Sunday, July 12, 2020 “How to See God and Live”

Sunday, July 12, 2020 "How to See God and Live"

Join us Sunday morning for Holy Trinity’s Video Worship Service with Pastor Erik’s message, “How to See God and Live.”

“click” on the arrow in the picture below to view the video on YouTube:

Pastor Erik’s sermon:

“How to See God and Live”    

Exodus 33:12-33  and John 14:1-9     July 12, 2020

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie from the 1980’s starring Harrison Ford who plays the iconic character, Indiana Jones.  The character is a professor at a distinguished college, but he is also a swashbuckling adventurer who will go to great lengths to find lost artifacts so they can be displayed in a museum.

The movie takes place during World War II and the US government asks Indiana Jones to go on a mission to find the lost ark of the covenant before Hitler and the Nazi’s can get to it.

The ark of covenant is the special box in which Moses had placed the Ten commandments.  It was said to contain the power of God and when the Israelites would carry it into battle, they would defeat their enemies.  The Nazi’s want to use that power in their war effort and Indiana Jones has to stop them.

By using his intelligence, ingenuity and sheer grit, Indiana Jones manages to find the ark of the covenant first, but in the end he is out maneuvered by a French archaeologist the Nazi’s have hired and who happens to be Indiana’s archrival.  At the climax of the movie, Indiana is a captive of the Nazis along with his friend, Marian.  He warns the Nazi’s not to open the ark, but of course they don’t listen. At first nothing happens.  But then, mysterious beautiful creatures begin to swirl around the soldiers.  As this happens, Indiana yells at his friend to close her eyes. She doesn’t want to at first, but then she listens, and it is a good thing she does because the beautiful vision turns into something horrific and all the Nazis end up turning into dust.  Indiana Jones and his friend survive, however, because they had their eyes closed. You see, the archaeologist knew the stories of the Bible.  He knew that they had said you cannot look upon the full glory of God and live.

We hear about this early in the Biblical story in the book of Exodus. As I mentioned last week, Mount Sinai is one of the most important mountains in the Scripture because it is where God speaks to Moses and gives the Israelites the commandments.  But this was not a warm-fuzzy, pleasant experience for the Hebrew people.  It was scary and mysterious and caused a mixture of emotions from fear combined with awe and wonder.

When the Israelites get to the mountain in Exodus chapter 19, God says to Moses that he needs to set up boundaries and then tell the people, “Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it.  Anyone who touches the mountain is to be put to death.”

Then on the third day when the presence of God comes down upon Mount Sinai there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud and trumpet sound so loud that it leaves the people trembling.

God calls Moses up onto the mountain, but that’s it.  Moses is to warn the rest of the people that they are not to break through to try to look at God because if they do, many of them will perish.  Not even the priests are allowed to go up with Moses otherwise the Lord will break out against them as well.

Now, you would think with all these warnings Moses would be reluctant to get too close to God.  You would think Moses would be very careful about what he asked from God.  But after multiple trips up the mountain, after spending a lot of time with God in the mysterious cloud and getting the commandments from God, Moses is becoming a little more comfortable and bold enough to ask things of the Lord. So, we hear Moses say to God in today’s reading from Exodus chapter 33, “Show me your glory, I pray.”

God responds and says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” God said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

Not even Moses can see God’s full glory and live.  It would be too overwhelming for a mere human to withstand.  It would be too much for a mere mortal to comprehend.  It would too pure for a soul tainted by sin and too holy for souls scarred by shame.  The full power of God would be annihilating, so how could one see God and live?

The answer is, if God helps us to see. The answer is, if God allows us to experience a part of God’s power or to have a glimpse of God’s glory.  God doesn’t just tell Moses he cannot see God at all.  Instead he gives him a compromise.

God tells him, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

We don’t know if God literally has a face, a hand and a back.  These are probably more like metaphors for parts of God, but the point is that God has to help Moses see a part of who God is.  God has to give Moses a kind of filter, to get a glimpse of God’s glory.

It reminds me of when I was about seven-years old and I had the opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse.  My brother and I were anxious to see what all the excitement was about.  Everyone outside our apartment complex was craning their necks and looking up towards the sky. We started looking up too. We couldn’t believe the sun could be covered up during the day!

But the brightness of even just the outline of the sun was too much for our eyes and we soon looked away.  Our parents caught up with us and told us not to do that again because our eyes could be seriously damaged if we stared directly at the sun.

Fortunately, one of the neighbors had a welding mask that he was letting people use, and by looking through that filter; we could see the full glory of the eclipse.

As Christians we believe we can see the glory of God by looking through the filter of Jesus Christ.  Just like God helped Moses get a glimpse of his glory, God sent Jesus to reveal to us what God is like.  We see this in the first chapter of the Gospel of John where it says, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”   (John 1:14,17-18)

Jesus expresses a similar sentiment when he says in the Gospel we heard today that he is the way, the truth and the life.  But when Jesus says he is the way, and asks again that his disciples trust him, Philip can stand it no longer and asks the one question no faithful Jew of the time should ever ask. Actually, it’s a statement, a request, a plea, maybe even a demand, as Philip says, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

In his commentary on this passage from John, Pastor David Lose points out that there may have been a bit of a collective gasp on the part of the other disciples when Philip asks this hard question. They knew the ancient stories of Moses. They knew you cannot see God and live.  And yet Philip asks to see God anyway. “If you want us to trust you, Jesus, just show us the Father.” That is, “Show us what God looks like.”

It is an audacious, perhaps even an inappropriate, request, but again I suspect we can understand where it came from. Because each of has been there, too: at our wits end, desperate for some hope that things will get better, for some reason to believe that this tragedy is not all there is. Maybe it was when the doctor told you that the cancer had returned. Or when a loved one died unexpectedly. Or when the economy went bad and you lost your job. Or when you discovered your beloved has left. Or when the Twin Towers fell, or the flood waters began to rise, the hurricane hit, or the pandemic turned your world upside down.

Each of us, you see, has also had moments where we wanted some reassurance, some glimmer of hope, that all that we had heard and learned about God is not just some false story, but true. “Just show us the Father,” we plea, “and we will be satisfied.”

To which Jesus responds, not in frustration but in love, both to Philip and to us, “Have I been with you all this time and yet still you don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father!”

So there seems to be two truths in the life of faith. First, no one has seen God. This can be a hard truth, sometimes crushingly hard.  It can be difficult to believe, to trust, and to keep faith in a God no one can see. And yet there is a second truth: that if you’ve seen, Jesus, the Son, the Word made flesh,  you have seen God and so then you know what God looks like and, more importantly, what God is up to and who God is for.   (David Lose, off Working Preacher website)

In Jesus, we see that God is for the outcast, the outsider, the downtrodden and the lowly.  God is for the sinner and the saint.  God is for those who are uncertain and those who are suffering.  God is for you and God is for me.  We see this as God goes to the cross through Jesus.  On the cross, what we see God is up to, is not condemning the world, but redeeming the world.  We see that God is meeting us in the midst of the suffering in the world. We discover the promise that death will not have the last word, but that there is the hope of resurrection.

And In the risen Jesus, we get the greatest glimpse of God’s glory which reveals that God wants us to have salvation and promises to be with us always. Amen.

-Pastor Erik Goehner