Exodus 40:16-38 – No Matter Where We Go, God Is with Us

Israel Encamped Roundabout the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai
John W. Kelchner (1866-1942)

Moses followed the Lord’s instructions. And on the first day of the first month of the second year, the sacred tent was set up. The posts, stands, and framework were put in place, then the two layers of coverings were hung over them. The stones with the Ten Commandments written on them were stored in the sacred chest, the place of mercy was put on top of it, and the carrying poles were attached. The chest was brought into the tent and set behind the curtain in the most holy place. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The table for the sacred bread was put along the north wall of the holy place, after which the bread was set on the table. The lampstand was put along the south wall,then the lamps were attached to it there in the presence of the Lord. The gold incense altar was set up in front of the curtain, and sweet-smelling incense was burned on it. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The curtain was hung at the entrance to the sacred tent. Then the altar for offering sacrifices was put in front of the tent, and animal sacrifices and gifts of grain were offered there. The large bronze bowl was placed between the altar and the entrance to the tent. It was filled with water, then Moses and Aaron, together with Aaron’s sons, washed their hands and feet. In fact, they washed each time before entering the tent or offering sacrifices at the altar. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Finally, Moses had the curtains hung around the courtyard and at the entrance.

Suddenly the sacred tent was covered by a thick cloud and filled with the glory of the Lord. And so, Moses could not enter the tent. Whenever the cloud moved from the tent, the people would break camp and follow; then they would set up camp and stay there, until it moved again. No matter where the people traveled, the Lord was with them. Each day his cloud was over the tent, and each night a fire could be seen in the cloud. (Contemporary English Version)

There is no place we can go where God is not.

The presence of God is an overarching theme, not only of the book of Exodus, but of the entire Bible.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and formed man and woman as the apex of divine creative work. Humans alone bear the stamp of God’s image and likeness. People were created to be with God. 

Sadly, however, humanity took their own path, apart from God, and fell into the suffering of guilt, shame, and misplaced love. 

“No one can hide so that I can’t see him,” declares the Lord.
“I fill heaven and earth!” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:24, GW

Ever since the fall of humanity from their majestic position with the Lord, God has been on a determined, yet patient, mission to restore, reconcile, and reclaim lost humanity so that they can be together again. The Lord longs for people to find their way back to the peace and rest of the garden.

God chose Abraham and set apart his descendants, the Hebrews, to be a people and a kingdom of priests, to reverse the curse. 

The Lord chose Moses to free the people from bondage, giving them laws and commandments to communicate that the divine presence is among them. For the ancient Hebrews, God was like a pillar of cloud, a sentinel watching over them. 

Eventually, in the fullness of time, when it was ripe for the promised Savior to come, God sent the Son, the Lord Jesus, the “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”

Jesus lived a holy life, died a cruel death on our behalf to atone for all guilt and shame. Christ rose from death so that people might experience new life and once again connect with God and enjoy the divine presence forever. The Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, and now watches over us, interceding on our behalf. 

And that’s not all; until Christ comes again to this earth, to judge the living and the dead, God’s Holy Spirit has been sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus for this present time. The Spirit is with God’s people, always.

There is no place you can go where the Spirit of God is not already there.

It just doesn’t matter where we are located geographically; it doesn’t matter if we screw up; and doesn’t matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in. The truth of the matter is this: God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. 

God’s eyes are on human ways,
   and he sees all their steps.

Job 34:21, CEB

There are no guarantees in this life that things will turn out well, or that everything will go our way, just because we are believers. In fact, we are promised the opposite – that there will be suffering and hardship. Yet, what makes all the difference for the believer, is that we have the abiding presence of God with us.

The Lord has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make relational connection happen. And it is the persistent and pervasive presence of God that enables God’s people to face and endure all things with faith and confidence.

No matter where we travel, God is with us.

Ever-present God, your grace and mercy overwhelm the universe. Thank you for your constant and abiding love, even in the midst of hate and violence. Enable me to always live in awareness of this reality so that my life might confidently follow you anytime and anywhere; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Chronicles 34:20-33 – Renew Your Faith

He [King Josiah] gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant:“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

So, they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.

