Sermon week 5
God guides our living.
Finally, after 420 years in Egypt they were free. Three months after the Passover and after crossing the red sea, Moses and the crew come near Mount Sinai.
(Slide #2) Looking at our map, (Slide #3) we started this journey in Eden in the East. They made a trek up to Haran, and down to Shechem. Joseph made the journey to Egypt as a slave, and his father Israel and brothers followed. After they escaped slavery and pharaoh’s army (Slide #4) they took kind of circuitous route, but 90 days later ended up 400-600 miles from Goshen at foot of Mount Sinai. (I can’t be more specific than that because there are at least three possible sites for the mountain. See the question marks? No one knows for sure, which one is correct.) The danger behind them, they settled in to life in the desert and actually camped in this location for a year.
(Slide 5) But perhaps more important than a geographical journey, is the upper story journey. From the beginning with Adam to starting over with Cain, to starting over with Noah, to starting over with Abraham, to starting over with Joseph, it has been a long journey already. It has been a journey filled with twists and turns, but here at Sinai both the people and God settle in to discover what life would be like after slavery. From both an upper story and lower story perspective this is yet another chance to start over again. What would this new relationship look like? How would God relate to his people? And frankly, how many ways can the people find to disappoint God?
In the upper story, up to this point, God has tried walking with Adam and Eve, destroying everyone but Noah, making a nation out Abraham, and saving that nation through Joseph. That hasn’t really worked. Over and over people rejected, refused, and rebelled against God. Now, God would try a different approach. I might describe it as a more parental approach. Rather than a partner, a king, or a rescuer, God takes the lead more like a parent, and makes a set of rules we call the Decalogue.(slide 6)
In starting over again, God decides there are a couple of things the people need to understand. First, God wanted them to understand what it means to live with him as their God. Second, God wanted them to understand what it meant to live in community with each other. In God’s eyes, both are critical.(slide 7) I JOHN 4:20 says it “if you can’t love your brother whom you can see, how can you love a God whom you cannot see?” Both the horizontal brother to brother to sister relationships, and the vertical child to God relationship must be healthily intact in order for God’s upper story vision to be fulfilled.
That is the goal. The question for today is, how to accomplish that. Given God’s vision, and the people’s rebellion, what would you put on the tablets. Would you have used the 10 suggestions. Would they be the 10 threats. I might use the 10 ultimatums. You know “no idols, or else!” “No lying, or else!” That is from a lower story perspective.
Today, however, I want to look through an upper story lens. I want to look at the Decalogue from God’s perspective. God could have used suggestions, or threats or even ultimatums, but I don’t think that is what God had in mind. Today I want to look at the Decalogue through the lens of blessing so please turn to page 61 of THE STORY or chaper 20 of Exodus and follow along.
The first 4 items have to do with that vertical relationship. Our relationship with God.
· I am the lord thy God,
· make no idols,
· don’t disrespect my name,
· and give me one day out of 7.
How can these “don’ts” be blessings you ask?
1. Let’s start with number one. “I am the lord you God.” Not some foreign God, not some abstract power I am YOUR God. I am the lord who has claimed you and saved you. I am your God who loves you and gives you a love claim on me.
The blessing is that God himself promises to be our God and our God alone. You shall have no other God’s before me. You shall have no other God and I will have no other people.
2. Number two, “make no graven images.” In other words, make no idols. This makes sense because God is beyond anything we can imagine or create. There is no animal, or plant, or person who comes close to God; so it would be an insult to limit God in that way. The Blessing is that we are in relationship to the incomparable God who is more than anything we can imagine or fashion with our hands.
3. Number three- You shall not misuse God’s name. The very fact that we have been given God’s name is a blessing. It Means that we serve a personal God. We could be serving a God who is so distant and so foreign to us that we don’t even know his name. But we do have an intimate first name relationship with God.
There is also an explanation with this commandment. “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Notice that this is not a threat. A threat would have said something like “God will destroy anyone who does this.” But no, it has this explanation of why we don’t misuse God’s name, “because God will not hold you guiltless.”
