A Worshipping People - text
A Worshipping People
A. Fear, shame and sin are common to humanity, yet there is a solution.
The dialogue was subtle, but then so often, so too, our hidden lives. A man has an affair. Exposed, caught, shame! And then, apparently forgiveness and reconciliation. Life is good. A friend to partner with and confess to. Someone to carry the burden, see him through.
And now, years later, the ghosts aren’t dead. He sees her face and wonders yet what might have been . . . .
Pig? Fool? Some may say so. Some may say, he’ll do it again. Can’t trust a man like that ever again. Was the hurt real? Oh yes. So maybe it’s a good thing that he lives with some left over shame. That will keep him on the straight and narrow, won’t it? Will it?
Let’s be honest, what tempts us once can tempt us again. I have a friend who smoked a lot of pot when he was younger. He’s given it up. Intoxication is problematic. He believes Ephesians 4 is true and helpful for his life and quality of life. For himself, his wife and children. Every time he catches a whiff, he’s tempted. So maybe a bit of fear is a good thing.
There are many things people do that are harmful and destructive besides cheating on a spouse. Many things. What’s yours? No don’t say it out loud. Let’s face it many sins, in the short term are attractive. A thrill here, a sensual moment there. The stuff of this world, food, drink, sexuality, finances are good. Overindulgence, misuse and abuse turns the goodness into chains.
So many of us live in an uneasy tension. Just like Jared. But friends fear is not a good thing. Living in fear and non-restorative shame or guilt does not liberate or maintenance good behavior. So, if you’ve come here today with the lingering guilt of un-confessed sin. Or if you’ve come with nagging fear that God is not who he says he is. If you fear that forgiveness is conditional, then God has a story for you. And the theme is summed up in one word: exodus.
Today is our last day with this Old Testament book. I’m going to miss it. Exodus is the freedom story that is still being played out. Our world is still touched by sin. Women and men still bruise and break their marriage vows; men and women still over consume drugs and alcohol; poverty strikes millions; AIDS claims thousands per day; in the western world disease stays comfortably ahead of cure.
No one is left untouched. Prisoners still require rescue; Fear, shame, guilt or pride continue to imprison and alienate. We live in a world deeply marked by pain. We feel it in our bones, do we feel it with our eyes and ears?
And into that God speaks a word: exodus, rescue, hope. As we saw the first 15 chapters were devoted to telling how God saw, heard and remembered his people to act. He calls them his son and brings them out of Egyptian slavers with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. There is no God like God and his freedom call cannot be quieted. God is calling a people.
Then we saw in chapters 16-24, that in giving the law, God gives gifts of identity and compassion. Good law improves the condition of people. Whether someone believes in God or not, the effects of his law improve their lives. Laws about life, and security and trust. These chapters taught us that life with God is a pilgrimage. God is forming a people.
And finally, today we’ll glance through exodus 25-40 and here we will see the final stage of God’s project in the Book. It’s not the ultimate end of God’s project with humanity, but it is the completion of the story line, that get’s repeated in Jesus’ time and is still being played out today.
In this stage, God is forming his people through worship. In all three stages God is primary, the mover, creator, caller and guide. And God is not done yet.
The exodus story concludes with worship. Because the biblical antidote to fear and shame is worship. Worship recognizes our realities and pushes us beyond them to hold onto hope instead of fear; freedom instead of guilt. God honoring, God centered worship does this. Let’s explore today’s text.
B. God frees then forms a people through worship.
Turn if you like to Exodus 24, we’ll read verses 1-11. Moses and the people are in the wilderness; they are aware of God’s presence. In chapter 13 we read that a pillar of fire and cloud accompanied them. A visible manifestation of God. Now, Moses is to go and meet with God to worship.
Three elements are involved: God, the people and a meal. But as we read, it was risky to get too close to God. God is holy, a consuming fire and people need protection at this time lest they be consumed. So God gives Moses a plan for a meeting place. It’s called a Tabernacle: a tent of meeting.
God designs it, and it’s beautiful. Woven tapestries, gold foil over intricate carvings, precious metals and stones. And the purpose is that this place of beauty would remind people of the beauty of the earth. The new creation to come. The tent sat in the center toward the back of a second structure called the courtyard. And in order for God to meet with the people and for the people to benefit, there was separation. The people were invited into the courtyard but only the priests could meet with God in the tent.
The balance of chapters 25-31 tell us about the different furnishings in the tent and courtyard. Then there is a pause. The people decide that worshipping God in God’s way wasn’t as attractive as worshipping God their way. Terrible result. Whenever people decide for themselves how to worship God, they ultimately worship that which isn’t God.
So is there a right way to worship? The way the tent was designed and furnished says, well yes, or at the very least there are important elements to observe.
