Staying Off the Mountain

West Side Moravian Church
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Pentecost, May 30, 2004

Full order of worship

Telling the Story

Following Moses

It was 6 weeks after we had left Egypt that Moses brought us to his father-in-law's home. Why were we here? And who was this Moses fellow, anyway, to be leading us to his father-in-law's land? Oh, I knew that he claimed to have a mandate from God, but Moses wasn't the first to make that claim and he wouldn't be the last, either. And Moses had told us that it was here, right on this mountain, that God had spoken to him. But, you know, this Moses had fled from a charge of murder. He'd been on this mountain because sheep tending was the best job he could get as an exile.

Wouldn't you have been a little suspicious, too, to find that the great leader who had come from exile promising liberation had in fact led you to the place where he had been tending sheep? And the first thing he did when we got here was to check in with his father-in-law.

If it had been anyone else, anyone but Moses, I would probably have just shaken my head and walked away. Most of the rest of the tribe would likely have done the same. But with Moses — well, you could never be quite sure that he wasn't on a mission from God. For all that he was an odd duck, there was no denying that powerful things happened around him. Not often good things; mostly, the things that happened around Moses were pretty frightening.

Remembering the Exodus

Take the time in Egypt, just before we left. The man comes back from the desert, does a little rabble-rousing, and suddenly the whole of civilization is tottering. How do you explain that?

Egypt was everything a civilized man could want. When Moses came preaching liberation, I thought that meant getting a bigger piece of the Egyptian pie. I wanted what the Egyptians had, not the exile that Moses had been living. But each time when he went to Pharaoh, that civilization shook to its roots. In the end, I went with Moses because I had become less afraid of the desert than I was of the chaos he was bringing to Egypt.

So we left Egypt, all of us, and Moses promptly led us into a trap. The army racing toward our rear and the sea blocking our path — I'd say we were justified in our second thoughts about Moses as a leader. There was no way out, short of divine intervention.

Let me ask you something: Have you ever lived through a divine intervention? It's not an experience I recommend. For us, well, we set off into the teeth of the wind, trying to manage the animals, the children, and the baggage. You wouldn't dare even to wish for the wind to slacken, for fear that the water would rush back over you. And when it was over, when we had escaped to the far shore? Dead bodies everywhere. We saw the power of God, and I would have been happy to stay far away from any more of that!

After that there was the desert. We were civilized people. We were oppressed, yes, but civilized, and we knew nothing about survival in the desert. We had problems about food and problems about water. And after that we had problems with desert warriors.

On the Mountain of God

Eventually, Moses brought us to this mountain where God is. It is a hard and broken place. At least, it seemed so to me. And frightening. The earth shook, the mountain smoked, the air thundered. Those who had lived in Egypt knew nothing of such things. I didn't understand why God would choose to meet us here. But then, our God doesn't seem to be very much like the Egyptian gods.

Moses alone walked up into the cloud at the top of the mountain. He warned us to keep our distance, not that any of us would have wanted to go up there.

Moses said he talked with God on this mountain. This must be true; we could hear the rumble of God's voice while Moses was away from us in the cloud. We couldn't understand the words as God was speaking, of course. We kept our distance, and whatever God said was lost in the echo off the mountainside. Even without the words, just hearing the voice of God set the children to whimpering and grown men hid inside their tents.

Except for Moses.

This Moses so often seemed a hesitant bumbler, and yet he walked right up the mountain where God is. What kind of person walks up to God? People often do dangerous things: They fight with lions. They jump over a deep fissure in the rock. But people think they have some control over their fate when they do things like that. When a man walks up to God, and even speaks in God's presence! Then he has nothing to depend on. Whether he lives or dies is not in his own hands.

Celebration of Pentecost

Today is the day when Moses came back down the mountain, carrying God's words with him. Every year since then we've remembered and celebrated. God spoke to Moses. Moses spoke to us. It is good to celebrate the fact that God had words for us and to remember that Moses went up the mountain where God is to bring those words down to us.

I'm glad that Moses brought God's utterances to us. I celebrate knowing what God said to us. But first of all I'm glad that it was Moses who went up to God and brought the message back down, so that we could keep a safe distance.

When we heard God's voice echoing down the mountain, I was one who was sure that Moses was dead. Who could stand and hear God speaking directly to him? I'm sure that I would have died of fright even faster than God could strike me down. What could it be like for Moses to have come so close to so much power … and survive?

For myself, I saw enough of God's power when we crossed the sea. I didn't need to see more of it in the desert, and I would surely have been happier never to have heard God's voice echoing down this mountain. But I give thanks this time each year that I never had to climb up into the cloud and hear God's words with my own ears.

What would it be like if God's power reached out to the rest of us and touched us all? What would happen to us then?

Sending the Saints

Acts 1: 6-8 and 2: 1-18

Hymn: "Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire" (by Charles Wesley) sung to the tune Antioch (arranged from Handel)

Romans 8: 6-9 and 14-17

Amen, Amen! Come, Holy Spirit!

Help us, guide us, strengthen and protect us.