Formations 11.08.2020: What Now?

Exodus 40:16-21, 30-38

One of my ministry colleagues was once doing a research project on worship practices in American Baptist Churches in Indiana. He loved to tell the story of a particular service he attended with his grown children and his young granddaughter. As Lee, my colleague, described it, she was (of course) a little angel throughout the service. If I remember correctly, this was her first time in “big church,” and everything was fresh and new. She listened to the music, soaked in the banners and candles and other visual elements, and bowed her head for the prayers.

Everybody stood up for the benediction, and she stood beside her parents. The pastor said, “Amen.” Then, in the half-second of silence after the prayer had ended, she shouted, “What now?”

Ever after, Lee liked to say that this was the perfect response to any service of worship. What now? Now that we have confessed our sins, offered our praise, voiced our concerns for prayer, and heard the word of God read and interpreted…what do we do now?

God willing, we will have gained some wisdom, clarity, and encouragement that we can take with us out the door and into a world where it is desperately needed.

Our lesson today suggests there may be one more thing to take with us—or better, one more thing that will take us where we need to go.

In Exodus 40, when all the furnishings of the tabernacle are complete, Moses prepares it for use. He places the covenant in the ark and has it brought into the sanctuary along with the other objects required for worship.

When everything has been prepared, the glory of God fills the tabernacle so powerfully that not even Moses can bear it (v. 35). A cloud resting over the tent of meeting signaled God’s presence, and the Israelites stayed in that place until it was taken up.

In other words, having experienced the wonder of God’s presence at Mount Sinai, having seen the lightning flash and felt the earth shake, having heard the voice of God like the blast of a trumpet—and having experienced God’s forgiveness after the golden calf—a single thought passed through the Israelites’ collective consciousness.

“What now?”

What will it mean to go forward? Where shall we go from here? And how shall we conduct ourselves along the way?

The answer to those questions is found in the promise of God’s presence. Wherever the Israelites go, God will be with them. God will show them when (and where) to go because God will go before them. Just as important, God will show them when to stay put.

How does God’s presence guide you?

Discussion

• How can we discern God’s presence today?
• Apart from divine guidance, what other blessings of God’s presence are implied in this passage?
• What is “the glory of God”? Why is this something desirable?
• What does this passage say about the seriousness with which this glory must be taken?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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