Sounding the Depths

Exodus 33:12-23
September 16, 2018

You’ve got to feel for Moses.

He’s been called to do an entirely new thing.

To be the conduit of liberation.

The north Star of the dogged journey from slavery to freedom for all his people.

and he knew it would be difficult—he argues with his God, Yahweh, about his fitness for this role often.

in some ways, he has this intimacy with Yahweh in this arguing.

Yet he still has not seen God.

And he’s a guy who’s always bargaining with God, and here, he yearns to know God more—to have something concrete to lean against as he and the Israelites wander into this future that still feels, while very hopeful, also very uncertain.

When you’re used to dieties being statues that you carve and keep on your shelf and worship, this Yahweh who cannot be glimpsed is a whole new strange thing.

And that’s understandable, when things feel uncertain and you’re the one in charge, to want as much as possible to have things be steady where they can.


But Moses can only glimpse God so much.

There is something so ineffable about God that a human can never fully encounter God in all God’s huge-ness.

And this text gives this Yahweh a body—complete with a face and hand backside and all.

But even beyond the concept of embodiment of God, there is something true here—that there is something about real holiness that is so big, so weighty, it’s greater than we can fully perceive.  You give God the space something really big merits.


Sometimes the phrase used with this bigness is “fear the Lord.” And I think, so often, we think of that phrase as something sinister. Like, how you would fear someone who has the power to hurt you. Almost like it’s a threat.

But when people would say that in scripture, it wasn’t a threat or some dangerous force to submit to—it was the call to live in awareness of the vastness and depth of life in all its sacred and myriad forms.

To fear the Lord is to recognize that there is something deep going on in our lives, some primal and primordial connections, that make our small lives part of a greater depth and breadth.


In the text today, Moses asks God to “Show me your glory.”

Let me experience the fullness of that depth and breadth.

The word translated as “glory” is Kavod.

Kavod initially meant something like “weight.”

In ancient Jewish social life, people would purchase items using certain weights of metals like silver or gold. So you judged the fairness of an exchange based on its Kavod.

Over time, this came to become more figurative, and kavod broadened and took on new depths of meaning.


It came to mean moments that were so heavy laden, so saturated with meaning and depth of life, that there was unmistakably something big there. There was something like glory.


I want to talk about how we perceive the Holy. Here’s a few moments when I’ve felt that weight, that kavod:


First Story: I officiated a friend’s wedding last year. Now, weddings in general, they’re something astonishing in themselves if you think about it. Here are two people who commit to be a new entity in the world together. To mutually give and love and grow and change and suffer and rejoice with this person that they FOUND.

Anyway, my friend is a musician, and has lots of musician friends who love her dearly. So, you can imagine that the music would be solid for their wedding.

And one of her friends wrote a song for her wedding, about how falling in love is like an endless sky, and I was moved to tears by the depth of experience and story and knowing behind that song offered at this one significant moment.

Imagine, the song a best friend sings at your wedding—the fullness of loving someone and knowing their history, in all its joy and pain, and celebrating this new leap in their lives—that’s got some weight, to it.


Second Story:

I was in Scotland a few months ago for a trip with Jason. Jason loves archaeology, so some of our must-sees on our trip were finding standing stones and stone circles from the neo-lithic era.

We pulled off near a town called Kilmartin in the West Highlands to check some of these out.

And first, these are ancient archaeological artifacts. And you could just walk right up to them. Heck, there was a burial cairn, and you could walk INTO it if you wanted to.

And there were two things that struck me as profound: first, that one could walk up to, touch, heck, someone could have defaced these ancient stones. But they hadn’t. It was as though there was an invisible force-field around them that kept them untouched.

Second, around the stone circles, there was a path worn. You could tell that visitors to these circles were compelled to walk their circumference.


Almost like there was something holy and profound already heavy there. And one way to participate in that is to circumnavigate the circle.

You can walk the circle, and in some way, you are connected to that history. To those people who erected these, thousands of years ago.


Back when the pyramids at Giza were being built.

Back when writing was just starting to be a thing.

Back when, seriously, there were still woolly mammoths alive on this planet, the people who once lived in this land took the time to erect massive stones.

We don’t really know why, but we know it would have taken enough time and coordination and effort that these were important. The purpose they served was vital. There was and is something weighty here.


Third story:

I was at a conference with other young clergy this past winter.

Part of our class involved looking at family systems and the emotional histories of our families of origin.

We split into small groups of four plus a supervisor, and over several hours, diagrammed and told the stories of our families, going back generations. We reflected on how that story and history informs how we move and live and work in the world now.

We shared, in covenant safety, the tender stories of “that moment; those words” that a mother or father said to us that we still carry; words of alienation or disappointment.

We witnessed, marked out on a white board, how legacies of trauma tumble down wth their toxic tendrils through generations of hurt people, who hurt people.

We related the moments of those people who believed in us, who showed up for us when no one else did. We celebrated the legacies of strong and brilliant women whose gifts could not be fully cherished in their era, and men who modeled brave vulnerability so that we could do the same.

And after four hours of this, I just needed to be alone. And it was a different sort of need to be alone than I’ve felt before—not frustrated, not sad, just—heavy. Like I was sodden with their stories that had washed over me. Like I could feel those sprawling, reaching family trees that felt big in the way a huge building or mountain or ancient tree…or anything that can dwarf you into smallness. I had been on holy ground, hearing these stories. I was silenced by their weight.


^These all bear Kavod—I could feel their weight, their significance, their depth of history and their white-hot core of humanness. It’s like you can feel the big-ness of these, even if you can’t directly perceive it all. You can’t look directly at these big holy human moments.


Those were all moments when I felt how small I was. It felt like, standing at those stone circles, I could perceive how far down the human experience in this particular place goes. I was sounding the depths of this shared human energy.

There’s some profound testimony to human connection.

There’s something like immensity.

Something like glory.

Something some might call God.


To fear the Lord is to recognize that there is something deep under our lives, some primal and essential connections, that make our small lives part of a greater depth and breadth.


What moments have given you that awe-filled sense of smallness?

What are the experiences that have most opened your heart?


We may not have the words or images or expressions to even fully capture that. Sometimes, we can abide in the awe better if we don’t try to jam our most profound experiences into the pre-existent categories we have.

Madeleine L’Engle once said, in response to someone asking her if she thought the Bible was true: “you cannot cram the glory of God into something so thin as a fact.”


So may you feel that weightiness.

May you embrace that significance.

May you know that there is something deep under our lives.

May your world be charged with the Glory of God.