Category: covenant

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 8

Sermon, Pentecost 17A
Sunday October 9, 2011.
Ocean Forest

Freed to Follow

We are in two places at once this morning. We are witness to the extended meeting of the Lord with Moses on the top of the mountain and also down in the valley with Aaron and the people.

In the one place there is intimacy between a human being and the Lord as the Lord speaks, Moses speaks and the foundation for a new nation of holy people called to be priests. In the other place there is an absence of the Lord’s presence and word which leads to a lot of trouble.

If one thing is on show here it is the very nature of our human condition and how we can at our very best moments also be at our worst. God has every right to judge this duplicity of allegiance and weak commitment to him – especially after all that he has done and still does for us. In this text he actually decides to do just that – judge his people and destroy them!

Moses, the great mediator intervenes. He intercedes for the people and amazingly God “repents” of his will to destroy the people.

Sin is serious and it is always related to the golden calf – the things of stone, wood and metal we replace God with in our hearts because when we turn away from trusting that he is present, caring or capable.

Today we ponder our idolatrous heart, God’s judgement on this rejection of him, Jesus, the One who intercedes for us and how we get to live in God’s continued grace and love as his priesthood of all believers now!

We begin in the valley with God’s people under the leadership of their 2IC, Aaron. Moses is up on the mountain wit the Lord again. He has been going up and down this mountain for a while now. It has not just been him either.

There was a great moment of the Lord’s faithfulness and his affirmation of his commitment to his people happens before our text. Moses, Aaron and his two sons (Nadab and Abihu) and the 70 Elders of the community ascended with Moses to the summit. These people “saw God” (24:10). The Lord’s feet were resting on something like a pavement of pure sapphire stone……They ate and drank together with the Lord. What a moment!

As well as this, Moses and his entourage are instructed to read the “Book of the Covenant” (The treaty the Lord made earlier) to the people. Animals are slaughtered in a great show of thanksgiving and affirmation to the Lord’s covenant. The people say en mass, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Ex 24:7). Everything looks sweet!

But, we know what is coming. Isn’t it always the way that with our best moments come with our worst! Israel’s worst moment in this desert journey with the Lord is about to happen. It will always be a reminder that sin will always be a problem to be watched carefully. It will always be a reminder that the human heart has its dark side and is capable of idolatry – trusting anything and anyone other then the Lord who has created and saved us and who loves us for our well being and our future.

The seed of idolatry seems to be a lack of tangible presence of God in people’s lives. The beginning of trouble is tied up with Moses being absent a long time. Moses is up on the mountain in an extended meeting of great closeness with the Lord. He is the mediator, priest, shepherd and representative of the Lord among this people and when there is no tangible presence of the Lord (through Moses), the human heart wanders away.

I wonder whether this is why the Lord graced us with those magnificent tangible signs of is presence – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; even the whole ancient liturgy or pattern of worship of the Church? Did he know that unless we could see him, taste him, feel him, hear him in these very physical, concrete signs of his very presence, we would wonder off from him completely?

Aaron does not fare well in the dark episode. In verse 1 he may as well be on a rugby pitch! He is the last man on the Try line facing a hostile group of people pushing him backwards. He is surrounded by a scrum of very demanding people. The Hebrew language is strong. This is a full-on demand, and it is many against one. Aaron the leader is under great pressure.

“Make gods for us, Aaron”, they demand. They, like us, need visible signs that the Lord is still with us as we journey on from day to day in this life. The gods they want Aaron to make are that – a symbol or sign of the gods being on our side – Lady Luck, or “The Universe” or “Mother Nature”, or “Yin and Yang”, the gods of reincarnation, the planets are lining up for us……

Aaron makes the error (although understandable) of caving in to the demand for a sign of divine presence and blessing. He tells them to bring their things of gold to him (things the Lord gave them as they fled Egypt!) and he himself fashions either a wooden calf overlayed with gold or a pure gold calf. The calf is a universal sign of fertility and prosperity of the gods in these ancient people’s culture.

The people show their idolatrous heart when they make the bold declaration, in verse 4, “These are the gods, O Israel, who bought you out of Egypt!” What a total rejection of all that has happened so far on the journey of faith!

This is like one of us simply wiping out all memory of God’s speaking, doing and blessing for us in our life so far and just going head long into what ever turns us on and helps us believe that we will be fine without any spiritual connection to the Creator of all things.

Aaron can see that this is getting out of hand. He does try to salvage the situation somewhat by adding to the calf, an altar – not to the calf but to the Lord. He also calls a feast day the next day – not to the calf, but to the Lord (v5-6).