Then he had everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin pledge themselves to it; the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.

Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (New International Version)

Sadness transformed to joy is a beautiful thing. However, joy that turns into an “Uh, oh!” is an altogether different thing.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has both sadness and joy, at the same time. God’s temple was undergoing repairs. And the Book of the Law was found. It’s sad that the Law was even lost, at all. Somewhere along the line a king, a priest, some people, they all just plain forgot about God’s Word to them. 

Yet, what’s joyful is that King Josiah had God’s Word read to him. He and his officials responded with promising to be faithful to what they heard, and to carefully follow God and God’s instructions for them as God’s people. What’s more, Josiah asked the Israelites to make that same promise.

It’s likely that you are reading this because you are a person committed to listening to God’s Word. Also, it’s likely you don’t need to go on an archaeological dig inside your own house, just to find an old dusty Bible to read. 

Maybe, however, you need to take the next step, like Josiah of old, to not only listen and obey yourself, but to ask and invite others to make the same promise.

You and I know that straightforward Bible reading often does not take place within the homes and even the churches of many confessing believers in Jesus. So, take the next step. Invite others to read with you. Ask fellow Christians to read Scripture, make observations about it, apply it to their lives, and base prayers upon it. 

Ask them to make the same promise that you have made to God: To listen to God’s Word, and then, do what it says.

This is how renewal happens.

Patient God, you continue to wait for people to read your Word and obey it. May I not simply attend to your laws in isolation from others, but freely ask others to make the same promise I have: To obey Jesus Christ, my Lord, by living and loving like him, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Samuel 6:1-15 – Be Careful How You Celebrate

Ark of the Covenant by Isabel Piczek 1982, St. Norbert Catholic Church, Orange, California

David again assembled all the best men in Israel, 30,000 in number. David and all the men who were with him traveled to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who sits enthroned between the cherubim that are on it. They loaded the ark of God on a new cart and carried it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart. They brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Ahio was walking in front of the ark, while David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the Lord, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals.

When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord attacked Uzzah; so, he called that place Perez Uzzah, which remains its name to this very day. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How will the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” So, David was no longer willing to bring the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. David left it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months.

The Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his family.King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” So, David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets. (New English Translation)

The Christian season of Eastertide is a grand celebration of Christ’s resurrection and the new life we enjoy in Jesus Christ. Since God is the center of all things, celebrations need to be mindful. Nothing in life is a matter of doing whatever the heck we want to do.

Even celebration has its boundaries and limits.

The narrator who originally compiled, told, and wrote the today’s Old Testament lesson wanted to communicate something significant about God and how to relate to the Lord.

God put the big kibosh on David’s hoedown. At that time in the history of Israel, the ark was the foremost symbol of God’s presence with the people. Within the ark contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the symbol of God’s Word); the staff of the first priest, Aaron, (the symbol of God’s choice); and a pot of manna (the symbol of God’s provision). Thus, the ark was a holy object, pointing to a holy God.

The ark of the Lord was built during the time of Moses, when the ritual laws were established concerning offerings and how to approach God in worship. There were detailed prescriptions for how to construct all the sacred articles for worship. (Exodus 35:30-40:33) 

The ark was at the center of worship, representing the presence of God among the people. For nearly five-hundred years before David, the ark had become a familiar object in the life of Israel, always there, continually the symbol of God to the people.

I’ve been a Christian for many decades. One reason I refer to the seasons of the Christian Year in the present tense, is so that it doesn’t become old hat to me. Although I just presided over yet another Easter Sunday in my long tenure as a pastor, I am still in awe of Christ’s resurrection and am eternally grateful and full of joy over new life in Jesus Christ. I always want it to be fresh, as if I’m stepping up to the empty tomb for the first time.

Stained glass in the First Lutheran Church of
Washburn, North Dakota

Yet, we have all likely had the experience of something becoming so familiar, that we begin to lose sight of how important and valuable it really is. Not until we lose it, or something traumatic happens, do we wake up and take stock of its true significance. 

