“God – With Us”
Pentecost 20, Proper 24-A
October 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Today, we heard Jesus say to give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to God what is God’s. It is not always easy to keep the two separated and the priority on God. Have you ever done something that hurt someone you deeply care about? Or knowingly disobeyed something God was leading you to do? How do you forgive yourself? How do you know if you still have favor with God and know that God is still with you?
Moses went through something like that. God had instructed Moses to lead Israel, again, to the land of Canaan to take it as their inheritance. Only God said that He wasn’t going to go with them. God was still mad and disappointed at Israel for not entering the Promised Land the first; and for their sin at Mt. Horeb by constructing a golden calf and worshipping it, and for other acts of disobedience. So God is said he wouldn’t be traveling with the them in the close, intimate way they were used to.
Doesn’t that also describe our lives? I so often fail to do exactly what I ought to do, and when I fail I too often end up hurting others, including God. Sometimes God is so disappointed with me that God withdraws to a distance that I cannot bridge. Remember how our parents would send us to our rooms when we acted up? There, in isolation, not allowed the consolation of our mother’s lap, or a father’s smile, we had to sit and figure out why we were being punished. It sometimes felt like our parents hated us, but if done rightly it was for our benefit. Growth occurred during those dark moments of the soul.
Once we’ve experienced intimacy – with God or another person – we don’t ever want to lose that feeling. For we are created to live, not in isolation, but in intimate fellowship. That is part of our design, created in the image of God. It was the intimacy that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God when they walked in a face-to-face relationship.
God was mad at Israel for their lack of faith in Him and their refusal to enter the Promised Land. They saw the walled cities and the giants, but they failed to see the greatness of their God. As he so often did,
Moses Interceded With God on Behalf of the People:
Moses is in a bind. He is trying to lead God’s people but God is not acting in a way foreseen by Moses. Moses needs to know God’s heart if he is going to be able to follow God’s commands. In verse 13, Moses makes this request of God: 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. So God teaches Moses that his nature is love and He is full of grace and mercy.
Moses intercedes and God agrees to continue being actively present with the people. Verse 17Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will do what you ask, because I know you very well, and I am pleased with you.” How many of us wanted to hear from a parent or a spouse, or from God: “I am pleased with you!”?
By relenting and agreeing to go with the people, God sets a precedent that is true with us today. One aspect is that God can be reasoned with. Another is that God is always Good. And for us this morning, the lesson is this-
When God Calls Us to Something, God Goes With Us.
There are a couple of points-of-contact for us in this exchange between Moses and God. The first is from these words of Moses’ in verse 13: 13If I have truly pleased you, show me your plans so that I may know you and continue to please you. It reminded me of the Holy Cross prayer that was prayed each Sunday during the 2008 transition time with Fr. John, and for the next year or so.
It read: “We rejoice in our circumstances and seek Your guidance and wisdom as we discern the plans You have for us – plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope. When we call on You and pray to You, You hear us. When we search for You, we will find You if we seek You with all our hearts. We ask you, Lord, to bless us and enlarge our territory that Your hand would be with us. Keep us from evil that we might not cause harm to anyone.”
The congregation were as sincere in praying those requests to God as Moses was in his intercessions. God was moved then and I believe God is moving on our behalf now. Have you noticed that the darkest part of the night is just before daybreak? Have you noticed that a difficult task is the hardest right before it gets easier?
These past nine years have not been easy for us as a congregation, or for many of you in your personal lives. We’ve been through our own Exodus experiences. There have been wilderness experiences that affect us spiritually, physically, mentally, relationally, economically, circumstantially. Some of us have been the victim of unasked-for events in our lives. Some of us have made bad choices, maybe even sinful choices, and we’re in a desert experience trying to work our way toward a better land. We might feel alone but God has not deserted us, even when embarrassed or not proud of what we’ve done. Sometimes we need to experience punishment for our sin even though we are forgiven. Verse 8, from our Psalm puts it this way: “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds.” Sometimes our punishment is like a desert experience that purifies our soul and toughens us for the rest of life. Yet, in spite of the many hardships we have endured
There Is A Great Spirit of Joy at Holy Cross.
To be able to say that “we rejoice in our circumstances” is a great statement of faith in God and I have experienced this joy since I have been here. We are able to disagree without being disagreeable. There is unity of the Spirit here without being locked into uniformity. We don’t have to all look alike, and march in a regimented lock-step to be sincere seekers of God’s will. I sense a true commitment to want to hear from God, “when we search for You, we will find You if we seek You with all our hearts”.
I truly hope you already believe, or are willing to believe, that God is with you personally, and with us Corporately, otherwise we wouldn’t even be in existence. If God is going through this Exodus experience with us, then a Promised Land awaits. It will be a time of our greatest contribution as individuals and as a church. It will be a time when you will grow the strongest in the Lord you have ever been, and when the most people come to know the Lord; to worship Almighty God; and to become active disciples of Jesus Christ. It will be a time when God makes the greatest impact on our own lives, and we make our greatest impact on our community.
In today’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, verses 3 & 4, there is part of a prayer that Paul, Silas, and Timothy are praying for that church. These images also speak to how I feel about you and what God is doing in you individually, and through us as a congregation. Paul revisits the three greatest gifts that always remain as he closes 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope and love: “We remember before our God and Father your work – produced by faith, your labor – prompted by love, and your endurance – inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you.”
I thank God for your work – the effort of your hands, your hearts, your minds, your prayers – given freely on behalf of those you love: your earthly family, your church family, people God has laid on your heart, and people you don’t even yet know – but God does. Your work is an act of your faith. You know you cannot see how it will all work out, but you trust God to oversee it. May God richly bless you!
I thank God for your labor – the hours, the sacrifices, the routines that challenge you with their sameness, the discipline it takes to keep sacrificing for people you love, who often don’t act like they love you back. But you keep on, keeping on, because the “love of Christ controls you” (2 Cor 5:14), and this love is a sacrificing love, a generous love, a forgiving love, a love that believes for all things, hopes for all things, endures all things, and never quits, nor fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
I thank God for your endurance because it is inspirational. It moves me, sometimes to tears. In turn it is inspired by your very evident hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. You know Jesus, and you love Jesus, and He has filled your life with hope. And, I pray for you who are in danger of losing your hope because it is not solidly anchored in faith and in love. Is God with you? Absolutely! Jesus, dying on that Cross, proved it, and continues to prove it – day after day, after day, after day, after day. He will never leave you nor desert you; He promised to be with you always (Matthew 28:20). He voted for you and signed the ballot with his own blood.
Is God with us? Absolutely! I see Him every Sunday during worship. I saw Him last Tuesday night when our leadership met with Canon Tim; Wednesday at the Bible Study, in our prayers, and during Communion. I see Him in the faces and lives of the children and our staff and great volunteers here at Holy Cross. I see Him when I visit in the hospital. God is with us. He has not called us – individually or corporately – into a wilderness only to desert us. Sometimes He is leading us step-by-step and we are obediently following in His Steps. Sometimes, He is sitting patiently by our sides waiting for us to do the next thing He has taught us how to do. Sometimes, He pulls aside so we can have space to check our own hearts and minds and determine whether we are still going to be God’s children or children of the world. But, we are never alone. Never! He loves us with a love we cannot fully fathom, or get hold of. We bear His name – Christian. We eat at His table each week. His Spirit has agreed to come and live inside of us so we can experience the most intimate fellowship with the living God possible in these bodies of mortal flesh.
Can you believe for this? I can, for with God nothing is impossible; and we are already a living miracle. God is with us! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. Hallelujah!