Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
October 18, 2020
Exodus 33: 18-23 – The Message
Then Moses said, “Please. Let me see your Glory.”
19 God said, “I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I’ll call out the name, God, right before you. I’ll treat well whomever I want to treat well and I’ll be kind to whomever I want to be kind.”
20 God continued, “But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live.”
21-23 God said, “Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.”
Note: This sermon is meant to be viewed because it includes many video interviews. But I have tried to capture a brief essence of each person’s comments. If you are able, the whole service is available on YouTube. www.youtube.com/parkhillucc
Sermon Part 1
Let’s just admit this is an odd passage. Curious, at least. What’s the point of God telling Moses “you can see my backside, but not my face?” There’s very little scholarly consensus.
But, if we go back just a little, Moses and God have been having a lot of back and forth conversations, arguments really – some of them quite heated. After that golden calf debacle, God was really angry, but Moses told God to calm down. And God did. But I think it may have been one of those last straw moments that broke God’s heart. No one gets quite as angry as when they have felt betrayed. All God ever wanted was a people with whom God can dwell. All God has ever done is try to be in relationship. And all the people ever did, the ones freed from slavery in Egypt, and sometimes us, all they had ever done is disappoint God. Disappoint, complain , and betray.
In Moses and God’s most recent conversation/argument, after some back and forth about these are your people, no these are your people… God agreed, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.” But then Moses thought, why not push my luck and ask for one more thing: “Let me see your face.” But God had had enough. Enough. God refused, but would allow Moses to see God’s backside after God had passed by. Odd, right? Or curious.
To me, if you spend some more time in the back and forth of the “before story,” I think it just comes down to a heart broken one too many times. A relationship that has soured from one too many betrayals. At least, that’s one interpretation.
But another interpretation is that the glory of God is seen from behind. Glory in literal “hind-sight.” And if that’s the case, it’s one way we could frame our past year as a church, not in broken relationships but looking back at how our relationships have been affected by our separation. That was a common theme when I asked some of the people in our Touchbase Tuesday group: What’s one way the church has brought joy to your life this past year.
Larry Ricketts – there’s not been just one way, but deeper relationships. New people, new ideas. Laughter and support from a community from which I have received a deeper love.
Mindee Forman – being able to sing safely with the choral apps through submitting videos.
Kat Gaskins – Sunday services online are valuable and fulfilling, whereas some churches meeting in person cannot sing. It’s great to be able to watch the service later. And I relish the Zoom meetings throughout the week.
Joan Root – I love how the congregation has so readily adapted to online services. It feels like we are all together on Sunday.
Eydie McDaniel – the flexibility of Zoom to be together in meetings and getting to know each other better. Whatever mood we’re in that day is OK. We support each other and it’s a beautiful thing. And the daily inspirations.
Laura Harris – I’m participating in this group and Women’s Group and Lunch and Lectionary and both the gratitude and prayer groups. It gives meaning and structure to my week. (Laura had previously shared that she feels more connected to the church now than she ever did before.)
Kat Gaskins – and don’t forget the daily reflections
Larry to David and Terri: add your thoughts too. What’s your one thing?
David Bahr – I agree there isn’t just one thing, but I’m grateful for how people have adapted. It’s a joy to lead a congregation that has adapted to this new reality in joyful ways. No moaning but anticipation about what we are becoming.
Terri Bowen – for me, the groups and diving deeper into gratitude and prayer. Creating meaningful relationships with people in places like Texas and South Carolina. Deeper, stronger.
Sermon Part 2
If I had told you in March that we’re going to be apart from each other for 8 months, or longer, but you will feel closer to one another than ever before, you would have laughed out loud. Impossible. But in glorious hind-sight… And not just people who have known each other for years, but you will start meaningful new relationships with people from all over the country. So, I asked participants in the Thursday Lunch and Lectionary group a similar question. How has the church brought you joy or hope or transformation during our pandemic separation?
Susan Yarbrough – a new member who hasn’t yet been in our building, a recent transplant from Texas. 1) the serious welcome of newcomers, 2) the church has offered so many things online, proving not meeting in-person is not an impediment to connecting, 3) the forward dynamic of the church, not just in a holding pattern waiting for the doors to reopen again, but it’s moving forward with a vision of the future and what the church as a people can do.
