Sermon: "God is Pursuing a Relationship with You"

Second in the "Experiencing God" series.
Delivered March 5, 2006 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

Theme: God pursues a love relationship with each one of us. He knows us and he wants us to know him. There is nothing more important than being able to submit to God, agree that our lives need to change and to turn our lives over to him.

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Sermon Text: Exodus 3:1-10 and John 17:3

Well today we are going to take a look at the life of a person who lived over 3,500 years ago. A hero of the faith, someone who is not only well known in Christian churches, but also Jews recognize him as the founding father, following Abraham in their faith. He is someone who is also recognized and respected by Muslims. We are going to look at the life of Moses and we are going to take a look at the life of somebody who lived 3,500 years ago because his life illustrates something that we need to grasp now if we are going to live life the way we are supposed to live.

Moses was born into slavery. His people were oppressed. In fact, things had gotten so bad because their numbers were increasing as a people that it came to the point that the king of the nation, the pharaoh in Egypt decided that they should kill all male children at birth so that the Hebrew people would not become more numerous. It's a terrible circumstance to be born into and yet God preserved Moses' life and God preserved his life by using the family of the pharaoh; the same person who made the law to kill these children. God uses his very family to protect Moses; a person that God was going to use later to overthrow Pharaoh's power over the Hebrews. God was that much in control. It was invisible and nobody knew that God was doing it, but it was real and it was happening and that is what we looked at last week.

This week we are coming a little bit later in Moses' life and a lot has happened. Moses grew up and he was a young adult, maybe really not that young, he might have been up to 40 years old at this point and Moses at this point is aware that his people had been in slavery and he is aware of their situation and in Chapter 2 of the Book of Exodus it talks about beginning in Verse 11, it talks about his willingness to come in and do something about this terrible situation, so he sees an Egyptian person abusing a Hebrew, he steps in and he ends up killing the Egyptian. A little while later he sees two Hebrews in a fight; again Moses viewing himself as a sort of person that because of his privilege he maybe could do something about a bad situation. Moses comes in and tries to intervene and one of the Hebrews said, "Who made you to be an authority over us. Aren't you the guy who killed the Egyptian?" And so he is rejected at that point and he realized that the news about what he did had spread and that his life was in danger.

The pharaoh does find out and wants to kill Moses and so Moses leaves Egypt and goes to a place called Midian. Now Midian is not one of the things that would be on the average map. It's a place north of the Arabian Peninsula where a lot of nomadic tribes lived in Moses' day. Moses goes in to the area of Midian and again Moses finds himself in this rescuer mode because he sees some young women who are trying to bring their flocks to a well. Some other shepherds come and push them away and Moses steps in and makes sure that these young women, their flocks get water. Again, Moses is willing to lay himself on the line for things. And through that interaction Moses gets a connection to a family in Midian and settles down there. He settles down as an alien in a foreign country and he stays there quite a while, about 40 years. Forty years when the pharaoh dies and things get worse for Israel, living there in Egypt, but 40 years for Moses that is just life as usual, shepherding sheep, raising kids, having family fights, developing new aches and pains as he gets older.

One day he wakes up expecting another day; just another normal day. He is in the wilderness on the other side, quite a distance from where they normally live on the far side of the desert and he's over there because you constantly have to keep the flocks on the move. If you are feeding sheep and goats in an arid environment you constantly have to keep on the move to find new pasture. And so, there is Moses expecting a normal day when this is what happens. We are going to go into Chapter 3 of the Book of Exodus and begin at Verse 1.

Let's pray. Lord, as we read this word, as we think about it together, may you open our eyes to whatever we need to see personally in our relationship with you and help us to respond with the obedience that comes through faith, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

"Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-why the bush does not burn up." When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"

And Moses said, "Here I am." "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God."

Now there are a lot more verses in this section of this interaction at the bush, the burning bush, but I am going to look at some of those next week, as we examine how God caught up Moses into his purposes so that Moses joined God in what God was already doing. But this week we are just going to focus in that early part because there is another story going on in the Book of Exodus. Moses sees something unusual. Moses is not out there seeking God. Moses is in his normal routine and it's God that does something unusual to meet him. He speaks out of the bush and he says, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." This is the God that Moses had heard about as a Hebrew. This is the God that Moses had respected and here God is, there to meet Moses in a direct encounter.

