Written by Vicki Kemper
Questions for Discussion:
In this devotion, Vicki Kemper invites us to consider the ways our spiritual future might be brighter and better than even the best of our good old days. Unfortunately, we forget that sometimes. Having wandered away from God, we might feel ashamed and unworthy to go back home.
Recall a time when you felt close to God. How long has it been? What would it take to, once again, be on face-time terms with the Holy One? Are you able to turn around and take just one step toward God's love? What would that look like in your life? What would you say to God to ask for a new blessing?
Scripture Passage: Exodus 33:7-23
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
Moses said to the Lord, "See, you have said to me, 'Bring up this people'; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.' Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." He said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." And he said to him, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth."
The Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And he 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," God 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."
Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. - Exodus 33:11
Embedded in the loveliness of this image—God and Moses hanging out in the tent of meeting, chilling and catching up like a couple of old pals—are two of the saddest words in the English language: "used to." They hint at loss, decline, a present less desirable than the past, a longing for the good old days.
When times got tough, the "used to's" were the Israelites' go-to coping mechanism. Wandering in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty and free, they waxed nostalgic for the three skimpy squares of their slave days in Egypt. As if God didn't have something much better in store for them.
But now the Israelites and God are on the big-time outs—all on account of that golden calf thing. That really hurt God's feelings, so she told the people to pack their bags and get their stiff-necked selves out of her precious sight.
In their shame and fear, the people turn to their "used to's." They remember when they and God were so tight that Moses and the Holy One did face time together. This sweet memory gives Moses the courage to appeal to God's tender mercy, to remind him that they are his chosen ones, to beg for another chance at divine favor.
Before you know it, God's unfailing love has gotten the best of her—again— and Moses is heading back up the mountain. When he returns he'll have another set of stone tablets, a new promise from God, and a face shining bright as the sun.
This interlude between Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday is a perfect time to consider our "used to's" and rejoice that God's good graces are always available to us. Forgiveness and new life are ours for the asking; all we have to do is turn around.
Remember when you and Jesus were BFFLs, when your prayer life fed you like so much manna, and Sunday morning worship was like face time with God? Turn around, dear one. Come home. With your face set on God, the future can be even brighter than the past.
Your face, O God, do I seek. Let me not be put to shame. Renew a right spirit within me. Amen.