Formations lesson for July 11: A God Who Acts in Time : Friday, June 25, 2004
June 25 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for July 11: A God Who Acts in Time : Friday, June 25, 2004
Friday, June 25, 2004

Formations lesson for July 11: A God Who Acts in Time

By Ken Vandergriff
Focal Passage: Exodus 19:7-15; John 1:14-18

Today's texts focus attention on two spectacular occasions when God acted in time, enabling persons to encounter Him in different ways.

The texts fit this month's mission theme: Reflecting upon mission inevitably leads us back to the source of mission, our encounter with God. Without a genuine encounter with God, mission flounders. It's too easy to get preoccupied with mission strategy, budgets and logistics, and overlook that from which mission springs, the encounter with God.

Preparing to encounter God

Exodus 19:7-15

Having gone to Mt. Sinai and received God's invitation to enter into a covenant relationship (vv. 4-6), Israel unanimously agreed (vv. 7-8). Israel still needed to know what was required - the stipulations of the covenant; those will be given in chapters 20-23 (the laws are the stipulations of the covenant) and unanimously ratified (chap. 24). Exodus 19:7-15 focuses on the preparations for encountering God.

In one of the most famous religious books of the 20th century, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto argued that the heart of every religion is the encounter with the holy. "There is no religion in which it does not live as the real innermost core, and without it no religion would be worthy of the name."

Encounter with the holy produces certain typical responses in the worshiper: a sense of awefulness, even dread, in the face of overwhelming mystery - the "Wholly Other" that God is; a sense of majesty or absolute overpoweringness, which produces humility; and a sense of fascination, of being entranced by this Wholly Other.

Engaging such a Wholly Other requires preparation. Israel's ritual washing and abstaining from sex made this time extra-ordinary.

Do we do anything special to prepare for our own encounter with God? How different is this time from ordinary time?

Walter Brueggemann warns that "our conventional trivializations of God make God in practice too available, too easy, and too immediate. We drop to our knees or bow our heads, and we imagine that God is eagerly awaiting attention. Or we drop in casually for worship, assuming God is always there." But Israel's encounter with God "is clearly not one between 'buddies'" (Exodus, The New Interpreter's Bible 838).

Do we leave worship with the sense that we have encountered the mysterious, majestic, fascinating Wholly Other? How might our sense of mission differ if we recovered a genuine sense of the Wholly Other and instead of casually dropping in on the Holy God made careful preparation for the encounter?

Encountering God in a different way

John 1:14-18

Notice one dissimilarity and one similarity between the events at Mt. Sinai and the incarnation of Christ. When Israel encountered God, a barrier remained between them.

God appeared at the top of the mountain in fire, smoke and thunder; Israel remained at the base, warned not to break through and gaze, lest they perish (v. 21). God met Israel, but the separation between them remained obvious. When the Word became flesh, however, that barrier was demolished. God did not merely encounter humans, God became human. The separation between God and humans became a unity.

The similarity between the two texts is the element of mysteriousness in both. The mysteriousness of Sinai is seen in the physical manifestations, the fire, thunder and violent shaking of the earth. The mysteriousness of the incarnation is God becoming human. As familiar as that confession is, we ought never miss its profound affirmation - the Wholly Other became one of us.

All of this has implications for what we think about the Christian mission. If God really did become one of us, that has implications for what we consider our mission to be. Don't be too quick to tie that up with a tidy bow; there is an open-endedness still to be discovered about our mission.

6/25/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments

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