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What/Where Is Your Tent of Meeting?

Pentecost 13, Common Lectionary Year B

Exodus 33:1, 7-11

©2018 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

I know the ache
of vision that comes
in such fragments,
the terrible wonder
of glory that arrives
but in glimpses.
(“In the Cleaving: A Blessing” from The Painted Prayerbook, Jan Richardson)

I don’t know when or if you have sat
“face to face, with God,
and spoken as one speaks with a friend.”

I am not sure I have, if truth be told.
I find the image beautiful, intimate, compelling, enticing;
a couple of floor cushions, a hot tea, easy laughter,
conversation ranging everywhere with affable simplicity…
lovely… but no…..
I wish I could say “Oh there was that time when….”
I suspect that some of you may wish I could too.
After all, you ask me to pray for you, here on a Sunday,
and often, when the world is pressing in on you, or your loved ones,
you phone, or email, or drop by and ask to pray.
It comes with this job, of being Minister,
or to use that old fashioned word
the “parson”….to pray for you.

And I do, without hesitation.
I cast your prayers before God with my whole heart,
and with the conviction that they reach God’s heart.
But this “face to face, as with a friend” ? No.
That’s not how I’d characterize my conversations with God,
probably because most of the time I need God to be God-like
more than I want God to be my friend.

And this is a tension that is found right in this text.
You have Moses chatting with God his friend,
while outside, the people are bowing face to the ground, in awe.
The next episode in the story actually contradicts this one:
Then this chatty, friendly God, suddenly warns Moses
that he won’t survive looking
God in the face, and that he should hide himself in the cleft of a rock
while the glory of God passes him by!

That’s because the text as it reaches us is layered,
older and younger texts,
influences from different regions of the land of Promise
each with their own take on this relationship of mortals with their maker,
vying for our attention, our affiliation.
God is close by, God in the tent of meeting,
God in the circumstances of earth,
God speaking face to face as with a friend….the term is immanent.
But also,
God is vast, glorious, ineffable, fearsome even, awesome…. the term for that is transcendent.

Well which is it?
This is the wonder of Scripture;
that competing texts remain within the canon
to jostle with one another,
and with us….
They remind us it’s both/and.

Some of you nodded, yes, you have had those
friendly face to face conversations with God!
Your life depends on them, is enriched by them!
God companions your every waking moment,
hums when you sing, laughs at your joy….
and I love that you’re part of this community,
reminding us of this immanence, this closeness of God
to the everyday of our lives.

Others prefer that God be a bit less ordinary,
a bit more holy, a bit more ‘other’ than us.
After all, we sometimes need, the world needs
that power of God bigger than us,
that wisdom of God wiser than ours,
that love of God more faithful and robust than ours,
that grace of God more forgiving than our capacity
to forgive ourselves, let alone others,
that awe of God that takes your breath away,
drops you to your knees in wonder, adoration, praise,
thanksgiving, relief.….
Now, some of these moments I can attest to!
And when I turn to God in prayer for you,
this is the face of God I look for, and find.

And what happens in this text, in this book,
and in community, is that it all works together, side by side,
(sometimes not smoothly or easily),
and this relationship with God is the sum of all these parts:
a tent of meeting, a bended knee,
face to face, or face to the floor,
whatever it needs to be for each of us,
and for all of us together,
to help us open more to wonder and holiness,
to help us open more to friendship with God and one another,
to help us open more to God’s Dream for justice for others, not just us,
to help us open more to God’s healing,
God’s hope, God’s gift of life, in the midst of dying.
For God to be God.

Each of us has these, needs these, tents of meeting.
And some of us need to know what yours is,
in order to recognize our own, or create ones for ourselves.
It takes a community to be God’s people,
so let me ask you here, now, and invite you following worship
to fill out one of the ‘tent’ cards at the back, and post it onto the board,
so that we can meet God.
So, then,
Where do you meet God?
What is your tent of meeting? (encourage responses)
Is it here, this tent of a building?
This community of people?
Is it music? Is it silence?
Is it nature? A morning sunrise?
Do you find yourself closest to God in the thick of a throng?
Do you need physicality, pitching a tent, riding a bike, swinging a club?

What is your pillar of cloud that signals God’s closeness?
Is it the labyrinth you walk?
A candle flame? A rising star?
A special chair, or spot in your home?
A prayer shawl?

When is your time of meeting?
The moment of grace/gratitude before you eat?
The last moments before sleep?

Whatever it is, wherever, and whenever it is,
may your encounter with the Holy One
be a blessing on your life,
so that your life will be a blessing to the world.

Amen.

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