Reclaiming the wonder of God

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

Reclaiming the wonder of God

11/11/07

Exodus 34:1-10

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. 2Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” 4So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.

5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth 8And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9He said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

10He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

            I have always been a fan of science.  As a young man I would enjoy experimenting with things around the farm, mixing things to see what I could make, finding out what would and would not burn.  Science courses were my favorite in high school, biology, chemistry, and physics were among my favorite classes.  I even majored in a field of science in college.

            One thing that I learned about in college was the scientific method.  The scientific method is a way of deciding what is true and what is not true.  It goes kind of like this.  You make a hypothesis, which is really just an educated guess.  Then you run tests or experiments to see if your hypothesis is correct.  If the tests agree with your hypothesis, then you run more tests until you are sure that your original hypothesis is correct.  If the tests don’t agree with your hypothesis, than you can assume that your hypothesis is incorrect.  So if I have this ball, and I make the hypothesis that it will bounce, the test to see if I am correct is to bounce it.  If it doesn’t bounce, my hypothesis was incorrect.

            So that is basically the scientific method.  And the scientific method is how scientists determine what is true and what is not true.  We test and retest until we can prove something without a shadow of a doubt.  This is how rational people operate.

            Now some people would say that Christianity is irrational.  It is irrational to believe something like a resurrected Jesus.  It is irrational to believe in a God that created the world we live in.  It is irrational to believe these things because we cannot test them, we cannot prove them without a shadow of a doubt.

            Well I guess that makes me an irrational man, because I do believe these things to be true.  These things that we cannot prove to be true, these things that don’t make sense by our conventional wisdom, I believe.  Today I wish to reclaim something that this scientific/rationalistic world has tried to take away from Christians.  Today I wish to reclaim the wonder of God.  You see, there was a time when if we could not explain something, we would give credit to God.  If someone was healed suddenly from a deathly illness, we would say it was God.  But today if we can’t explain something, our society tells us that there must be a rational explanation for it or else it probably never happened. 

Why have we allowed society to explain away God?  Why have we allowed the world to tell us what is and is not true?  Today we are reclaiming the wonder of God and I want to look at three ways in which the wonder of God is present in our scripture for today.  1. There is the wonder of God’s being, 2. the wonder of God’s name, 3. and the wonder of God’s blessings.

The wonder of God’s Being 

            Our scripture for today begins with God telling Moses that he is to cut two tablets of stone like the first two and then God will write on the tablets what he had written on the first two.  What had happened to the first two?  Moses broke them.  They had gone through all of this before.  Moses had climbed the mountain, he had cut the stones, God wrote upon the stones what we commonly call the 10 commandments or the Decalogue.  And when Moses went down the mountain, he saw the people worshiping a golden calf.  That is when and why he broke those first two stones.

            So Moses has to take these two stones to the top of the mountain, and he has to do it alone.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to send up a younger man or to have someone else carry the stones for him?  Perhaps, but that is not what God had commanded.  In fact, no one else was allowed to come near the mountain.  The sheep were not even allowed to graze on the mountain when God had descended upon the mountain.  In Exodus 19 the people were warned to not even touch Mt. Sinai or else they would die.

            Why was it that the people could touch any other mountain, but not Mt. Sinai?  Was there something special about that mountain?  Well there was nothing special about that mountain in and of itself, but what we see is that Mt. Sinai is full of the presence of God.  And for that time when God inhabits the mountain, it becomes so holy that the people dare not even touch it.

            There is something so magnificent about God that we cannot approach him in our sinful bodies.  Genesis 33 teaches us that we cannot see God and live.  When God reveals himself to people, it is always in a veiled way, either through a burning bush or only seeing the backside of him like was shown to Moses.  There is this wonder about God’s being that we cannot understand.  He is so holy that we cannot see his face.  And even when Moses saw his backside, his face shone for days because he was reflecting God’s glory.

            Can we test this?  My hypothesis is that God is so holy that we cannot look directly at him.  No, we cannot test the holiness of God’s being.  So a rational person would say that we cannot prove that God is that holy, that perhaps the wonder of his being is really nothing at all. 

Call me irrational, but I believe it.  I may not have scientific evidence that says God is holy, that God is so great that we are only left to appreciate his glory and wonder.  But I have experienced God’s glory and I know that there are a lot of things that we cannot prove and there are a lot of things that we cannot fully understand.  That is the wonder of God.  I can’t tell you why we can’t see God and live.  I can’t tell you why the Israelites couldn’t even touch the mountain that God had chosen to descend upon.  The best I can do is to tell you that God is just that holy.  I cannot explain how or why, but he is.  We must reclaim the wonder of God’s being.  And I wish to tie this closely to the next wonder I wish to reclaim, the wonder of his name.