It does not work. In the Hebrew, it literally says, “The people rose early next morning and “came out to play”! They did not come out to play ring-a-ring-a-rosy, or duck-duck-goose! They came out to engage in full-on booze, substance abuse, sex and probably worse. Idolatry and immorality always go together. One leads to and feeds the other.

Back up on the quiet mountain Someone is very aware of what is happening below. God breaks off the business of giving Moses the gifts of the Covenant relationship he has been imparting to Moses.

God sums up the situation when he says that the people are perverse; God recounts word for word (with 32:1-6) the nature of their sin. It is as if every word of the people has sunk into the divine heart and stabbed it. And so, God tells Moses that “they have cast for themselves an image of a calf” and that they have “worshiped it and sacrificed to it” (v. 8). It is as if God has been sitting on the sidelines in amazement watching the performance of the heedless people.

This turning away by the people has broken the divine heart. The Lord reaches a conclusion about the people. They are a “stiff-necked” people, a stubborn people, people who really are not worthy of the love God has showered up on them.

The Lord decides to destroy them. Verse 10 is interesting because it tells us that God wants Moses to go down to the people for two reasons–to see for himself exactly what has happened but also to leave God alone. God wants to be alone when the terrible judgment is executed. Like some military General sitting in some technical nerve centre controlling satellites and a “targeted hit” on some town or compound of suspected terrorists, God does not want to see the destruction. He wants to leave the room and be alone in his grief and sorrow.

But even here, even in the resolve to destroy is a sense that mercy can triumph. In this case God makes a promise to Moses that He will not destroy him with the people. Moses will continue to be special, and Moses will be the foundational person for God’s next “great work.” But notice what has happened.

In giving these last words God has left the divine open for negotiation and intercession. It is not as if God is giving Moses an invitation to talk back, but there are ideas now floating “out there” that are more than just anger, stubbornness and destruction. God will “save” Moses. Moses will take this verse as an opening to respond to God.

Moses does what Aaron didn’t. Moses prays in faith. He trusts that the Lord could handle this situation and will listen to him. He trusts that in the anger and judgement there is still a greater heart of mercy and love for these rogues!

Moses says three things about God’s decision to judge this people as he “stands in the gap” between the righteous wrath of the Lord and an idolatrous people.  

  1. Lord, you created and saved this people.
  2. Lord, your reputation as a compassionate God of steadfast love who is faithful to your promises will laughed at by your enemies if you destroy these sinful people
  3. Lord, you promised things to these people way back in Abraham’s time.

The Hebrew words say that the Lord “repented” of the judgement he was about to carry out on his people. The Lord, at Moses’ bold praying, changed his mind and remained faithful and trustworthy when completely rejected by a loveless people.

Friends, we have this idolatrous heart.

  

And yet we have tangible signs of God’s continued presence and love to keep us true to him. We need to stick to where God has shown us he is there for us – physically and in every other way. Depend on your baptism. Reflect on it and own it because in it God owned you and loves you. Come to the altar regularly and get the hope and assurance you need for life’s journey, whatever the temptations and fears.

  

We have a role too. We are called to be Moses for people.  

  • Jesus, the One greater than Moses who stood in our place and intercedes for us still, pleads our case and bridges the gap between our holy and perfectly loving Lord and our idol factory within.
  • With him we can confess our idols, burn them and depend on his word to see us through to wellbeing now and in God’s eternal future – already guaranteed by the blood of the Lamb and Saviour of our souls.
  • And then we mediate his grace and love for others, helping them name their idols, repent of them, receive God’s gifts and walk with Jesus into their future with him.

With this simple trust in the Lord’s presence, promise and goodness, and the Calling we have each received, we can be right with Paul who says these great words of faith and conviction we share here at Ocean Forest…

  

Philippians 4:1-9, Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity 

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! …..

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.



Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 7

BETWEEN THE TEXTS

Week 7
• Remember, Exodus is all about two things – knowing God and vocation. Exodus is an account of knowing God through personal experience and how it is that God would call a nation to be the community through which he would bless the human family.
• We leave the once thirsty and threatening people of Israel drinking up rivers of waters from that miracle Rock in the desert as we head on into the unknown journey. The destination has always been Mt Horeb or My Sinai (same place). Right from when Moses went up Mt Horeb way back in Exodus 3:12 to see that burning bush and get more than he bargained for, the aim of this whole “coming out” and freeing of God’s people was for the purpose of worship on God’s holy mountain.
• After their “Massah” and “Meribah” moment, and then a brief scuffle with the troublesome Amelakites (that would continue in perpetuity; Exodus 17:8-16), and a lesson in leadership technique given to Moses by his Father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 18) the people of Israel, under God’s pillar of fire by night and cloud by day travel further across and down the Sinai Peninsular and finally reach their destination three months after they left Egypt (Exodus 18:1).
• We now switch to the second part of the Book of Exodus. The first part was the actual build up to and moment of Exodus to reach Sinai. Now from chapter 19 – 40 and through Leviticus and into Numbers chapter 10 we are at the Mt Sinai.
• A significant moment is upon us. You can tell this by the extended dialogue that now happens between, the Lord, and Moses, then Moses and the Elders of Israel (Chapter 19:3 onwards…)
• Something big is initiated by the Lord. The Lord says, “You have seen what I have done for you…… If you obey me and keep my covenant (legally binding agreement between God and the people), then you will be my treasured possession among all the nations – you will be whole nation priests and a holy/set apart nation….”
• So, for the first time we have the mention of that word “covenant” and it is very significant. God promises to be their God and make them into a specially chosen nation with the special role of being priests for the world. Priests both represent other people before God and so intercede for others as well as represent God to other people and speak God’s word to people. They are intermediaries between a holy God and his creation. Priests also mediate forgiveness between a holy God and an unholy people. Israel is to be the nation through which God’s blessing and forgiveness are given to all nations.
God is initiating a legally binding agreement with his people that will define their relationship and responsibilities in their vocation to be a blessing of God to the world for all time. He will be their God and be present to hear them and bless them as they keep the covenant – that is – the Law – both the moral law (10 commandments: Chapter 20:3-17) and the sacrificial law _ worship system; chapter 20:22-26)) and other communal decrees for the well being of the community (chapter 21-23)
Theophany. We are now to experience another theophany, like that of Moses and the burning bush (in the same place). God is present as he makes this agreement with the people in fire and smoke on the mountain. Moses is the go-between. He is up and down the mountain a lot!! God seals his covenant with the people in a solemn ceremony where the people have to prepare themselves, lest they incur God’s holy judgement. Special limits have to placed around the mountain (a fence) to ensure that no unprepared person is killed!
• This is a covenant not to make them into a nation. They already are God’s chosen nation through the promise to Abraham. This is their commissioning as blessing bearers to the world and this is done through a treaty or covenant.
• As is ancient practice, a covenant or treaty is not done by the signing of documents (as it is for us these days), it is done by the shedding of blood. The covenant made with the people by God is sealed by blood. (see 20 verses 24on…)
• The treaty or agreement or covenant is like any ancient treaty in form and structure. It sets out what has happened (the Abraham promise and exodus), the two parties, The Lord and the people and their parts of the agreement (as outlined above) see 19:3-7 for God’s part. See the 10 commandments for the people’s part!

WEEK 7 Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 (TNIV)
The 10 commandments ( numbers relate to THOUGHTS – the bullet points below)
1 And God spoke all these words1:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery2.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below3, 4.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name5.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work5,
12 “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you 6.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour7.”
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning8.”

THOUGHTS
1. It important to understand that this is all God’s initiative and choice. He is present by his voice and he is making all of this happen. This is not two equal parties making a treaty like we would understand. This is two unequal parties making an agreement where one party (the Lord) is all powerful and holy and righteous) and the other party (the people) unholy, nothing and of no power or authority). So, it is all the Lord and his grace making this covenant by which he promises to be present to hear his people and bless them. It is grace, grace, grace!

2. God names himself and recounts his past action – salvation and freedom. He has freed this rabble and he has made them into a nation by a promise (when they were nothing) and now makes them into a nation of priests to mediate his blessing and salvation for all nations (by his power and authority and grace – not theirs!)

3. The first command: the most crucial stipulation of this treaty: The Lord demands exclusive loyalty and love for this to work. He wants to love, bless, listen, lead and be with his people. he is calling them to do the same, otherwise this treaty/relationship will not work and Israel will not be his holy priests of blessing for the world.

4. Icons or Idols?: Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and others keep these two parts of the first commandment together (we believe they are the two sides to the same coin). Other Christian traditions have separated them to make 11 commandments and emphasised the whole aspect of “making graven images”. This is why many Christians struggle with Orthodox icons, crosses (especially with a body on it) or even Christian art and symbols in general being in the worship space. They believe it is a breaking of the first commandment. This group have risen up from time to time and often have been called “iconoclasts” – destroying church buildings, statues, images and etc in church buildings.

We see that these parts make up one commandment and it has a practical application there and then. Israel will be surrounded by other nations who practice idol worship to many “gods”. They will constantly have to steer clear of worship practices of other nations’ “things of stone and wood” because these “gods” are really no God at all but just lifeless “things of stone and wood” that do not hear or see and are not alive. There is only one Living God – the Lord, “I AM”. Art, poetry, music, imagery that helps us imagine and focus on this one Living Lord is to be valued!!

