That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: First Chronicles

The Armor of God: Sermon for Proper 16B (Pentecost 13, 23 August 2015)

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A sermon offered on Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B, Track 1, RCL), August 23, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are 1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; and John 6:56-69. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Ancient ArmorIn the Education for Ministry program, the first year is spent reading the Old Testament, parts of which can be as dull as dirt! There are those long lists of genealogies, long catalogues of tribes and families, the lengthy and detailed instructions for making and erecting the tabernacle that the Hebrews carried along with them in the desert and, of course, a description of the Temple which Solomon built. In our EfM group, we sort of got into a habit of not reading those parts, of just acknowledging they were there but sort of skipping lightly over them. But it is there, earlier in the First Book of Kings from which our First Lesson is taken, a description of the building in which, in today’s lesson, Solomon places the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon’s Temple (the “First Temple”) was massive; it wasn’t really very big, but it was solid and substantial. It was built of huge blocks of solid stone; it had support beams made of whole cedar trees; it had immense fixtures and columns made of solid bronze and gold. In a word, it was a fortress!

But, as Solomon says in his public prayer in today’s Old Testament lesson, God doesn’t really need a fortress: “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” Earthly buildings cannot contain God and God certainly has no need of the protection massive stone walls can provide.

No, the Temple was not built for God; the Temple was built for human beings, for the Israelites. It is the place which serves as a focus for their devotion to the Almighty; it is the place where they will offer sacrifices and toward which they will face when they pray. So Solomon beseeches God, “Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.” And Solomon goes even further and asks that God also hear the prayers of foreigners: “Likewise . . . when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you.”

The Temple was an earthly reminder of God’s Law; it was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, called the footstool of God by David. In the 28th Chapter of the First Book of Chronicles, David calls his court officers and his designated heir, Solomon, to an assembly and says to them, “I had planned to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building.” (v. 2, NRSV) He then gives his plans for the Temple to Solomon. In Psalm 132, the Psalmist (traditionally David) makes a similar reference when he says, “Let us go to God’s dwelling place; let us fall upon our knees before his footstool.” (v. 7, BCP)

The lexicons tell us that uses of this term footstool are metaphorical and symbolic of subjection to God as universal Lord. However, the term always reminds me of my grandmother Edna Funston who was a nurse. She and my grandfather lived only about four blocks from the hospital where she was employed, so she would walk to and from work everyday. After spending her days, like most nurses do, on her feet, she would walk those four blocks and then sit for a while with her feet up, resting them on a footstool that sat in front of her favorite chair. When I hear of God’s footstool, I picture God putting his feet up after a long walk. It reminds me of that passage from the Book of Genesis in which Adam and Eve, having violated God’s instructions by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” and hid themselves. (Gen 3:8) It reminds me also of that passage in the Prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8)

The Temple was an earthly reminder of God’s Law which requires God’s people to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Several generations after the Temple was built, God’s people were doing anything but . . . and the Prophet Isaiah portrayed God as less than pleased by that. Isaiah prophesied:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle. (Isa 59:14-17)

Several centuries after Isaiah, the writer of the Book of Wisdom would offer an apocalyptic vision of the last judgment in similar terms:

The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor, and will arm all creation to repel his enemies; he will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and wear impartial justice as a helmet; he will take holiness as an invincible shield, and sharpen stern wrath for a sword, and creation will join with him to fight against his frenzied foes. (Wis 5:17-20

The Letter to the Ephesians (which claims to have been written by Paul but is generally believed to have been written by one of his disciples shortly after his death, perhaps from notes drafted or dictated by Paul) makes use of these ancient armor and weapon metaphors in a new and startling way.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the audience to whom this letter was initially addressed, the church at Ephesus, a small body of believers living as a minority in a hostile environment. Their commitment to Christ set them conspicuously at odds with their neighbors, perhaps even with some in their own families. They were regarded with suspicion, even considered troublemakers and atheists, by their neighbors because they refused to join in the municipal cult of the hunter goddess Artemis whose worship was an important commercial enterprise for the city. They were regarded as troublemakers and atheists by the Roman empire because they refused to burn incense and pay tribute at the altars to the emperor. It is likely that they had had more than one encounter with the police, who were not merely the police; they were the Roman army.

