Monday, October 1, 2012

Where God's Patience and Presence Have Prevailed

The book of Exodus ends with the completion of the tabernacle's construction. I've often thought that this was a really anti-climatic ending to such a marvelous book. How is it that this book that begins with the mighty work of God in Egypt, the very salvation of Israel, ends with the assembly of a tent? It has taken me preaching through the book in its entirety to realize how fitting an end the construction of the tabernacle actually is for this grand narrative. Some very important themes which have run the length of Exodus find their culmination in its final verses. 

God's Patience: The grace and patience of God have been on display from the beginning. We might have thought that after God exercised tremendous power and might in delivering the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt that they would have been eternally grateful for all God had done for them. Instead, what we have seen over the last several weeks is a story filled with grumbling, complaining, a repeated lack of trust, and ultimately idolatry. However, in each instance we also heard of a God who repeatedly responded with patience and provided deliverance time after time. To be sure, the golden calf was nearly the end of that patience but even in that instance God was patient enough to hear Moses and ultimately be persuaded by him. Now God's patience is on display once again as God has renewed the covenant with the people even after their act of idolatry and continues to journey with them. 

God's Presence: God's patience at this point in the narrative is primarily manifested in God's continued presence. The whole of Exodus has been a story of God's increasingly intimate presence with God's people. In the beginning of the story, God seems distant and un-involved, allowing the descendants of Abraham to be oppressed and mistreated.  But God is not so removed that the cries of the people go unheard. God manifests his power in Egypt in marvelous fashion and brings the people out of their slavery.  However, this deliverance is really more means than end for God has not only delivered them from their slavery but for life lived in the presence of God. So God not only delivers but also brings the people into covenant and gives them the Law to teach them how to live and ultimately makes the remarkable promise that God will dwell right in their midst. That promise of God's presence with the people is now fulfilled in the final verses of Exodus as the construction of the tabernacle is completed and the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle. 

Israel's Transformation: Both themes above intertwine with another. Throughout this story, we've been waiting to see whether or not God's patience will ultimately pay off. Will Israel become the kind of people among whom God could dwell or not? For much of the story it seemed hopeless. It seemed that the scars of Israel's oppression and slavery ran too deep. They were too abused, too beaten by Pharaoh to ever really be a people capable of trust in an all-powerful God. It seemed their collective imagination was so hopelessly crippled by the propaganda of the empire that it would never be anything other than a factory for golden calves. 

But in these final chapters of Exodus we are given the first hope that perhaps Israel's future will be shaped by something other than the chains of its past. In the construction of the tabernacle there are hints that perhaps Yahweh's patience and presence have finally began to turn the tide against the lingering effects of Pharaoh's abusive power. For in these final chapters we see the community of Israel come together to construct not an idol but the tabernacle precisely as the Lord has commanded it down to the very last detail. We hear of a people once disobedient now freely working together to fulfill a common purpose. We hear that rather than making ungodly demands of their leader, Aaron, the people now acknowledge that Bezalel has been especially gifted by the Spirit for the tabernacle's design. We see a people once enslaved now working together to make a place where the very presence of God can dwell among them. 

Its not a bad picture of the Church when you think about it. We are a people among whom God's dogged patience has finally began to prevail; a community where the constant inundation of God's grace is starting to overwhelm the abuses and pain of our past. And as a result, we are beginning to see a differently reality, we are beginning to trust, we are beginning to respond to that grace and participate in the work that God wants to do among us. Although we were once slaves ourselves, now we are a people working together by the power of God's Spirit, each of us with our distinctive contribution, to become a place where the very presence of God can dwell. 

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