Proper 24A

October 13, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 22:15-22

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Exodus 33:12-23

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments and Observations

    OK, so the text of Exodus 33 is a little inconsistent.  After all, in verse 11 we were told that one of the wonders of God’s special relationship with Moses was that God actually spoke to Moses “face to face” the way friends talk to each other.   But then, a scant 9 verses later, God tells Moses that he absolutely could not see the divine face because it would kill Moses to do so.

    Literally.   He’d die.

    Either this is a place where the redactor of Exodus dropped the ball a bit by letting the seams show where he stitched together a couple different textual traditions or something else is going on here.   If we want to go with the latter scenario, we could conjecture that maybe there was a qualitative difference between how God interacted with Moses in conversations with him and what would happen when the divine face glowed with all the intensity of glory that Moses had requested to see near the end of Exodus 33.  It’s hard to say what that difference might be but if it was both true that God communicated directly to Moses, friend-to-friend and that seeing God’s face in the way it would appear when God’s glory passed by could be fatal to Moses, then some kind of difference must have existed between those two divine appearances.

    But if we get overly hung up on this point, we’ll miss the main thrust of this story at the end of Exodus 33, so let’s turn to that more directly.

    Because what we have here is a remarkable—almost amazing—exchange between Moses and Yahweh.  These two really do sound like old friends having a conversation as Moses is very bold in negotiating with God by insisting that the divine Presence accompany the people on the journey ahead.  In fact, Moses all-but says, “Look, Lord, this is a deal-breaker for me: you go visibly with us as a sign of your presence and favor or you can forget about having me lead anybody anywhere.”

    Plucky.

    Equally astonishing, however, is the ease with which the Almighty God deals with this bold request: “No problem, done deal.  I’ll do what you ask.”   Talk about influence!   Anyone today interested in power and leverage and such would love nothing more than to, as they say, “Have the president’s ear.”   If you are the one person who can always get some private time with Barack Obama and then be able to sway him to your way of thinking at that, then you become by proxy quite possibly the second most powerful person in the world.

    It goes without saying, however, that having God’s ear is just a wee bit more impressive (sorry, Mr. President!).

    But wait, Moses is not finished here.   Once he gets Yahweh to sign on the dotted line to accompany the people with his holy Presence, Moses then ratchets up his boldness by demanding—and it really does look like a demand—that God show Moses just what it was God had in the glory department.   And on this particular request, I am not even sure I could come up with an analogy for what this is like.   But it sounds a little like asking God to strut his stuff, to take off his shirt to show off his rippling muscles, to get down to basics in the swimsuit part of the beauty pageant where there is no hiding whether you’re a true beauty or not.

    Again, plucky.   And again, amazing that God shrugs and as much as says, “OK, please stand by: the glory show is about to begin.”

    So God passes by, glory ablaze, but tenderly makes sure that it does not fry Moses to a cinder.  He shields Moses just enough from the hottest parts of the white-hot intensity of divine glory that Moses more than gets the idea but survives the encounter, too.

    But there is one little detail in these verses that we ought not miss: God says that in the middle of the light show of glory, something else was going to happen: he would speak the divine name of Yahweh.   And this then gets connected—in God’s mind apparently—to the fact that God would show mercy and compassion in the future, too, on any and all whom he deemed worthy to receive those wonderful holy gifts.

    The intoning of the divine name is as surprising as anything in this endlessly surprising story in Exodus 33.   Picture it (if you even can): God hovers over Moses ablaze with more light and pulsing with more weighty power (remember: “Glory” = “Heavy” in Hebrew) than is conceivable but then, in the midst of all that something even more powerful happens: the cosmos reverberates with the blast of a gazillion trumpets as God speaks God’s own name:

    YAHWEH

    Somehow I am reminded of a scene near the end of the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  A mind-bogglingly massive alien spacecraft—awash in light and color—is hovering over the earth near Devil’s Tower Wyoming.   The scientists who had been awaiting the spacecraft are communicating with the aliens musically, playing a certain set of five notes on a keyboard.   They play it over and over without response until finally on one play-through, the spaceship plays the last two notes in the sequence.  But unlike the flute-like, quiet notes that the scientists had been playing on their little electric keyboard, the spaceship’s final two notes are so thunderous, they flatten the people standing near and blast out glass panes everywhere in the vicinity.  (If you are not familiar with it, you can see that scene here and it takes place right at the very beginning of the clip that can be found here: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    Maybe God’s sounding forth of the divine name was like that: in the midst of all the glory, nothing could compare with the glory of God’s thundering forth his own name.  Before that holy name, the cosmos trembles, reels in response, echoes on and on with that Name above all names that goes out to the ends of the universe and beyond.  But it’s not just the sheer power in that name that causes such a gargantuan reaction: it is also the profound Beauty of the Name and all that it portends for mercy, compassion, and the grace that will save us all at the end of the cosmic day.

    Because the day would come when the One who bears that Name would become flesh and once he did, we would behold his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son who moved into our neighborhood full of grace and truth.

    There is a certain semi-saccharine strain of popular piety that can get a little overly romantic and swoony in crooning out songs about the sweet, sweet name of Jesus.  However . . . let’s not for a moment underestimate the glory that is laden now on also that Name above all names.   Paul assures us in Philippians 2 that one day there will come a revelation of Jesus’ glory that will be so powerful, there won’t be a tongue in the universe that will be able to resist pronouncing that Name and all that the Name means for heaven and earth and salvation and the whole New Creation of God that just is the Kingdom of God.

    When God speaks the divine Name, there is in the end only one response fitting to hearing it: all God’s people—and maybe all God’s creatures—together cry “Glory!”   We can bear that glory now because it has come to us in the form of God’s own Son.   As Dale Bruner likes to paraphrase the 18th verse of John 1: Jesus is the exact exegesis of God—he has made this God known.   And in seeing his glory, we see also our very salvation.

    Moses was pretty bold in asking to see God’s glory.  But a thousand years before God’s Son came to planet Earth, he was also on to something: in seeing the glory, we see our salvation because in the midst of the glory, we hear a very special Name.

    Illustration Idea

    “Glory” in Greek is doxa, from which we get “doxology.” It is the standard term to refer to the shining holiness and grandeur of God. “Glory” refers to the punch of God’s presence. God has so much power, is so very holy, and exudes so strongly all that is right and true that you cannot miss his presence. In fact, the glory of God is almost too much for ordinary (and sinful) mortals like us.

    Even in the human sphere there are some people who have what we term “great personal presence.” There are some people who, partly because of what you know of their reputation, partly because of their position in society, and partly because of some ineffable, hard-to-define personal magnetism simply bowl you over when you are in the same room with them. If you’ve ever been in attendance when a president has spoken, perhaps you sensed this. My friend Philip Yancey once said that the first time he met President Clinton, he was astonished at the power of his personal presence. A few years ago I was sitting near the stage when Maya Angelou spoke and though I cannot quite put my finger on why, I felt physically and emotionally jolted by the sheer power of her presence. There was a sense of gravitas, a palpable weight to her very presence.

    Interestingly, the Old Testament Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod which is a cognate of the verb kabed meaning “to be heavy” or “to have weight.” God’s glory is the sheer punch of his holy presence, the sense of gravity and seriousness and weightiness you receive when God is near.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 99

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

    Author: Stan Mast