The “Behind” of God

Worship on the Lord’s Day
10:00 am       22 October, 2023
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia     Vocalist: Lynn Vaughan
Elder: Iris Routledge

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship
L: Who made this beautiful day?
P: We believe that God, the Creator, made this day –
L: God made this day so we can rest, and reflect, and enjoy;
P: God made this day so we can open our eyes and see beauty,
L: And see pain, and see opportunity,
P: And see hope.
L: So let us go into this day with our eyes and hearts wide open,
P: And let us worship God.

Opening praise: Lord, I need You

Prayers of approach and confession

Almighty God, as we gather in Your name, we are filled with awe and wonder that You love us and have called us to be Your people.  We indeed have no higher calling than to offer the worship that belongs to You, O God.  For You and You alone are God, and worthy of our praise.   We want to worship You with our whole lives, Lord; not just Sunday by Sunday, but day by day; so that others will see and know Your glory, grace and love through us.

Loving and Merciful God, as we bow in Your presence we come with the realization that Your giving to us knows no ending.  And yet, Lord, if we are honest, we will confess that we are hesitant, sometimes even resentful, to give back to You.  With our money, with our time and with our resources, with our Sunday morning, we are stingy and withhold the best of what we have and release to You only what is left over.  And yet, You have blessed us in abundance.  Everything we have and enjoy is a gift from You.  And so we pray and ask You to forgive us for our selfishness.  We pray that You will help us to be as willing to give and share as we are to receive.

Gracious God, we thank You that Your mercy is as endless as Your gifts to us, and so we pray to You now and ask forgiveness for all the ways we have sinned against You and each other.  Hear us, Lord, as we pray in silence to You.  (Silent Prayer)

Loving God, we give thanks that You hear all of our prayers, whether they are spoken or unspoken, for we pray them all in the name of Jesus our Saviour and our Lord. Amen.

Response: We come to ask Your forgiveness, O God

Assurance of God’s love

The Holy Spirit enables us to receive the good news of Jesus Christ and to repent of our sins. When we hear and respond to the Gospel and turn to Christ, we are assured that we are forgiven of our sins.  Thanks be to God! (Living Faith)

Musical Offering: Lynn and Binu

We listen for the voice of God

Children’s time

Response: Jesus loves me (373)

Story: I invite the children to come to the front.

Well, good morning!

Have you ever been tricked by somebody? Yes? No?

Everybody gets tricked from time to time.

There’s a story about when people were trying to trick Jesus. They were trying to get him in trouble no matter what he would say. So they asked him this question about paying taxes and Jesus said: “Well, give me a coin. And they handed him a coin. Their penny looked like this.

See? It was kind of like our coins. Not, not very different. There’s a picture of a lady on this side and there’s a picture of Caesar on the other side and it says Caesar here and it says Son of God there.

So they handed it over to Jesus and he took it.

Jesus said: “You want me to pay taxes? Whose picture is on this?”

And the tricksters said, “Well, Caesar’s picture is on it.

So Jesus said, “Well then give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s.”

So here’s the lesson in that story: ”Pay your taxes.” But there’s a follow-up question, isn’t there.

Yeah, you know what it is.

If we give unto God that which is God’s, then what is God’s?

I think Jesus would have said “Everything.”

That’s a very different story, isn’t it.

If we get money from grandma or grandpa or from your cousins or a birthday party or somebody gives you a gift. We have a responsibility to share a little bit of that. But most importantly, we have a responsibility to remember whose money it really is.

Because there is nothing that exists that doesn’t already belong to God.

Prayer: Our God, we thank you for our families. We thank you even for the government systems in our world as long as they’re functioning right. We pray that we would know that what we have is from you nd that we could share it because of that.

The Lord’s Prayer (535)

Transition music

Song: For the healing of the nations (736)

Today’s Message

Scripture reading: Psalm 99 and Exodus 33:12-23

Response: Glory to the Father

Message: The “Behind” of God

Some time ago I was reading John Shelby Spong’s Book Rescuing the Bible from the Fundamentalists. Spong is a great intellect, a previous Bishop of the Anglican (or as it is called in the United States the Episcopal Church). His departure was mutual in the end but forced as well, to be sure. For a time Spong was the go-to guy for CNN or the History Channel whenever Easter or Christmas came around and they asked “What really happened”, and so brought in the most liberal pop theologians they could find as those programs always do. He does represent an extreme perspective as evidenced by his case which threatened to remove him forcibly from the church office (which was in the end, never to be).

Now just so we are clear, Spong denies a literal interpretation too every single portion of the Apostle’s creed (which was written VERY specifically for the purpose of exposing those who were not “orthodox”.