John Evans-Klock – a new member in the past year who has returned to America after decades abroad as a global nomad. We have found a home at Park Hill where we really feel welcomed among people who affirm hopeful things for me. And especially the men’s group online. The way people know each other and support each other.
Marlene Lederer – I have been part of this church for 50 years and have known many people for a long time but on Zoom I have learned about them in a whole new way and at a deeper level.
Bob Lederer – I find I am more connected to the church since I prioritize at least three meetings a week. I am finding a different relationship with people I have known. It’s opened a lot of doors for me.
Martha Jones – a member of another UCC church on the other side of the mountains who has participated in several groups, including the gratitude and prayer groups and Lunch and Lectionary. I appreciate the fact that you are living into the future with your vision of Park Hill 2.0. This is what it means that we can come together across distances and divides.
Sermon Part 3
Yes, divides – like the literal Continental Divide – can be crossed digitally. If you are interested in participating in an online group, we have a list on our new website under the tab Online Connections. You’ve heard some of them mentioned and we’re always open to new ones.
On an average week, there are easily 50 people meeting, in such diverse forums as learning new methods of prayer, discussing racial justice, adding awareness of gratitude, studying the Bible, and all of it to help each other through these difficult times and simply be there for one another in laughter and tears.
But of course, there are those for whom this is not an advantageous way to meet. This has been an especially difficult time for families, which is why we had an in-person masked socially distant Sunday School a few weeks ago and plan another one this afternoon. In addition, we created a team of a dozen Care Connectors so we can check on each other and remain in relationship.
Yet, being physically separated has been not been the impediment one might have expected back in March or April – something we could only learn in hindsight. But also, because, as Susan said, we have chosen a forward dynamic instead of waiting to go back to Egypt.
With glorious hind-sight, we can look back now and see how the plans for this were being laid without our knowing.
Video with Pam Hennessey
About a year and a half ago we started the relational campaign where we learned how to speak to one another in deep and meaningful ways. And I wondered what would happen next. We were making great progress, but then Covid happened. But the answer unrolled out right in front of us. The church staff has been really proactive in figuring out new ways we can relate to one another. New Zoom conversations. And the 40 Day of Prayer Before the Election. We have an expanded relational importance. I’m excited for how this is going to play forward in 2021. New equipment to improve our worship and meetings. I’m very excited about all the new people participating. I’m both optimistic and full of joy.
Sermon Part 4
That was Pam Hennessey who is our Moderator Elect for 2021. Nate Schmitt has been our Moderator through this past year. And all those ambitious plans we made for 2020, like everyone else, had to change. Or at least had to quickly adapt. Yet, Nate expresses how he’s been able to remain hopeful.
Video with Nate
For me, the particular message of our church is always one of hope and fairness and equality and when the pandemic came it made me hopeful. I’m hopeful because the church’s message of hope is now reaching a far greater audience. I can’t imagine a better message to put out into the world.
Sermon Part 5
We have been blessed with a phenomenal leadership team. In addition to Pam and Nate who have been incredibly hands-on, in particular I want to give a shout out to Beth Harris and Carol Spensley who have had to embrace all kinds of new technology to make it easy for us to give. Since Tammy has been working for the church remotely from Texas, Beth has also taken on additional responsibilities – always so graciously. And Bill McCarron has been working diligently, nearly every day, to get everything ready for our Park Hill 2.0 equipment to be installed next month.
And our staff. Every single one of us has spent time attending webinars, watching training videos, learning and adapting and growing to meet the needs of our congregation. It helps, of course, that we serve a congregation eager about the future.
Many, many, thanks to you and to all.
Invitation to Stewardship
October is usually our stewardship month, but like everything else, these are unusual times. We going to take advantage of that and make our appeal for financial support in 2021 very short and sweet, focused on relationships, like everything else we’re trying to do. No mailings, no forms. So, for those who currently make an annual pledge, members of the governance team will be calling many of you in the next two weeks. They’re not going to ask you for money. That would be uncomfortable for everyone. But we’d like you to share stories with one another about how this time has been and what you look forward to in 2021. Then, after that, or before that – right now, if you’d like – simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a good faith estimate of your giving in 2021. If you do not currently pledge, consider becoming a recurring giver. You can go to our website to learn about how the ways that is possible.
Or, call Carol Spensley with your pledge – 303-333-2672 – THANK YOU!
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