Moses had an allegiance to God already, but Verse 6 of this passage seems to indicate that this particular kind of meeting is a brand new thing for Moses and this closeness to God is a new experience because it says in Verse 6, "When he heard that this was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God." We've got to remember that phrase; that "he was afraid to look at God". This was all new to him. Sure, he knew about God, but this closeness to God, this intimacy, this directness is brand new and its threatening and frightening to Moses. Moses receives something here because God is taking the initiative. Real God speaking to a real person and God is the one that initiates this. Moses is in the middle of the desert on day 14,600 of his life in Midian and he expected that day 14,600 was going to be just like day 14,599. What makes it different is God does something. God is seeking him and meets him in the desert.

God pursues a love relationship with each one of us. He knows us and he wants us to know him. This is all over the scriptures. This is the first point that I want to make; is that God pursues this love relationship with us and its everywhere in scripture. In the Book of John, 17th Chapter, Jesus is praying for people who will believe in him. He is praying for us. And this is what he prays, Chapter 17, Verse 3:

"Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God in Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

This is eternal life that they may know you; relationship language. When Paul prays for the new Christians in the churches in Ephesians, Chapter 1, Verse 17, the same kind of language comes up again.

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better."

Relationship. God has given the spirit and the spirit gives wisdom and power; for what? Not first for service, but so that we may know God better, because that's where life is.

It's in the Old Testament as well. I will just pull out one verse. From the Book of Isaiah, where God is speaking to Israel and talking about how Israel is a special people called to tell the world what God is like, that God is at work in the world. And this is what he says:

"You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no God was formed, nor will there be one after me."

We are witnesses and God's servants so that we may know God and believe God. It's everywhere. If you take the whole Bible and divide it up by its themes, one way you can divide it up is by saying relationally Genesis 1 and 2 is humanity created in right relationship with God. Then all the rest of the Bible through the last few chapters of the Book of Revelation is God dealing with the broken relationship between us and him and then Revelation, Chapter 19 through 22 is the restored relationship between humanity and God. So the Bible is dealing with God restoring a relationship between us and him. God is pursuing a love relationship with us. It is filled with stories of people in relationship with God. It's not just laws and dates and battles, it's people; people who came to know God and through their lives got to know God more and more deeply. Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets. Whether you know of these people from your own experience of reading the scripture or not, trust me on this, all of these people have a relationship, a living communication with God.

In the New Testament is it the same way; Mary, Peter, Paul, John; we look at their biographies and we see what's written in scripture and we see this progressive relationship with God. It's everywhere there. God wasn't just an idea for these people. God was a person. God is a person that they grew to know better and better and that God calls us to know him better and better. Now I know a few of you are sitting out there saying, "Okay John, tell us something we don't know already." I mean this is basic stuff. But before I move on to something else a little less basic, I've got to ask you a question back. Yeah, it's basic, but do you live your life as if a relationship to God is the central thing in your life? Do you live that way? Because that is what it is all about. It's actually experiencing God. It's not just having some kind of right theology about him and that is going to shape our lives a certain way.

Creation itself is not an accident and creation of the universe around us is not a place just for God to show off creativity. Creation is a place that God formed so that there would be a place where we could actually have a relationship with him. Creation has that purpose. I have already mentioned that the Bible, it's purpose is relational between us and God. God is speaking to people. God working through people. God seeking people. God rescuing people from an emptiness of living without him. And so, when we add our story to all of these stories, what does our story say; the individual story of our lives, what does it say? Is it continuing the story that God is central to life? It's all well and good to talk about how important God is. It's an entirely different thing to live that way.

One of the most obvious things about us as a church is that we are a very active church. We love activity and action. We support 70 missionaries, most of whom we have sent out. We are connected with all kinds of ministries in the Baltimore area so that there are things for us to do. And then there is the News and Views; loaded--heavily loaded with activity; so much so that I confess I don't always read it all and people find out about that. "Didn't you see it in the News and Views?" I should have. Just the back page. We could hire somebody just to attend the things on the back page. We love activity. We are the same way in our personal lives. We work hard. Our children are in all kinds of events including things that are after school and we move them to all of these after school events and activities. We volunteer for things; even our vacations are busy. And even retired people in this church are busy; some of them are busier than when they had jobs. There is nothing wrong with being busy, but we have to ask the question where does a relationship with God fit into a life like this?