The wonder of God’s name

            If we look at verses 5 and 6 we find a strange couple of sentences.  And the reason they are so strange is because we butcher the Hebrew language sometimes when we translate it into English.  It reads, “5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

            Now most of our contemporary English translations have the word LORD written in all capital letters with the “ORD” part being a little smaller than the L.  But there are other places that Lord is written with a capital L and lowercase “ord”.  The reason for this is because they are translating different Hebrew words into the English.  The lowercase version is the word “adonai” in Hebrew.  This could refer to any old lord.  The lord of the house, a king, a supervisor of some sort.  But when you see the all capital letter version that is the name of God that was first revealed to Moses in the burning bush.  That is what we commonly pronounce as Yahweh, or others would pronounce it Jehovah.  The reason we don’t know exactly how it is pronounced is because the Jews would never say this holy name at its actual pronunciation was lost.

            In the 10 commandments we read that we are not to use the name of the LORD your God in vain.  In Hebrew is says not to take the name of Yahweh your God in vain.  And the Jews took this quite literally.  They would not say the name of God and so when they would read from the scriptures or talk about God they would replace the name Yahweh with the word adonai, or lord.  The name of God is so holy that they people would not even speak it.  There is something so wondrous about this name that the orthodox Jews today still will not speak or even write the name of God.  There is something so wondrous about the name that the translators of our Bibles chose to use the word Lord rather than the name of God.

            We need to reclaim the wonder of God’s name.  We live in a society that throws around the various names for God without even thinking about it.  Teenage girls that walk around the mall saying “Oh my God” at every cute purse they see are making light of God’s name.  Even Christians that rattle off the phrase “Praise the Lord” without actually praising the Lord are doing the same thing.  Found my car keys, praise the Lord.  Thank God I found a good parking spot at the IHOP yesterday when it was raining.  If we are really praising the Lord or thanking God in these situations, than I don’t have a problem with people addressing the one that they are praising.  But let us reclaim the wonder of a God whose name alone is holy.  If you say praise the Lord or thank God, make sure you are praising the Lord or thanking God, not just saying it out of habit.

The Wonder of God’s Blessings

            So we have this God of wonder.  A God so holy no one has ever seen him and lived.  A God so holy that even his name is holy and his name should be respected by all of humanity.  We have this God that science and reason cannot explain.  We have a God that we cannot prove by conventional testing methods.  And even though God is so great, even though God is so much more than a mere human being like you or me, because of God’s grace, God wants to bless those he has created and who have called him their God.

            We find in verse 10 that God is making a new covenant with the people.  God says, “I will perform marvels such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all of the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”

            This is a blessing from God.  It is not a blessing for wealth and land.  It is not a blessing for social status and fame.  It’s not a promise of a new big screen tv with surround sound or any of these physical blessings that we might think of.  It is a blessing by which God promises that he will perform marvels that have never been seen before on the earth and all of the people will see the work that God has done. 

But the point that I want to really lift out of this verse is the end of verse 10.  It says, “For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”  It doesn’t say that God is going to do an awesome thing for the people.  It says God is going to do an awesome thing with the people.  God is going to do these awesome and marvelous tasks whose likeness has never been seen throughout the earth with the people, through the people.  God is going to bless them by using them to do awesome things.

This God who looked out on the black night sky and hung the stars like twinkling Christmas lights was about to do awesome things through the people of Israel.  The God that made the waters deep and the mountains high was about to do awesome things through the people of Israel.  The God who led the people out of Egypt, who separated the water of the sea, who brought bread from heaven, and brought water from the rock was about to do awesome things through the people of Israel.  And my brothers and sisters, that same God is about to do awesome things with you as well.

We serve a God that is full of wonder, a God that we cannot fully understand.  But this I do understand about God, when God wants to do something we have two choices: either get on board with what God is doing or get left behind.

Now I know that God is working here at Staunton Mennonite.  God is alive and active here between these four walls and out in our community.  It is up to us to discern how he is working and to try to get on board with what he wants to do with us and in our community.  Like the Israelites, God doesn’t just want to an awesome thing for us.  God wants to do an awesome thing with us, through us. 

In verse 10 God says that it is an awesome thing that he is about to do with the Israelites.  And he goes on to tell them exactly what it is that he is going to do along side of them.  Now I wish that I could tell you exactly what it is that God wants to do with us, but I really don’t know for sure yet.  But I think that God wants to bring new people into this congregation.  I feel that God wants us to do awesome things in this community, to reach out to people that have maybe given up on the church.  I think God wants us to be an inviting congregation that will bring people of all ages and backgrounds, of all races and colors, all kinds of people together in a place where we can worship him together in community.  And if that is what God is doing in this community, in this church, than I am ready to get on board.  And I am ready to be awed by the wonder of God once again.

Brothers and Sisters, we cannot fully understand God.  And God will never stand up to the scientific method, we have no way to prove him by scientific testing or measures.  There is this wonder about him.  But rather than trying to explain every last detail about God, let us reclaim the wonder of our creator.  The wonder of his being, the wonder of his name, and the wonder of his blessings.

We cannot be sure why God would want to bless us, but he does.  He wants to bless us by working through us.  Call me irrational, but I am ready to let God do what God wants to do.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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