Psalm 99:5; Exodus 33: 18-23
The holiness of the day
Our lectionary text for today tells us about Moses wanting to know God approves of him. At least that’s how he spins it. Maybe after so much time in the desert, Moses wants to be reminded that God is not all in his head, that he hasn’t made this entire journey up. As long as I have known this text, I have always liked it very much. But I never really stopped to think why I like it so much. In some ways it is odd. God is willing to show part of God’s body which is strange and alienating because God does not have a body. You cannot capture or define God. God is beyond all seeing, feeling, touching, except for Jesus of course, but Jesus was active for just several years and the people who would have a chance to see and touch him were limited to, say, the population of a small city. This all makes this event so unusual, so palpable. I think mostly it is endearing. God by God’s nature is both glorious and invisible. If God is anything we think it would be mysterious. But that great mystery according to our faith is not indifferent, but also loving. Moses presses the point. “If I find favor with You as You have told me, God, then please show me. And if as You say Your presence goes with us, then show us, for without Your presence we can’t go.” Not Moses’ exact words, but you get the idea. So here we have a situation where God’s love overcomes God’s mystery. The love wins out, although it is a complicated matter. God’s glory and God’s face cannot be seen. It is so powerful that would wipe out anyone. It is like flying into the sun. But God comes up with a solution: Moses can see the back of God. But the whole thing can happen only in passing. God passes by. Whooossssh. In this moment God passes from mystery to visible, from the Eternal One to human form, and that’s of course the exact point the Gospels make in the coming of Jesus. This is the endearing part: God so wants to please the people God loves so much. It is an act of extreme intimacy. It is the intimacy not only God craves, but also humans. We seek it in so many ways, in relationships of all sorts. But so many things get in the way: the body, sexuality, embarrassment, shyness. And years of emotional baggage. No wonder people are so close to their pets. Pets seem like intimacy experts. Of course they are not.
And here is the crux, friends, I think. The holiest moment happens in the coming together of the human who is at full stretch and God reaching down, almost trying to break out of God’s being. It is as if God is constrained by God’s own greatness and wants to break loose. Well, maybe I’m reading into it. Yet maybe Michelangelo had this in mind in the meeting the finger of God and the finger of the human on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome. If you go to the Vatican museum, you wind through all these rooms and porticoes full of renaissance statues of nudes. They want to slow all the visitors down, keep you from getting to that ceiling, because there would be too many people there otherwise. People can’t wait to see God’s intimacy with people and then they get there and there is this vast painting but it is all just about those two fingers touching. Just a few square inches. That’s all. On that huge canvas. But it’s holy and the visitors know that. That’s why they are there, at least most of them, perhaps without knowing
We’ve talked earlier how nothing seems sacred these days. It is the age of reality television after all. But then our thoughts haven’t been sacred for a long time. Humanity in its ugliest and vilest just jumps off our screen on a daily basis. We see no holiness there. But you could point at the megachurches on tv and say: what about that? But there is no holiness there. It seem to be more about marketing and money and the cult of the pastor. It’s veneer. Once in a while the true face of the preacher will become known and it turns out he’s not so holy after all. No the text in Exodus has it right: it is the very human Moses stretching toward God and God reaching down that’s holy.
Friends, we cannot make the world holy. But we can make our day holy. We can start with our day, every day, and take a crack at it. We can start by stretching and trying to reach our true potential as a human being. Stan Padilla, a Native American leader and artist, talked about what Native Americans instinctively know: the sacredness of the everyday. He told us to know how important that is. He said we should try everyday to be a complete human being. This includes kindness. He calls it “seeing others with kind eyes.” Friends, we cannot wrap our hands or our brains or our hearts around the whole world. But we can start with our day and try to make it a work of art.
Poet Mary Oliver write in “Why I wake early:” Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who make the morning and spread it over the field and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety–best preacher that ever was, dear star, that just happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warm touching, to hold us in the great hands of light–good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness. (Mary Oliver, Why I wake early, Beacon Press, 2004.)
Friends, we can build sacredness into our lives, moment after moment. It is how we become fully human and make the world holy again. Maybe we then can create places of holiness beyond ourselves and allow God to reach down and make holiness come alive in ever widening circles in this nation and beyond once again. May God give us wisdom.