The Israelites had become lethargic and apathetic toward the worship of God, and it led to some disheartening and tragic circumstances. The people of God throughout the ages have always needed to be vigilant against the opiate of familiarity, dulling the senses to the importance of worship.

Moving the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem was one of the first acts David did as the king of Israel and Judah.  God was with David and brought him success against his enemies. David enjoyed a close relationship with God.  Even though David’s heart was in the right place, he made a huge miscalculation, which ended up offending God. 

David had the best of intentions in bringing the ark to Jerusalem and giving it a prominent place in the center of Jewish life. This was an exceptionally good plan. The problem, however, came in the manner the ark was carried from one place to another. 

God’s law laid out in careful detail how the ark was to be transported. Uzzah and Ahio were Levites charged with the ark’s care. Only the Levites could handle the ark and the holy objects of worship that went along with it.

Since it was the job of the Levites for hundreds of years, they knew better than to carry the ark of the Lord on a cart. God clearly told Moses that the ark was to have two long poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold inserted into four gold rings of the ark. The ark was to always be carried on the shoulders of the Levites with the two poles.

We are not told why Uzzah and Ahio were pulling the ark on a cart with oxen instead of carrying it in the prescribed way. Perhaps it was because the ark was incredibly heavy and no easy task to carry.  Maybe they decided it would be easier and more expedient to have the much stronger oxen pull the ark on a nice new cart; it would save a lot of energy transporting it over a long distance.

Or it could be that they were tired of moving the ark in the same old way they had always done it. Maybe it was old hat to them, and they were ready for something different.

For pragmatic people, Uzzah and Ahio’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, God was not okay with this arrangement. When the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reflexively reached out to steady it.  That was the last act Uzzah ever did on this earth. God immediately put him down for his “irreverent act.”

So, here is the not so good idea: Evaluating the worship of God by common sense pragmatism, what we think will work best, and how we feel it ought to be done. Everything about worship is to pay attention to the holiness of God through our obedience. 

Whenever we avoid the prescriptions of Holy Scripture, however best the intentions might be, is not a good thing and people will get hurt. One can never justify an action that goes against God’s Word because people are praising God. Just because the heart is in the right place does not mean what is being done is okay.

David’s first response was anger, then fear. He gave his best effort, and it resulted in God’s disfavor. Perhaps David took for granted that the ark could be moved any old way he wanted to move it. 

Trouble with God happens whenever we value efficiency and expediency over obedience and submission.

The great error of Uzzah, resulting in his death, was trying to manage God. We do not take care of God; God takes care of us. God does not bow to us. The Lord doesn’t allow the creature to manage the Creator.

God wants a pure, unadulterated, and obedient worship celebration from people in the way God wants it to be done, period. It is not up for negotiation.

Holy God, we confess that we have too often forgotten we are yours. Sometimes we carry on our lives as if there was no God and we fall short of being a credible witness to you. For these things we ask your forgiveness and for your strength. Give us clear minds and open hearts so we may bear witness to you in our world. Remind us to be who you would have us to be regardless of what we are doing or who we are with. Hold us close and build our relationship with you and with those you have given us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Romans 2:12-16 – Doing, Not Just Hearing, Makes the Difference

If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ considers all these differences. (The Message)

Every single person on planet earth has been created by a good Creator in the image and likeness of God, without exception.

Because we are all stamped with the Lord’s divine image deep within us, there is a universally inherent sense of justice, rightness, fairness, integrity, morality, and love. Particulars of ethics may differ from culture to culture, yet all persons and societies have a broadly similar innate understanding of right and wrong.

Within the ancient Roman Church were a mix of Jews (the historical people of God who were given the law and the covenant through Moses) and Gentiles (non-Jewish persons). The Apostle Paul wrote his lengthy and probing letter to them because the two groups of Jew and Gentile were at odds with one another.

