God’s Shiny Back Side

Exodus 33:12-25

12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

21 Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Several years ago I was at a workshop on prayer and the woman who led it talked to us about how often our prayer is more like a monologue than a conversation. She taught us a way of praying that had us spend time in silence listening to God and then praying back the things God says to us. Then we got into small groups with complete strangers and prayed for each other this way. It was very interesting how the things we prayed for each other were spot on to what we needed to hear in that moment.

“Prayer is engaging God, an engaging that is seldom accomplished by a murmured greeting and a conventional handshake. The engagement at least in its initial stages, is more like a quarrel than a greeting, more like a wrestling than a warm embrace.” Eugene Peterson

This passage is a picture of the type of interactions God had with Moses. It’s an interesting detour in the context of the story because the previous chapter is the story of Moses going up to Mount Sinai and getting the Law from God. Moses was gone for so long that the people became restless, and, believing Moses & God had abandoned them, began to pressure Moses’ brother Aaron to get them something else to worship. Aaron caved and collected everyone’s jewelry and make a calf for them to worship. God was pretty ticked off and sent Moses down to deal with it. Right in the middle of this, the writer of Exodus takes a chapter off of the narrative to explain Moses & God’s relationship.

Moses was combative and demanding. He began by wanting to know the plan and at the end he asked to see God. He asked for more and more and he got all of it. He started with frustration about not having the support God promised to lead the people. We all have a lot going on and sometimes it’s easy to feel abandoned by God or to feel that God isn’t delivering what God promised. There’s also a bit of ego in there. He asks God – how will everyone else know that these people are chosen and I am their leader if you don’t go with us? Valid question. What is God’s answer? God reiterates God’s promise of presence and protection. Moses’ defenses seem to melt and he gets what’s going on. He asks to see God’s glory instead.

The entire goal of our life with God is to know God. The things that seem so large to us are distractions from the real purpose of life with God. God can handle the things we thing are massive. We are called to trust God’s character to handle the daily things that we face and focus on building that relationship. The previous passage tells us that God spoke to Moses face-to-face, as one speaks to a friend. I think this is in here to let us all know what is possible. I think we can all get to the place where we speak to God face to face as a friend – it what God wants more than anything.

We need to get rid of the assumption that we are in control of the relationship. Most of us would never admit to consciously thinking that but our behavior suggests otherwise. We ask for things, but we rarely take time and space to listen. Listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say on the world that praying leads us to:

“This world, this reality, revealed by God speaking to us, is not the kind of world to which we are accustomed. It is not a neat and tidy world in which we are in control – there is mystery everywhere that takes considerable getting used to, and until we do it scares us. It is not a predictable, cause-effect world in which we can plan our careers and secure our futures – there is miracle everywhere that upsets us to no end, except for the occasions when the miracle is in our favor. It is not a dream world in which everything works out according to our adolescent expectations – there is suffering and poverty and abuse at which we cry out in pain and indignation, “You can’t let this happen!” For most of us it takes years and years and years to exchange our dream world for the real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy.”

The life of a prayerful person is a life of uncertainty and adventure. It will never be an easy life but it is the most blessed life because it is the life of someone who truly knows God.

Benediction from the Breastplate Prayer of St. Fursa:

May the yoke of the Law of God
be upon your shoulders
the coming of the Holy Spirit
on your head
the sign of Christ
on your forehead
the hearing of the Holy Spirit
in your ears
the smelling of the Holy Spirit
in your nose
the vision of hte people of heaven
in your eyes
the speech of the people of heaven
in your mouth,
the work of the Church of God
in your hands,
the good of God and of neighbor
in your feet
May God dwell in your heart
and my you belong entirely to God the Creator


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