Finding Our Purpose,Part 3: One Thing

Exodus 34:29-35        Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2          Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

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Once I heard a Presbyterian pastor speak at a presbytery meeting about the way we handle our business in church. 

This pastor said, “This is how we do church meetings.  We sit down at the meeting table and we say, ‘Hello God.  Welcome to our business meeting.  We are so glad to have you here.  Would you be so kind as to bless this gathering?’  There is an opening prayer…perhaps a brief devotion on a passage of scripture…then everyone says, ‘Amen.’  Then we say, ‘God, thank you so much for your assistance.  I am afraid we have to ask you to leave now because we have some important business to attend to, business that, frankly, we don’t think you would be interested in and most likely you don’t have anything to offer in this regard.  So thanks again, and let me show you the door.  Oh, and God – if you would be so kind as to stay close by, in case we need you later to bless our work.’”

I think there is a lot of truth to that.  We act as though God only has certain interests and as if God doesn’t have something to say to every part of our lives.  We sort of compartmentalize – separating spiritual from practical.

Maybe we do it because it is easier to sort our lives out this way.  I am sure it is easier to manage certain things if we keep God separate from them – put up the veil.

Sometimes we put a veil between ourselves and God, thinking God doesn’t really care about certain aspects of our lives, as though God has limited interests or, worse yet, a limited skill set.  When we put up the veil, we might think we are doing it to spare God the trouble, but we are really only doing it to spare ourselves.

The story about Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness is a fantastic story full of strange and extraordinary things.  This episode about Moses’ glowing face behind the veil is not the strangest, but it is close.

Moses would travel up to the top of the mountain to converse with God – well away from everyone else.  Elsewhere, we are told that God knows that Moses, although an exceptional human being, would not be able to stand looking at the face of God. No one could see the face of God and live, we are told.  Arrangements were made to shield Moses from God’s face and only look upon the Lord indirectly – through a fog or in the periphery. 

But even that indirect exposure was enough to change Moses’ appearance.   When he came down from the mountain he was shining.  Some have suggested that it might be a bad sunburn from all that time spent up in the high altitude.  Indeed, he might have been sunburnt, but I don’t believe that’s all that was going on.  In some inexplicable way, Moses was different.  Radiant.  Whatever it was, the Israelites reacted in a bad way.  They were unable to hear his words because they were afraid. 

So Moses figured out that the best thing to do was to veil his face from the people. The story tells us that he would go back and forth, between God and the people, taking the veil off before God and putting it back on before the people. 

This story about the veil Moses wore is a way of telling us about the power of God’s presence.  The story is a way of telling us that Moses was somehow different after he has spent time with God.  The Exodus saga has many ways of letting us know that the experience of the presence of God is absolutely unlike anything else in the world. 

There is the pillar of fire that leads the people out of Egypt by night, and the pillar of cloud that leads them by day.  The fire and the cloud had other functions once they reached Mount Sinai, the holy mountain of God.  Fire and smoke covered the mountain and the mountain shook.  The cloud would descend from the mountaintop when the Lord was summoning Moses. 

Strange stuff.  Modern minds might say all this can be easily explained by science. This is certainly true.  But that is not the point.  Pre-modern minds used whatever language and images they could to describe something that defies words.  What was true then and is still true today is that the presence of God is awesome and strange, wonderful and frightening.

And this awesome, strange, wonderful, and frightening presence of God desires to be a part of every aspect of our lives.  Now, if that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is.

Paul picks up this image of the veil in his letter to the Corinthian church and uses it to try to explain the way God expects to have an intimate relationships with us, to know us fully and be known by us.  We are invited to allow God into our lives fully, every aspect of our lives, and thus be transformed by the encounter as Moses was transformed.

But, whereas the people of Israel needed the veil between themselves and the radiance of the Lord, Paul says through Christ, the veil is lifted and we are able to see God more fully than ever before.  Like Moses in the company of the Lord, we may stand in the presence of Christ with unveiled faces, being transformed by this encounter.  This we may call faith.

Faith – it is the energy that powers our relationship with God, the gift from God to us that enables us to remove the veil; faith, the one thing that increases when we spend time in the presence of the Lord unveiled.  It is the one thing that drives the rest of our purpose statement. 

It was very clear when session gathered to talk about who we are and whom God is calling us to be that faith was a critical component.  It was clear that the leadership of this congregation felt a call to be growing in faith as the body of Christ. 

Truthfully, it is the calling of all Christians to be always growing in faith, in both depth and breadth.  But there is more than one way to pursue spiritual growth, and that will often depend on a person’s, or a congregation’s, spiritual personality.

We know who we are, to a large extent, by the things we do.  The way we spend our time and our money tells us what our priorities are.  Last week we considered some of the things we do at Faith, which helped us to clearly see some of our priorities.  It is clear that Faith is a relational congregation.  We care about relationships.  We care about how our brothers and sisters in Christ are faring; we care about what makes them happy or sad. 

And we care about the people of this community in which we are planted.  On this land, which was freely given to us so that we may be a blessing to this community, we must seek ways to serve the people around us. This is how we express our faith and this is how we grow our faith.

And so, it is cyclical:  our faith enables our works and our works increase our faith. So we say that Faith Church is a congregation of Christians growing in faith by caring, connecting, and serving community.  Our faith enables us to care, connect, and serve, and our faith is increased by our practice of caring, connecting, and serving community.

Not every congregation is the same.  But, for some, working for the well being of the people around them is the best way they know how to serve Christ.  For some, creating and nurturing loving relationships is the best way they know how to worship God.  Do you think this describes you?  Us?

Being the hands and feet of Christ in our community may be the best way we can remove the veil and draw nearer to God. 

As we move forward under the guidance of our purpose statement, let us seek the presence of Christ in all our activities, and seek to be more like him in all we do.  Let us remove the veil because there is nothing in our lives that God does not want to be a part of, and there is nothing we might do that would not be made better by inviting God into it.  May we know who we are, and who God is calling us to be.

 

Verses

"Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love."

I Corinthians - 13:13