September 19, 2021 -“The God-centered Community (Exodus 7:14-16)


I continue this morning my sermon series called “Lessons from the Sinai for a Church in transition.” I am taking us back to the time that the Israelites were in the Sinai wilderness in-between their old slave life in Egypt and their new abundant life in the Promised Land, and I am very intentionally taking us back to that time to help you as a church successfully navigate this in-between time between the formal end of David Bailey’s ministry and the coming of your future pastor.

Today’s lesson from the Sinai for you as a church in transition comes from the words God directed Moses to say to Pharaoh before Pharaoh gave the Israelites their freedom: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” This became a kind of mantra for Moses, which he began repeating every time he went in to address Pharaoh

God makes clear through Moses that whatever else the Sinai time was for the Israelites, and it would be about a lot of things, it was to be primarily about recentering the community of former Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh and the Egyptian empire as the center to God as the center through the worship of God.

In the same way, the time between installed senior pastors for a church like yours, that is the interim or transition time, is about a number of things, but primarily it is about recentering this church in God mainly through the worship of God. During the time I am with you worship will be for me the most important, most central, most vital activity that we do together, and I hope it will be for you, as well. If you schedule is so limited that you don’t have time to do much of anything, I hope you will make time at least for worship. The interim time is meant to be a time for spiritual renewal in the church through worship, and one of my many roles as an interim pastor is to be a renewal preacher for you.

So what is worship? What is worship meant to be and do? Let me tell you a story.

In 1473 a baby boy was born in Poland who would grow up and forever change the way we think about our world. His name was Nicolaus Copernicus. He was an astronomer and a mathematician. He was privileged to make one of those rare discoveries that ended up being a game-changer ever after for the whole human race. His discovery produced what a modern-day philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, would come to call a “paradigm shift.” A paradigm is a model or construct we carry around in our heads that helps us understand the world and our lives, help us interpret all of that. A paradigm shift is when something happens that completely changes that model or construct and leads us to a fundamental rethinking of everything in life.

For thousands of years before Copernicus, human beings thought the earth was the center of the universe and that all the heavenly bodies in the universe revolved around the earth, and by implication human beings thought of themselves as the center of the universe as a result of living on the earth they thought of as the center of the cosmos. This idea of an earth-centered universe was just accepted without thinking from generation to generation as conventional wisdom.

Copernicus read the notes of others who had previously looked at and thought about the cosmos, looked through his telescope, developed his own mathematical proofs of what he was seeing, and concluded in time that the earth was not the center of the universe at all; rather, the sun was the center of a solar system, and the earth was just one of several heavenly bodies that revolved around the sun. Copernicus taught us the shocking truth that we are not the center of life in the universe after all, but like so many other things in the universe: just one of many along for the ride.

It was such a huge change in the way human beings thought about the world and themselves that it took the human race a good 100 years or more for Copernicus’ idea to really sink in and be widely accepted, but, once it was, it became known as the “The Copernican Revolution.”

So what is worship?

Worship, like the Copernican Revolution, is for us a paradigm shift that leads to a reconsideration of where the center of life is. Worship shifts our attention away from the people and things and ideas of this world that we thought were the center, to God, who actually is the center of it all, and that shift in attention is intended to cause a revolution in the way we think, speak and live in this world.

2500 years before Copernicus another paradigm shift happened, a revolution even more important than the Copernican one. A spiritual and religious revolution was underway in the Egyptian empire led by a Hebrew man named Moses, who by an odd set of circumstances had grown up in the Egyptian royal palace.

In his idealistic youth Moses murdered a cruel Egyptian taskmaster and buried him in the sand. When the crime was discovered, Moses fled as a fugitive into the Sinai and herded sheep there for 40 years. At the end of that time he had had a special spiritual experience in the desert at the burning bush, encountering the God identified as “Yahweh”, a loving power in the world that Moses would learn was greater than Pharaoh and the whole Egyptian empire. By the end of that holy encounter Moses felt compelled to return to Egypt, and he did, and the next he knew he was standing in front of Pharaoh saying, ”Hear the word of the Lord: let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness,”