Every once in awhile I find myself putting together an old school holiness sermon, much like what I preached yesterday. We hope to have the audio of this sermon, and those before it, up on my church’s website soon but until then I thought you would enjoy the manuscript.
As is true of many Sundays, what is below isn’t entirely what I ended up saying yesterday but the basic movements and message are the same.
In early May when we decided to spend the summer in Exodus, I read through Exodus a couple times and tried to figure out what passages I was going to preach on. There are easily 10 sermons in every chapter, which means we could have been in Exodus until 2045, but I had to settle for only 12 for the entire book.
As I was going through the book, no other passage gripped me like the one I just read to you. You are all going to think I am a nerd (if you don’t all ready) but I couldn’t get over Exodus 33 and I still can’t. This passage has had a profound effect on my summer and on my own journey with God, so much so that today what I have prepared isn’t really a sermon. It is more of a testimony of how this passage has formed and shaped me over the last 4 months.
Ironically I wasn’t going to end the series here. I had one more sermon prepared about the tabernacle preparation, which occupies the last 7 chapters of Exodus. I love that Exodus opens with the people being forced to build storehouses for Pharaoh but the book ends with the people gratefully preparing a worship house for the Lord. Through all the ups and downs (mostly downs) and the disobedience and unfaithfulness of the people, the book still ends on a good note. The people and God have negotiated a space for God to be with them. That is neat and sometime in the distant future, probably in 2045 I might preach that.
Unfortunately that sermon got cancelled by the incoming of our DS who will preach a way better sermon.
Actually it is quite fitting that we end our jaunt through Exodus with this passage because it has been my passage this summer.
In Exodus 33 what gripped me was the use of intimate language, sentences like:
“ Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Ex. 33:11)
“I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” (v. 12)
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v. 14)
“Show me your glory, I pray.” (v. 18)
“I will make all my goodness pass before you.” (v. 19)
I have met people who are quite uncomfortable using this type of language to refer to their faith. They seem to think that God is best left at arm’s distance. The thought of a completely other God terrifies them, so they insist we don’t draw too near.
You see, they believe in a vicious and angry God. This God doesn’t really want to hang out with us. God would rather destroy us. God hates us with a divine loathing. This god is holding us over the abyss of hell and smiling a wicked smile, saying, “Just give me one reason and I will drop you there for all eternity!” And so those who profess belief in this false god ask, “Why would you ever get cuddly with that god?!”
Ironically many of these people still claim to want to go to heaven which means spending eternity in God’s presence. Unfortunately for them, if you cannot stand the presence of God in the here and now, an eternity with that God might be their version of hell.
But beyond that little irony lies a heart breaking reality. The sad thing about these people and the gut wrenching place their theology leads them is that somehow their assumption that God isn’t gracious makes them not gracious. They are not loving or kind. They are known by their righteous indignation, or rather, their not so righteous indignation. They are blind to their own sins while writing internet blogs and posting Facebook memes that are quite cruel to those who sin differently than them. This makes them hypocrites and everybody sees it but them.
Every ministry assignment I have had is full of these people. At the Rescue Mission they were a bit more brazen. Homelessness has a way of tearing away your polite reflexes so that you are who you are for better or worse.
At the Rescue Mission we had quite a few addicts come through who would be one week clean and sober. Yet they would still walk around with that righteous indignation telling everybody else how “they need to get their life together just like I did before God destroys you.”
My boss was never surprised when they relapsed the next week. I often was but my boss was wiser than me. He would shake his head and say, “Those who do not show grace have a nasty habit of falling from grace.”
If you can’t forgive you are not forgiven. If you can’t show grace, you have not experienced that grace yourself. And these types don’t just hang out in homeless shelters.
In fact, I think these types of people are who the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says in Philippians chapter 3, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!
18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”
They claim to love grace but they won’t show it. They claim to love God but they won’t enter into the Lord’s presence. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach and if they aren’t all ready, it won’t be long until they are worshipping a golden calf that is stealing all their gold.
Can I suggest this morning that what begins this cycle of destruction in their lives is that they are asking God all the wrong things? They do not ask God to show them God’s glory. Instead they are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14.
The Pharisee stands in the city square, the ancient form of Facebook, and prays out loud, “God I am so thankful that I am not them!” “God just show them how right I am. God convince them of their own stupidity and my own brilliance.”
They are asking God for all the wrong things. So too as I listen to our modern day hypocrites I hear them ask God for all the wrong things.
They ask God for political power. “God, just put us back in charge and that way we can fix what is wrong with the world. You can’t fix it, God. But don’t worry, we can if you just give us more power.”
They ask God for a higher average church attendance. “God just give us 40 more people on average per Sunday morning. Then I go to District Assembly and tell everybody I did it.”
They ask God for a more stable financial situation. “God just give me a better income or the means to pay off my debt.”
They ask God for physical healing. “God just keep my pinky toe from cramping up and causing me pain.”
They ask God for bigger church buildings and better kept up worship spaces. “God can you just give us 5,000 more square feet and we will worship it. . .oh I mean to worship you with it.”
