I don’t know if you read along with the church’s lectionary, or if you even know what it is, or where to find it. If you’re interested, I can send you the link.
Today there is an Old Testament reading from Exodus 24, a liturgical Psalm, number 134, and a Gospel selection from John.
Let me read the Exodus passage for you:
“Then [God] said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.’
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant, that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” (24: 1-11)
The Exodus passage shares with us a most ancient tradition. When we read these words, because they sound so strange to us, so foreign to our understanding of God, we are reaching back into the earliest days of our shared Jewish/Christian faith. We’re watching it begin to form.
You know when telescopes look out into the universe, the farther away the light source, the older it is. Light takes time to travel. It’s fast, really fast, 186,000 miles/second fast. But it still takes time.
The light from the sun, which is 93 million miles away, takes about 8 and half minutes to reach earth. The sun could be exploding right now, and we wouldn’t even know it, well, at least not for another 8 and a half minutes.
And when telescopes look at distant stars and galaxies, they’re seeing light from the past, sometimes billions of years in the past.
When we hear stories like the fragment shared in Exodus today, we’re reaching back to the very beginning of faith, the beginning of how people in our tradition thought about God. These fragments are our telescope into the past. And by understanding where we came from, we can better understand where we are and hopefully where we’re supposed to go.
The relic of a fragment that I’m talking about is the picnic with God on Mount Sinai. Instead of prepping by making potato salad and iced tea, Moses prepares basins full of the blood of sacrificed animals.
Half he pours on the altar to God as an offering of life-blood. The other half Moses sprinkles over the people to sanctify and protect them, “offerings of well-being to the Lord” it says.
The sacrificial death of these animals seems to appease God because the 74 elders up on Mount Sinai see God in His heavenly glory, and then it is written, “God did not lay his hand on them.” Those are strange words. It seems that God holds back His anger?, His disgust?, with these mortals. He doesn’t lay His hands on them. He doesn’t harm them.
It is only at a safe distance that the 74 elders picnicked with God. They must have kept a wary eye on their God. This is what it meant to fear the Lord. It wasn’t only reverence. It was fear. God’s holiness was so other than our mortality that to come into the presence of the divine was life-threatening. God seems a little bit repulsed by humans.
Moving from this strange relic of the ancient past, let’s now share the Gospel:
“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” ( 21: 1-14)
Here we have another story of a picnic with God. Scholars don’t know where this Chapter 21 came from. They’re pretty sure John’s Gospel ended originally at the end of Chapter 20. Read it for yourselves and you’ll hear the ending. It’s obvious. But someone thought more needed to be said and they added Chapter 21.
It begins with the story of the picnic with Jesus. There’s a lot going on in this story, but I’d like to look at it from the perspective of the last picnic-with-God story we just heard from Exodus.
Jesus shows up casually on the shore. The disciples at first don’t even know it’s the risen Jesus. He must not have a glowing appearance. He must look like one of us.
When Jesus performs the miracle of the great catch of fish, they realize it’s Jesus back on shore. Well, if it’s Jesus I better put some clothes on, thinks Peter. God can’t see me naked. That’s about all the preparation there is.
Jesus has already got some breakfast cooking on the fire. He doesn’t want to embarrass His friends so He tells them to bring along some of their fish too. And then the risen Saviour and these seven fishermen eat together, sitting together around a charcoal fire on the beach, sharing one another’s food, and as I imagine it, laughing and telling stories.
The once fearsome God of that picnic on Mount Sinai has become the friend Jesus. The scary holiness of God has become the holiness of a Saviour who is like us and who loves us. Our image of God has changed from the fearsomeness of the Lord to the nearness of the Lord.
This is the progression of faith that we see right on the pages of Scripture. This is the direction in which it continues and will carry us forward. Worship, religion, spirituality, church are about bringing God and us into a closer, more intimate relationship. That’s why we’ve gathered this evening. To share a mid-week moment with Christ and with each other. Both are holy communions.
In closing, I turn to the prayer of the Psalmist:
“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,…
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord.
May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.” (134: 1-3)
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