Tuesday, June 24, 2014

God's Words for Life

We began 4 weeks of sermon series using the Narrative Lectionary texts of Exodus 19:1-6 and 20:1-17 on the Sunday of Holy Trinity. Week one is an overview of the thrust of the Commandments, the week 2 is the 1st tablet of the Law and Week 3 is the 2nd before a summation. The Exodus passage is paired with the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is asked by the expert in the law what is the greatest commandment and Jesus responds with “love the Lord you God with all you heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself for upon these rest the law and the prophets-


When I was growing up, my father periodically had helpful advice for me. My Mom had LOTS of advice. But my Dad didn’t spend so much time in the explaining. His advice was often simpler and more straightforward. And if I summed it up in one phrase, it would be, “Take it from me, don’t do this the hard way.” Just Ten Simple Words. “take it from me don’t do this the hard way” was easy to remember, and easy to hear in the middle of whatever new opportunity for making decisions about how to live with integrity was before me. Or hopefully words to hear BEFORE ending up in some new chaos, or mess. Happy Father’s Day, Dad-I forgot to get a card.

Somehow those 10 words don’t have the same power.

My Dad’s ten simple words were also first and foremost about the speaker. His words assumed that I believed that my father loved me, had saved me before, and had my present and future at heart. And that he cared who I would be in the bigger world.

My Dad also told me to dare to do things, and I was free to do this because of our relationship. In then end, it’s all rooted in that loving relationship that held together those ten simple words.

And I think that’s a good way to begin our four weeks together with the Ten Commandments. Or as the Hebrew would tell us we could say it- God’s Ten Words. And boy does that sound different, doesn’t it? God’s Ten Words given for life.

Different than a lot of the popular images we have- from Charlton Heston in the iconic movie, to people trying to post them in courtrooms to tell “bad people” we’re judging them and God is too.

Let’s step away from all that.

And remember how these words came to be in the Book of Exodus, or as David Lose says, “ Remember that 19 came before 20.”
In Chapter 19 of Exodus, the people are reminded of the relationship between God and the people before they hear about the framework of Chapter 20. And the people haven’t done anything to earn it.

It’s just pure grace.

Before there’s any talk about obeying or law, God’s children are reminded how God has already filled their lives, so that they can then respond. Already freed, already believing- ready to dare to live as God’s people. Because “I the Lord you God have delivered you, brought you out of captivity, borne you up on eagle’s wings.”

And the people would have immediately gotten the image. But in case we don’t it’s the image not of a father, but a mother. Mother eagles not only flutter over their young to protect them when they are vulnerable, they also get busy pushing them out of the nest when they must grow and mature. And they learn to fly. But she is nearby ready to swoop in and bear them up if they start to fall. Not caught in talons, borne up on wings. Lifted. Because that’s how God is.

The loving Creator who initiates our whole existence, is fully involved. Creator, Redeemer, Nurturer – one whom we can trust. So when the 10 words are spoken they are spoken by a God who has the past, present and future at heart. Who wants life for them. Who loves them and wants them to live for others in a way that reflects that love God has for all creation.

In ten simple words intended to be direct, easy to use and remember, that can shape each new situation, and spare people and creation from chaos. Words to help them be who they were created to be.

Martin Luther has said “Know the 10 Commandments, know Scripture” and I think it’s so because while we are not the people of Israel, we as God’s people in this time are still able to be guided by God’s unchanging ideal. God’s unchanging ideal of love. Words given by a God whose grace is determined that people never be left without direction. Either individually or as a community.

Ten words whose fulfillment in Christ mean that our salvation is never in question. This is the opposite of how our culture envisions “command” or “law.” In places where we too ask which commandment is greatest or whose sin is too great.

The Commandments are neither a vehicle for assuring our salvation, nor are they a tool for assessing the guilt of others. They are intended to be words that hold together a life. The life we see most fully in Christ who came not to condemn or get rid of the law, but to show us what fulfilling it looks like.

And instead of being narrow, they open up possibilities that are limitless, like God’s love. Commands seem limiting. Words seem unbounded, and I suspect that the truth is that the words we are given can sound like a limit or a promise depending upon where you stand. When we think of all the ways our actions speak to the things God puts before us.

And here’s the real kicker- these words are not about you, or you, or you. They’re always about someone else. You and I are the actors, but not the receivers. We don’t try to follow this life because of what we get-they are about the community. And the realization that the life and health of others stems from what you, and you and you, do or don’t do.

These words call us to infuse the world with the love we’ve received, that goes beyond words. Because whether we have memorized them is not really the point.

Reflecting the love of a Creator who has guaranteed our salvation and who empowers us to dare for the sake of that love is.

Because we’ve got nothing to lose! We can risk believing that these words are not only a guide but an invitation to go beyond. Knowing that when we worry about what’s beyond the nest, or we feel like we’re freefalling, we will be lifted up. God’s words are not here to weigh us down but to show us what freedom looks like, and to share that with others. So we can dare to face each new opportunity in faith and integrity assured because God is our God for life.

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