Exodus is an action-packed book. It's the kind of book that we should like. It is filled with burning bushes and hail, plagues and frogs. But there is another story hidden right in the middle of it. There is a story embedded in the Book of Exodus about a relationship between Moses and God. I want to fast forward now another 40 years in Moses' life. Mose is quite an old man at this point. Lots of things happened in his life. God has used him in all kinds of ways and we run into a description late in Moses life that describes the whole focus of what's been happening in his life. I want to go to Exodus 33 and I am going to begin at Verse 7.

"Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside of the camp some distance away calling it the tent of meeting."

Notice the name of the place, a relational word; the tent of meeting.

"Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go into the tent of meeting outside the camp and whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrance to their tents watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his own tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aid Joshua, the son of Nun did not leave the tent."

Now here is something that became a pattern in the life of Israel over a period of years and years, the tent of meeting, where everyone could go and meet with God, but with Moses something special happened; a sign of the cloud, the pillar would come over the tent and then Moses in there would meet with God face to face; as a person meets with his friend. And this describes the pattern of what Moses' life had become; intensely relational, face to face with God.

Now this passage goes on because Moses is having a conversation at this point with God about God's presence.

Moses says to the Lord, "You have been telling me, Lead these people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, I know you by name and you have found favor with me. If you are pleased with me teach me your ways, so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."

The Lord replied, "My presence will go with you and I will give you rest."

Then Moses said to him, "If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"

And the Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

Moses is not just concerned that the people have victory after victory in the future and inherit everything that God has told them they would inherit, Moses is distinctly concerned that God's presence remain with his people. God's relationship remains intact with his people. What makes them unique is not that they have certain rituals and not that they live in a certain geographical place, but because God is present with them; relationship.

Now what follows this section is one of the most amazing words, amazing sentences in all of scripture. Remember Moses was the one who hid his face because he didn't want to see God; here is Moses years later having been in that tent of meeting again and again, and so this same Moses says this in Verse 18 to God. "Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." Something has changed in Moses. A relationship with God over these years has not resulted in Moses being casual about this and saying, "Oh I meet with God face to face." This relationship has deepened more and more and now Moses is at the point of life that he wants an even deeper relationship with God, so much so that in the following verses God says I can't give you too much of that because it would kill you. This is what Moses is desiring in his heart at this point. God is seeking a relationship with us.

In a few minutes, we are going to be sharing in communion and before we do that at the end of this message I am going to ask you to take a few moments to silently confess your sins and to silently reflect on what is it; what is a proper relational response for us to make with God?

Now if we are brand new in our relationship with God, maybe God is still just an idea that God is the God of our father and mother maybe, but not our God. If that's where we are in life, then there is nothing more important that we can say to you than that you respond to this invitation that God gives to relationship. There is nothing more important than being able to submit and agree that God is God and to agree that our lives need to change and to turn our lives over to him.

But if we have already experienced that relationship and are now walking with God and has responded again and again, there still might be that reality in our lives that we feel like something has to still change. We still can make it a higher priority. We still need and desire more.

Either way, Lent is a good time to do some of that sort of reflection. Now you have some blue cards there on the inside row; if you would take those and pass them across the aisle; we are going to ask you to do some reflection and if you want to write down what your response is, then when we have communion in a few minutes there is a basket on the way up to taking communion where you can drop those cards. Then we take communion and then there are also offering baskets for our offering. It's all a part of one experience of offering ourselves, receiving what God has to give and then offering from our money and possessions. The same will be true in the back. If you want somebody to pray for you by name, you can always put your name on it or you don't have to put it in at all if that's not what you want to do. But we are called to respond to God and Moses is our model.

Moses was never satisfied with where he was with God. This is the secret to his greatness; anybody can be passionate under 30. I mean there is all kinds of energy for issues, for injustice, for people, for relationship, infinite energy it seems, but then we get a little bit older and life gets more complicated and you have kids and all that and you start to get into a certain groove and then you get a point of light where things can even top out or even go into a spiral and a crash. That didn't happen to Moses. Moses was passionate even as an older person and why? Because he was passionate about his relationship with God. "God, show me your glory." This is what God always wanted in Moses. This is an important theme there. In the midst of all of the things that God is doing in Israel, what God is doing in Moses' life as a servant. What God always wanted in Moses was a heart in love with God; a heart that passionately cried out to God to know him better. And so now in these moments of silence, we need to ask ourselves a question; is that the cry of our heart? Let's take a few moments of silent confession, silent reflection and silent commitment.

© 2006, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145