The Book of Exodus

Letters from a Pastor to His People- June 7, 2020

Dear Parishioners,

It's really important that we read and reread this short first reading from the Book of Exodus.  Let it form our mind.  Let it help our understanding of God.  We need this proper knowledge of the Lord if we are going to navigate the complexities of our moral and spiritual life.

Moses returns up to Mount Sinai and Yahweh reveals another title by which he can be called: Lord.  I don't know about you, but I like using this title, Lord, for God.  Yes, I certainly use other titles when I pray and when I'm in relationship with God: Jesus, Father, friend, brother, Spirit.  'Lord' doesn't give me a sense of fear or servility in a bad way.  I like 'Lord' because it emphasizes for me that God is the one in control, not me.  He is guiding my life, he has a plan for me—a plan that is better than anything I could concoct—and that it is to my advantage to simply surrender to him.  Remember that "Surrender Novena" we prayed a few months ago?  The title 'Lord' is all wrapped up in that.

God emphasizes this reality when he then speaks to Moses atop Mount Sinai.  He says, "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Exodus 34:6).  That is how God defines himself.  He uses words like mercy, graciousness, kindness, fidelity. 

Do you use those words when you define God or think about him?  Again, this is what I mean when I wrote at the beginning to ponder this passage and let it form your intellect. 

In my own conversations with people, my spiritual direction and my hearing Confessions, I would say many would not have this image of the Lord: that is, one who is kind, merciful, patient and faithful.  People who have feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and self-condemnation may, I suspect, hear the Lord characterizing himself as angry, impatient, demanding, judgmental, severe. 

I know I still certainly do.  I have to catch myself often lest I fall into a false notion of who God is.  When I find myself feeling heavy and accusing myself harshly because of my failures and shortcomings, I have to ask myself, "is that really the voice of God? Is that actually God or is that me?" More often than not, it's me.  How do I know?  Again, look at how God describes himself in Exodus.  Also, read John 3:16.  "God so loved the world..."

Now, for those who aren't into all this "feeling" talk, who think that is emotionalism and sentimentalism that can easily devolve into relativism and a "do whatever you want as long as it feels good" approach, read Exodus 34:7.  You won't find it in the first reading.  Sorry, you'll have to pull out your Bible and look it up.  Curiously, the Lectionary omits this verse.

Okay, I will be gracious and provide the verse for you here.  Exodus 34:7: "continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation!"

We are still held accountable by God.  He doesn't condone sin.  We can't just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.  No.  We have to cooperate with God's grace.  And my argument, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, is that the first way we do that is by truly believing in our hearts that God loves us and desires us to be at peace with him now on this earth and one day forever in Heaven.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

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