Standing just inside the courtyard was an altar. And what would happen was that a given person would come at either regular times or in times of special need and he would bring some kind of animal, depending on the situation. He would come and stand by the altar and take a knife and then cut the throat of the cow or sheep or goat, whatever. The priest would take blood and pour it on the side of the altar. HE would then carve the animal and burn some of it. Some would be cooked for the priest and some for the man who brought it. He would sit and eat that sacred meal in the area.
Have you ever killed an animal with a knife? Have you ever butchered an animal you’ve lived with and then eaten it? Killing an animal is messy work. There is noise and blood and there is a sense that something is dreadfully wrong in it all. The animal has dies as a sin offering but it isn’t guilty! The worshipper comes with guilt and something else pays the price. Sin comes with a price tag, a big one. So too forgiveness. Blood is shed. A meal is eaten.
And for the people of that time that is where it would end. Forgiveness for past wrongs and failures paid in full, sealed with a meal.
But there was more going on in the tent than that. It just wasn’t for the average person.
The next object was a bowl. A large bowl for washing. The priests would use the water to ritually wash themselves before going into the tent. Inside the tent was a lamp. The tent had no windows, without it, it he’d be blind. The lamp was to burn continuously and the oil was to be a special fragrant blend. Think of scented oil at home stores or scented candles.
Also there was a table with bread on it. Bread of the Presence. God had been feeding the people miraculously. This was a reminder of his provision. Next, an altar of incense. Again of a special blend that was to be burned regularly as a reminder of prayer. The prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven.
Last, was the ark. This was a box of wood with special objects inside. Aaron’s walking stick, the tables of the law and some manna bread. And this box representing God presence among his people had its own room. It went behind the curtain. Even the priests couldn’t be too near God.
The arrangement of it all was deliberate and orderly. God is at the center of worship and along the way his people are asked to acknowledge their sin, wash, remember his goodness and provision, pray and then serve. Because that is what the priest’s duties were called service. The fruit of biblical worship runs through confession, repentance, forgiveness and celebration to service.
Exodus 40.1-33 tells us that Moses had everything built and set up and then something happens. God shows up. God descends the mountain and chooses to be with his people at worship.
Exodus 40.34-38 34Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
And so the book ends. But not the story. Maybe you caught hints in the imagery. Maybe you just expect this to go there.
The story doesn’t end in the desert. It finds fulfillment 1500 years later. When Jesus came to fulfill the goal of worship. Instead of a tent, Jesus substitutes himself as the meeting place. John says as much:
John 1.14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Instead of a tent that moves about, we beheld the man, the living Son who tabernacle among us. And he brought it all together in himself. Hebrews 9 tells us that in his life Jesus reinvented everything.
Heb 9 11But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Jesus stopped at the altar and gave himself. Jesus stopped at the bowl and told us to baptise. Jesus strode into the tent and revealed that he is the light of the world, the bread of heaven, the one who prays for us before and as we pray ourselves. In all of this the curtain it torn in two and the way is made clear and we can be in God’s presence to live.
Ephesians 2.14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,”
In Jesus we are invited into the beauty of who God is. As the altar, the cross, all sin is forgiven. Period. At the bowl we confess and are encouraged by God himself to believe that it really is forgiven. There is no good reason to hold onto guilt for confessed sin. None. A little bit of fear is not a good thing when it binds and destroys life. But that can’t be the end of worship either.
So worship has become what it always was a willing response to who God is, what God has done and is doing. In Ex 25.2 God through Moses asks the people to bring what they are willing to, so that the tabernacle can be built. Willingly, an invitation.
Rom 12.1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Willingly to join in what God is doing. And what God is doing, he’s doing through a people. We worship corporately, and we are called to act corporately in our world.
In exodus, the people are on the move: Moving from slavery to worship from serving Pharaoh to serving God; a people who follow a God on the move, in whose service true freedom and joy are found.
The tabernacle was a moveable tent; a MASH unit. A Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. God is on the move with his people and his goal is to bring restoration and hope. Are we in on it? Is that why we gather to worship? To be reminded of God’s plan for this world? That is God’s purpose in calling us here.
And that is why we eat the meal. Jesus is on the move with his people. Calling us to new life and to be new life in the world.
Hebrews 10 19Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The church gathers so that the body will spur one another on to live a particular way day in and day out.
These gatherings aren’t the end; they’re the beginning. They’re the start. They put things in perspective, they remind, they provoke, they comfort, they inspire, they challenge, but ultimately they are about the Eucharist. About these people in this place at this time being equipped to be a Eucharist.
The Eucharist is ultimately about what we do out there, in the flow of everyday life.
The church is people who live a certain way in the world.