Sermons by Bernard Bell
Church used to be part of the fabric of American life. But, especially in the Bay Area, it is now generally assumed that people do not attend church; we are in one of the least-churched areas of the country. Technology has made it easier for Christians to skip church: you can stream a church service online while drinking coffee at home, or catch a sermon podcast later after going to the beach. So does church still matter? Or is it in an anachronism in today’s society? What is church and why do we “do” church?
Exodus 40:34-38 God’s Gift of Himself. God saved Israel, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the Ten Commandments, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the gift of order in time with the sabbath, and the gift of order in space with the tabernacle, but these were not his greatest gifts. He put his Presence in the tabernacle; this was his greatest gift—the gift of himself.
Exodus 36:8-40:33 “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst,” the Lord commanded Moses. But how can you make a suitable container for one whom the highest heavens cannot contain? Will God really dwell in a house made by human hands? What sort of a container is the Tabernacle?
Exodus 35:1 – 36:7 Jesus was invited to dinner in the home of a Pharisee who neglected to show him true hospitality. But a woman poured out her alabaster flask of ointment and anointed Jesus. Jesus said of her, “Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown” (Luke 7:47). After God had forgiven Israel for worshiping the golden calf, it was those whose hearts moved them that were to contribute materials for the tabernacle. The key to giving oneself and one’s resources is gratitude and love.
Exodus 34:29-35 Moses spent forty days and nights in God’s presence on the top of Mt. Sinai. When he came down his face shone. God’s presence was a transforming presence. God knows us and loves us as we are, but he also wants to transform us so that we become who we are meant to be. But how are we transformed? How do people change?
Exodus 34:10-28 Passionate Presence. God loves his people with a passionate love. The Biblical word for this passion is “jealousy.” To us this seems a negative trait, describing inappropriate longings. But jealousy is appropriate within a covenant relationship. The two parties have pledged their troth to each other; they are bound to loyalty. One of the Lord’s names is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He has won our affections and bound our soul fast. He wants us to be able to say of him: my love he owns, I have no longings for another, I’m satisfied in him alone.
Matt 1:18-25 How can Jesus be born of Mary if Joseph is not the birth father? When Joseph found that his betrothed Mary was pregnant he pondered these things. How can this be? An angel gave him the answer: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit that hovered over the waters prior to the first creation, had now overshadowed Mary’s womb. God sends the same Spirit into us to birth a new creation. How can our broken pots be repaired so that they are even more beautiful than the original? It is the same answer: from the Holy Spirit.
Matt 1:1-17 Over the four Sundays of Advent we will follow Matthew’s account of the birth story of Jesus (Matthew 1–2). We’ll find answers to four questions about this newborn child. Who? Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. How? From a virgin through the Holy Spirit. Where? In Bethlehem. Whence? From Egypt to Nazareth. In each case this is in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Exod 33:18-34:9 At the Burning Bush, Moses asked God, “What is your name?” He gave the enigmatic reply, “I am who I am,” which he then clarified as “He is.” In Hebrew this name is Yahweh, usually rendered in English as “The Lord.” At Mt. Sinai, Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” Instead, God proclaims to him his name, Yahweh, the Lord, giving a description that became confessional for Israel.
Exod 33:1-17 When you imagine God’s face, what do you see? A friendly face or an angry face? David prayed, “Hide your face from my sins… Cast me not away from your presence (face)” (Ps 51:9, 11). Many of us fear it’s the other way around: God hides his face from us but keeps our sins ever before his face. Maybe that’s because we’ve superimposed someone else’s face onto God’s face. For Moses, the Lord’s face (or presence) was all-important. The Lord used to talk with him face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Moses wanted that presence to go with the people of Israel, despite their great sin.
Exod 32:15-35 Satisfied in Him Alone. Jealousy is usually a negative trait, describing inappropriate longings. But there’s one situation in which jealousy is appropriate: a marriage. Once a couple marry, their affections belong within the marriage. Transferring them outside the marriage should arouse jealousy. Israel transferred its affections to a golden calf, breaking the second commandment. God forbids making and bowing down to an image in the likeness of anything because he is a Jealous God. His name, even, is Jealous. God has won our affections and bound our soul fast. He wants us to be able to say of him: my love he owns, I have no longings for another, I’m satisfied in him alone.
Exod 32:1-14 Maybe some of you have made New Year’s resolutions. You’ve embarked on the year with renewed resolve to be different, to be better, to try harder, to achieve some goal. But how long do such resolutions last? The Israelites were full of resolve when they entered into covenant with the Lord: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” We return to Exodus to see how the Israelites are doing in their resolve. On top of Mt. Sinai Moses has been in the Lord’s Presence, receiving instructions for the people: “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” We turn to the foot of the mountain where we find the people experiencing Absence not Presence. Their resolve to live a life of faith collapses and they demand something they can see. We all, like them, are prone to wander, and so we pray, “Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”