Deuteronomy 18:16-17
“Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.” – And the LORD said to me, “This was well said…”
What is the difference between being afraid of God and the virtue of the fear of the Lord? The Israelites standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, having heard the voice of God, were afraid. I do not think this is what God wanted from them, even though he said, “this was well said”.
I think he would much rather have had them all so anxious to be in the presence of God that they would have wanted to climb the mountain just to be close to God.
But God knew his people. He even said that none of them except for Moses was to even touch the mountain. What a tragedy! Why a tragedy? Because we should all have a longing for the face of God, the voice of God, the presence of God. Yet so many people seem to be afraid – and not have the virtue of the fear of the Lord.
Okay. What is the fear of the Lord as a virtue? Obviously, I am saying it is not being afraid of God. It is rather a combination of awe, amazement, love, devotion… I do not know what other adjectives to use. The fear of the Lord is about our response to a loving God who would do so many things for us, who would even sacrifice his own Son.
My dad amazed me so many times. He told me on many occasions how he chose to receive Communion. When we started to receive communion in the hand, my dad began a very specific practice. He would receive the host in his hand, step to the side, pick up the host in his fingers, look at the crucifix above the tabernacle, superimpose the host on that crucifix, silently say “thank you”, then finally consume the host.
I believe that was part of the way my dad lived the virtue of the fear of the Lord. As a priest, who gave communion to my dad on a few occasions, I watched him do this very specific devotion.
The Israelites were afraid to draw near to God. It is not presumptuous on our part to draw near to our God. It is part of the grace that God has poured out to us through Jesus.
There was another occasion in Moses’ life that helps to inform this idea as well. Moses was supposed to commission seventy-two other leaders to take some of the pressure of leadership off of him. When he prayed for the seventy (two of the designated men remained in their tents), all seventy-two received an outpouring of God’s spirit. Joshua reported this to Moses. Joshua wanted him to tell the other two not to use the spirit of God, because they were not with the group.
Moses response was that he wished everyone, all the Israelites, without exception, would be prophets. But they were afraid to draw that close to God.
Is it risky to draw near to an all holy God? Is it risky to feel drawn to an intimate relationship with God? We do not have to fear the fate of Icarus who flew so close to the sun that his wings melted. We can draw near to the fiery love that God has, and we will not be burned.
There are places in Scripture that warn us against being presumptuous in drawing near to God. But God has given us the invitation. He has given us his own Son that we might understand the level of love that he has for us.
Our reading from Deuteronomy tells us that God will appoint a prophet to take the place of Moses. That prophet is MORE than a prophet – he is the Son of God who teaches with a new authority, commands demons, heals those in need, and proclaims the Kingdom of God.
We need not be afraid of this Mighty Savior. He is the Lord, and he calls us to the virtue of the fear of the Lord. Be in awe… be amazed… be in love… be devoted to God. This is the call for all people, if only they would dare to listen.
Lord Jesus, you would not let the demons speak because in announcing you, they would have perverted your true message. You have entrusted that message to us for the world. Help us not to be afraid either of you or the world. But give us the strength of the virtue of the fear of the Lord so that we can be prophets needed in our day for a world that does not want to hear you.
Give us confidence. Give us the confidence we need to be strong in our faith and let others see the value that we have in our faith. Our faith is being ridiculed in so many places. Help us to be like Moses who brought your people out of slavery. Help us by the power of your name and the gift of your grace to be able to silence demons and a secular world that wants to try to silence us.
Give us courage. Give us the courage we need to walk in your holiness and present the truth of the gospel without compromise. Give us what we need to be like St. Paul who preached the truth in his day. We need the same now.
Thank you, Lord. We thank you because we know it is your will to bring all people into your church. Help us to be the instruments for our day that will draw the world to you. Amen.