The Sunday Sermon: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 22, 2017
Scripture: Exodus 40:34-38
Beyond the Pledge
Last week we head of the Israelites arrival at Mt. Sinai and that one of the first things that they did when they got there was make a pledge; a pledge to do all that God asked of them in the future. They made this not knowing what the future held simply relying on their previous experiences with God.
We too joined the Israelites in that pledge last week saying, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And we to do not know what exactly might be expected of US, but we were challenged to lean on and thinking back on our own experiences with the Divine to guide our hearts as we made that pledge.
Today, we are going to move beyond the pledge to see what took place among the Israelites after they spoke those words. While the Israelites only spend little less than a year camping at Mt. Sinai they went through quite a bit during that time. As we read through the story I believe that the Israelites experiences at Mt Sinai offer us two things: information and a challenge. The Israelites’ story informs us of some basic truths about human behavior and the human relationship with God and challenges us to ask ourselves how will we respond, act, worship, and think beyond the pledge.
As we dig deeper into what the Israelites experienced at Mt. Sinai it’s important to know that there are two covenants that take place at this mountain between the Israelites and God. What is significant about these two covenants is that unlike some of the earlier covenants we read about such as the one in Genesis between Abraham and God, this covenant is obligational on both sides. Which means that God has an obligation to the Israelites in AND the Israelites have an obligation to God. In earlier covenants God was the only one carrying any obligation.
The first covenant we come across begins in chapter 19 in Exodus if anyone wants to follow along in the pew bibles. Incorporated in that covenant are the words we spoke last week, a response to God by the Israelites saying, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” This first covenant however ends with the Israelites mourning, repenting and deeply grieved.
You might be asking yourself, “What happen to cause that?” Well see it didn’t happen immediately, after the Israelites made their pledge to God a three-day ritual was planned, the people were to purify themselves for two days and then meet at the base of Mt. Sinai. Everyone got to work cleaning their clothes, cleaning their bodies, eating only certain foods, participating in only certain activities and cutting out anything that wasn’t pure from their lives for two days.
Those two days would culminate on the third day with God speaking to Moses in thunder giving commandments to be reported to the people to which the people would respond by saying, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do. We will be obedient.”
Those two days of preparation remind me a lot of stewardship season. Stewardship season comes around the same time every year and we prepare, we plan, we look at our budgets and figure out what we can give monetarily, or we look at our schedules and figure out how much time we are willing to put in at the church this year, or we think through our talents and skills… will we join the choir, will we help out with youth, will be participate in fundraising events? And then at the end of stewardship season we make a pledge. Now these are good things to do and reflect on, don’t get me wrong and there is risk in them, maybe for some of us we are giving a littler more to the church than we did last year, maybe some of us are giving up time somewhere else to spend more time with the church, maybe others are moving WAY beyond their comfort zone to participate in a something they are not too sure about, but we prepare, we plan.
The Israelites prepared for two days, they planned to meet on the third, they made their pledge… and then something unexpected happen, Moses went back up the mountain, and this time he stayed there for over a month. The Israelites had not prepared for this, they hadn’t planned for this, they were not expecting that after they made their pledge that God and Moses would spend 40 days on the top of Mt. Sinai. So while Moses was on the mountain with God hovering over it in a huge cloud the Israelites began to worry, they got restless, they got anxious, they started to forgot all that God had done for them in the past, in that time of waiting the reality of an unforeseen future became bigger to them than the very presence of God on the top of the mountain by which they dwelled.
And in this worry, anxiety and waiting… they went back on their pledge. They reached and grasped for what was comfortable. They knew they had not yet reached the Promised Land and they knew they needed A GOD to go with them or they would not make it. So they asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to build them a god to go before them, to guide them. Aaron collected all their gold jewelry and melted it down and molded it into a calf and the people celebrated joyously because they were comforted by this god made of gold created by a mere human.
The Israelites settled for something far less than the God of the Universe, because they desired comfort in the midst of the unknown. All that God had done was not enough to sustain them through their anxiety and so they reached for something easier. Their priority was on their own comfort, their own assurance rather than waiting on the Word of God to come down with Moses from the mountaintop, their time of preparation and planning amounted to a golden calf to ease their anxieties.
