how we thought we would need them and began the project.  It wasn’t long before we came to our first obstacle.  In fact it was the first step in the directions that threw us off course.  We knew which pieces had to go together but we couldn’t quite figure out which screws we had to use.  After some healthy debate and a few words later we figured we had it right, but that was only the beginning.  It wasn’t long before tempers began to fray, and more words were exchanged, frustration set in and we wondered why we had even thought we could get that desk together in the first place.  My daughter and I are still speaking to each other and we have gone on to other projects, a few battles and still maintain a healthy relationship.

Our faith is kind of like that box of desk parts.  We have an initial picture or idea about God; God is good, God is loving, God is merciful, God is giving.  And we hear those good things in the Bible.  But as we begin to take a deeper look into God’s word we find some things that puzzle us about God.  As we read through the stories we begin to see a God who appears vengeful, angry at times, willing to have whole populations killed.  We find a demanding God insisting on obedience, blind trust on our part, having people follow what seem like outlandish laws to our modern minds.  We become confused about how to interpret parts of the Bible.  We hear differing opinions on what it means to follow God, each person, group or denomination insisting that they are right.  Now add to that our frequent inability to discern what God wants us to do in a given situation and we find that our original concept of who God is and what God does gets clouded with uncertainty. 

So I wonder if that isn’t what was going through Moses’ mind when he asked to see God’s glory.  Could it be that Moses, of all people, the one who spoke directly with God, had a few doubts running through his mind.  Did he feel that things had gotten a little cloudy, with the people acting the way they did, maybe God was expecting too much!  Maybe Moses needed reassurance that God was who he said he was, Yahweh, the Holy One.  Whatever the reason, Moses wanted to see the glory of God in its fullness.  But God had to put a limit on what Moses could see.  Even Moses was not capable of seeing the fullness of God, face to face. 

Nor can we see the fullness of God’s glory.  So what do we do?  We take the pieces we can see and put God in a box, package him up in rules and regulations and in that way we limit what God can do with us.  We don’t want to live with uncertainties so we try to contain our understanding of God in a neat tidy package we can look at the picture on the outside once in awhile and say, “Yep, that is our God.” 

The trouble is we don’t want that to change.  We want to keep God in our box so we don’t have to deal with sticky issues and differing opinions about religion.  We don’t want to see God any differently than we can manage Him.  We don’t want to take the parts out and do the hard part of deeper understanding.  Because if there is an unmanageable part to God we might just have to experience it and revise our thinking about him, or worse yet be expected to do something out of our comfort range. 

But God will not be contained.  In spite of all our efforts God, keeps breaking out of the boxes we try to contain Him with and keeps doing something new.  Every government that has tried to contain Christianity has just driven it underground where it thrives and eventually resurfaces anew, reenergized for witness and mission.  Every time it seems that Christianity becomes silent in its witness a new voice rises to speak out on God’s behalf.  Look at the Billy Grahams crusades, the Purpose Driven Life studies, the Heaven is for Real book.  And just look at the explosion of inspirational video clips on the internet.  God will not be silenced and God will not be contained.

The same is true in our own personal lives.  Just when we think life is settling in, somewhat stable, our faith put in a comfortable place, something comes along to tear it apart for awhile.   And in that episode, God’s greatest work can be done to move us to a new level of understanding and awareness in our faith.  When I first retired, I was happy to have my time be my own, doing what I wanted when I wanted, no stress of deadlines, paperwork to complete, expectations to be fulfilled.  I could go on trips, cruises, to Florida when I wanted.  I could decide for myself what part of church experience I wanted to partake in.  I put God in a box, with a regular prayer and bible study time.  I could enjoy worship on Sunday without too much input, just sit with the congregation and worship.  I could teach Sunday School and do what I loved to do best, talk about God and faith stuff.  It was a good life and a good place to be.  But God wasn’t sitting still.  God was busy stirring the waters, rumbling around inside my heart and mind and soul, bringing me to a moment of understanding and decision, bringing me to a moment of “OK, ok, I hear ya!” and bringing me back into ministry.

How many times have each of us been shaken in our faith and put back together in stronger, more dynamic ways?  How many of us have given the “yes” to a new venture in faith, a different task in church, a new ministry to be a part of because God has broken out of our safe boxes and exerted His influence in our lives in new ways? 

Until Christ comes again, we will never see the full glory of God, we will not have all the pieces of the puzzle we call God put together, we will not fully understand the part we play in God’s grand design of things.  We will never be able to contain God in a box and say this is Him.  Or here is “the” picture of God.  God is much bigger than all we can imagine.  And yet God cares for each one of us enough to sit with us, to direct and guide us, to bring us comfort and strength when we need it most.  The one thing we can know about God is that God is not finished with us on this earth until our last breath is taken.  Sometimes God gives us just the right glimpse to move us into ever deeper faith.  We may be called to be a prayer partner for a Kid’s Hope Mentor, called to bring dinner to someone recovering from surgery, called to present an inspirational film, called back to a church we said good bye to, called to see that justice is done in a business deal gone bad, called to run a computer program for worship, called to participate in a Bible study or women or men’s group, even called to worship in fellowship on Sunday morning.  But no matter what we are called to it is God’s way of breaking out of the boxes we put Him in and changing us to deeper understanding of what it means to be a child of God.

Moses saw just enough of God’s glory to move him back down the mountain to help the people renew their covenant with their creator, to restore them to faith that would move them into the promised land.  God gives us just enough sight of him to move us back down the mountain into the turmoil of life and sometimes we do that well.  Other times we want to put God where we can understand him.  We want to stuff God back into that box.  We want to blame God, but not challenge him, we want to pray to God but not enough to firmly believe he will respond, just in case our prayer doesn’t work.  We want to keep God at a safe distance so we won’t be moved out of our comfort zones.  But God is God, capable of creating the vastness of the universe.  Do we think for a minute that we can contain this all knowing, all seeing, all creating God?  We can’t see all of God, but we can know that we are a part of the whole, each playing an important role in the grand scheme of things.  Beloved of God, let’s accept our parts and move forward in faith.      

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