Sermon from January 18th, 2015. Text for this week’s sermon comes from Exodus 35:30-36:7.
Doodling in God’s Presence
Bezalel was a doodler. He carved doodles on the trees while he was out tending sheep, and he doodled when it was his turn to sweep the floor of the house. He would swirl the dust into spectacular patterns before wiping it all away so that no one could see. To his family, his doodling was pure nuisance. It distracted him from accomplishing practical tasks, work that would help the family and maybe one day make him suitable to start a family of his own. But to Bezalel, doodling was pure joy. He loved to bring out the beauty from a piece of wood, to turn gnarls and knots into a work of art. Bezalel knew his family meant well. Carving decorations onto the table was never going to put food on it. But whenever he tried to focus and be more practical he always found that his hands had already started on something else.
Oholiab was not so different. Much younger, but he’d still disappear into his own head in the same way, painting cloudscapes in his mind, or wondering exactly how to make a paint the color of sunlight in the afternoon. His mother had even gone to Bezalel’s mother to ask what to do, not that it did any good. She’d set him to gathering firewood only to find him an hour later pulping desert plants to find the right color for a rock mural.
Neither Bezalel nor Oholiab noticed that Moses had been paying extra attention to them these past few weeks. Moses was remembering what God had said to him before he had gone down from Mt. Sinai that first time. “I have chosen Bezalel…and I have filled him with my power. I have given him understanding, skill, and ability for every kind of artistic work…I have also selected Oholiab, son of Ahisamach from the tribe of Dan, to work with him.”
Moses wondered what God saw in those two dreamers. Not that there were a lot of choices to make the tabernacle. The Hebrews in the wilderness had no artisans among them. The Egyptians hadn’t exactly been using them for skilled labor. They knew how to make bricks and that was about it. Moses had imagined something better for God’s house. Lebanese woodworkers, Egyptian goldsmiths, Assyrian ironworkers. Moses had grown up in Egyptian palaces, and it was sad to think that nothing here would rival the walls he used to marvel at as a child.
But that was all before the Golden Calf Incident. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, the people became afraid that God had abandoned them, or that God was not with them. Without something that would reassure them of God’s presence, they were adrift. So they convinced Aaron to make them a Golden Calf, a god they could see, a god they could be sure wasn’t going anywhere without them. Moses had been furious. Moses had shown them time and time again that God was with them: the escape from Egypt, the pillars of cloud and fire that guided them, and the manna provided every morning all proclaimed God’s presence. But the people were always afraid and unsure. Every time it seemed that they had come to trust God, something would happen and they’d fall off the wagon again. Moses had racked his brain trying to figure out how to show the people that God was with him. And he wondered what these two doodlers could do that he couldn’t.
God had proclaimed that Moses should have a tent built, a tabernacle in which presence of God would dwell. Then the people would always know that God was with them, because the tabernacle would be God’s home on earth. But how could these two space cadets build a tabernacle worthy of the Most High? And how, Moses wondered, could these two dreamers make the people see that God was with them when Moses could not?
When Moses announced that Bezalel and Oholiab would be spearheading the construction of the tabernacle, Bezalel and Oholiab were stunned. They had never thought of their doodles as anything more than a way to pass the time. They had no idea how to build something worthy of God. But they gathered the tools they had and set about to do it as best as they could.
On their first day, a crowd of people gathered to watch Bezalel and Oholiab work. They didn’t have a lot to work with. A few tools, some brushes, an oven and some woven cloth. But that was what they had, and so they began. Bezalel set to shaping wood for the frame of the tent, and Oholiab began making dyes for the vestments of the priests. It wasn’t long before the crowd was marveling at the colors that Oholiab was making.
“I wish I could do something like that,” someone said. “You can,” said Oholiab, and before you know it they had their hands deep in the dye buckets, making every color in a sunrise. Soon Oholiab was showing everyone how to make the dyes and paints he needed, and Bezalel was showing people how to plane and shape the wood for the Ark of the Covenant.
The next day, even more people showed up to help. And this time they brought their tools and their jewelry too. Everyone wanted to be a part of the construction of the tabernacle, and everyone had an offering that they wanted to share. Bezalel and Oholiab taught them how to make a beautiful work of art for the Lord Most High, and the beams and canvas showed their love of God.
Within a few days they had so many precious metals and offerings that Moses had to call the people together to tell them to stop bringing things to add to the Tabernacle, there was already too much for them to handle.
When Moses finished his announcement, he stopped by to see how the construction was coming. He was astonished to see so many hands working on the temple, many of whom had been laying down before a Golden calf not long before. But Bezalel and Oholiab were not just gifted artisans, they were gifted teachers. They showed the people that God’s world was full of beauty, they simply had to let the beauty be shown to the world. And with time, the people came to know that that beauty dwelled in them as well, and it was a sign of God’s presence within them. As they built and shaped a tabernacle for the Lord to dwell, they came to realize that God was dwelling in their hearts as well.