When Moses finally returned from the top of Mt Sinai they quickly realized their mistake. They had broken their covenant with God, went back on their pledge and now they would have to leave Mt. Sinai and continue on their journey without God’s presence. In repentance for their actions, their mistrust of God, their inability to wait on the Lord, their blindness to the very presence of God in front of them they mourned, they cried out.
This brings us to the second covenantal conversation that we find in Exodus 34. Even though God had instructed the people to leave Mt Sinai without God’s presence due to the breaking of the pledge, Moses took a risk and interceded on the Israelites behalf and asked God to keep or renew the covenant. God eventually agreed, during the golden calf episode the first tablets with the commandments on them had been ruined, so God said to Moses, bring me two new tablets and I will write the commandments on them that I wrote before. Through this process the covenant was renewed. This time, I assume having learned from their mistake the Israelites responded a little differently.
See in the text pertaining to this covenantal agreement, the people do not respond with a pledge, instead they are driven to action. During Moses time on Mt. Sinai God has given him instructions for building a tabernacle. Essentially this is a mobile sanctuary where the presence of God would dwell. In our modern day understanding of God we believe that God’s presence is everywhere, but at this time in the Israelite’s story God’s presence was not understood the same way we understand it today. God’s presence was considered too holy for just anyone to experience, meeting God face to face would change you. Moses on Mt Sinai was not able to see God’s fullness but only part of God and at one point during their time at Mt. Sinai Moses does meet with God and for the rest of his life his face shines so bright he has to cover it with a veil. So in order for God to travel with them to the Promised Land, the people needed to build a tabernacle, a mobile sanctuary for God to dwell in.
Eager to do God’s will, the Israelites responded by offering far more materials than were needed to build the tabernacle. They offered time building the tabernacle, men and women offered their talents and skills working with wood, and metal, and cloth. And after all was done, after all of the instructions had been followed, after everyone had offered themselves to help building this dwelling place for God, this is what happen,
Our scripture reading for today Exodus 40:34-38 …
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
God’s presence left the mountaintop and came near to the people and filled the tabernacle that would travel with them. And the people did not move unless God moved. God was with them each stage of their journey. God was with them each stage of their journey.
The Israelites responded to God covenant in these two very different ways while at camping at Mt Sinai and these Exodus stories leave me with this question, How to we want to response to God beyond the pledge?
On November 12, we would have prepared and planned, some of us might show up with pledge cards in hand, others may have signed up to serve on a team at one of the booths this stewardship season, some of us may have done both.
So after November 12, how will we respond?
Will we respond like the Israelites did after their first attempt at making a covenant with God? Will we speak with our mouths, but then when we get anxious revert to that which eases our stress? When unexpected things come up or expected things don’t happen… will we grow weary and give up hope? When we find ourselves tired and frustrated will be grow impatient? Will we seek comfort more than God’s presence?
Or will we respond with actions behind our words like the Israelites did once their covenant was renewed? Will we provided everything that is needed and then some? Will we build a place for God to dwell? Will we build a space a spiritual tabernacle into our personal lives, into the life of our teams, into our worship, to follow God’s presence? Will we build spiritual tabernacles at our team meetings and events? Before we make decisions will we seek to discern where God’s spirit it leading?
We will prepare and plan during this stewardship season, we will make pledges, with our money, our time and our skills, but my question for us today is, what happens beyond the pledge? How will we respond as stewards of God’s people, God’s mission, God’s church?
Over the next year before we come around to this season again, when faced with adversity, struggles, worry or sheer exhaustion will we revert to what it comfortable? Will we “do what we have always done? Will we rely on our own preparation and planning because, hey that WE CAN control? Will we grasp for a golden calf of our own, some less than God of the Universe figure to guide us through the wilderness?
Will we build a spiritual tabernacle, inviting God’s presence into our fears, into our anxieties? Will we bring more than is needed in every way possible to worship and meet with God? Will be bold and seek God’s face not fearing the transformation that will come from it but eagerly desiring it? Will we follow God’s spirit wherever it leads us? Whether it moves us along at a steady pace, calls us into unknown territory, or invites us to stay and sit and dwell?
It is my prayer for all us as the church, little “c” church and big “c” church, the local church here at PVPC and the global church, it is my prayer that God’s presence would fill us and guide us as it has since before our births and that we would have the desire and the courage to see the cloud and the flame lead us into each stage of our journey. Amen.
Ashia Stoess, Student Minister / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 22, 2017