Summary: A message on the holiness of God and our response as believers.
“Wholly Holy, Lord God Almighty”
January 12, 2003
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
The Text: Exodus 34:29-35
The Message Outline:
I. The Crisis: Our Loss.
A. We have lost our ability to be awed.
B. We have lost our sense of the holiness of God.
1. We have presumed an “over-familiarity” with God.
2. We have made God after our image.
II. The Corrective: God’s Holiness.
A. Believing and submitting to God as He has revealed Himself to us.
B. Holiness is the fundamental attribute of God’s character.
1. Holiness (Hebrew: qadosh) describes the Lord’s “otherness” from His creation.
2. Holiness describes the Lord’s moral purity, complete uprightness, and justice.
III. The Call: The Believers’ Response.
A. Filial Fear.
1. Praise for who God is.
2. Thanks for what He has done for us.
Following the great London fire in 1666, the architect Sir Christopher Wren received a royal patent to design and rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren personally supervised the construction, which took 35 years to complete at a cost of 738,845 pounds.
When finished in 1710, one contemporary wrote in his diary that the cathedral was “terrible” and “awful.” Those two words have shifted lexical meaning somewhat since 1710 and convey now to our modern ears notions of inferiority and extreme inadequacy. In 1710, the words “terrible” and “awful” were employed by the diarist beholding St. Paul’s Cathedral for the first time to convey the feelings this imposing edifice evoked in him. He was terror-struck at the cathedral’s height and full of awe at its matchless beauty.
One of the sadder commentaries on modern life is that all of our medical, scientific, and technological accomplishments, and all the advances in cinematography, computer-generated reality, and access to information have left us a people unable to be awed. We have explored sub-atomic space, mastered micro-technology, and cloned sheep. Yet most of us, despite the exponentially increasing wonders in the world around us, shuffle through daily life un-awed, uninspired, and underwhelmed. When was the last time something accomplished the incredible feat of taking your breath away, and leaving you feeling awed and lost in a sense of wonder? For many of you I suspect it has been some time. Perhaps we’ve become cynical, jaded, and now have our “awe-receptors” overloaded with too much stimuli. Whatever the cause, most of us have lost that childlike virtue of being impressed and left in speechless awe. And make no mistake about it, that loss is truly our loss.
As modern-day Christians we must likewise confess a similar tragic loss in our own lives. Along with our loss of an ability to be awed has come a commensurate loss in our sense of awe at the holiness of God. In Exodus chapter 3 God’s mere presence in a desert bush was enough to sanctify the patch of barren land around it, and God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground. In Exodus chapter 34, our first lesson appointed for this morning, merely being in the Lord’s holy and awesome presence was enough to effect a physical change in Moses’ countenance. When he had been with the Lord Moses’ face shone. A delegation of his countrymen had to be sent to Moses to tell him to put a rag over his head when coming into camp. His shone shine so brightly after being with God that people were unable to look upon him. Most of us come to God’s house weekly—if that often—unconcerned not only about what is on our feet, but with what is in our heart, what has passed through our lips, what is on our mind, or what we’ve done. Most of us leave God’s house on Sunday, not with shining faces, but with bored faces, faces anxious to beat the Baptists to the countryclub for lunch, faces anticipating kick-off or tee-off time.
I recall a cartoon in Christianity Today magazine which tellingly described our loss of a sense of the holiness of God. It depicted three scenes in three boxes. The first showed German Reformer Martin Luther, quaking with fear and sweating. He says, “In the pages of Holy Scripture I encountered an utterly holy God. And there I learned that I was completely unable, through my own good works, to acquit myself and quiet my conscience before Him.” Scene two shows John Wesley, the great revival preacher and father of Methodism, with arms outstretched to heaven, crying, “God’s holiness, revealed in His holy Word, convicted my sinful heart and there I discovered that I was undone. And after reading Luther’s commentary on the Book of Romans my heart was strangely warmed.” The final box shows a modern, 21st woman with frizzy hair, big spectacles and big earrings. Her smiling face is saying, “In Skip and Jodi’s Bible study I discovered that I needed a check-up from the neck up! I don’t need another diet. What God wants me to do is learn to love me.”