The Gentile Christians could not understand the Jewish Christian fondness and insistence on ancient rules and particular commands, and so, they looked down on their brothers and sisters in the faith as being hopelessly locked into outdated traditions and practices.

Conversely, the Jewish Christians could not understand the Gentile Christian affinity for a freedom that seemed to not care about the religious importance of food and eating, seasons and holy days, and outward signs of Christianity, and so, they tended to look down on their brothers and sisters in the faith as ignorant, immature, and in need of ritual practices.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

Romans 3:22, NLT

The Church back then was almost like putting a group of people with O.C.D. (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) with a group of people with A.D.D. (Attention-Deficit Disorder). At the least, it’s going to very interesting to watch them try to live and worship together; at the worst, it’s going to spark an all-out battle for supremacy.

Paul was intervening somewhere in the middle between the interesting situation and the pitched battles so that the Church would not turn into total war. The last thing he wanted was two churches: one Jewish and one Gentile. No, there is one church, just as there is one God. Paul was determined that these knuckleheads are going to have to learn to get along.

Since Paul himself was a Jewish Christian, he tended to get pretty testy with his fellow Jews. Although Paul often went back-and-forth throughout his letter to the Romans, addressing Jews, then Gentiles, he most often had more to say to the Jewish brothers and sisters.

And that is what’s happening in today’s New Testament lesson. The Apostle Paul is directing his words chiefly toward the Jewish believers. He is lifting the Gentile believers and placing them on the same level as the Jews. Although the Gentiles weren’t the ones who received the law, they’ve always had that law deep inside them.

God is not only the God of the Jews. He is also the God of those who are not Jews. There is only one God. He will make Jews right with him by their faith, and he will also make non-Jews right with him through their faith.

Romans 3:29-30, ERV

Not only ought the Gentile Christians to be respected because of their inherent sense of God’s law, but this also makes them accountable for their own words and actions. In other words, there’s no excuse for any sinful talk or behavior.

What’s more, the real issue isn’t whether one group has the law, or not. The rub is whether one actually obeys and does the will of God. It doesn’t matter whether one hears the law read aloud in a Jewish synagogue or whether one hears the law spoken in the individual conscience. All are responsible for acting on that voice and engaging in deeds of justice, peace, and love. All must connect with the stamped image of God within us.

I’m not sure what is worse: committing overt sins or observing the sin and doing nothing about it. Indifference is at the core of most sin – both for the perpetrator and the passive spectator seeing it. Each one is living against both their conscience and by what they’ve heard and been taught.

The Word of God has not been truly received until it is put into practice. This is a consistent theme in the New Testament: 

Jesus said, “The people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God’s message!”

Luke 11:28, CEV

Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirrorand forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget. (James 1:22-25, CEV)

Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing.

Profession of faith in Jesus means nothing without a practice of that faith.

Learning the Bible is useless without living it.

Acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up.

Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives. 

The danger is that we have the potential to deceive ourselves into thinking we are okay just because we know the right things and believe the right things. Christianity is a vital love relationship with Jesus, and, so, is not merely a matter of hearing and affirming orthodox truth; it also involves orthopraxy, that is, having right practice, the doing of truth.

Whenever the Gentile Christians in Rome refused to love the Jewish Christians, they were not hearing God and doing his will.

Whenever the Jewish Christians listened to law and gospel, but then had no intention of changing to accommodate the Gentile Christians, they were being disobedient.

And whenever we hear about how God forgives us in Jesus’ name, but then we insist on not forgiving another person, we are not being doers of the Word.

So, let’s take a lesson from the ancient Roman Church: Live by faith. Be attentive to all persons in the Body of Christ. Include them and care for them. Pay attention to God’s Word. Include it and engraft into your life. Because care of the Body and care of the Word go hand-in-hand together.

May the God who created a world of diversity and vibrancy,
Go with us as we embrace life in all its fullness.

May the Son who teaches us to care for stranger and foreigners,
Go with us as we try to be good neighbors in our communities.

May the Spirit who breaks down our barriers and celebrates community,
Go with us as we find the courage to create a place of welcome for all. Amen.