I love the whole story about Moses. And, this passage is one episode in that long, full section of our Bibles about Moses’ life, his work, his commitment to God and his interaction with the Hebrew people. This passage is about change. When I think about a passage and a keyword describing a passage (in this case, the keyword is change), I try to relate it to something with which we are familiar.
When is change good? What do we need to change? Lots of examples come to mind: the air filter in the furnace, the oil in our cars, socks everyday. Some changes are really nice, and we notice them right away, like putting fresh sheets, right from the drier, on the bed. Some changes cannot be avoided, like changing the cat box, if you have an indoor kitty. Babies really don’t like it when we try to put off a change until mommy gets home.
In church, there tends to be an aversion to change. It has almost become cliché in church life to mock those who say: We’ve never done it that way before! Changes are often feared or we do not take time to understand what is involved in a change or why a change is taking place. Often, we like things the way they are, and changes disrupt our ordered life.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “We can never walk through the same stream twice.” He recognized how ever-present change is in our life, and he compared it to the flowing water of a stream. If I walk through a stream, even if I turn around and try to retrace my steps, the stream will be different–new, fresh water will flow around my ankles, and it will be different water than the water through which I first walked.
The story of the Hebrew people unfolds in Exodus. As it begins, they are in Egypt and need to get out. Things have gotten bad, and they get worse. Moses is born and placed among the bulrushes. Pharaoh’s daughter finds baby Moses and you know the story. In Exodus 14, Moses leads God’s people across the Red Sea. The pursuers are drowned trying to follow, and although we have a brilliant song of praise in Exodus 15, God’s not finished with the people yet. The same ones who said, “Amen!” when Moses sang, “The Lord is my strength and my might,” will build a Golden Calf in Exodus 32.
Now, in Exodus 34, Moses has gone up Mt. Sinai, and he brought two tablets down with him. His encounter with God has changed him, just as it has every time he encounters God. This time, his face shines, reflecting the brilliance of being in God’s presence. When the people saw how he had been physically changed by being in God’s presence, they did not want to come near him. They were afraid because something was different. The passage goes on to reflect the way we (all of us) are changed when we encounter God.
Moses encountered God at the burning bush in Exodus 3. He was never the same. That encounter led to his role in leading the Hebrew people. This encounter in Exodus 34 gives greater rule and structure to their lives, but the Bible does not let us wonder whether encountering God is just an inward, intangible change. When Moses comes face to face with God, his face reflects the encounter.
For us, who, at our worst, fear change, and at other times, would simply rather avoid the inconvenience or disruption, we can be assured that our encounter with God will not leave us where we are. From day to day, meeting God draws us to grow closer and into new areas. Moses was not meeting God for the first time in Exodus 34. He had known God his entire life. He met God in the most explicit way in Exodus 3, at the burning bush.
Here in Exodus 34, Moses meets God in a new way and it leaves him with a glowing face. Few of us would suggest that meeting God leaves just as we were before. We may sing, “Just as I am,” but we don’t really believe that we stay just the way we were. God changes us, moves us, and draws us into new places.
Growth in our Christian journey might mean thinking about something in a new way, and this gets to the heart of why change is so frightening. If we think about something in a new way, or we accept a change, we acknowledge that we were not perfect the way we were. Think about that. This is the most convicting part of considering any changes in our lives. If we change, we acknowledge that we were not perfect the way we were.
Friends, you are not perfect. I am not perfect. Thomas R. Kelly writes, “The deepest human need is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God…” [A Testament of Devotion p. 99]
Since we are imperfect, we need God to keep working on us, to keep perfecting us, changing us, and molding us into the new beings we can be in Christ.
Moses shows us that we are not yet complete because he was not complete. God kept working on him and through him.
Throughout our lives, we encounter God and are changed by the encounter. Yes, we need food, clothing and shelter, (& there is economic poverty) but we also need something greater, something more profound. For Christians, we find it in God, and the something greater brings joy and contentment. If you don’t have full joy and contentment yet, even though you call yourself Christian, it doesn’t mean you have not yet encountered God; it doesn’t mean you are any less of a Christian. In recognizing the incompleteness of joy or contentment in your life, you can see the work–some of changes–God has for you.
We all have areas in which we can grow. We all have work God can do in our lives. The key is to recognize it and acknowledge it. Moses probably did not expect to be shining when we walked down that mount. What about you? Are you open to change? Are you open to God?
Let us make it our prayer to be open to God transforming our lives, to be open to be changed by God, because that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.