So when the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians borrows the armor imagery of Isaiah and the Book of Wisdom, although “the concrete details of the armor are biblical, not Roman, the audience probably envisaged the fully armed Roman soldier when they heard these words.” (NIB, Vol. XI, page 460) It is as if someone today were to write to a congregation in (for example) Ferguson, Missouri, and say: “Put on the bulletproof vest of righteousness and the night-vision goggles of truth. Take up the automatic rifle of the Spirit.” And that is how we need to hear these metaphors, too – as shocking and disturbing and counter-cultural. It violated their, and should violate our, expectations of what a comforting pastoral letter should say, and thus their eyes were opened, and our eyes should be, to the darkness of the present reality.

Of course, whether one uses the ancient weapons of the original or modernizes the imagery, the use is metaphorical. As the Letter reminds its initial readers and us, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the [world] powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” This is not a call to armed revolution; it is not a call to man the barricades and overthrow the government. Although this text has been used shamefully and wrongly to justify violence and oppression, it is not a call for the followers of Jesus to become some sort of Christian ISIS.

No! We are not called to actually take up arms. The armor we are to don is that which these metaphors represent: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, holiness, impartial judgment, and the word of God (which is not the Bible, the Word of God is Jesus!). We so by constantly preparing ourselves. Earlier in the Letter, the writer admonished the Ephesians to utilize their gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to build up the church and equip one another for the work of ministry (4:11-12), to sing psalms and hymns together, to pray and give thanks (5:19-20). The same is true for us; “believers [today] must hear sermons, read scripture, talk with other Christians, engage in regular prayer, sing the praises of God, and so on.” (NIB, pg 403) Our formation as members of the Body of Christ, our preparation to withstand the “powers of this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil” must be continuous.

We may skip over the details of its construction because we know that God didn’t need the Temple, but the truth is that the Israelites did. We may choose not read the full description because we know that God doesn’t need a fortress, but the truth is that we do. The Stoic philosopher Seneca taught that the soul of a wise person is fortified by reason and secure virtue. He wrote, “The walls which guard the wise [person] are safe from both flame and assault, they provide no means of entrance, are lofty, impregnable, godlike.” (De Constantia Sapientis [On the Constancy of the Wise Man], 6.8) We need that spiritual fortress!

In the same way, God really has no need of the metaphorical armor and weapons described in Isaiah, the Book of Wisdom, and the Letter to the Ephesians, but we do. Clothed with “the whole armor of God,” we will “be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” and fed with “the bread that came down from heaven . . .[we] will live forever.”

Let us pray:

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, [protected by your armor] from all things that may hurt us [and nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son], that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect 2 [with addition], BCP 1979, pg. 228)

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

“Joshua” Is Not a Plan for Government – From the Daily Office – July 26, 2014

From the Book of Joshua:

Joshua summoned all Israel, their elders and heads, their judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years; and you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. The Lord your God will push them back before you, and drive them out of your sight; and you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you. Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left, so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations; and as for you, no one has been able to withstand you to this day. One of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Joshua 23:2-11 (NRSV) – July 26, 2014)

Map of Palestine 2007For the past several days, the Daily Office Lectionary has required us to read sections of the Book of Joshua detailing the conquest of the land “from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west.” I have dutifully read those lessons every day. I have been deeply troubled by them and by the suggestion (which I have seen some make on Facebook and other online sources) that the “history” set out in the Book of Joshua demonstrates God’s approval of the conquest of “biblical Israel” by the modern state of Israel. I have avoided writing anything about these lessons in these daily reflections on this blog.

I’ve decided I cannot be silent any further. I must protest such a gross misunderstanding these stories and at least two distortions on which it is based.

