by Rev. Joe Connolly
“Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” — Exodus 24:16.
I am sure I have mentioned from this pulpit at least 100 times that Bonnie and I met on an island off the coast of Maine, a property that has been in Bonnie’s extended family since 1898. We met there in the Summer of 1987 and got married a year later.
This property, being an island off the coast of Maine, is incredibly beautiful. I may be prejudiced, but I think pretty much the whole state of Maine is gorgeous. I have no greater authority to back up that claim than my brother.
My brother had a career working first for the Department of Environmental Conservation and then for the Adirondack Park Agency here in New York State. He and his family live in the Saranac Lake area. In terms of beauty, that area is certainly one of the most spectacular places in our fair state.
That having been said, the first time Jim visited us up in Maine he was overwhelmed by its beauty. Just to reinforce what my brother thinks of Maine, since he first visited he and his family have actually chosen to vacation there a number of times. That fact alone is a testament to the natural beauty to be found in the State of Maine.
Having mentioned Bonnie and I met on this island, I need to mention one of draw backs of being on an island off the coast of Maine: an atmospheric condition. That atmospheric condition is called fog.
Why do you get fog, especially on the coast and just off the coast of Maine? The current known as the Gulf Stream, a relatively warm flow of water, heads north just off the coast of the state. The current known as the Labrador Current, a relatively cold flow of water, heads south just off the coast of Maine.
The two slam into one another right there, just off the coast of Maine. The temperature difference between the two creates a temperature inversion which produces the phenomena known as fog. Maine and fog— if you look up those two words I believe you will find most text books list them as being synonyms.
In any case, back in 1987 Bonnie and I arrived on the island with a group of folks on the morning of Saturday on July 11th just as the fog was rolling in. Now when I say fog, we are talking about thick Maine fog here. Maine fog is better known as pea soup. Being able to see 30 feet is pretty good visibility.
And so, on Saturday the fog rolled in. On Sunday the fog remained, all day. And the fog was still there on Monday, all day. And the fog continued to envelop us on Tuesday, all day.
Some of us, having played at least 1,000 games of charades and some of us having read War and Peace… at least twice through… all of us on the island were close to stir crazy when Wednesday morning dawned… bright, sunny, blue, not a cloud in the sky with a dead calm wind. The surface of the ocean was as smooth as glass.
And the outdoor activities began. Some of us hiked around the island. Despite the temperature of the ocean off the coast of Maine some decided swimming was the way to release pent up energy.
I don’t know who suggested it but either Bonnie asked me or I asked Bonnie if taking a canoe out into Penobscot Bay together was an acceptable activity. We agreed and so that’s what we did.
We grabbed a couple of life jackets, paddles and out into the bay we went. The aforementioned ocean was still as smooth as glass.
Quite a ways out the both of us heard a noise. Simultaneously we stopped paddling and remained silent. Again, there was no wind so it was very quiet.
Then at once we were surrounded by porpoises. They were on our right. They were on our left, backs humped out of the water, spouting water, making noise. And then it was suddenly quite again. And then several minutes later exactly the same thing happened one more time. (Slight pause.)
I hope you won’t think this is an overstatement. Both Bonnie and I thought of this and still think of this as a “God moment,” something that happens at a time and in a place were there was and is a sense of the love of God as it was and as it is expressed through the creation of God, a time when and a place where we had a sense of the real presence of God.
I am actually of the opinion that God moments— times when and places where the real presence of God is with us— occur often. I am also of the opinion that most of the time we are too distracted to be aware of these God moments. (Slight pause.)
These words are found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh, in the section known as the Torah in the work commonly referred to as Exodus: “Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” (Slight pause.)
Fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be it seems to me in our society movies instruct us about what the real presence of God might feel like or look like. These artistic ideas run from serious representations in films like The Ten Commandments to comedic representations, such as God being played George Burns in Oh, God! or by Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty.
I want to suggest the problem is not these artistic expressions in and of themselves. I think the problem is we buy into these representations lock, stock and barrel as explanations of what God might look like or feel like instead striving to understand God on our own terms, instead of being aware of our own experiences of God, instead of being sensitive to the presence of God in our lives.
The words we hear in Exodus say that the Glory of God came to dwell on Mount Sinai for six days and, obviously, based on the description, there was a cloud. Who knows? It may have even been fog.
But what is the Glory of God? What does that phrase mean? (Slight pause.) The underlying Hebrew word we translate as the Glory of God is Kabod— k, a, b, o, d is the transliteration.
Now, in Hebrew what any word means often depends on the context of how a word is used. Hence, there is no one way to translate any specific word with exactness outside of the context, something which makes Hebrew a very hard language to learn and to translate.
In any case, among other things, Kabod can mean importance, honor and majesty. These are all significant ways of understanding that word. But in the context of Mount Sinai it’s likely what Kabod means is the real and full presence of God.
And so what this story calls the real presence of God, the Kabod, comes and dwells on the mountain for six days. And there is a cloud. And nothing happens, or at least nothing is recorded as happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there.
And then Moses goes into the cloud for forty days and forty nights. And nothing happens. Or at least nothing is recorded as happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there. (Slight pause.)
When this reading was introduced it was said this is a story of a theophany, a manifestation of the presence of God. It was said we, too often, approach such narratives in awe and wonder about how God manifests God’s own self, be it in a cloud, in a burst of light, in a burning bush, instead of being in awe and wonder about the amazing fact that God is willing to make God’s own presence known.
In short, we become distracted. Like buying into movie narratives about God, too often we concentrate on the artistic details in the narration and rather than on the fact that real presence of God, the Kabod, is with us, is among us. (Slight pause.)
Let me throw something out for your consideration. Suppose you are on an island off the coast of Maine and some pea soup fog rolls in for four days straight.
And suppose you are bored silly. Despite the fact that you are bored silly, here is a key question: is God in the fog? (Slight pause.)
My point is no matter how many games of charades you play and no matter how many Russian novels you consume— God is there, God is here. The full presence of God is with you, with us, no matter when, no matter where. (Slight pause.)
I suppose that still leaves an obvious question: what is this full presence of God? Where is the full presence of God to be found? (Slight pause.) Let me be so bold as to suggest the full presence of God is found, among other places, in joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth, love.
And, rumor to the contrary and even contrary to the messages we get from society, God relies on us— you and me— to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God. I also think, if we strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God a strange yet wonderful thing happens.
The Kabod of God, the real presence of God, breaks through our consciousness when we strive to embody these aspects of God. The Kabod of God can be and will be seen in our distracted lives when we do this with some real regularity. And when we work with God on embodying the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love— especially the love of God— we become much more aware that God is with us always, at all times and in every place. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, NY
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Bonnie has always said if she had left after the fog lifted we may never have seen one another again. After all, the only thing she knew about me at that point was I was terrible at charades. But that segment of the story, my friends, is not about the presence of God but about God’s timing and that’s another sermon— God’s timing. I will say this, however— I believe we are called to strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God. And unless we do that an in so doing recognize of the presence of God, God’s timing and God’s time will never be given a chance, never be seen, never be acknowledged.”
Benediction: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace, for our hope is in the one who has made covenant with us. God reigns. Let us go in God’s peace. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.