This is my sermon manuscript from Sunday, December 10. I had the daunting task of preaching Exodus 35-40 this week. While the text looked to be a bore, it turned out to be a very, very fun text to study and preach. As always, this manuscript is only a glimpse of what I actually said. I leave my notes a lot. But, it should give you a good idea of what I said. The title of this post comes from someone in my community who, after the sermon, said I should have titled it, “God is here. Let it rock your world.”
Hope you enjoy.
Donâ€™t feel sorry for me. Sure this text is filled with a bunch of boring facts. Its about the building of the tabernacle. Itâ€™s like a bunch of blueprints put to words. A bunch of stuff about Omers, onyx stones, alters, anointing oils, cubits and bronze clasps. Yeah, by itself its rather boring. So much so that Walter Brueggmen, a well respected OT scholar admits, that â€œthis is a rather boring text to read and has been much neglected.â€
But, I donâ€™t want you to feel sorry for me that i have to preach this text. As the one preaching, I donâ€™t feel sorry
for you for having to listen to me preach it.
Why? Because we have before us the Word of God. I believe it is in this Word of God, this scripture, this narrative is about the history and making of Godâ€™s people. It is this story that shapes us as a community.
Chris Eardman, a pastor and professor at a west coast seminary writes in his book Countdown to Sunday, â€œthere are no innocent texts in the bible. Every word, every sentence and page has an agenda.â€ This text is no different! This text wants to do something to us this morning! Let us not take this seemingly boring and technical section of Godâ€™s word lightly. I invite you today (and every sunday for that matter) to allow this text to have its way with you. Itâ€™s not about me making a boring text exciting and pulling out some truth nuggets so that you will pat me on the back as weâ€™re milling around after church and way â€œwow, you really pulled of a good one there with that hard text.â€ No, its about us, coming to this book, week in and week out, and letting it have its way with us.
This text invites us back into a story. The story of a people not much different than us. Weâ€™ve seen that to be true have we not? Israel, a people who, under the oppression of slavery from Egypt, call out to God for deliverance. And, God hears them. He hears their groaning and remembers the covenant that he made with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God calls his reluctant servant, Moses. â€œI have heard the cry of my peopleâ€ God tells him. â€œNow Go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.â€ Despite much squirming, Moses, armed with staff in hand, along with his brother Aaron go to be used by God to deliver his people.
12 Plagues later and a walk across the dry bed of the Red Sea, and Moses miraculously leads Godâ€™s people out of Egypt. God delivers his people. Freedom is found. No longer are they oppressed, no longer are they enslaved. Instead, they find freedom. So Moses, along with the Israelites appropriately sing, â€œI will sing unto the Lord, for he is highly exalted! Both horse and rider he has hurled into the sea! The Lord is my strength and my defense! He has become my salvation! He is my God and I will praise him! The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is his name. Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? The Lord reigns forever and ever…â€
But this worship is short lived is it not? After all this deliverance was not just from oppression. But it was deliverance into wilderness. The wilderness. Where there is little natural food and water. So, like us, when they are scared and forget the God that called them to where they are, they cry out, â€œIf only we had died by the Lordâ€™s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you Moses, have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.â€
But God is full of Grace and compassion. So he rained down bread from heaven and sent quail for them to eat. Each person had as much as they needed.
Never fully satisfied and never fully trusting, they cry, food is necessary, but we are thirsty. â€œWhy did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our livestock die of thirst?â€ So Moses struck the rock as the Lord had commanded him and the people drank their fill.
â€œIs the Lord among us or notâ€ they asked. The answer had to be yes. For he had been their deliverance. He heard their cry of oppression and He delivered. He heard their groaning over food and he provided. He heard their crying for thirst and he provided again.
Yes, God is among us. Surely it is so. He had been our deliverance.
