I would like to thank God and for God’s Holy Spirit through whom I have this opportunity to preach here once more. Thank you to Dr. Fry Brown – For the class and her great insights; thank you to the class for your encouragement and presence.
"Almighty God, we come to you with this morning with a variety of thoughts and emotions: anxiety, anticipation, stress, fear. Awaken us, oh God. Awaken us your spirit in this moment. Would you align my words with your will so that there is none of me but all of you here today? In Christ's name we pray, amen."
Today, we will be reading from the book of Exodus, chapter 36 and verses 1-7. As you flip there in your Bibles I would like to briefly summarize what has happened in the preceding narrative that is presented to us in this book of Exodus. Moses with Joshua has gone to the top of Mt. Sinai where he has a divine encounter with God. In this encounter God gives Moses specific instructions upon how a tabernacle will be built in God’s name, how sacrifices are to be offered, and several other things. In the meantime, or, rather, at the very same time, Aaron decides with the community of Israelites down below that it would be a good idea to preserve God’s image into an idol. He and others bring together and melt down their golden possessions and pour the liquid gold into the mold of a calf and subsequently begin worshipping it.
This, of course, makes God very angry, so angry in fact, that even after Moses did intercede on their behalves asking that they would not be destroyed, God sends a plague their way. This episode, though ironic in nature, is actually very serious. It represents a moment where God is so displeased with the Israelites, where God and God’s people it seems are so disconnected, that God is near willing to sever the relationship altogether. Though God does restore with the Israelites a new covenant, it is here where our reading picks up. The construction of the tabernacle represents to us a tangible moment where God’s spirit becomes harmonized with the people’s will and a true value of restoration becomes present in their relationship. Would you please stand as we read the scripture out of respect for God’s word?
“Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.
Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work”
This is the word of God for us the people of God. (Thanks be to God)
The title for today’s sermon is simply named, “Tabernacles,” and though our text refers to one explicit example, I do mean to use the plural form of the word. My challenge for us today is that we look back into the tabernacles in our lives with a mentality of construction, or, in some cases, reconstruction. So, before we move any further into the text, it is of the utmost importance that I first define what I mean when I use the word “tabernacle.” What is it? The “Dictionary of the Bible” by Eerdman, which may sound familiar to some of you—it was assigned to us in OT—defines it quite clearly. The author writes this about the tabernacle:
"Though God is beyond nature and history, through the medium of his temple he makes his presence manifest. But this presence cannot be merely stated; it must be lived and experienced…the tabernacle was the place where offerings were made to God and revelations received from God…” And concerning what happens in the temple he states this: "Within the biblical narratives, the act of sacrifice is the single most important feature of the liturgical life of the temple.”
…Hearing…Speaking…Sacrifice… these are the rhythms of the tabernacle …God’s presence…movement…worship… where is it in our lives that God truly becomes manifest? I know that many of us here are studying for a MDiv, but where in our lives are we truly giving divinity its space, allowing for, as Eerdman says a real and lived place for the experience of God’s presence? For some of us, that space may be right here at Candler, or, I pray for many of us that that place can be in our home churches. Or just in our homes, at all. These are our tabernacles. Where they are, how they look, or how they smell is variable, but of them all we can determine one thing: No matter what we do or where we are, God wants space to be in explicit communion with us.
Now, let me remind you of the tabernacle in our text. As it enters into the book of Exodus, or, even more importantly, as it is constructed into the larger scope of all time, it becomes the unifying entity with which God and God’s people can once again be truly together. Therefore, if we mine this text carefully, we can begin to experience God’s heart for us and how it becomes manifest to us through God’s holy space.
The first thing we need to know is who is builds these spaces? Who is allowed to construct such a place of reverence that is to house the King of Kings? I think of places like Buckingham Palace where every nook and cranny is decorated to house only the most prestigious and royal of people. Our text at the end of verse 2 gives us an interesting insight into this. And so it says: Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work. Wait, everyone whose heart was stirred was qualified? I’ll be honest that as I read this mind paced to all the bad things I’ve done and to all of my accurate perceptions and inaccurate misconceptions I have of myself. And I’m reminded of a book I once read that asked the questions, what if your words stained the walls? What if your thoughts put odors in the air, and your actions built slimy heaps up on the carpet? Would you want to live in that place? And the beauty of it is that even in the nastiest of rooms, God still enters that place with us. If you’ll remember Moses didn’t stay on the Mountain…the command was to leave it and then to build the temple.
Observation number 2, and I love this…let’s look again at verses 3-5. Evidently there were plenty of people whose hearts were stirred, so much so that the main artisans began complaining, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do”. Church, the Israelites have a vision that has caught on fire. They are volunteering to do too much work and are giving away too much. Have you ever experienced a place like that in your life where the spirit has caught hold and people just won’t stop? I don’t know about you but when I think of the experience of being caught on fire with passion one of my most vivid thoughts springs up from my experience as a soccer player. I played offense and I remember one particular time when a defender on the other team was heckling my teammates. It set fire to my bones and the next time I got the ball I headed straight for him. My movements had never been so precise and my coordination with the ball had never felt so in sync with one another and not only did I get passed he and his friend, I ended up scoring a goal. Church, when guided passion happens, just like how I lost the distinction between my movements on that field and so focused on the task at hand, we can, too, with whole church bodies, move into a place of work that feels like none other than total and complete worship. In fact, the word for worship and work are the same in Hebrew…Ah-VOH-da. As we build our tabernacle, let us do it in a mode of worship.
Finally, let us look briefly at verses 6-7, which is Moses’ response to the overflow of freewill offerings, the free gifts of the people. He calls them off. He says we cannot use all that you are giving us…that is enough. If you’ve read much of the Israelites’ story, you’ll probably remember that Pharoah complained to Moses because he felt that the slaves were doing too little work. To punish them he made the process to make bricks more challenging and required them to make double the amount. Our third and final observation is simply this: God’s spirit goes beyond our limitations. Our human nature was not designed with to withstand the full capacity of God in us. We have been equipped with more than enough to do God’s will, if we would just give God that space, if we would just deem it our tabernacle and prepare to experience a God that is more than we can handle and is just enough at the very same time.
Is there anybody in here whose tabernacles may be ornate on the outside but empty on the inside? I’ll just say it, is there anybody in here whose church choir has perfect pitch on key but the spirit of God is flat? Is there anyone in here whose vital signs flatlined long ago, whose rhythm or whose heartbeat has lost it’s power…where sacrifice, and hearing, and movement, and worship are no longer words of the day?
Let us celebrate a God today who is able. When we can’t see a way out, if we’d just give God a little bit of space, our waters can split and we can move through it. Our deserts run us low, but our God brings us back. Though we disappear into the backlines of our battles, our God wants to lead us into victory. Let us continue to construct our tabernacles as we move through life, giving God the glory for it is in that space of reconciliation where the one who is more than enough will lead us and guide us down the path of righteousness. Amen, and amen.