St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 29th April 2021
Led by Rev Craig Meek
Welcome and Prayer
Welcome everyone to another Thursday devotion with St. Giles’ Cathedral. My name is Craig Meek, I’m the Assistant Minister at the Cathedral, and I’m delighted that you’ve joined me for another few moments of prayerful reflection today. I hope that your week has gone smoothly and that whatever awaits you at the weekend will be full of grace and delight. But to help move us along to those blessings that await us from the Living God, today we join together in listening for another good word from our Lord. As we begin our time together, friends, we do so in prayer and I invite you to pray with me.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, to know you is to know both peace and perfect freedom. Grateful for these gifts and blessings, we pray that you would continue to guide us by them and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all things we might be found faithful in your eyes through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Reading: Exodus 34:1-10
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.’ 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The Lord.’ 6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.’
8 And Moses quickly bowed his head towards the earth, and worshipped. 9 He said, ‘If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’
10 He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Today’s story is a wonderful passage from the Hebrew Bible – otherwise known as the Old Testament. It’s a passage perhaps best seen from the vantage point of the broader story or narrative to which it belongs. As you might recall, the Book of Exodus is about God’s delivering God’s people out of bondage in Egypt, a deliverance that amounts also to God’s having chosen this particular people to be God’s covenant partners. In essence, God chooses this people to be God’s very own possession or family, and when you belong to a family you have to learn what it means to be a part of that family: Not as a condition but as a means. As one of my professors once said: You have to learn the rules of being in a family, not in order to be belong but because you already belong.
When God brings God’s people out of bondage in Egypt, God leads them through the wilderness and to a mountain where God pledges to be their God and the people pledge to be God’s people. This is what is meant by that strange word covenant in the Bible. It means that these people pledge themselves to be God’s people, which also meant that they had to learn the rhythms and ways of being God’s people. Thankfully, God provided them with some commandments or rules. But to be sure, these commandments were not so much the condition for belonging to God so much as they were the way of life God’s people were to reflect. Again, they had to learn the rules of being God’s people.
Unfortunately, however, God’s people don’t always live up to the rules; that is, to their part of the covenant. Although these rules were designed as a gift – a way for the people to have life in abundance and in peace with their God – they liked to settle for something less. They chose another got to worship in the form of a golden calf, as you might remember, which set the Living God ablaze in anger. Even though the Living God had given them everything that they needed for life, the people tended towards something else – a different way of being. For some reason, they wanted to join another family, to continue with our analogy. It’s funny how somethings seem never to change. But in any event, this is – in short – the backstory to our reading for today.
Once the dust had settled, God brings Moses back up the mountain and writes again the rules of the family; that is, the rules about how to be free – about how to live in abundance – both for God and for another, rather than chasing after other gods or other ways of life. What strikes me most in this scene is the sheer desire of God to love a broken and misdirected people; a family who wants to live by the rules, but just can’t seem to trust enough in the Living God to actually do it. Rather than banishing them to who knows where, however, the Living God brings Moses back up the mountain again, writes the rules down again, and pledges God’s self again – to a stiff-necked, hard-headed, hard-hearted, misdirected, and self-interested people. Because nothing… not even our unfaithfulness… can thwart the love God has for us. Again, it’s funny how some things seem never to change. But I suppose that in this case, that’s something for which we should be eternally grateful.
Almighty and Merciful God, the one who makes our lives beautiful by your steadfast love and mercy, remind us again of the blessings that overflow from you; reminds us again of your patience; remind us again, Lord, never to settle for less than the life in abundance that you desire for us. Teach us the rhythms of mercy until we find peace in them; Teach us the rhythms of grace until our lives radiate its goodness to the world; and Teach us again how to love, because more often than not we fail to do so adequately.
Most gracious and holy God, protect and guide those whom we love in the days and hours ahead. Let no one become overwhelmed in isolation or darkness, but stand alongside those who need your strength. We pray, Lord, for those in our world whose lives are oppressed by others in any way, shape, or form, and plead your mercy upon anyone whose circumstance or context prevents them from flourishing and radiating beauty.
Hear our prayers, Lord. Respond to your people and have mercy upon both us and our world, we pray; in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Friends, I hope that this brief devotion has been some of encouragement to you and that you’ll look forward to the ways in which the Living God aims to bless both you and our world in the days ahead. Join us again another, and until then: May the Lord Bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you today – and everyday – and give you peace. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
J.S.Bach Wir glauben all an einen Gott BWV 1098