Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Monday, August 6, 2012

God goes camping!

There are times when life sucks
We feel abandoned or rejected
Horrible things happen, such as yet another mass shooting
We are hurt, scared, angry, alone

And so we wonder….Where is God?  Sometimes God seems, so big.  So vague. So inaccessible.  God must have felt that way to the people of Israel, stuck there in the desert on that Exodus.  Oh they had that pillar of fire.  That cloud…  But that is not exactly warm and fuzzy.  They did not really, I think, have a sense of anything about God other than, this great other…..

But in this section of Exodus, God changes the game…Because God has the people of God create a place for him to be present in the midst of the people.  A place where the people can meet God

He has them put up a tabernacle -- Essentially a large tent….
So God goes camping, tenting with his people..

And in that tent we have the ark.  Which was, essentially, a dwelling place (symbolically) for God in the midst of the people.  And on that ark he has them place what he calls a “mercy seat”, which is his way of hinting at HOW he was going to be present for the people.

Now remember, this is the God who has been present for the people in a very different way
God has been present as a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire
God has been present as big, and powerful, and mysterious, and yes, scary
But now we have something different.
God in a tent

This story seems important to me, because it marks a change in the relationship of the people with God
Before the tabernacle, and the ark.  God is present.  But he is present only in that big powerful way….  But now we have something different.  God as immanent.  Close.  Perhaps even humble.  It is not that the powerful side of God goes away.  We still have the cloud and fire thing… That is still present

But now we also have this…
A place in the midst
A place where at least some of the people can go
A place of mercy

This is important.  Someone once told me that their big problem in terms of faith was their concept of God.  They saw God as some sort of vague being, some great “other”… and kept picturing tapioca pudding.  The big guy in the white robe with the lightening bolt isn’t much better.

God, the infinite one is hard to connect to.  But when we understand that there is this other side to God...  the immanent.  Immanence is not the opposite of transcendence, it is the correlative.  Immanence and transcendence are two sides of the same coin....If transcendence is the infinite God, Immanence is the intimate God.  This is the God who is present, and whom we “experience”,

This is the God who tents with his people
Who becomes present at the seat of mercy

We see the same dynamic, the same dichotomy in the first chapter of John…
In the beginning was the Word.  And the word was with God
And the Word was God….

The beginning of John is all about the transcendent God
The God of power….

But then, a shift
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us

God as really big
God as intimate

In Jesus God was present
And it gets even better.  In the Spirit God continues to be present in an even more intimate way. God doesn’t just “tent” with us.  God “tents” or dwells in us, in the person of the Spirit.

The images John provides are startling

The presence of the intimate God, as “ a spring of water gushing up to eternal life
                The bread of love,
                                The true drink
                                                The light
The presence of God
                Truth giving

God is present
God is present in power
God is present in mercy

What does that all add up to?

What does grace add up to?

When we experience God’s presence and love.  When God is present, we are changed…

Shane Claibourne tells a wonderful story of a family that experienced the presence of God, and its impact.  This family once met a young woman who had found herself 6 months pregnant, and homeless.  They invited her, because God touched their heart with compassion, into their home.  It was such a beautiful experience that they decided to continue living together to help raise the new baby girl while the mother pursued her dream of going back to school to become a nurse.  They have been living together as a family for a decade now.  The baby is now a teenager and the mom a nurse.  A heart wrenching twist to the story is that the wife of the couple is now very ill with multiple sclerosis, but now the nurse living in her home is caring for her, just as she had cared for the nurse….

This is the divine gift that comes when the transcendent God of power becomes intimate, comes into our hearts.  And does the work of grace.

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