First, the modern state of Israel is not the ancient nation of Israel. One cannot say that strongly enough. The modern state of Israel is NOT the ancient nation of Israel. That ancient nation ceased to exist centuries ago; its people were dispersed through several other nations — this is what the term “the diaspora” refers to — its government collapsed — its territory was absorbed into a series of empires.

The modern state of Israel was created in 1948 following the campaign by modern Zionists, themselves mostly secular rather than religious Jews, for a Jewish homeland. That campaign pre-dated the Nazi holocaust, but the holocaust gave the Zionist program added urgency. In November 1947, bowing to intense lobbying by Zionist organizations and after years of terrorist activities by the Jewish Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi organizations in Palestine, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The final vote was 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions and 1 absent. European Zionists welcomed the plan; the Arabs of Palestine rejected the vote immediately, but their objections were ignored.

In a civil war extending from 1947 into 1949, the modern state of Israel was born. Nearly one million Arabs lost their homes and become refugees in other parts of Palestine or elsewhere in the Arab world. The new government of Israel shortly passed two laws: the Law of Return (1950), which grants citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world who immigrates to Israel, and the Entry into Israel Law (1952), which prevents the return of Palestinian refugees.

This is the modern state of Israel. It is NOT the ancient nation of Israel. There is no biblical mandate for the modern country’s existence, nor for its laws and actions. It is a modern political reality which the world, including the Arab world, must accept and with which it must deal, but it is not a God-endorsed, biblically-mandated reality.

The second distortion is the idea that the Book of Joshua is history. It is not. Technically, it is what is known in literary scholarship as an etiological myth. These are stories which provide a mythological explanation for certain events and customs (or natural phenomena) the origin of which has long been forgotten or is not understood. Other stories of this type are the Greek Illiad and Odyssey, the Irish stories of Cúchulainn, or even the American folk tales of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. Joshua is the ancient Hebrew equivalent of Achilles, Odysseus, Cúchulainn, or Paul Bunyan.

The Book of Joshua tells us something about human beings, something about human understandings of God, something about how humans behave in community (and in war); it tells us something of what some of the ancient Hebrews believed about their origins (which is partially contradicted by what others of them believed and is recorded in the Books of Chronicles). It tells us nothing, however, about actual historical events, nor about God’s endorsement or condemnation of them or of any of their enemies.

To suggest that modern governance of territory in the Middle East should be based on (or understood through the lens of) the Book of Joshua makes as much sense as suggesting that the modern governance of Greece should be based on Homer’s poems, that Irish foreign policy should be evaluated through the Cúchulainn stories, or that American environmental policy should derive from the tales of Paul Bunyan.

These are spiritual stories, not political ones. These are myths, not histories. These stories reveal truths, not facts. They should trouble us, perhaps inspire us, not direct us nor determine modern national governance.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

WYSIWYG World – From the Daily Office – January 10, 2014

From the Letter to the Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Colossians 2:16-17 (NRSV) – January 10, 2014.)

Green-on-Black TextI sometimes wonder to what extent Paul, as an educated Jewish citizen of a Greek-speaking empire, was schooled in the classical Greek philosophers. Had he read Plato’s Republic? Was he aware of the conversation portrayed in Book VII between Socrates and Glaucon in which the allegory of the cave is laid out?

In the dialog, Socrates describes a prison cave in which the inmates have lived all of their lives chained in such a way that all they can see is a blank wall. The prisoners watch shadows formed on the wall by things passing between them and a fire behind them. They recognize the shadows, give them the names of the things which cast them, and believe them to actually be those things. The shadows, says Socrates, are as close as the inmates get to viewing reality. According to Socrates, a philosopher is like a prisoner who is loosed, sees the real forms casting the images, and comes to understand that the shadows are not reality at all. He is aware of the true form of reality, not the shadows seen by the chained inmates. The story illustrates Plato’s “Theory of Forms,” which holds that things in the material world perceivable through sensation are mere “shadows” of ideal “forms.” These “forms,” not the “shadows,” possess the highest and most fundamental reality.