Spong has called the substitutionary atonement (the idea that Jesus takes our place on the cross as “an example of divine child abuse”. Spong is a provocateur. His books are challenging, blunt and rude. I disagree with about 90% of what he says and I just love him. In any case, I came across this section where Spong lays down a challenge to his readers saying that there are a lot of verses in the Bible that you will absolutely never hear a sermon on (that’s been honestly written). According to Spong, most ministers are too chicken to point them out and most congregations are too unprepared to hear them anyway.

Well, I’ve got news for John Shelby Spong. That’s just my bag. I happen to like the very same verses Spong calls “texts of terror”. One of the first sermons I did here was on a psalm where the writer calls out for the blood of his enemy’s infants. Last year we did a Bible study where several readers preferred not to read the assigned verse out loud and most people snickered in surprise at the graphic details the scripture has at times. Sometimes it’s an “R” rated book people. Even today orthodox Jews aren’t allowed to read Song of Songs until they are at least 13 (and then it’s only males that are supposed to read it). Lucky for you today’s verses aren’t all that risqué. Still one of them makes Spong’s list of verses he says no minister will ever honestly preach on. It’s our reading from Exodus 33 and really, it’s not that scathing. It just might not be exactly what it first appears to be.

The truth is that this verse has caused some confusion at times. Here’s a good part of the problem. If you would pick up those pew bibles and find Exodus 33:11 and read this with me. In the pew bibles, it’s on page 80 in the Old Testament. Now let’s take a look at verse 11 first.  “11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Now just jump down to Exodus 33 Verse 20 with me. Just down a little bit on the same page. It says, “20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Now at first, it seems that we’ve got a bit of a problem here. Two verses basically right next to each other disagree with each other. One says Moses speaks face-to-face with God, the other says nobody can do that. To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a “to-do about nothing”. The book of Leviticus spends chapter upon chapter describing the rituals done in the “tent of meeting” where vs. 11 (Moses talking face to face) takes place. The “Tent of Meeting” or the “Tabernacle” as it’s sometimes called is actually the original Temple for the Hebrew people. Because they had no land of their own and they had no permanent temple. Instead, they had a cloth-tent version so it could be moved with them in the desert. It existed in three distinct sections.

The outer tent, the inner tent and the Holy of Holies. The outer tent was an open space and contained a sacrificial alter.

The inner tent contained the Golden Lampstand, the Table of Showbread and the Altar of Incense. The Holy of Holies was where the chest of the Arc resides. It contained the 10 commandments as well as Aaron’s staff which was used at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. Here these were kept and no person was allowed entry into this space. The idea was that the Shekinah (Glory of God) was present somehow in the Holy of Holies and that God sort of sat on the Arc.

But the Holy of Holies was behind a large dividing wall; the inner tent (was where Moses went) and was filled with the smoke of incense intentionally “just to make sure he couldn’t see God”. The whole point of the alter of increase was to make sure it didn’t even happen accidentally.

In short, no ancient Hebrew would have taken this line (that he spoke “face to face” with God) literally. Moses was in a different room and the one he was in was filled with smoke so he couldn’t see anything.

Instead “face to face” was meant to be a figure of speech.

But with all that said, that’s not really why Spong thinks I won’t preach this text. See there is something else odd about it.

With the rise of conservatives in the Western world, it’s fair to say that bible translators often tone down or selectively (and very carefully) choose their words when translating certain text in order to avoid a backlash. Specifically with respect to translations intended for the U.S. and Canada a number of – I guess – “slightly off colour” allusions in the bible were … toned down for more sensitive ears. The original Biblical writers however are not toned down at all. In all truth, the Bible… it’s gritty. In fact, the New Testament form of Greek (Konie) was a kind of street Greek or slang; the kind of talk you might hear in an alleyway or ancient market. It’s almost like the New Testament was written in graffiti.

One great example of the grittiness of the Bible comes from Isaiah 6:1. Most of us here know at least part of this one. We often use these words on Communion Sunday, or we sing the words. And I am sorry you are never gonna look at communion quite exactly in the same way after this one. It says “Holy, Holy, Holy the Lord God Almighty” But it also says “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated high upon the throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

While Isaiah is explaining the Glory of God to his Hebrew listeners, he uses a common phrase in Hebrew to describe a man’s… “virility”. In English it doesn’t really come across but the allusion in Hebrew is pretty undeniable. Isaiah is making a reference to extraordinarily large genitals (which must then be covered by a “large train” for his “inner coat”). Modern commentators generally give a more word-for-word rendering of this verse rather than translating the expression itself and thus making the verse less clear and somewhat confusing. And so it remains, “I saw the Lord seated on the throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe (most people not knowing what really means) filled the temple.” Technically it’s an accurate translation of the specific words used and let’s face it… less people get offended that way. Isaiah though is particularly “colorful”. In chapter 16 he says his guts “sound out like a trumpet”. For some reason, Isaiah loves to talk about bodily functions.

Another good example can be found in Psalm 78:66. It states, “and he [The Lord] smote his enemies in their hinder parts” KJV Now there’s a term in English for smiting someone in their hind parts don’t you think?

