Text: Exodus 24:12-18
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there…’” Waiting is not one of my virtues. As a matter of fact, I hate to wait. If I go to a restaurant and there is a line, I am more likely to turn around and walk out rather than wait. One of the most frustrating daily experiences I have is waiting for the light at Hillsborough and Cox Avenue to change. You know what I am talking about. That light will stay green for ten minutes for the traffic coming down Hillsborough Street. (That is only a slight exaggeration). But when it changes and the green is for the cars on Woodburn or Cox to either turn onto Hillsborough or cross over Hillsborough, one has maybe ten seconds—enough time for one car to get through the intersection. I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it. Sometimes, okay a lot of times, I will cut through the drive behind the law office building turn right on Hillsborough and then make a left onto Cox. I know it sounds crazy, but I hate waiting at that light. The truth is I am not good at waiting, period. But I don’t think I am the exception.
The average attention span for Americans is anywhere between 6 to 90 minutes. Medical professionals suggest that the increasingly intrusive overabundance of often irrelevant and distracting information, from reality television to advertising on mobile phones, to immediate access of information via the internet, are all contributors to our short attention span and our unwillingness to wait any length of time for what we want or need. There is no denying that the way we live and move in this world runs counter to nurturing one’s ability to wait. Imagine what would happen if God called one of us to Grandfather Mountain to wait on a revelation? Furthermore, imagine how we would respond if we had to wait for seven days for God’s initial contact. Then forty more days and nights before we received what we went for. Not only do I highly doubt our ability to wait for forty days, but I imagine after the first day we would have tried to change our service provider and upgrade our equipment.
It is no surprise that this mysterious passage from Exodus has been chosen by the framers of the common lectionary as the Hebrew text to read on Transfiguration Sunday. Had we read the gospel reading for today—the story of Jesus being transfigured before his disciples—we would have experienced much of the same that is going on in this text from Exodus. Both experiences occur on mountains; both involve the prophet and lawgiver of Israel, Moses; both have something to do with divine revelation and its importance for God’s people; and both have something to do with waiting on God.
Exodus 24 is usually identified as a portion of material among the oldest in the Bible, the so-called “Holiness Code.” Within chapters 21-24 is found ancient case law, preceded in chapter 20 by one version of the most famous series of laws of all, the Ten Commandments. It has long been believed that the book of Exodus is a large collection of traditions that may span as much as 1,000 years or more. It is amazing to think that these verses that we read from Exodus this morning are among the oldest of all the biblical material. Which means that this theme of “waiting on God” has been a part of the human story from the very beginning of time. There is no denying that it is a significant theme throughout scripture, especially in the Psalms and in the book of Isaiah. Actually, Isaiah 40:31 is one of the most familiar passages in all of scripture: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Those who wait for God shall renew their strength.
If you think about it, waiting is quite the conundrum. On the one hand, as I have already stated, most of us are not very good at it, and our culture is increasingly organized around avoiding it. We want what we want and we want it yesterday. We want it on our own terms, just like we envisioned it. On the other hand, waiting is a necessary and very humbling aspect of life in general and the spiritual life in particular. There is something we need, and having to wait for it puts us in a position where we are not in control. The doctor will see us when she is ready. The cashier will serve us when it is our turn. If we refuse to wait and abort the process prematurely, we are left empty-handed. So, how do we learn to wait—and especially how do we learn how to wait on God?
Richard Rohr calls the discipline of waiting in the spiritual life “liminal space.” This comes from the Latin word limina, which means threshold. As Rohr points out, “liminal space is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always calling them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.” It is when you are standing on the threshold of experiencing something new and different. Celtic spirituality calls this place the “thin place”—that place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It is that place where we can sense the divine more readily.
Waiting on God is not about sitting quietly or idly by hoping that God might show up or drop a message out of the sky to us. No, waiting on God is about taking a risk to place ourselves in that liminal space—standing on the threshold of something new—or in those thin places where the human and the divine recognize one another and transformation and transfiguration are possible. Waiting on God is about finding your mountain, like Moses did; and going there open to having your life transformed and transfigured.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there…’” I wonder, in what ways are we willing to take a risk to wait on God? What mountain are we willing to climb as a church? What threshold or liminal space or thin place are we willing to step into in order to have our lives transformed and transfigured? Are we willing to stand in that liminal space and wait on God with the laborers and union workers; the immigrants; the mentally ill; those in prison; the chronically homeless? Do we have the courage to become a people who risk the devouring fires on our current day mountaintops for the sake of having our lives transformed? Waiting on God is risky but it is also life-changing.
The next time I approach the stoplight at Hillsborough and Woodburn, more times than not, I will probably still cut behind the law offices. But I imagine that I will also think about where I am waiting on God.