What the Tent of Meeting Teaches Us about Worship*
edited and posted by Bob Young
What is the answer to the overwhelmingness of life except the awareness that real living depends on a continuing process of meeting and meetings, and the meeting that matters most is the meeting with God?
Many aspects of the situation we face today are not without parallel. In this sermon we go back almost three millennia, at least 2700 years, seeking answers. We begin by noticing: matters between God and his people had deteriorated into virtual nothingness.
It had not always been so. Relationship had been at its finest. But now it was gone. Oh, for the good old days, when God was really present, when God alone was sufficient.
Biblical. Five chapters in Exodus detail the tent of meeting. We also remember the alternate meeting tent outside the camp. What is this? Here is the declaration that God will indeed be God, and claim his people. The relationship is challenged but maintained in Exodus 32. But the honeymoon is very brief.
In the flaming words of God's prophets 1000 years later, the question is posed: will God still keep his appointment, maintain his presence with a people apostate and unreliable? Is the relationship dependent on human capacity and perfection? Is the relationship dependent upon human power or God's nature? Can God's nature within us, and relationship with divinity, be maintained despite our frailty?
Indeed, grace is met at the meeting, that is the point. God's presence is real. We have an appointment at a meeting where grace meets even sinful, powerless people. But--it is one thing to affirm it and another to practice it.
Historical. Such was the experience of our forefathers, the pioneers of faith, the consistent commitment to meeting. Meeting that handles life which is riddled with holes and gaps. At the meeting--everything is alright. Life is reoriented, right side up when the meeting is over. So we understand some of the dogged loyalty of those who have been more consistent in the meeting than many of today's Christians. And something of what we have done to worship is to blame. God too little in view, focused on horizontal fellowship, meetings with one another, meetings with our group, meetings with our friends, specialized meetings, as though the meetings depend on some outward circumstance rather than the presence of God.
Understanding the God-meeting
- The God-meeting is eternal. Not the church building, not even Moses' tent, and certainly not the tabernacle and subsequent temples. The sense of appointment has departed, no bells call us, no responsibility for others beckons us, little genuine fellowship sustains us. Who is really interested in carrying a brother or sister very far in our dog-eat-dog world?
Israel had the same problem. In political catastrophe and disintegrating faith, modernized Israel forgot the actions of YHWH. What bad timing. When life becomes skeptical, detached, secular, and hollow, all that is stable and dependable has also disappeared.
So God sends prophets. No more than reminders--I am the Lord your God.
- The God-meeting is overwhelming. When covenant was new and fresh, and hope was in God's immediate presence, when the initiative was obviously God's, entirely God's, when his Name was a saving Name, hope was in the heart, circumcised, cleansed, ready to meet God.
But all had changed 1000 years later. Who wants to meet God? Who wants to find the tent of meeting. Such is frightening, dangerous. When the people marched on Aaron, he is frightened, plays for time, builds an altar, has the circus. Moses returns, and the argument is on. Moses calls them God's people, God calls them Moses' people. Moses says God brought them out; God says Moses did it. Moses demands that God return, that God turn back to his people, and that God must go on the journey with them.
So Moses takes the tent and plants it far from the camp, permanent, for eternity, to bring one's self into touch with the ultimate realities. The meeting, where the overwhelmingness of the Eternal can be met. Whoever wants God goes to the eternal tent. But the tent itself is temporary; the emphasis is on the content, not the container. Here is the God who will not be put in a box, backed into a corner, the God whose godliness you may sometimes know, but whom you cannot see. Nonetheless, we have an appointment.
- The God-meeting is therapeutic. One comes to the meeting because life suffocates us. Either money or no money suffocates. Either families or no families suffocates us. Choices or no choices suffocates us. The closeness and distance of God suffocates. What can clear our minds and lives, our entire spiritual beings? What can bring fresh breathe, fresh air? God.
- The Good-meeting must be repeated. Here is no continual thing, but a repeatable thing. So is our experience with God, come and go, up and down, mountain and valley. Sometimes the impact is shattering. Hammer on glass. Sometimes the impact is gradual. The light is dim, barely visible; God is barely there. Sometimes we seek a meeting and God is not there at all. At least we cannot find him. We forget that meeting must be regular. Otherwise, the house falls from disuse. Our meeting with God has a way of losing its punch, it goes away, we must do it again, and again, and again. So is daily prayer, reading, study, fellowship, walking, quiet times, so is our meeting together with God as the body of Christ on earth. All have days with the glory of God seems closer, days when it seems farther. The key is in being regular at the meeting. We change. We
have new needs. The regularity of the meeting insures God is still there, even in times of difficulty. In the meeting we are reminded of God's past, so we will recognize it in the present, and desire to pass by his presence again and again.
- The meeting is desirable, to be desired. Sometimes we do things because we ought, but coming to the Tent of Meeting again and again requires the willing heart. Would we could learn this lesson. We meet for many reasons, but do we meet to give God is due. Do we bring the treasures of our hearts and lives and remember that the real pearl of great price is the one with whom we desire to meet? This aspect of the meeting is vital in our culture, for our culture, and even our own lives,
too clearly demonstrates our real treasures. One treasure is money, and so we are called upon to bring it. Another treasure is time, and we are called to give it. We have life, and we are called to share it, as widely as possible. We can never place God first when anything else is what we really love best. This is the great barrier to meeting, and the explanation of why we don't want to meet. When will my heart be willing again, and how?
- The meeting is not casual. Our society may think of worship as casual, and so may we, but nothing is so devastating as a casual coming when ardor is expected. How can we meet the high and holy one who inhabits eternity as if nothing were at stake? Can the meeting ever be casual? The Supper, the Table, the talking, the hearing, the sharing. Would we act as though they do not matter? If the meeting is not casual, there are no casual occasions and no casual persons, at least in the presence of God.
We come to the Supper? Why? Are you invited, expected? What do you bring? Betrayal, inconsistency, sin, regrets, scars? Is there relief? Such are not casual questions, and so the hymns, the offerings, the prayers, the sermons, the responses are not casual.
The lowest common denominator of our worship is meeting. We are meeting God. Here is the perpetual symbol into which all other symbols have been carved. The meeting with the eternal, overwhelming us, changing us, remaking us, again and again, changing our will, demanding our full attention. The declaration in the spiritual meeting, "I will see you again." Christ to us, we to one another.
And so we shall!
Note: The idea and some wording for this sermon came from Carlyle Marney, "The Tent of Meeting."
Return to Sermon Index
Last updated January 3, 2016