The Lord said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: “You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it. You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.”
Interesting things happen in mountains. I’ve been at Lake Junaluska with Tim. We hiked to this place we THOUGHT was Sam Knob but it was really Black Balsam Knob. There were no trees. It was 66 degrees. When we got back “down” to Lake Junaluska, it was 86 degrees. (Meanwhile, in New Bern it was 93.) Thunderstorms sound awesome in the mountain. One clap of thunder sounded like a machine gun. Thunder rumbles everywhere. On one side of the mountain it’s sunny. On the other side, it’s raining. Hard. As much as people say they just love the beach, I’m quick to tell them that when God came to the Hebrew slaves just freed from Egypt, it was on a mountain. Hebrew belief was that evil things came from the sea but it was from the mountain that God spoke.
Exodus 20 is the first telling of the Ten Commandments. There are two commandments that have the most press coverage: the one not to create images of God and the one about honoring the Sabbath. If importance were tied to length and explanation, first would be to honor the Sabbath and second would be not to make images of God. But when God recaps the whole thing (in today’s verses) it is to not make idols or images.
Perhaps the whole import of the Old Testament is that God cannot be captured by an image. In doing so, we have no power over God. We cannot hold God in our hands, we cannot manipulate God, we cannot hide God or even hide from God. Of the gospels that were written and vying for inclusion in the New Testament canon, only those gospels which did NOT have a description of the resurrection were included. It’s because no one was there, and despite the human desire to know JUST how it happened...we just don’t know. So any conjecture that Jesus was revived slowly or just up and popped out of the tomb or whether he was carried out and then returned from the dead...is just that; conjecture.
Even so, we try to capture God. We try to pin God down to a few concrete things. We try to make our faith a series of morals that fit us for salvation. We create unreasonable demands of God. We say God will save us from COVID but refuse to wear masks or stay away from others. We pray when someone gets sick from COVID that God will step in and heal them. But you know, the God that came to Moses on the mountains refuses to be pinned down or manipulated. As much as we would like to control God with the right prayers or the right actions, it just isn’t going to be. God is a God of our hearts...and it is there that we will do what we have to do...and it is there where God will judge if we’ve loved the way we’re supposed to love.
God is love; his mercy brightens
All the path in which we rove;
Bliss he wakes and woe he lightens;
God is wisdom, God is love.
O God: may we not so much ask you for relief as to ask you for strength. Amen.
Pastor Rick Moser