This part of our series draws to an end as we skip to the end of the book of Exodus. It is not the end of the story, however, but just one episode in His Story, one in which the Israelites find they have a place, just as we find we have a place.
In skipping we have passed over chapters of details about the portable temple, the furniture, the special priestly role, with special clothes, ritual washing, sacrifices and much more. There is lots of this stuff in Exodus - details that convey preparation for the holiness of God. This is hard for us because we do worship quite informally (and some rightly wonder if it is too informal!). We stress the approachability of God (that is possible in Christ), whereas the detail here is about getting things right, with a clear distinction between 'common' and 'holy'.
Moses and the people made lots of preparations, but at last in chapter 40 it is now all done, the work finished. God honours this in v34 with a cloud covering the tent, the glory of God filling the newly made tabernacle. It was a wondrous event, so special and with so much of God that now Moses himself could not enter. Of course it is hard to imagine what it must have been like, but this is the first of several episodes like it in the the history of Israel. And since the time of Jesus different congregations at different times have reported special experiences where the glory of God seems to descend among them in a magnificent way.
Thus is the immanent presence of God, the unbeatable experience, God with us in His glory!
Yet while the glory came down and the cloud rested over the tabernacle, a key thing to pick up from v36 - 38 is that this presence was not stationary. After a while it moved, and God led them on a journey to go with it. The presence of God was right there among the million or so people, but this was not the end of the journey, things were not yet complete, they were not yet at rest. Instead there was still movement, stuff to do, lessons to learn, a journey to travel.
For us caught in His story, the message too is "Don't be static", be prepared to move, to journey, to learn new things. Yet do it with the presence of God going with you, leading just ahead of you. Hence the key question/challenge:
Key Qn: [OUT] What is the next phase of the journey?
Challenge: Look ahead
Be open to where God is calling us next. As a church we want to think about capacity for mission. We pray for given lives - lives set for the God given roles and enterprises He has for us.. Yet we want not just great ideas, but to be led by God, staying with the presence of God. The challenge to look ahead is real, since it is so easy to focus only on what is immediately in front of us!
The presence of God is of course a wonderful thing - many describe might describe their experience of it as a mountaintop experience. Yet as His people we also want to know God with us even through the valley, and also learn to know God both in the settled place and when God is calling us to be on the move.
[This message was followed by an extended reflection time with different resources - which can be found here]