The Sunday Sermon: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017
Scripture: Exodus 25:1-9
Sharing the Journey
The end of the summer – as far as the schools, grades k through 12th are concerned, anyway. The last Sunday before public school starts and after today, only two more Sunday’s in August until Labor Day weekend and the end of the summer of 2017 for everyone else. I suppose we actually have through September 20th to enjoy summer, but I’m not sure many, if any, consider much of September summertime.
Now that’s not meant to depress you in any way, shape, or form! It’s meant to set up this observation: We have some stories to tell a community, some stories to share as a community, some journeys to share, once again. Hence the title of the sermon this morning. And we’re lucky as a community, because we are able to share that journey, those journeys, and our stories in a special place. Here in our sanctuary.
Pray with me …
In just a moment, I’ll read some verses from the book of Exodus that describe “offerings for a sanctuary,” or for the Tabernacle, the portable earthly dwelling place of God during the ancient Hebrews time in the wilderness. There are descriptions that follow of how to build a great number of furnishings for this Tabernacle – including the Ark of the Covenant, the table of the Bread of Presence, a Lampstand, and a sanctuary, a place of worship. Many of these “plans” are similar. They have different dimensions, of course, the alter will be different from the lampstand, but most of the furnishings are to be made of acacia – a light, fast-growing, desert tree, and inlaid with gold and/or bronze. And on the corners of the tables and the altar, and all the larger furnishings, there are to be rings. The ancient Hebrews were a nomadic people, following their herds. They were directed to insert two poles, also made of acacia and overlaid with bronze, through these rings so they may be carried.
And on their journeys they developed a theology of journey. “Wherever you go, I will go,” said Ruth to Naomi. We hear in that vow, echoes of a promise that we make with our God and, perhaps more provocatively, a covenant that our God makes to us … Wherever you go, I will go …
The instructions set down in this section of Exodus and the messages of these chapters serve this month of August for us well. We have all been journeying in one way or another this summer, as I’ve already noted. Not all of us have done so physically, through church retreats or mission trips or personal vacations, but rhythms change in the summer months for us all in one way or another and this is the last month of our summer worship hour. We’ll be travelling again, soon, back to a later worship time and an early Sunday school hour. This is also the month when most of our college and all of our high school, and elementary school students return to classes. Parents of all of those return to familiar, even comforting, patterns. And those of us who may not be bound by the academic year anymore are still anticipating the end of one rhythm and the beginning of another by the end of this month and Labor Day weekend.
We have all been journeying, together and alone, and this month as we anticipate a return of one sort or another, it’s appropriate that we share one of the most epic journeys of all, the Exodus, and its direction for us in what lies ahead. So …
Listen for the Word of God … Read: Exodus 25:1-8. The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.
That final verse of our reading explains what the next verses, the next six chapters, actually, are going to be about: The building of a Tabernacle and all its furnishings. In fact, one third of the book of Exodus is devoted to considerations regarding the tabernacle, Israel’s wilderness sanctuary. Chapters 25-31 are God’s instructions on how to build it and its furnishings and, after a three chapter interlude, where Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a Golden Calf, smashes his new stone tablets, leads the people onward from Sinai, and makes new tablets, chapters 35-40 describe the building of the Tabernacle according to God’s specifications, laid out in the earlier chapters.
Thirteen chapters having to do with the tabernacle. That’s a long stretch of “non-story” that can very quickly become wearisome, like the long lists of names that begin in Genesis and are epic in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. We skip over readings such as these, in our lectionary and in our own personal study. But, put in its larger context, the book of Exodus as a whole, these chapters are part of the incredible and life-changing movement that each of us make, together and alone, from enforced slavery to free worship, from service to Pharaoh to service of God, from that which binds and controls us to that which frees and invites us.
As we “return” from the journeys of summer, we are given assurances and reminders as well as challenges for our faith lives together and our relationship with God. With the specs we’re given for the building of this “mobile sanctuary,” we realize that God, however we experience and express this reality in our lives, God is no longer only in the permanent structures we build, stone alters or stone buildings, but God is also on the way to these structures. In other words, God is in the journey – on the journeys we take, together and alone.