Anyway, the point is that the language of the Bible is not always quite what we make it out to be. And sometimes when we try to see things so simplistically and so literally, we can actually lose what is really being said.

In this story of Moses and God – Moses asks to see the “Face of God”. He’s asking to know God; to have a personal conversation with Him like never before; to understand Him. Moses says, “Show me you’re Glory” Let me know the Mind of God. Moses says something simple and yet arrogant. And yet he says just what we have all said to God at one time or another. Exhausted from his work and the world around him Moses says, God, Let me see where you’re going! Show me you’re here. “Show me your face”.

Moses says in Verse 13 “Show me the way that I may know you, that I may find grace in your sight” And God responds just as he does to us. Exodus 33:14 “And God said My Face (or “My Presence”) is with you, and I will give you rest.” In short Moses says, show me your face and God says, “I’m right here!” Everything is alright.

But (once again – like us) feeling as if he is still missing something Moses cries out to God again feeling slighted somehow, “Now show me your glory!”

And God Replies “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my (And this is another one of those things…) (you will see my-) ‘back’; but not my face.”

Now the word here for “back” is אָחוֹר ‘achowr. It has a verity of meanings and implications. Usually the word means back, the back side of something, or back parts. Many commentators however believe that the word is often used to describe a person’s buttocks.

Now let’s not deny the comedy here. God may have invented mooning.

Moses asks to see the face of God and God tells him “My presence is already with you” Moses asks to see God in all His glory, and God says, “You can’t see my face, but you can see my behind if you really want.”

Now to be fair, there is another word for buttocks in Hebrew it’s שֵׁת  (Shathah) (shA-th) and I actually disagree with Spong and other commentators on this. I don’t think God moons Moses. I think in this case it means something a little different – “back parts”. For me, God is essentially saying. “You can’t see my face, but I’ll show you my back. You can’t see all of my presence right now but I’ll show you where I’ve been”.

All around the world, people everywhere are looking for the face of God; for where He is, for where He’s going: for what He will do next: all the while wrongly assuming that he is absent; somewhere else… when really his Presence is already here right in front of them.

The Face of God isn’t always easy to see. Sometimes like in the tent of meeting it’s covered in smoke. But it’s there. It’s in the booming clouds, in the opening of a flower, in the smile of a child, the falling leaves, in the comforting words of a stranger. It’s at the top of Mt. Sinai but it’s also here in the prairies. It’s in the Temple and the Tabernacle but it’s in the pews of this church and at the tables in the great room. It’s in the kind word and a gentle embrace ‘case its most fully found in the Body of Christ. You may not always be able to see the presence of God with you – but it’s there – and if you really need a good look, don’t look for what God will do next in your life, don’t demand to see his face… you might get mooned. Instead, if you need a good look at God, just look back on your life, at where God’s already been.

Song: Sing a new song unto the Lord (422)

We respond to serve God: Our time of giving

Reflection on giving: Jesus reminds us to give to God the things that are God’s. God has been so generous to us, that truly we owe God our lives. Let us return to God what God has shared with us, so that God’s goodness can spread in the world in the name of Jesus.

Praise: Praise God from whom all blessings flow (830)

Prayer of Dedication

God of abundance, we bring what we have to share, a portion of your goodness to us. Bless our gifts and our lives, so that generosity and justice will join hands, and your goodness touches those in need.

Prayer of gratitude and for others and ourselves

God of all creation, we praise you for your goodness and give thanks for your mercy.

We give thanks that through Christ Jesus you hear us when we call to you, and that you delight to listen and help us in our need. We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who beckons us toward faithfulness and leads us along true paths. We are grateful for the guidance you give us daily through the scriptures and in prayer.

You, O Lord, care about each of us and give us your time, for that we give you thanks and praise.

In your mercy, hear us now as we offer prayers for others…

In this time of global unrest, grant us wisdom and courage to seek what is pure and true and just….Bless our world governments; direct their ways so they govern with justice and fairness.

Bless us with hearts that care for others as you care for us.

Challenge us to use our wealth to bring healing and freedom to other people. Give us wisdom to use our gifts wisely in all that we do.

We pray now, O God for those known to us who are in need. We pray for who are ill or in hospital – bring healing where it is needed, relief from suffering, and comfort where there is fear. We pray for those who are walking alongside one who is ill. Give them strength and courage to meet the challenges before them. Lord comfort the comforters among us.

Song: Will you come and follow me (634: vss. 1, 2, 4, 5)

Sending out with God’s blessing

As God sent Christ to us, so Christ sends us into the world.  We are to go forth into the world and proclaim Christ in word and deed, knowing that God goes with us, this day and always. May you know his glory and may you see his footprints as you look back. ((Living Faith 9.1.1)

Response: God to enfold you

Music postlude


Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.