Sermon October 19: Heart to Heart

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Faith United Methodist Church

October 19, 2014

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Exodus 33:12-23

Prayer of Illumination:        

Lord, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Let us now open our hearts to your Word so that we may experience you more fully and come to know your will better for our journey here on earth. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Sermon:   Heart to Heart

This week I had the chance to converse, heart to heart, with a good friend. Sitting in her living room with cups of tea ~ her cat on my lap ~ we shared what was really on our hearts. Maybe for you it is hiking together in the woods or sharing life’s joys and troubles after a football game. Regardless of the setting, we all need a good friend with whom we can really open up. I think its true that sharing our burdens makes them lighter.

And maybe that’s how Moses felt when he approached God in today’s Old Testament lesson. He needed someone to talk to, to hear him out. The verse just prior to our lesson reads, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Prior to this passage Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness under the direction of God. Moses was the one chosen by God to interpret God’s message to the people. As a result, Moses and God spent a lot of time together and built a relationship of trust, a relationship that the Israelite community probably didn’t fully understand.

From the Exodus stories we know that the Israelite people struggled with trust. They weren’t really sure that God was on their side. The people of Israel were often frightened about their future. On one occasion they decided to fashion a God for themselves ~ a little golden calf ~ out of pieces of gold jewelry and coins they had brought with them into the wilderness. When Moses discovered their unfaithfulness he was furious. God was none too pleased either. In fact God was so angry that he decided he would not accompany them into the Promised Land. God’s heart was broken by the betrayal of his own people. God did promise to send an angel to guide them, but needed some space from his wayward band.

And this is where our lesson picks up today. While Moses knew that the Israelites had betrayed their relationship with God by worshipping the golden calf, he also knew that they would not make it in the wilderness ~ or anywhere else without ~ God. Moses was in the place of mediating the relationship. The people had strayed and they needed to be brought back to center on God. So Moses, unhappy with God’s decision, went to God to talk about it. Have a little heart to heart.

We might be a surprised by Moses’ boldness in this situation. In fact it was pretty presumptuous of Moses to try to change God’s mind. Moses took a big risk in speaking so bluntly with the Lord of the universe. Moses even went so far as to remind God, “…this nation is your people.” Then he told God that if God himself did not go with them he might as well not send them to the Promised Land at all. Moses maintained that without God they would not make it, they would be no different than any other nation on earth. Indeed, Moses argued, it was God’s presence that made the nation of Israel unique. To this God relented, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.”

At this point we might think that Moses would sigh with relief and head home to tell his fellow Israelites the good news. But no, Moses didn’t do that at all. He was not done with God yet. He had something else on his mind. He wanted to know God, even as he was known. Moses was not interested in just a business relationship. He wanted to know God in all God’s fullness. “Now,” Moses said, “show me your glory.”

Moses wasn’t quite as successful with this request. God responded to Moses saying that no one could survive seeing the fullness of his glory. As one pastor paraphrased this verse, “You would never survive seeing all that you ask for; instead I’ll show you the kind of God that I am – a God that is both gracious and merciful.” (Karla Suomaic) The passage ends with God’s glory passing by Moses as his eyes were shielded from the fullness of its power.

Studying this passage always makes me consider my meeting times, my heart to hearts, with God. Moses was unapologetically honest, even demanding, in his conversation with God. He laid it all on the line. He opened his heart to God, no-holds-barred. So it makes me think: Am I that honest in my conversations with God? Sometimes it feels like I am really connecting with God. Other times, though, I wonder if God even knows who I am. In my conversations with God am I willing to ask for what I truly desire or do I hold back? Do I believe that I am known, that God knows me by name? Do I trust that God can take my boldness and my anger and my questions as well as my praise and thanksgiving?  

Moses’ life was centered on God, heart to heart. Moses had a true journey of friendship with God. It was a journey that began in Egypt, was inaugurated at the Burning Bush and found its fulfillment as he led the people of Israel. What kind of journey are you on with God? What kind of risks are we willing to take to put our relationship with God above all else?

If we look back at the scripture we can see that Moses didn’t get everything he asked for. He wasn’t permitted to see the full glory of God. God, though, didn’t punish Moses for asking. Instead God affirmed that no one could know the fullness of his glory, at least not in this lifetime. Yet, as Howard Wallace put it, “…what is important in the end is not our ability to see or know God, but to recognize that we are indeed already known by God who travels with us.”

As Christians we affirm that God’s most complete self-revelation was in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the stories of Jesus and the witness of the disciples we can say that we have glimpsed the glory of God. But what do we do with that glory? Do we try to contain it and take it out on Sunday mornings to admire? Or do we let it loose in our lives to know and be known? Do we allow it to inform how we live day today as God’s people in this place? Do we live as a people in relationship with our God?

I would like to have a little more of Moses’ boldness. Moses didn’t know what God’s answer would be but, because he trusted in his relationship with God, he wasn’t afraid to ask. As Kathryn Schifferdecker writes in her Lectionary reflections, “That God chooses to be in relationship with human beings means that God makes himself vulnerable to the pain that ensues when relationship is betrayed. But it also means that authentic communication is made possible…” God may not meet us face to face, but meets us heart to heart. It is the desire of my heart ~ I believe the desire of all humanity ~ to know that we are known by the Holy mystery. Thanks be to our God who meets us heart to heart. Amen.