Following the passage we just read, chapters 25-31 contain a message that God gave to Moses on the mountain and this message signals a huge change in the way that the community experiences God’s presence on their journey. To begin with, the occasional appearance of God, say on a mountain to one person, will become the ongoing presence of God with Israel in this Tabernacle, this traveling sanctuary. Furthermore, the distance of God from the people will no longer be the remote top of a mountain, but a dwelling place in the center of their camp, in the midst of the community, within each person. And finally, this dwelling place will no longer be a fixed place. How can it be if the community and the individuals in it are on the move themselves. God’s dwelling place will now be portable, on the move with the people of God.
You shall make four bronze rings at the four corners. You shall make poles for the altar to be put through the rings so the altar may be carried. (Exodus 27:4-7)
Overall, these chapters are an ending, a climax, of sorts, not only of Israel’s spiritual journey, but of God’s: Where you go, I will go … A powerful assurance of presence. Why would the ancient Hebrews need such an assurance?
Well … here’s a little twist, for all of our history buffs and biblical scholars (!): These chapters, placed in the book of Exodus in our bible which records events in the twelfth century BCE, were actually written during the exile in sixth century BCE. They were not actually written during the Exodus itself, they were written at a time after Jerusalem was conquered and when Israel was in exile, with no central sanctuary (other than the Rivers of Babylon were they sat down and wept). These chapters describe a sanctuary that was suitable to the situation of a “displaced people.”
That may throw some of you for a loop and the weariness I mentioned earlier may be setting in rapidly (You’re doing it again, Joel! Too much information for a Sunday morning …) But Israel in exile in the 6th century found itself in a similar situation as their forbears in the wilderness: Without a permanent home, in need of guidance and forgiveness for worshipping idols – golden calves or earthly kingdoms, wondering as they wandered whether God would dwell among them again, and where, and how.
We’re returning too, from our summer journey’s, and we’ll be reordering our communal life again in the month ahead: Back to a ten thirty worship service, for practical and personal reasons, back into Sunday school classrooms, youth group gatherings, choir rehearsals, and new offerings of study and fellowship. How will we minimize the focus we’ll place on all the things that we’ll “do” in the months ahead and rather concentrate on the One we “do” it all for? If a sanctuary is to be rebuilt, how can it be done to ensure the freedom of God even as it assures us of God’s presence?
Here’s what I propose for the months ahead, what I hope for. That we all begin sharing the journeys we’ve had – together and alone, with our own families or by ourselves. How has God been present in your lives along the journey that has been our summer? Montreat, North Carolina … personal vacations … family reunions … Mission Crestwood … Ice Cream socials … guest preachers … our Annual picnic … Sunday mornings … (or Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings for that matter!) … How has God journeyed with you, with us, and what have we learned along the way. I want us share our journeys with one another.
It begins immediately after our worship hour this morning. We have another beautiful Sunday morning on the Patio with refreshments provided by Sally, Thom, and Lamont. I challenge you not to talk about what’s “ahead” this morning, even with school two days away and plenty of other things to worry about. This morning, rather, share your past summer’s journeys with one another.
Ask someone where they “went” this summer – perhaps they didn’t even leave home. Ask someone how they experienced the “Holy” in their lives on any particular summer journey these past months. Where have you been this summer? Far away, or close to home? Who were you with? Others from this community, or those you hadn’t met before? Were your journeys relaxing or more difficult? Where they “time off” or work related? Full of family or traveled alone? I challenge you to share one of you journeys and how you experienced the Holy God beyond these walls, in the journey that is your life. And take that challenge into your week. Share it with others who aren’t a part of this congregation, but very much a part of your community – wider family, work colleagues, travel partners.
Let us “make for God a sanctuary” in our in our lives beyond these walls so that we may experience how God dwells among us and within us far beyond this beautiful, but stationary, sanctuary, in which we gather only once a week. Our lives, too, have rings on them so the sanctuary may be carried out. May our hearts be prompted in the week ahead to share our journeys and celebrate our common life and the Love that binds us all. May it be so …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 13, 2017