When Paul writes things like “these are only a shadow . . . the substance belongs to Christ,” he seems to be buying into this Platonic idea. His famous line from the first letter to the church in Corinth seems to do so as well: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12) Take these sorts of Pauline statements and mix them with the Letter to the Hebrews (“They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one.” – Heb. 8:5) and even a bit of James (“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17), and one can see where the Neoplatonists and even the Gnostics get the notion that the material world is less than ideal, fallen, corrupt, or even evil. That’s a position that, unfortunately in my opinion, has made a significant impact on Christian theology.

It is also not a view to which the Hebrew Scriptures lend much support and one doubts very much that it was the opinion of Jesus of Nazareth! Oh sure, there are hints of it in Hebrew poetry and prayer. For example, King David prays with the assembly of the people: “For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” (1 Chron 29:15) And Bildad the Shuhite advises Job: “For we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow.” (Job 8:9) And from time to time the Psalms say things like the description of human beings as “like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps. 144:4) But on the whole, the Old Testament and (I suggest) the Christian faith declare a much different understanding of reality!

Just read the accounts of creation in Genesis! God is not shown to be casting shadows; God is creating hard, physical reality and, at each step along the way, declares it good. In the second account (which is probably the older of the two), God gets God’s hands dirty in all that good, hard, physical reality molding human beings out of the clay. I’m particularly fond of poet James Weldon Johnson’s retelling of that story (which I quoted in last Sunday’s sermon):

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;
Then into it He blew the breath of life.

(“The Creation”, from God’s Trombones)

When I was a second-year student at law school I was a member of the law review where we used some very early word processing equipment and software in which one had to enter the codes for changes in typeface, indentation, and so forth (not too dissimilar from writing HTML code, frankly). What you looked at on the green-on-black computer screen bore no resemblance to what (you hoped) the printer would produce. The next year, when I became an editor, we purchased a new computer and were introduced to a new concept – “WYSIWYG” (pronounced “wissy-wig”) – What You See Is What You Get. What was on the screen looked like what the printer produced!

I believe that’s the kind of world we have been given, one in which what we perceive is real. Yes, I know that quantum mechanics and superstring theory bring that into some question, that at some super-micro-nano-reality level things are not quite what they seem; but that is a different issue than this philosophical nothing-is-really-real shadow-world construct of Plato’s, and a far cry from the fallen, corrupt, evil world of some Christian theologies. We live in a real, physical world, one in which God was pleased to take on flesh and dwell among us (John 1:1-14).

When I see beautiful winter hillside covered with glistening snow, when I taste a sweet-tart bite of homemade cherry pie, when I kiss my wife or hug my daughter, when I listen to a Vivaldi concerto, I am seeing/tasting/feeling/hearing what I get, not some shadow of an unseen and unknowable “ideal form.” Like that mammy bending over her baby, what I am experiencing is real and good; it is the ideal. We live in a WYSIWYG world!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Be Righteous, Not Stupid! – From the Daily Office – September 21, 2012

From Psalms:

When my mind became embittered,
I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 7:21-22 (BCP Version) – September 21, 2012)
 
Raging Bull CartoonToday’s evening Psalm is ascribed to Asaph who, according to the genealogies in the Books of Chronicles, seems to have been one of King David’s chief musicians. His sons, we are told, were assigned by David to “prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals” (1 Chr 25:1). Asaph seems to have been something of a psychologist, for in these two verses he draws the connection between anger and stupidity – being embittered and “wounded in heart” leads to lack of understanding and brutish behavior. Was there ever a truer observation?

There is nothing wrong with anger per se. In fact, St. Paul commends anger that is controlled: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil” (Eph. 4:26). It’s the loss of control that is the problem. As we read in the Book of Proverbs: “One given to anger stirs up strife, and the hothead causes much transgression.” (Prov. 29:22) In fact, we find Asaph’s point repeated in Proverbs: “One who is quick-tempered acts foolishly, and the schemer is hated” (Prov. 14:17) and “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29). Someone who flies off the handle and cannot or does not control their anger will say things they wouldn’t normally say and do things they wouldn’t normally do – stupid things!