It is the difference between saying “don’t play in the street because I said so,” or “don’t play in the street because I love you and don’t want you to be hit by a car.” Do you see the difference?
4. Number four is Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. If you had spent your life as a slave in Egypt, working under harsh taskmasters 7 days a week, 365 days a year, what would the command to take a day off mean to you? It would be music to your ears, wouldn’t it? You would be relieved, dancing a jig, wouldn’t you? We think of the Sabbath as being some onerous burden imposed on the people, but that was after the human interpretation of the Sabbath distorted it to beyond recognition. Remember Jesus saying, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man?” It was not intended to be a trap for us, a cage into which we had to climb one day out of each week. The Sabbath was intended to be a freedom making command. It was intended to be a blessing.
In our lower story we might see these 4 commandments as arbitrary rules, but I think in the upper story they are really a blessing and a beautiful act of love. It is the difference between the image of God as a cosmic policeman with a quota of sinners to condemn and God as the loving parent who really and truly does want more than anything to love and be loved by his people.
(slide 9)The last 6 commandments are no less a blessing. They paint the picture of the upper story way God wants us to relate to one another, we get an image of a paradise where everyone is honored, respected, and loved don’t we?
5. Beginning with our parents. (On page 62) Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land. That one comes with its own blessing. I don’t need to add anything to the blessing of family.
6-9. Numbers 6-9, no murder, no adultery, no stealing and no lying continue that blessed picture. I can hardly imagine, this side of paradise, a world in which all of these commandments are followed. Can you? Nevertheless, what a blessed picture it paints. It would be a world
· in which the blessing of life is affirmed rather than death,
· Love and relationships are put first rathe then thrown away like so much garbage.
· It would be a world where everyone trusts God’s bounty to provide enough so there is no need to steal It would be
· a world in which truth, integrity and Justice are honored rather than mocked. What a wonderful world that would be.
10. Number 10 is do not covet. Can you even imagine a world in which there is enough contentment that no one had to worry about another person trying to get what they have, whether it is a spouse, a car, or a job? It would be a world in which there is enough satisfaction with what God has given us that no one would ever want or need more than God’s continued blessing. A world in which we could trust God for enough of whatever we need.
What a wonderful world we would live in if everyone kept the 10 blessings. We don’t live in that world… or do we? In as much as we are in this world, but not of it. In as much as the church is intended to be a glimpse of the kingdom of God, in as much as we already have the first fruits of the new creation we already live in that world. Not this world here and now. But that world that exists in the heart of God, and in our hearts when we are in God’s spirit and in God’s will.
There is an Alabama Judge who at one time was hauling around a two and a half ton 10 commandments monument with him to his public appearances. If you aren’t so fast with math that 500 pounds per commandment. Even the 5 ton crane that lifts it off the flatbed when he gets home, visibly sags under the weight of this stone.
Most people cannot name all ten, but they are persuaded that at the the 10 commandments are a huge 2 and a half ton stone tied around their neck. It is a two and a half ton club with which they can beat anyone who disagrees with them. For them a two-and-a-half-ton rock sitting on the bed of a truck is a perfect symbol.
They are half right. That is what is has become for too many of us. "Here are ten rules. Obey them!"
Rightly understood, however, they are a breathtaking announcement of freedom. We will probably always refer to the decalogue as the "Ten Commandments," That is the lower story understanding, Let us, however think differently. Let we who are blessed by the glory of God’s presence in our lives not carry the burden of the commandments, but dance the joy of the Decalogue. Let us think of them as the ten blessings. Descriptions of the life that prevails in the zone of God’s liberation. "Because the Lord is your God," the Decalogue affirms, "(slide 10)
· you are free not to need any other gods.
· free from the tyranny of lifeless idols;
· You are free to rest on the seventh day;
· free from murder, betrayal, stealing, lying and covetousness as a way of life.”
GO- and be not commanded , but go and be blessed 10 times over by God’s work in your life.