Ever wonder why God wouldn’t let Moses see God’s face in Exodus 33? Why would Moses die if he saw God’s face? What would be wrong with that? God showed God’s self to Adam & Eve, right? This is one of those weird biblical mysteries that no one can properly answer because we are taught that God can do anything, so why not make it so we can see God’s face? Obviously, it is a metaphor but the text says it totally befuddles Moses. There are times I really feel like Moses the reluctant leader, don’t you? In this passage from Exodus, Moses gets closer to God than ever before – but no facetime. Perhaps God, being so complex, cannot be fully understood by us and God is asking Moses not to even try. You can see everything in a person’s face, can’t you? Maybe God thought it would be just too much for him.
It’s akin to when we went down south to see the Full Eclipse of the sun this summer. No way could you (nor should you) look directly at the sun, because it would burn your eyes out. You could only look at the power and magnificence of the sun when it was completely covered up by the moon and a beautiful corona of light appeared. I guess that can be compared to looking at God’s hand or at God’s back? In other words, Moses must have seen a tremendous glow coming off the edges of God. It’s not that there is anything secretive about God, perhaps it’s just that we are imperfect, humanly subject to injury and God does not want us to get hurt. Or maybe, because it is a metaphor there is supposed to be an extended mystery to God because we can never know everything.
Another question that occurred to me about this text is, why does Moses ask God the same thing twice after already being assured of God’s presence? The interchange between God and Moses goes like this:
Moses: “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” Ok that’s fine and God responds;
God: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” That should be it, right? He said okay I’ll go with you, but then Moses continues;
Moses: “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight,
I and your people, unless you go with us?”
Wait, didn’t God just say God would go with them? Sometimes the great leader Moses sounds more like a child than a powerful leader. God has some obviously adult ways of dealing with Moses’ insistence. Like all good parents do, he re-directs Moses’ request to look at his face with some fancy two stepping. God said, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” That is so specific in its direction that Moses doesn’t have time to think or be confused about the situation anymore. God just does it! As if to say, listen Moses, here’s how it’s going to go down, ready or not and God does it. I love God.
As a parent, I can relate to God’s way of dealing with Moses in this text! Like when you’re talking to kids, “no you cannot have every little thing you want and ask for. Some of the stuff you ask for is bad for you. Like seeing my face will burn your eyes out for I am pure energy!” Of course, God nor I, ever said that but that’s what I am thinking. How many times have you said to your kids or Grandkids, “just because Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge that doesn’t mean you can!” Or something to that effect. I think that’s what God is saying. Moses like us, has such a limited understanding of God. Consider the photos and paintings you see of God – so inaccurate, because nobody knows what God looks like. However, Moses is trying to have a close and personal relationship with God and I can understand that.
Everybody wants to be close to “the One Most Powerful” don’t we? When you are close to powerful, good things come your way. You get to ride in a Limo! You get good theater tickets and great restaurant tables. Theater tickets reminds me even though it’s not theater - you must see Ben Stiller’s movie, “Brad’s Status” which is so good. It’s all about a relationship between parent and child, in this case father/son. The father falls all over himself trying to help his son find a college to attend. Some of it is funny to see because the parent is trying to impress the kid in his college town Boston. Some of it is rather painful as we watch the parallel between the two lives, the similarities and differences. Not sure in the end who learns more on their road trip together, the son or the father. You have to go see it to tell me what you think. Parent and child relationships are at the very core of our existence as human beings and that starts with God.
Truly, being in relationship with others is what being a person of faith is all about. In the Matthew passage we read today, the connection between our government and societal laws vs. laws from God is examined. Sadly, the conversation happens in a context where the Pharisees and followers of Herod wanted to trip Jesus up. The Pharisees were trying to catch him blaspheming against Judaism, while the Herodians hope to catch him slandering the state. Jesus, being the smart person he was, isn’t fooled and gives them an answer that astounds them. What belongs to Caesar goes to Caesar, what belongs to God goes to God. He was not merely talking about a separation of church and state here. Jesus was letting them know that this brutally binary way of looking at life, secular vs. religious, black vs. white, poor vs. rich not only did not concern him but he was not going to allow them to trap him in it. As I have said before, Jesus was political in the sense that he was a passionate believer and endorser of social justice issues. However, he was not in any way interested in running for office or being part of the government. And certainly, here in Matthew 22 he was saying government is not my “thing” or put another way in John 17 “I am not of this world.” Jesus concerns himself fully with being a spiritual teacher while aiding and loving those who were (and still are) oppressed by the political powers of his time. That was what he did, that was what made him who he was. If we take that part of him out of the mix then it is no longer Jesus.
Now for the experiential part. Please close your eyes and let’s just focus fully on the presence of God. Now I know, it does seem like God is not with us a lot of the time. We experience that particularly when there are tragedies and natural disasters of which we have experienced a lot lately. However, this morning we are just going to put all those existential questions and disbeliefs on the back burner. We are going to believe we can believe. Take a deep breath and gently push the lower part of your back into the back of the pew. Sit in whatever is the most comfortable position for you and close your eyes taking another deep breath in and out. Deep breath in and out.
Now, simply listen to the breath you breathe. Don’t be concerned with anyone else in the room. Imagine you are here on your own and it is just you in the room with whatever concept of God you hold close to you. Deep breath and imagine, you are standing on the top of a mountain and because God is with you, you are neither hot nor cold – you feel perfectly comfortable in your own skin. You are amazed but not afraid. You feel excited because this is a moment of significance. You know God is there, but you also know that you can’t look into the face of God because that is your agreement with God. You stand inside the protective crevice of a rock and God’s great hand passes before you. You can hear it brush by and you can feel the power of God’s movement. Then you see the shadow of God’s countenance until you see it has passed by and you see only God’s back. It is so good to know that God is there! You feel refreshed, alive and comforted all at once. You are recognized and loved and reassured. Just for a moment or two of silence, allow yourself the warmth and calm of basking in God’s presence and acknowledgement of you.
Now come back into the room and turn to someone next to you and say a word or two to each other about what that might have meant, or if you're alone, take some time to write down some thoughts about that experience.
Let us pray:
Draw closer God our Creator,
for sometimes in our desire to be accepted and loved,
we try to be someone else;
forgetting that we are already wholly loved and uniquely made.