A Japanese Buddhist sage, Nicherin Daishonin, once wrote, “The extremity of greed, anger, and stupidity in people’s minds . . . is beyond the power of any sage or worthy man to control.” Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Does the extreme, possibly infinite, amount of uncontrollable stupidity in the world suggest that there is a similar infinite amount of anger and rage?

The Hebrew word for anger in the verses from the Book of Proverbs quoted above is anaph, which seems to be derived from a root word referring to the flaring of one’s nostrils. It calls to mind those cartoons of raging bulls with smoke puffing from their nostrils, which reminds me of the Psalmist’s image of the angry individual behaving like a “brute beast.”

Two words are used in the original Greek of the New Testament to name anger. One is thumos which the lexicon defines as “passion, anger, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again.” Its origin or root is a word that describes the immolation or burning of animal sacrifices. It refers to an uncontrolled outburst of blazing anger. It is a sudden outburst of anger, a flying off the handle that rages like a fire out of control. The other is orge with the lexicon defines as a “movement or agitation of the soul,” wrath or indignation; it comes from a root meaning to stretch. The word implies a slowly building, controlled, and slow-burning anger, what we might call “righteous indignation”. It is the first type of anger that leads to stupidity; the second can lead to positive change.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book Strive for Freedom laid out six principles of nonviolence, the first of which acknowledges the positive potential of controlled anger:

Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.

The lesson I take from this bit of the Psalm is “Don’t be stupid!” Don’t let uncontrolled anger cloud your judgment. There’s more than enough stupidity in the world already (possibly an infinite amount, as Einstein suggested); don’t add to it. If your nostrils flare . . . use them to take a deep breath and get control! Controlled anger, righteous indignation, can be a force for good. Stupidity never can. Be righteous, not stupid!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

God’s Backside – From the Daily Office – May 2, 2012

From the Book of Exodus:

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Exodus 33:18-23 – May 1, 2012)

This is one of those biblical tales that I just love and wish the English would tell correctly. The Hebrew ‘achowr would better be translated “hindquarters”, “rear”, or “rear parts”, or even as “butt” . . . “Back” is just so bland! God is being a little earthier with Moses than that, and in that earthiness I find a counterpoint to the grandeur of this story. ~ This is a “grand” story, a big story, the story of God “choosing” and adopting as his own a whole people, the story of God giving the Law, the story of God continuing the motion, the arc, the trajectory of the whole sweep of Jewish and Christian history. This is a big story! And in the midst of it, here is this same God rather jokingly, perhaps teasingly saying, “You can’t see my face, but you can see my backside.” ~ One of the traditional depictions of the face of God has been that of a bearded old man (think of God talking to King Arthur from the clouds in Monty Python & the Holy Grail). ~ I’m intrigued by cross-cultural and inter-religious connections and this depiction of God as bearded-old-man is one of them. In Chinese traditional religion and Taoism, one of the gods is Tu Di Gong. He is portrayed as an elderly man with a long white beard, as well as a black or gold hat and a red or yellow robe. Tu Di Gong is not all-powerful; he is simply a modest heavenly bureaucrat overseeing the concerns of and dispensing blessings to common villagers. There are few temples to Tu Di Gong. Rather his presence is marked by stones “at the point where footpaths cross, under trees, by wells, on mountainsides, and in the center of villages.” (Chinese Gods: The Unseen Worlds of Spirits and Demons, Keith G. Stevens, 1996) ~ If one believes, as I do, that there are revelations of God in all the religions and spiritual beliefs humankind, there is a reminder here that our God is also not found (only) in temples and churches. Indeed, one should remember that our God eschewed a temple when offered one by David: “You shall not build a house for Me to dwell in; for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but I have gone from tent to tent and from one dwelling place to another . . . in all places where I have walked with all Israel.” (1 Chron. 17:4-6) ~ Our God is an earthy god, a god whose presence is felt and found in many places. Be open to God in all the places of your life. You may not see God’s face, but you may see his backside!