Sunday school lesson for the week of Nov. 24
By Rev. John Brantley
Beginning of Freedom
Purpose: To identify ways that God reassures us of God’s presence
Background: Exodus 35–40
Bible Lesson: Exodus 40:16-30, 34, 38
16 Moses did everything exactly as the Lord had commanded him. 17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the dwelling was set up. 18 Moses set up the dwelling. He laid out its bases. He set up its boards, inserted its bars, and raised up its posts. 19 He spread the tent out over the dwelling, and he put the covering of the tent over it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20 He took the covenant document and placed it inside the chest. He put the poles on the chest, and he set the cover on top of the chest. 21 He brought the chest into the dwelling. He set up the veil as a screen to hide from view the chest containing the covenant, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 22 He placed the table in the meeting tent, on the north side of the dwelling, outside the veil. 23 He set the bread in its proper place on the table in the Lord’s presence, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the meeting tent, opposite the table on the south side of the dwelling. 25 He set up the lamps in the Lord’s presence, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 26 He put the gold altar in the meeting tent in front of the veil. 27 He burned sweet-smelling incense on it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 28 He also set up the screen at the entrance to the dwelling. 29 He placed the altar for entirely burned offerings at the entrance to the meeting tent dwelling. He offered the entirely burned offering and the grain offering on it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 30 He put the washbasin between the meeting tent and the altar, and put water in it for washing. … 34 the cloud covered the meeting tent and the Lord’s glorious presence filled the dwelling. … 38 The Lord’s cloud stayed over the dwelling during the day, with lightning in it at night, clearly visible to the whole household of Israel at every stage of their journey.
The Lord’s cloud stayed over the dwelling during the day, with lightning in it at night, clearly visible to the whole household of Israel at every stage of their journey. (Exodus 40:38)
Set for Worship
Special care is given in the details of how to prepare the place of worship. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, with all its paragraphs and sub-paragraphs, does not seem so business-like in the context of the instructions of how to build and furnish the tabernacle. At the same time there is something wonderfully freeing about a mobile worship center. Think of being ready to move where the wind of the Holy Spirit would send us. Think how easy the work of the Board of Trustees would be with no leaky roofs, no broken HAVC units, no peeling paint. The church on the move would have its own repairs but standing still would not be an option.
Tools of the Trade
One of my favorite parts of confirmation class is to take the group into the sanctuary and other areas of the building to explain the parts of the building, the furniture and the decorations that adorn our worship space. It is an opportunity to tell the story of why we do what we do in worship. Many times we assume people know what a font, the narthex and the vestibule are all about. When we stop and explain the part and its function we help bring meaning to the rituals and practices of our worship.
In this text we see the elements of the worship experience and find items such as the tent of meeting, the lamp stand, the water basin and the alter. These key elements compare to our sanctuary, candles, baptismal font and alter table.
A Cloud Over Head
Typically we think it is a negative image to have a cloud hanging over our heads, but in Moses's case it was a clear sign of God's presence. In that case, it would be very helpful some days to have the visible and public sign of the God's spirit in the community hovering over the sanctuary as a testament to the members and the community.
While God may not be revealed in a cloud, there are ways that God's presence in seen out communities. Through mission and service we reach out to confirm the presence of Christ in the world. Through our witnessing and relational evangelism we see God present in the community.
The challenge is to keep the presence day and night. Sometimes we grow weary and it becomes difficult to remember God is with us through the fund raising, complaints and power plays in the church. The message to the both the members and community become dull and even overcast.
Faith in Action:
Easy: Talk to your Trustees about adding low voltage lights in the church that burn through the night. Even in the most rural of settings the light of Christ can shine throughout church windows and remind the lost and weary that God is reaching out through your church.
Challenge: Take a look at the programs and ministries of your church. Are there clouds of darkness and dissension that keep people from seeing God's power and love? Clear the air and start the New Year with a revitalized faithfulness. Celebrate where the presence of the Holy Spirit can be seen and felt in your church and find ways to let the Spirit be clearly revealed in all areas of your church life.
Prayer: O God, let us see your presence among us. Let us be clear about your signs and reflect your light, message and love in all we do. Amen.
Rev. Dr. John Brantley is an elder serving the Jackson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Ga. in the North Georgia Conference. He shares his weekly sermon notes at www.mysundaysermons.com.