SERMON from 2-10-13: “The Case For Face To Face”

***adapted from a sermon idea found at http://www.homiletics.com

Exodus 34.29-35

29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two covenant tablets in his hand, Moses didn't realize that the skin of his face shown brightly because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw the skin of Moses' face shining brightly, they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called them closer. So Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32After that, all the Israelites came near as well, and Moses commanded them everything that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34Whenever Moses went into the LORD's presence to speak with him, Moses would take the veil off until he came out again. When Moses came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see that the skin of Moses' face was shining brightly. So Moses would put the veil on his face again until the next time he went in to speak with the LORD.

 

The Case For Face to Face

My grandma won a contest where the prize was an Apple iPad. The best thing about this is I get to talk to them via FaceTime – which is Apple's version of Skype (the video chat service). The newer iPad's come with cameras on the front and back, and you use mainly the front-facing camera – so that you can also look at the person with which you are conversing.

It's a fairly simple process – which is easy for someone of my age and ability to say. The first time I talked to my grandma using FaceTime, she couldn't figure out why she couldn't see herself in the little window they provide to ensure you are pointing your camera in the right direction. Within a few minutes, we were able to let her know that she kept placing her thumb over the camera.

Now, my grandpa did not have a problem with placing his thumb over the camera, though his camera operating skills weren't much better. Instead of covering the camera, he would frame his head in video window correctly. All you would see the whole time was the top of his bald head.

I love my grandparents. Hi, grandma and grandpa!

While all of that was very entertaining – and provides me with joy to this day – there isn't any substitute for seeing them face to face. For starters, FaceTime cannot deliver my grandma's beef 'n noodles, and it cannot replicate my grandpa's hugs. Nor does it truly capture the way my grandpa's face lights-up when Ella calls him “papa.”

Listen, I'm as big a fan as modern technology will ever have – but sometimes you just gotta be face to face.

Admittedly, this is a difficult thing to consider when one thinks about one's relationship with God. How is it best cultivated? How do you get closer to God? How does on get “face to face” with God?

As a pastor, I can say the easy things. I can tell you the things you already know. I can tell you the things that you've tried and failed at least a dozen times. That's no fun, right? How easy does it seem to say I'm gonna get out my Bible and read one or two chapters a night? How simple do we talk ourselves into thinking it is to start a simple prayer regiment? How elementary do we believe it is to say we are going to fast for a meal or two every once in a while?

How often do we fail, and how often do we beat ourselves up so much that we retreat from the idea of doing anything like it again – or anytime soon, at least?

Have you every given anything up for lent? We've had our successes and our failures, right? The idea of “giving something up for lent” is that – rather than fast the full forty days – we give up something for the entire forty days.

Since the Industrial Revolution, I would be willing to guess there are an infinite number of Catholics grateful that they can still eat fish on Friday. Can you imagine working 14 hours in a factory, without having had a significant source of protein?

The practice of fasting from…something…for a specified amount of time is meant to reflect our devotion to God in thanks for his grace bestowed upon us in the actions of Jesus during his passion – or death. “Jesus gave his life, can't we be bothered to give up our bedtime ice cream treat?”

Fasting is a spiritual discipline. Why do we call it a “discipline?” It takes a certain amount of will power to do this. In the midst of a fast, if you are feeling hunger pangs – or you are hankering for a Snickers bar, more likely – you rely on God, the work of the Holy Spirit, to bring you through. Instead of piling high that portion of mashed potatoes, you allow God to be your portion. You discipline yourself to rely more completely and fully upon God.

That's how you get “face to face” with God. We pray, meditate, fast, read. That's how we encounter God.

That makes this story of Moses just a bit frustrating for us.

I started my semester in seminary this week. I'm taking a class on the New Testament. Each time I take a class in the Bible, I run up against all the different people that study the Bible and all the ways in which they study it.

For the parishioner in the pew, the phrase “biblical criticism” might not mean anything to you. If it does mean anything to you, chances are the feelings you have about it aren't good. “Who's trying to criticize the Bible?” Luckily, this isn't what biblical criticism is about.

Just like literary criticism is the process of studying each aspect of a book, poem or other literary work, biblical criticism is about studying the different aspects of the Bible. Who translated Mark's gospel from the original greek? What translation of this particular greek word did they use? When was the text written?

Many of my classmates end up having a difficult time with biblical criticism. For example, sociohistoric criticism (essentially, criticism that looks at the cultural context in which the text was written) would tell us that Revelation was written to be understood as poetry and myth. Today, people like Hal Lindsay and John Hagee – and all the people who follow them – read it as they would a letter from Paul. When we have discussions online, their statements are “Why is this person even a Christian” and worse.

This criticism – for the rest of us – makes Moses' trip up the mountain to see God face to face a challenging thing around which to wrap our heads. In part, we feel this way because there are very few if no indications that this type of thing happens today. We don't have stories from our grandpa about the time he saw Jesus when he was chopping firewood. Oh, he may have been at a camp meeting or revival and felt “the spirit,” but nothing like the account we read about in Exodus. We have to display some actual faith if we are to experience the divine.

And that's what it's about. Will we suspend our disbelief to come face to face with God? We have no proof he is there. We have no guarantee that our efforts for the faith are for anything. We have no idea whether or not God is actually there to see us not eat that Snickers bar. That's why it's called “faith.” All we have is a hunch, a feeling, an inkling. So, for two-thousand years, we have sought to increase that faith by encountering – coming face to face with – God.

We don't have proof of it, but we know God's there. Moses' trip up the mountain – while admittedly difficult for us to fully process – teaches us what meeting God face to face can do for our faith.

First, this “face to face” time with God allows God to work within us. Of course, God can work on us without our permission and can work wonders on us, but meeting him face to face keeps us connected to the process. This allows us to work with God, and to not do so much catching up to God. Even if we do it out of some feeling of obligation – while he would rather it be a true desire – it connects us to God in a very special way. And when we are connected to God, we will be changed.

Second, it will give us the will to do what Moses did – go down the mountain and deal with the people. Moses dealt with a challenging group of people, but God called him to do it. He did it. Now, it could have been the “glow” that is said to have been on Moses face – after having confronted God face to face – that made it easier for him to do so, but we are called to the same thing. God calls us to go down the mountain and allow the work that God has done in us to work in the lives of others. When we bring others into the equation, it becomes an eminently more difficult task – but our face to face time should also work to prepare us for that task.

Lastly, Moses story teaches to go up and down the mountain – as many times as it takes. Moses meets God on the mountain, and returns to the people to share what God had given. We can't stay up on the mountain all the time. We can't just stay amongst the people. Moses found a balance, or was forced into that balance by God. We must strive for that balance.

So, we can meet God “face to face,” as it were, but it does help to do this whole faith thing with others.

There was a girl who was scared of the dark. While the moonlight spilled over the dark surfaces in the child's room, her mother began a thorough search of the room. “No monsters in here,” the mother shouted into the closet. “Not back here,” her mother said as she peeked behind the door. “Not down here,” the mother muffled from under the bed. Finally, the mom sat down next to the girl on her bed and said, “Sweetie, you know that God will protect you from any monsters in your room.” “I know,” the little girl replied, “but sometimes you just need someone with some skin on.”

We meet in community to be the support for each other, and meet God face to face when we can.

And thanks be to him for that.

AMEN.

 

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