And so God calls His delivered people to obedience. â€œI am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…â€ And God delivers the Law, part of which we know as his ten commandments, to his people. He not only delivers the big picture things like the 10 commandments, but he also deliverers the details. Giving them a picture and details on how to be a community of justice.
But not surprisingly, the cycle of obedience and disobedience continues. Moses is up on the mountain hearing from God. He is gone so long that the people are left to wonder if he is ever coming back. â€œMake us Godâ€™s who will go before usâ€ they asked. After all, this is what Yahweh has been doing all this time. Why? Well, â€œas for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what happened to him!â€ So they do what only comes natural to them, they fashion a god that they can see, touch and feel out of gold.
And they worship it.
It is here that we begin it see clearly (if we haven’t seen it already) that the story of Israel is also the story of us. Its a story of a people who are called and delivered by God. They are delivered only once, but over and over and over again. It is a story of a people who despite their continual turning away, God graciously invites them back and wants them to be His people.
But God has almost had enough. They people continually have turned away, â€œI have seen these peopleâ€ he says to Moses, â€œand they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.â€
But Moses pleads their case. Spare their lives! Do not destroy them! Again, God shows mercy and graciously agrees not to destroy them. Instead, he will send them into the Land the promised them. The land he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The land so famously flowing with Milk and honey.
But he will not go with them. He will not be among them. Not as he was when they exited Egypt. Not as he was when they were starving. Not as he was when they were dying of thirst. No, this time, when they ask, â€œis the Lord among us or notâ€ the answer will be â€œno.â€
These are no doubt distressing words. They are a cause for mourning. They are a cause for stopping all of life and praying, hoping and longing for it not to be true.
So again, Moses intercedes for his people. â€œRemember that this nation is your people. If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?â€
And so with this the answer goes from No. To Yes. Yes, Moses, I will go with you.
And so Moses meets with God. His face was radiant, the people were afraid to come near him. For his face was glowing for he had spoken with the Lord.
This is the story that leads up to this text filled with omers, onyx stones, alters, anointing oils, cubits and bronze clasps. It is a story of a people who are have a very keen sense of awareness of their desperate need for Godâ€™s presence among them.
This whole narrative seems to lead up to a major climax in chapter 33:4. â€œWhen the people heard these distressing words, (that God would not go among them) they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments.â€ Its almost as if reality suddenly hit them. They werenâ€™t playing a game anymore. Much like the spouse who is continually unfaithful and unfair to their mate. Then, before they know it, all the sudden the day is upon them that they come home and their spouse is gone. This day was not supposed to happen. All the sudden. The game is over. The day that never was supposed to have come, has come.
But, just when it looked like it was all over, God forgives and comes back. He promises his presence among them. They have a second chance.
So, this text isnâ€™t about omers, onyx stones, cubits and bronze clasps. This text isnâ€™t about a really complicated textual blueprint. This text is about a community finally understanding the intense necessity to have access to the presence of God and how they prepared for this presence in response to the realization of this need.
As I read through this textual blueprint, and gave it a chance to speak, I saw a few things that leaped off the page. First of all, I realized that all these details were not there just so we could build one of these in Lancaster, PA in the 21st century. No, this was here so that we could be witness to the intensity and seriousness that the people of Iseral gave to the idea that they would be hosting the presence of God. They caught a glimpse of what it might be like to be without him and they were going to have none of that. Like the husband who finally realizes that heâ€™s been jerk and throws a party to welcome home his wife who has somehow forgiven him, they celebrate Godâ€™s presence by making every detail perfect.
They donâ€™t just build a tent. They worship and prepare for Godâ€™s presence with great intensity. They make sure that every single thing is in its exact spot. They make sure that they use the finest materials. Hosting the Holy one is no small, trivial or casual undertaking. All the symmetry, order, discipline and beauty used in these five chapters is essential to the reality of hosting Godâ€™s presence. They have learned to not take the presence of God lightly. This isnâ€™t a passage about a finished product. Its a passage about the process of preparation.
