First Lesson Psalm 119:1-8
Children’s story – Exodus 19:9-25
Sunday, September 13, 2014
So there were God’s people, camping out deep in what we call the Sinai Peninsula. (We’ve had maps about that for the past several weeks.) They were God’s people but they didn’t know their God very well and they were having a hard time claiming that and trusting God. They had been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years, and once they had escaped their slave masters they weren’t quite sure who they were. Or what they were doing in that vast, unfriendly desert or where they were going. Or what their future would be. And they didn’t know quite how to behave. They’d been told what to do all their lives and they hadn’t had any practice in making decisions or governing themselves, or living peaceably with each other. If they’d had any gods at all they were Egyptian gods and they didn’t know how to relate to this brand new God.
So God came to them and said, “Remember how desperate you were all those years when you were slaves in Egypt? Remember how hard your lives were there and how you longed to be free? Remember that chaotic night there in Egypt when your slave masters ran into your homes and loaded you down with gold and silver and jewelry and forced you to leave the country? You grabbed your children and your bundles and you picked up your walking sticks and your bread that hadn’t had time to rise and you got out of the country as fast as you could go. Remember that? Remember how scared you were when you saw the king Pharaoh and his entire Egyptian army coming after you by the Red Sea and you were sure you were all going to be captured and taken back into slavery? Remember how you crossed that sea on dry land with a wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side – into freedom? Remember how hungry you were and how you complained that you didn’t have any meat to eat in that barren dessert? And how I sent birds flying low and covering the ground for you to eat? Remember that sweet fluffy white stuff that shows up on the ground every morning that you’ve been eating all these months? Remember how you were thirsty and I gave you water to drink from a rock? Remember how scared and confused you have been during this entire episode and remember how you couldn’t possibly know where to go in this wild desert and remember that I have been leading you through the dessert in a bright white cloud in the day time and fiery cloud in the night time? I’m the God who has been doing all that for you.” Said God.
“You’re beginning to know me and maybe you’re beginning to trust me, sometimes. Now let me tell you how you can behave as my people. Let me teach you how you can respond to my love and power in your lives. That’s what I have done for you. Now here’s how you need to behave in return. You’ve been slaves all your lives and you haven’t had much chance to make decisions for yourselves and you don’t know how to live peaceably as free people. So let me tell you how to behave as my family. And let me give you the guidelines for how you will live your lives in freedom and gratitude to me. From here on, here’s how I want to you live as my people.” Said God.
And then God laid out what we call the Ten Commandments. First of all, said God, “I am your only God. I don’t ever want to look down again and see that you have made idols like that gold cow you were worshipping a few weeks ago. If you remember the gods of the Egyptians, forget them. If you have any statues of those gods, get rid of them. When you get to the place where I am leading you, you may encounter other gods. They are not your God. Remember that. I am your God. Your only God. I want you to honor me and remember me and worship and serve only me and I want you to set aside one whole day of the week to do that – in which you do nothing else at all except remember me. I am the center of your life. I am the focus of your life. I am the giver and lover and rescuer of your life.” Said God.
And then God said, Here’s how I want you to treat each other in this family of God that we are creating this day. Respect your parents and care for them. Don’t kill each other. Don’t sleep around in the wrong beds. Don’t steal from each other. Don’t lie. Don’t envy what somebody else has.” And God’s people heard it all from Moses’ voice and they stood at the bottom of the smoking mountain and they nodded their heads, and vowed that they would do as God had asked them to do.
Now we are Presbyterians and we love this story. We love the notion that we live our lives in gratitude for what God has done for us and given to us. We don’t keep the Ten Commandments because we are afraid that God will punish us. Or that we’ll go to hell if we don’t. For one thing, we live in the New Testament era, about 4,000 years after that day in the desert and we know what Jesus has done for us.
But even more than that, we obey the Ten Commandments because we have seen, over and over again what God has done for us and how God has provided for us and we have experienced over and over that God loves us outrageously. Maybe you have been doing that little assignment I gave you and you have discovered that for yourselves. Maybe you have been charting the story of your life and you have discovered the ways that God has been with you, caring for you and loving you whether you knew it or not at the time. Maybe you have been discovering the ways that God has been leading you through your own desert and providing you with food and water also. And so we do what God asks to us to out of deep, deep gratitude.
You may have noticed that our Sunday School curriculum is called “Grace and Gratitude.” That’s so Presbyterian! We teach our children the stories of God’s goodness to us and we show them how to live in ways that will please God. We are all pleased and grateful for the children of our congregation and for the adults who have committed to providing a Christian Education program for them.
And we teach adults that same way of living. Our Adult Discussion group started this morning for the fall. They talk about how our Christian faith impacts our lives and they discuss current issues in the light of our faith. Next month our Joy Bible Study will begin again - with excellent leadership – men who study and research and know the Bible really, really well. For the first time we are offering Disciple Bible Study for adults and I do so sincerely hope that many of you will sign up for that as a way of deepening your spiritual lives.
But the truth is that we are not doing so very well at living together peaceably either. And we are not doing so very well at making our own decisions about our lives together. So
there’s another reason we love these instructions that God gave us. They ground us when everything else in our lives is whirling so wildly that we can’t keep up. Our politicians are spinning the truth, or covering up the truth or downright lying to us. Well known people are having extra marital affairs and the media loves to tell us about it all as if that’s some form of entertainment and all the rest of us should do it too. We live in a world where people try to tell us that we can’t afford to support our seniors and provide good medical care for them. We hear all the time about people who are “creative” in their use of funds (they wouldn’t call it stealing, exactly) and they are often influential people whom we are supposed to respect. And we are always being told in TV ads that we “deserve” something wildly expensive that we can’t begin to afford. They tell us that we can’t possibly have a good life unless we spend money we don’t have buying what they want to sell us - that we don’t really need. Respectable people with advanced degrees go home from their well-paying jobs and abuse their spouses – physically or emotionally or sexually and nobody seems to care. They haven’t committed murder, exactly but they have destroyed another’s spirit. Americans dash around on Sunday getting everything done that they didn’t have time to do the rest of the week and then they throw themselves into Monday without a bit of rest and without a thought for God. Except maybe a quick frantic prayer when they’re in trouble.
That’s the moral chaos we live in. Those are the values of our society. And in that chaos we need to be grounded. We need to hear again that God invites us to a simple life that centers on our love for God and our respect for other people. As Jesus put it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
We get to know the God who loves us and rescues us and leads us and provides for us. And we live our lives gratefully and graciously in companionship with that God and with those around us.