Tuesday, 11 October 2011

God's backside

Back in May I went to a 'festival of preaching' where one of the speakers was Anna Carter Florence. If you've never heard of her, find some of her preaching & read it - she's fabulous! She was telling us that in order to preach you first have to let the Word 'pass over your body'. Since then, I've tried to preach on whichever text has gripped me most (even if sometimes I've felt I had to wrestle hard to get some sense out of it).

So this week my text has to be
Exodus 33:12-23

What is this all this about? Moses is having a wobble - and you can't really blame him. But it seems like God, too is having a sulk and is ready to give up on his people altogether.
At one level this feels very removed from our experience of God - we don't chat with God & insist that he acts like we want & then demand 'show me your face'. But we do know what it is to go through times when we are not sure whether God is with us or not. And perhaps, like Moses & the people of Israel, we know how it is to forget the good stuff that has gone before -the times when we know God has been with us - when we are faced with a difficult time in life and a sense of God's absence.
And what do we feel we get when we most need to know God with us? God's backside.
Well, thanks, God.

But to Moses, God makes it clear that he is not refused the sight of God's face because God does not care enough to bother - God in fact goes to a lot of trouble to show himself, but to spare Moses too much. It is not good for us to see too much of God with us. What would life be like if we knew always, exactly what God thought of what we do - if we lived face-to-face with God?
What if we could feel every disappointment we cause God? What if we knew exactly what God wants of us - if we could see each step of our life before we lived it? Life would be almost unimaginably different. Somehow life is only life if we are allowed by God to find our own way - to know something of God with us, but not to be so stifled or so controlled that we cannot really live at all.

But this doesn't mean that God doesn't care - he knows Moses by name, he allows Moses to plead for God's help & presence, and he shows him his back - not because he has turned him back on Moses, but so that Moses can freely follow.

Probably by the time this makes 'first draft' rather than initial thoughts, I'll have taken out references to God's backside, for fear of offending people so much they stop listening. Watch this space...

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