The second thing that stands out to me is the attitude with which they approach the building of the tabernacle. One would think, that given their story, they would feel the need to â€œmake God happyâ€ and feel â€œrequiredâ€ and â€œguiltedâ€ into building this tabernacle in such a way. Depending on how cynical you are you might think that they would take the attitude of man, we really owe it to God now, weâ€™d better give this to him or heâ€™ll really be pissed.
But take a look at this text.
34:5, â€œEveryone who was willing…â€
34:21, â€œeveryone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting.
34:22, â€œAll who were willing, men and women alike came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds.â€
34:26, â€œAnd all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair…â€
34:29, â€œAll the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the world the Lord had commanded them to do.â€
36:3, â€œAnd the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.â€
36:4m â€œthe people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord had commanded to be
This was a free-will offering of worship that came from deep within the heart. And why shouldnâ€™t it? Weâ€™ve seen their story.
Whatâ€™s possibly even more impressive than the fact that they willfully worked with such diligence and desperation to host the presence of God, was that God dwelled among them in the first place.
In this act of God, we see a God who both holy other and very close. We see a God who chooses to bring his presence among his people. He doesnâ€™t sit on a throne in a castle on a hill. No, this God goes out among his people. He takes up residence with them, he â€œtabernaclesâ€ with them. He dwells with them at the center of their community life.
â€œThis God dwells, not at the edges of Israel’s life, but right at the center of things. This God is committed to the journey. This is a God who is with and for his people for the long haul, not just for the laser beam-like moments on mountaintops. Itâ€™s a commitment to intimacy rather than remoteness. In their own time and place, this God will be with them always…â€ (Fretheim, Terence)
Of course, the wonderful news is this same God dwells among us as well. We read in John 1:14, â€œThe Word became flesh and made is dwelling (tabernacled) among us.â€ He came in the flesh, the dirt, the stink, the brokenness and made his dwelling among us. He came and walked this journey with us. He conquered death and continues to walk this journey with us. He, Jesus Christ, the messiah, dwells at the center of our life together.
What breaks my heart, is that we are so much like the people of Israel. But I think the people of Israel had an advantage. They were in the desert. It was physically obvious that they needed him. But us? Well, we are almost brainwashed to think that we donâ€™t need anything. In fact, we really donâ€™t need much. And all this stuff, we know this, all this stuff is simply masks our desperation.
So even though we are just as desperate for him as they, and even though our response should be as willing, as passionate and radical as theirs…I fear that sometimes, all too often, you and I forget that God dwells in the center of our life together. We get distracted by so many things.
But God is there. Calling us to himself. Calling us to shape our life together around his presence and around what he is doing through his community.
I learned something this week as I was preparing to preach this text. I learned that patience is a beautiful thing. I learned that God doesnâ€™t always work in with loud blaring sirens. In the past, when I have stood up to preach, I have thought â€œwhat can i say that will bring about massive change?â€ What can I say that will cut to the heart and change my life from here on out? Most of these thoughs are usually revolving around external practices. How can we be a people who pray more? How can we be a people who have a deeper concern for the poor? How can we be a people who live radically generous lives in specific ways?
Well, Iâ€™ll be honest. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s how it usually happens. And, I think this text did a lot to teach me about that. This is the kind of text that doesnâ€™t knock your socks off right away. And I am glad.
Because texts like this get to the deeper issues. Texts like this make us look deeper than our outward actions. They deal with the DNA and deep values of our community.
Are we desperate for the living God? Do we understand that we need Jesus? Do we take the fact that Jesus is alive and his Spirit is among us with utmost and deep seriousness?
This is not the kind of text that inspires me to greatness. Its the kind of text that eats away at my soul and I just canâ€™t shake.
I pray that this text, despite its strangeness, gets deeply rooted in your guts as it has mine.
I invite you to let this text have its way with you and ask yourself what does this text do to you?