Text: Exodus 19:3-7 & 20:1-17, preached at Elim October 7 2018.
There is nothing like knowing who we are and what our purpose and meaning in life is. There is nothing like having the confidence of knowing and understanding where we are and where we are heading in this world, like knowing we are making a difference; that we matter, count to someone, somewhere; that we are important. That we have meaning and purpose! That is just as important for us today as it has ever been.
So do you? Do I? Do we?
The above reading from Exodus 19 and 20 answers that.
A short review. God, out of nowhere, talks to Abram and promises him the world, so to speak (Genesis 12:1-9). Abram believes and sets out to follow God, not knowing where and what!
Joseph initially doesn’t see himself as part of that plan, but through the course and events of his life discovers he is very much part of the unfolding plan of God for the bigger picture (Genesis 39:1-23 & 50:19-21). Last week we “witnessed” Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The children of Israel reluctantly follow Moses, end up getting trapped, fearing for their lives and crossing through the Red Sea on dry land only to find themselves wandering in the wilderness—desert area without food or water (Exodus 14). They feel lost, betrayed, angry, thirsty, hungry, and pretty much totally fed up with Moses and his leadership. How does Moses feel? None to happy you could say!
Now here in our text from Exodus we see three months have passed. The young Israelite nation is still alive. They have not made very much headway, maybe a day or two’s travel so far. And God begins to talk with them through Moses and gives them some definition of what it means to be God’s people in the world.
Abraham didn’t go looking for God. God came to him and blessed him. Moses wasn’t expecting to be in God’s service and complained over and over again that he wasn’t fit to lead God’s people. Yet God came to him and blessed him.
The Israelites were crying out to God about their treatment as slaves, and their dismal existence in Egypt. Their knowledge of God was very minimal yet.
God “hears their cries” and comes to deliver them. Their response? They complain bitterly and make Moses’ job of leading them nearly unbearable. The LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM would be an appropriate title for their journey and they are no where near to the end yet! And now here we are in Exodus 19 & 20.
God’s word to them through Moses?
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
That’s God’s perspective. And the Israelites’ deliverance from their powerful Egyptian enemy was indeed miraculous! The pillar of Cloud and Fire, the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the entire Egyptian army “dead set” on their demise and recapture for continued slavery! That is quite the narrative. Quite the birth story. Quite the beginning of a young nation who has yet to discover who and what and where and why in their wilderness wanderings.
You and I, too, have our stories. Our battles within that we fight and lose. Our dragons that we fight. Our prisons and addictions and miseries. And often even as adults we still don’t quite know who and what we will be when we grow up. So, youth, don’t despair. Hang in there. Don’t get too hopeful! Identity crises don’t end when you reach 20 or 21!
But God is active and on the move for the Israelites. And, if you are willing to see and believe it—God is on the move in our world today! Individually. Collectively. As a congregation. As a nation. We are the people of God—God’s treasured possession, God’s kingdom of priests, His holy counter-culture nation”—in this crazy world of ours today. Looking at it this way, faith is much more than just a simple prayer of salvation for lone believers one at a time. See the bigger picture. See the evidence of God. God is everywhere! Grace is ubiquitous!
“I have destroyed your enemies. I have born you—carried you on eagle’s wings! I have freed you from captivity. I have brought you to Myself!”
Now, let’s give that some definition! Unpack it. What does it mean to be God’s people in this world?! The Decalog—Ten Commandments— are given to help them understand their covenant relationship with God. They have a lot to learn about themselves and God. They wander and lose their way and make more mistakes, and do a miserable job of being God’s people. They wonder, who are we and what are we doing wandering lost in the wilderness! Self discovery, discovering God and learning how to live for God in today’s world is not meant to be easy. Make no mistakes—life is no picnic.
God brought the Israelites “kicking and screaming”— so to speak — to Himself. Now He says, “obey My voice. Keep My covenant.” Note that God’s Ten Commandments—God’s principles of life for our relationship with God and one another as fellow humans—are part of the Covenant agreement God has brought us into through His call to us. There is no “believer’s prayer” being asked for here. Know God has called you and brought you to this point. If you hear His voice, then obey His call. Keep His covenantal agreement by living according to the life giving principles He gives us through these Ten Commandments.
The outcome, the out flow, the result of keeping God’s covenantal agreement is we will be His precious people—His treasured possession—for the sake of the world. He will make us to be a kingdom of priests who can take His love and message to the world! That means prayer for and caring for all the people of the world and their relationship with God.
I can almost here someone say, “NO!” I don’t want that responsibility. I want to play games, eat popcorn and watch movies. Sorry. This isn’t my word. It’s God’s!
The clear underlying message that permeates this whole reading is the message of Jesus and the cross. The Israelites did not become God’s people because they were so holy, good and righteous. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the characters of Scripture were called by grace and learned how to be God’s people by discovering and following God in their midst. They didn’t seek God. God found and called them.
The law was never meant to be given as a way of becoming God’s people. That is abundantly clear and obvious, even though we humans get so confused about it all the time. The law was to show us how much we need God’s mercy and grace, and to show us how to love tangibly and really in this broken, hard, cold world. The law points to the Messiah. The Old Testament, over and over again reminds us of our need for God’s Savior. Over and over again the message of the Old Testament helps us see Messiah’s mission as universal; for the world, not just for the small chosen nation of Israel.
This text, this sermon, God’s Word, is for us. Know God is working in your life. Know God is working in our world today. Look past the brokenness. Look beyond your inadequacies. Look through the pain and suffering, the misery and evil, the hatred and bigotry. See God on the move. Through the Incarnation. Jesus became human, one of us, to break us free from our own prisons, our own Egypts, our own captivities. And now, because Jesus inhabits us—lives in us and through us as the people of God in this world today, Jesus uses us to soften and change and redirect the world. There is no time to wimp or chicken out. There is no time to lick our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves. The world is dying to hear, to know, to experience the reality of God’s love in Christ, God’s amazing grace, God’s purpose and plan. And we are God’s messengers, God’s tool for helping them know and experience that message.
We might feel intimidated and overwhelmed. We might say, NO THANK YOU GOD! So did the first disciples. They ran and hid. They lied and denied knowing Jesus. They wimped out. Yet God used them and most of the world today has at least a minimal knowledge of what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately many people in our own country understand that Christian message through what we call fundamentalist believers who stress legalism and morality based on their own warped thinking. They convey a confused message. A message that confounds grace, that hides the cross of Christ and makes the love of Jesus conditional.
It is up to you and me to clarify that message. To live that grace out loud and help the Church to be the welcoming, encouraging discipling fellowship of broken and healed and equipped believers.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.