May 31, 2015
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
First Reading: Deut 4:32-34, 39-40
Usually, our heads are down. We’re working, thinking, getting through the day. We have a lot to do and it takes determination to get it done. But do you ever have those moments—perhaps when you step outside and take that first breath of fresh air on an exceptionally beautiful day, or when you are in the midst of something and are reminded of an old friend—where time stops for a second and you realize just how amazing it all is? Maybe it is when a child asks you how far away the stars are or you come to see how unbelievably complex a living cell is and your breath is taken away. As much as we’d like to, we can’t have those wonder-moments all the time. They are rare, but nonetheless important.
In this Sunday’s reading, Moses asks the Israelites similarly to step back for a moment and take it all in, to wonder at what God has done. He has just recounted for them the story of how God delivered them from Egypt and all of the amazing things that have happened since. The people have personally received God’s law at Mount Sinai. God himself spoke to them. They have defeated impossible odds in battle with God’s help and he is slowly leading them to the promised land. Moses himself has been barred from entering the promised land, but he recognizes this as part of God’s plan too—a way for God to teach his people about holiness and sin. What is amazing and wonderful from Moses’ view is that this kind of thing has never happened before. He challenges the people to proffer an example of this kind of divine involvement:
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. (Deut 4:32 RSV)
Hearing God and Living to Tell About It
God is so holy, so awesome, so above us, that Moses and the Israelites took it for granted that hearing God’s voice would likely result in death. It would overload our circuits. We couldn’t handle it. Yet, the Israelites have heard the voice of God and lived to tell about it. Moses refers back to Mount Sinai again, where God shows up in power. He says that God spoke “out of the midst of the fire” (4:33), which recalls how God came upon the mountain with fire and smoke (Exod 19:18). Just the idea that God would talk to men, would reveal himself to us, is amazing—hard for many to believe. Today, lots of people think of God as a far-off fairytale who might or might not have made the world, but certainly wouldn’t deign to get mixed up in it. Yet our God is no mere clockmaker, but he comes down here to tell us about himself.
Who’s Seeking Whom?
The other thing that astounds Moses is that we’re not the ones seeking for God, he’s seeking us. Unlike any other god, our God went out and sought a nation for himself. Not only did he seek out a people, but he pried them loose from the dictatorship under which they were living. He sprung them from the trap of slavery in Egypt, beat back Pharoah’s armies and through the plagues, the Red Sea, and many miraculous deeds, he delivered his people. It is a good reminder that though we don’t deserve it, God seeks after us. Though we turn away from him, he invites us back. We might not be seeking him, but he surely is seeking us.
(Our Lectionary skips over a few verses [Deut 4:35-38] that expand on the drama of the Lord speaking to his people and delivering them.)
People often give Christians and Jews a hard time for being clenched-fist rule-followers who need to be told what to do all the time. Yet, if you see how Moses tees up his call to obedience, it really changes the game. He does not jump up with a list of rules and try to force it on others. Instead, he invites the people to gaze back at their own history with God, their own relationship with him and the way he has come through for them time and time again, how against all precedent he spoke to them directly, how against all odds he overcame their enemies, how amazing and incredible it is that he chose them to be his people. Only after this exercise in wonder at what God has done does Moses offer the “therefore.” It starts with wonder, then comes to knowledge—“know therefore this day, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God” (Deut 4:39 RSV). Last, only after the wonder and the knowing, comes obedience. The idea is that since they have a history with the Lord, since they are amazed at what he has done and since they know that he alone is God, now they can obey “his statutes and his commandments” with full hearts.
Sometimes, we’ve got to look up from the furrow we’ve been hoeing, step back and see the big picture, allow ourselves to escape into amazement, even if for just a moment. When we realize how amazing it is that we are even alive, that the world around us exists and is beautiful and when we connect that with our God who made it all and even condescended to reveal himself to our ancestors, we can’t help but let our heart jump a little. Never before has a god so generously shared himself with humanity, so perhaps we ought to look up and take advantage of his offer.