Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 10-22-23 “A Presence that Makes a Difference ” 

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Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Today the writer of Exodus presents Moses negotiating with God. He is asking God to clarify some concepts for him. For instance, Moses said, “you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.” “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now, if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

To understand this negotiation better, we must go back to the previous chapters. In chapter 31, Moses is on Mount Sinai talking with God at the end of the chapter he receives two tablets with the Ten commandments. Chapter 32 opens with the people complaining Aaron about Moses’ delay and asked him to make gods for them. Aaron built the golden Calf and introduced it as “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  Because of this God told Moses that he was going to take Israel to the promised land, but he was not going to continue with them anymore.

When the people heard this, they were worried, and Moses starts pressing God because he was also worried. Chapter 33 shows Moses concerned about everything Israel did in the previous chapter. Moses is concerned that God will destroy Israel; he is worried that Yahweh will abandon Israel in the wilderness for their lack of trust. Moses asks Yahweh that regardless of everything Israel has done to continue in this journey with them, “unless you go with us, then how can we be a distinct people, and how will the people know I have found favor in the Lord’s sight? Yahweh’s answer to Moses’ question is one of the most comforting passages from the Old Testament because we can see that our prayers can make God change His mind. In chapter 32:10 God told Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” And after Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

This morning I will meditate chapter 33:16, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” According to Moses, what made Israel distinct from the other people around was the presence of this unique and different God. From what Moses is saying, we can see that God’s calling to Israel was to be different and unique like Him.

Israel was called to make the difference, and this is clear from the beginning. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 46: 9 reminds us of that too. He said, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The term gentile means those who are not part of Israel. Israel was chosen, selected by God to bring His light to the rest of the nations. To be an example of how to live when Yahweh is the center of our lives.

Israel was called to shine not with her light, but with God’s presence. Israel was called to be different and Holy, not because of the religiosity and rites they practiced. All other people in Moses’ times practiced religion and rituals. However, Israel and his leaders were called to be different because of God’s transforming presence in their midst. We can see it in the life of many men and women in Israel. It was not the intellectual leadership skills that gave Moses the impetus and wisdom to move a couple of million people out into the wilderness to seek their promised land. It was God’s presence in Moses’ life. it was God’s faithfulness to the promise he gave Moses in Exodus 3:12, “I will be with you.”

God’s presence as a difference maker is also true for other leaders. It was not Gideon’s military genius that gave him, and 300 men equipped with torches, horns, and water pitchers the victory over 135,000 well trained soldiers. It was the presence of the One who gave Gideon his assignment; God’s presence made a difference. It wasn’t the ability to ‘talk to the animals’ that gave Daniel a safe night with the lions. It was the presence of the One who promised Daniel to be with him in all circumstances. We can say the same of Deborah and Ester, and many others. God dwelling in their lives made the difference.

One of the most remarkable qualities of God is His unconditional faithfulness. He promised to be with Moses and His people even after they wanted to return to Egypt. He remained with them even after Israel complained and doubted His presence when they were hungry and thirsty; and even after they built a golden calf and Aaron told them, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” He remained faithful.

God’s presence -my sisters and brothers- is not just a company. He is with us, for us to learn to be different, for us to learn to be like Him. That is why leaders like Giedion and Daniel were victorious because they were different from others. They followed God’s commandments and were faithful to Him because He was faithful to them. They learned to be faithful by experiencing God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness is the ability to stick with a task until it is completed. Faithfulness is the ability to trust in the presence of whom we do not see, but whom we know for sure can see us.

We, the church of Jesus, the new Israel as well as Moses, Israel and many others have the promise of God’s presence. Jesus said to His disciples and us, in Matthew 28:20, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus has given us the same promise with the same purpose: to make us a distinct people, to follow him and make him our example to follow, he has called us to bring his light to this world.

During his negotiation Moses asked God to show him His way. Through Jesus, God has shown us the way too, because He is the way. Therefore, if we follow His lead, we will be transformed into His image; if we follow his lead, even our minds will be changed. Philippians 2:5 says, “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” We can have His mind only when we follow His example.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” My brothers and sisters, Jesus’ presence is real in our lives and our church’s life but let us not forget that His company is not just an ornament to decorate our lives and our sanctuary. Neither something we can brag about. His presence is the example we must follow; His presence is the power He has given us to be different; the power to be like Him and do to others as He has done to us.

When we follow His lead, when we do for others as He has done for us, we will make the difference, and others will be able to see his light through us. Remember, we are different not because of who we are, but because of who He has made us be; we are different not because of what we have done, but because of what His presence has done in our life. 

Today this world needs people who can make the difference in this world. People is dying, starving, suffering, taken hostage and the world is silent. Many countries, including ours, are sending weapons and resources to continue with the war when what we need is resources to end war. In moments like this let us remember our call to be distinct people.

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