5. These first three stipulations of God’s covenant agreement with the people are all about how the people and the Lord relate together (The “First Table” of the Law). They love the Lord and honour and worship him only to the exclusion of all others for life (like Marriage?) by respecting and carefully handling/using his great name (I AM – Yahweh) and resting with him regularly as they gather in communal worship where God hears them, feasts with them and blesses them.

6. The rest of the stipulations are about how this holy nation of priests is to live together in peace in their vocation (“The Second Table” of the Law). Respect and honour of family (parents, elders, husbands, wives, children) is critical for this nation to be at peace and strong and functioning as priests for the world.

7. All the vices of the human heart are named and warned against here. Is it any wonder that this moral code has served as the universal backbone of human community across ages and continents!?

8. God’s intention is that the people live and not die; that they live in his presence and with his blessing, not incur his righteous judgement of unholy sin and be out of his loving presence. The law both demands faithfulness from his people and protects his people from the consequences of treating each other wrongly.

REFLECTIONS

1. This 10 commandments became the centre piece of life in Israel. The Rabbis over the centuries reflected on how Israel is to keep the Covenant by keeping these commandments. As God told the people to put a fence up around the bottom of the mountain to protect the people from intentionally or inadvertently sinning against the Lord while he was present on the mountain giving these holy stipulations to Moses, so the Rabbis went further and put a fence around God’s presence in a long process of defining and re-defining these ten commands into 613 rules!

2. The idea was to fully understand and practice these commandments in every detail so as to live in God’s continued promises and blessing. For example, the Sabbath command was a favourite – what is “rest” and what is “work” and how do we rest with the Lord and so “keep the Sabbath day holy” or “set apart”? Well we walk more slowly and only certain distances “A Sabbath days walk from,…”. We do not work with our flocks or livestock or at our trade. We do not cook. All cooking has to be done before sundown Friday. In modern Jewish house, we put self-timers on lights so that we don not so “work” by switching on a light…….

3. This practice of interpreting the 10 Commandments (not to mention all the following worship law and general community law) was taken on in full force by the Rabbis over hundreds of years. There are tomes and tomes of “mishna” texts discussing the practicalities and theology of the law. In the end you end up with what is called “casuistry” that is bad for two reasons. Somewhere in the endless attempt to “protect people from sinning” again God, God’s grace and love get lost and God is taught as some cosmic law keeper who is not interested in anything else but the law and keeping the rules! Also, those who are “experts” in the law, can keep the people fearful and loaded up with endless demands that keep them from questioning or thinking about anything else! This is exactly what God often charged Israel’s leaders with and Jesus charged the Pharisees with (see Luke 11:37-54).

4. In Jesus time, the Pharisees and Sadducees were really lawyers whose main concern was the keeping of the Law – all 613 rules. And yet there was some genuine faith and belief there too. Their belief was that if Israel could keep the “Torah” (Law) for just one day, this would usher in the coming of the Messiah who would restore Israel to its original Abraham promise of land, status and nationhood. So, they thought they were serving the Lord faithfully by keeping the law themselves and teaching the people to do the same.

5. When the New Testament speaks of “the Law” it is speaking of this part of the Sinai treaty/covenant. This 10 commandments given to Moses and the people on Sinai is often called the “Decalogue” (the 10 words) and forms the basis for the Old “Covenant” or “Testament” relationship between God and his people until the new Covenant or Testament” in Jesus the Messiah’s blood is at the cross.

6. God’s pass mark for staying in his blessing and presence is 100%! He says, “Be holy because I am holy”. We eventually discover in life that we can not keep the Law. We know we fall short of God’s demands. It is them that we look for someone or something to help us find peace with each other, ourselves and God. We then hear Jesus speaking of himself being the sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered for the world so that the world might live and not be condemned by God’s righteous judgement on our sin against the Lord.

7. In the Luther’s struggle to find peace with God it is the good news for his tortured conscience that he found in Romans 3:21 onwards….

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

9. Now the 10 Commandments become three things for us who believe in Jesus;

10. A Control: These commandments (the last 7) are the basis for our civil law system and through their keeping in a society, evil and its damage are limited by the Lord. This is his “left hand” work or kingdom working.

11. A driver: We hear them and we apply them to our own life and we know we fall short and so we are driven back to Jesus to find forgiveness and life. (This is God’s right hand or kingdom working)

12. A mirror: With Jesus ongoing forgiveness and life, we hear these commandments and we see who we are and what we need to do to fulfil our vocation and his “priesthood of all believers” in our workplace, family and society.

8. By the blood of Jesus Christ the Law has been fulfilled perfectly for us and God has made a new covenant with us, not based on keeping these 10 commandments but by putting faith in Jesus of Nazareth as our Lord and Saviour – the Lamb of God who really has taken away the sin (and its consequence – death) of the world – out of sheer underserved, unmerited love (grace)!