But they never ask God for God. They never ask God to see God’s glory.
Their god is their stomach. Their god is their building. Their god is their political party. Their god is their physical health. Their god is their bank account. Their god is their good works and their so called but non-existent integrity.
And their end is destruction. I truly believe that on the judgment day they will be the ones that God says, “I never knew you.”
“But God we voted for the right person.” Yeah but you never prayed.
“But God we organized the church potlucks.” Yeah but you never fasted.
“But God we donated a million dollars for that new church facility.” Yeah but you never offered yourself as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.
And Matthew tells us there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Guys, I badly don’t want to be like them. Yet here is the thing, some days I feel like that is the road I am on.
However, I have known and heard about others who have the heart that Moses had. They not only spend great time in prayer but their prayers are filled with requests not for earthly gain or for success in their endeavors but they say things to God like, “Show me your glory.”
“God speak to me as you would a friend.”
“God I want to see you.”
“God parade in front of me everything that is good about you.”
They long to see God at work in their lives and their families and their churches and their communities and they beg God to do that work.
These are the people who spend hours in their own little prayers closets and tabernacles, begging God for glory.
They don’t often pray out loud in public gatherings but when you can talk them into doing it, their prayers fill the emptiness in our lives and we long for more of those words and the heart that produces them. Their prayers are more gripping than whatever super hero punched whatever robot at the theatres this summer.
These are the people that when we sit down to join them for a meal or for coffee we walk away feeling like we just dined with Jesus.
They are the living embodiment of 1 Corinthians 13. They are patient and kind. There is no envy or want. There is no boasting or arrogance. They keep no record of wrongs. And you bet they endure all things.
More than that they are the embodiment of 1st Corinthians 4:11-13.
“11 To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, 12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”
And I want to be like them. I want to be patient and kind. I want to answer kindly to those who revile and scorn. I want to endure. After all, all the power, wealth and pleasure of the world don’t not come close to the homeless rags that flow from the glory of God.
And a huge scandal to our world and to even what I call churchianity, (which is the religion that claims the church buildings, potlucks and programs will save us) is that the glory filled and holy life is completely possible in the here and now.
As proof that it is a scandal, awhile back I tried to find a quote by Mother Theresa so I searched her name on google. To my distress I found scores of websites attacking her and claiming all kinds of harsh things about her. Some were written by those in other religious traditions and I don’t blame them. But, most distressing, many were written by those who claimed Christianity.
They all claimed she was actually evil. She had some secret hidden sin that some loose connection of data revealed. They throw these disparate strands of her biography together and claim that she was depressed all the time. She didn’t really love anybody. She was actually selfish. We found a quote from a journal here, a testimony of a friend or patient there, an out of context television interview over there. These conspiracy theories would make those who think we didn’t land on the moon proud!
But as I perused this garbage, I wondered why we are so quick to discredit a saint in our midst. Why are we as a society and as Christians so quick to keep a record of wrongs and to judge and to be envious and bitter against her?
It is because the glory of God is a scandal. It is because even though we claim to believe in the power of prayer we still don’t want to admit that a woman who woke up at 4am every morning to spend 2-3 hours in prayer, would somehow become a more compassionate and loving and gracious person.
But it is completely possible to become overpowered by the glory of God and so live a holy life. It is completely possible otherwise the Apostle Paul never would have told the Thessalonains in 5:23-24, “ May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
Us holiness types love this work because it reminds us that holiness is not a matter of try harder. It isn’t a work. It is a request, “God, faithful God, sanctify me. God have mercy on me. God, show me your glory.”
If it wasn’t possible God never would have said about twenty times in the book of Leviticus, “Be ye Holy as I am holy.”
If it is wasn’t possible Peter never would have commanded us, “Like the one who called you is holy, be holy yourselves.”
And Jesus never would have said, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”
It is a huge scandal to the world that you can actually meet God, experience all the goodness of God and walk away changed. Yet the entire Scriptures testify to the reality that when we ask God to show us God’s glory, that glory emanates into us and radiates out of us, just like it did for Moses.
To those who believe the only eternal thing is human sin, to those who believe that the only omnipotent and undefeatable power is human arrogance, the saints stand as witnesses that a life spent in prayer and fasting and longing to see God’s glory actually succeeds in changing the hearts and lives of broken and sinful people.
The reason Exodus 33 gripped me so much this entire summer, the reason I have found myself praying more and more, “God show me your glory” is because as I have hung out with the saints I know more and more they have something I desperately crave.
There is an emptiness inside of me that only God can fill. There is a longing and a craving inside of us that only God’s glory can satisfy.
And yes it might mean I get persecuted and I get cursed and I get slandered and I get hungry and thirsty and don’t make as much money if I had gone into computer programming.
But whatever golden calf, whatever Christian denomination, church building, political party, nation, movie, television show, new style of clothing is getting everybody else drunk in the valleys of power, wealth and pleasure, I want none of it!
“God, show me your glory. God, pass in front of us everything that is good about you. Parade it in front of us. Emanate it into us and radiate it out of us! We just want more of you. God show me your glory!”