Rev’d Jonathan Gale – Evensong
Psalm 33: 1 – 12
The Greatness and Goodness of God
1 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
2 Praise the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
4 For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
he put the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
Exodus 33: 7 – 20
The Tent outside the Camp
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. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” 13Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ 14He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’
17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ 18Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ 19And he said, ‘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. 20But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’
2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 18
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets,* came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that* was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
The lectionary sets Psalm 33 for this evening and verse 7 reads:
7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
he put the deeps in storehouses.
The job of capturing and storing is God’s, not ours. The ebb and flow of God’s tides is his business. But we are constantly trying to bottle God, label him and then dish him out like an apothecary who knows best what ails and what cures.
Someone once said, “God made man in his own image and ever since man has been trying to return the compliment”
Last week in the morning service I noted that we receive Christ by faith and that it is just as important to continue to live by the same principle: faith.
If we have been open to God to come to him for salvation, letting down our defences, placing ourselves completely in his hands; it is a seriously sad thing if that same attitude of complete dependence upon him is replaced with a certainty that reflects, our own very limited understanding of God’s nature.
If what began in uncertain faith then calcifies into a false certainty we are caught in a narrowness that reflects reluctance to ongoing open, vulnerable and teachable relationship with God. Inevitably we end up imposing our very limited ideas upon others. No wonder we invented the Spanish Inquisition.
How different is that from the glow of glory on Moses’ face after he had been in the presence of God, humbly seeking God in the tent of meeting. Moses had the entire corpus of Mosaic Law. He could easily have said, “Right, boys. We have our standing orders in great detail. No more need to bother God. Let’s get on and roust these Canaanites.”
But Moses didn’t. He sought God all the way and when he did so the Spirit of God descended on the Tent of Meeting like a cloud. The people saw it and bowed down.
When Moses emerged from God’s presence the people asked him to wear a veil for a while until the glory wore off and they could stand looking at him. Moses knew that it was only in close, faith-filled relationship with God that he could keep in touch with what God wanted and remain in a place of God’s blessing.
Now many, many years later Paul is speaking to the church in Corinth and he’s encouraging them with the fact that the ministry of the New Covenant has greater glory attached to it than that of Moses.
He says that the glory that was reflected from Moses’ face faded as time went by indicating that the relevance of the Old Covenant has faded. It is in fact a ministry of condemnation and has been set aside.
Paul points out that the ministry of the New Covenant is one of the Holy Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
But more so, it brings about transformation!
This dynamic, relevant, relationship-based New Covenant ministry is diametrically opposed to one that is what he calls, of the letter, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. This ministry does not condemn, it frees! It does not judge. It liberates. And it does so because it knows God is there and can be trusted to work things out without human intereference.
Moses, says Paul, wore a veil over his face. Not much transformation has taken place, says Paul. That same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, he says.
The Jewish people were stuck in a viewpoint that attempted to apply the letter of the Law of Moses to all situations. The Pharisees saw the Law as monolithic and surrounded it with a host of new laws to try and ensure that it was bolstered up and followed to the letter. It is useful to note that Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for them.
Here we are on the Day of Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is often described as living or moving water, an apt image in these dry spiritual times.
In Moses’ time the Holy Spirit manifested in a visible cloud. What do you and I do with the cloud of glory?
- Some no doubt sat in their tents when the cloud of glory descended upon the tent of Meeting as Moses prayed.
- Others stood outside their own tents and then bowed to the ground from a distance.
- But there was a third response, a response by a young man whose name in Greek is Jesus. We read in Verse 11, 11Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
The cloud has distilled into the dew and the rain, and the rain has resulted in flowing rivulets that turn to streams and rivers. The rivers are not static. They run where the lowest point is, the point of gravitational need.
These are the rivers of life. They are not dammed. They are not channelled, they are not drained through the filters of our own making and bottled for our dispensaries. They burst their banks, they bring faith, they bring freedom, they bring transformation. They bring life!
What is our response to the cloud of glory?