Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Exodus 33:7 – 11a
The Tent outside the Camp
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tents. 11Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
1 John 1:1 – 5
The Word of Life
1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
God Is Light
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
John 21:19b – 25
19After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Jesus and the Beloved Disciple
20Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ 21When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ 23So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
24This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tents.
Rise and bow down? Perhaps in order to bow down you have to be standing up to start with, rather than sitting or lying down. I’ll come back to that.
We’re talking here about Moses. He would set off for the tent of meeting, pitched outside the camp, to worship God. When the people saw this they would emerge with their families and stand at the entrance to their tents.
Our reading says that 9When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses.
Then 10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tents.
This rising and bowing down business bothers me. Now for the life of me I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. The Israelites were doing this as a mark of respect; even more than that, actually, they were in their way worshipping, and they were doing so in family groups, which is all the more commendable.
But what bothers me about this picture is that they are so isolated from both God and Moses.
• The tent was divorced from the community 7Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp
• Which meant that their worshipping leader was separate from them when he worshipped God
• Worse still, they were at a distance from God
This is made all the more obvious when we read, 11Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
Does this mean God was not a friend to the people? Was God not intimately concerned about each one of them and their families?
You see, as I have often said, the Law of Moses was the essence of the Old Covenant and with its priests descended from Aaron (Moses’ brother) it tended to set up worship at a distance. It encouraged (unfortunately – because I don’t think this was God’s intention at all) a legalistic approach to worshipping God.
I follow these rituals and laws and God will be pleased with me. When people need adherence to laws and a system of sacrifice to please God, they themselves are removed from God.
This is why centuries later God speaks through Jeremiah saying “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31: 33)
There is a huge difference between respectful difference which is defined by separation on the one hand, and a sense that the principles of God are within you on the other.
If you like, the law written on tablets of stone on the one hand as opposed to the law written on the heart and mind on the other.
This is a major shift.
Another shift came with Ezekiel through whom God says, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
The important thing is that this is not really new. Many years earlier David had said Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10) The idea of intimacy is strongly there from early days.
What we find in the history of Israel is spiritual calcification – a hardness of heart – and legalisation of worship – and God is calling them back to intimacy.
What Jesus was doing was restoring the friendship with God that Moses had experienced. Moses, who eagerly walked to the tent of meeting and spoke to God face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11b)
That tent of meeting where Moses met was itself shut off from the most intimate part of its structure. A great curtain (called the veil) divided it from the Holy of Holies which only Aaron, the High Priest, entered once a year. That is why when Jesus was crucified we read in Matthew At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) There was to be nothing separating from God.
Jesus wants a friendship with you and me where there is nothing between: no person, no sin, no religious practice – nothing to separate us. In fact he told his disciples plainly in John 15 – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
This is why the first thing he says to Peter is “Follow me” (Mathew 4:19) Don’t stand at a distance. Follow me!
This is why he says after commissioning Peter to lead the church he says to him, “Follow me” (John 21:19b)
This is why in his last words in John’s Gospel he says again, Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ (John 21:22)
Don’t worry about this layabout John. You get up and follow me.
You see this is why I think that Moses failed the Israelites a bit. When a man stands up he’s ready for action. When the people stood up as Moses headed off for his cosy chat with God in the tent of meeting, the spiritual hunger in their hearts yelled out, “I want to speak to God too!”
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ (John 21:21 – 22)
God’s word to you and me today is this: Don’t hover round the entrance to your tent. Let Moses know that you are joining him and stride forward to greater intimacy with God.
Don’t worry about what other people are doing – you follow me!
The church may be remembering John today. That’s nice, but today we emulate Peter – Follow me! John may be described as ‘the beloved disciple’ but Peter, I love you, I have something specific for you
Ask God, this year, how he wants you to follow him. Make 2016 the year when your priority is to follow him.
Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ (John 21: 22)
O God, you have revealed yourself to us in your Son. Assist us to follow him so closely that we might grow to become more like him. Through that same Christ our Lord. Amen
We give thanks all who give generously of their resources to support the ministry at St Peter’s.