Pentecost 7 NL2 John B. Valentine
Exodus 20:22-25 & 22:20-28 July 19, 2020
“IT’S THE LAW”
Welcome back! Welcome back to our on-going adventure through the adventure that is Exodus ...
That story of God’s people and their journey OUT of captivity and INTO community.
If you tuned in last week ... you may well recall that we were looking at what it meant to be the people of God ....
For we discovered that ... even amid all of the people’s whining and complaining ...
There was this amazing promise that God would be their God ... and that they would be forever numbered among God’s favorite children.
But ... in the context of that conversation ... I hinted at the fact that this week we’d be looking:
Not at just what it means to BE the people of God ...
But at what it means to BEHAVE like people of God.
You see ...
Whereas two weeks ago we heard the story of the “Crossing of the Red Sea” ...
And last week we heard all about what we might call the “Whining in the Wilderness” ...
THIS week we get to the story of “Moses and the Ten Commandments”.
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Now ... just to recap ...
There was this rag-tag group of refugees out wandering around in the wilderness ... that pretty-much-desolate stretch of land known as the Sinai Peninsula that is between Egypt and the Promised Land.
And they’ve been freed FROM their bondage under Pharaoh ...
And they’ve been given a holy promise ...
But they’re not sure quite what they’re freed FOR.
They’ve been told that God is their God ... and they’ve been shown that God is their God ...
But they really have no clue what it means for them to BEHAVE like God’s people.
In other words ... they’ve discovered that they’ve been adopted into the family of God ...
But they’re not quite sure what it is that comes ... part and parcel ... with being a part of that family.
• What are their rights?
• What are their roles?
• What are their rules?
• What are their responsibilities?
In other words ... HOW do they hold up their end of the bargain? How do they DO this “Have God as their God” thing???
They just don’t know!!
But then Moses goes up the mountain ... and has a little fireside chat with the Creator of Heaven and Earth ... and returns with the answer to their questions.
And do you recall what it is that he brings back down from the mountaintop?
It’s “the Ten Commandments” ... right??
Just like they showed it in the movie!
Actually ... no ... it isn’t!
It’s more than just the Ten Commandments .... it’s what traditionally has been called “the Law”!
It’s actually about four chapters worth of instructions and explanations of what it means to be the people of God ...
And the Ten Commandments themselves form a sort of Preamble to those four chapters ... some snippets of which we got to hear Miss Susie read for us a little bit ago!
• Don’t ... don’t ... don’t ...
• DO! ....
• Don’t ... don’t ... don’t ... don’t ... don’t ... don’t.
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Now ... ONE of the questions which always gets raised when we are confronted with these words of the Covenant is “What are we supposed to make of it?”
What is the purpose of this Law?
And one of my favorite ways of answering that question is “Welcome to the Owner’s Manual of Life”!
You see ... when you buy a new car ... they put that little book in the glove box ... don’t they?
It's the "Owner's Manual".
And WHO puts out the Owner's Manual?
The manufacturer ... the maker ... of the vehicle ... right?
And what ... praytell ... does the owner's manual do?
It offers guidelines and direction and guidance about how the manufacturer of the vehicle believes you can best use ... and maintain ... and care for ... and utilize your car. It tells us how to operate the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer's intentions.
But now here's the kicker!
How often do you take the time to look at ... and familiarize yourself with ... the owner's manual in your glovebox???
Ughhh. That kind of hurts to think about ...doesn't it?
When do we read the owner's manuals in our cars?
When we get into trouble with our cars ... right?
Like when we all of a sudden need to change the tire ... or maybe when we get antsy because we haven't quite kept up on the maintenance schedule like we should have ... or when we haven't been able to get some part on the car to work just so.
When ... on the other hand ... SHOULD we be spending some time reading over our owner's manuals??
Wouldn’t it be wise to read it over pretty thoroughly when we first purchase the vehicle?
And wouldn’t it be wise to regularly look it over to remind ourselves of how to care for and best maintain our vehicles?
And shouldn't we occasionally look through it to perhaps discover ... or rediscover ... some things about how we use the vehicle that we've never really knew before??
The way I've got it figured ... and I assume that at least some of you are a bit like me on this ...
My use of my vehicle ... my maintenance of my vehicle ... my operation of my vehicle ... would be greatly enhanced by my spending a little bit more time with my owner's manual.
But I'm not talking about the owner's manual of the car that sits in my driveway ...
I'm talking about the owner's manual that pertains to this vehicle called "my life" ... “me” ... the Owner’s Manual for one John B. Valentine ...
That document which the manufacturer first transmitted to Moses some three thousand years ago.
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But ... according to no less an authority on the subject than Martin Luther ... there’s a whole ‘nother purpose of this thing we call “the Law”.
In fact ... according to Doctor Luther ... it’s the more important purpose of God’s Law in the long haul.
• NOT to serve as a guideline for godly living ...
• But to SHOW US OUR NEED OF GOD!
Or ... as one of my favorite seminary professors used to tell us ...
• The primary purpose of the Law is NOT to show me way from me to God ...
• It’s to declare to me that there is NO way from me to God ...
• It’s to reveal to me my own abject NEED of God.
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How many of you have a mirror in your bathroom?
I’m assuming that’s pretty much a universal in terms of home design these days ... no???
But what’s the purpose of that mirror???
• Is it to look into every morning just to remind you of how wonderful and beautiful and absolutely perfect you are each and every morning when you roll out of bed???
• Or is it to allow you to take a sober-minded ... brutally honest ... look at yourself and your appearance before you go out to face the world?
It’s the latter ... isn’t it???
Otherwise home designers would install banks of flattering mood-lighting in your bathroom so as to let you see your very best self ... rather than those garish ceiling-mounted fluorescent fixtures that point out every flaw and misplaced hair!
Because ... at the end of the day ... the job of the mirrors in our bathrooms is to tell us the truth about who we are ... rather than to perpetrate the lie of who we wish we were ... aren’t they?
So ... in a similar way ... we might think of God’s Law as a mirror on our lives.
And thus the job of God’s Law is to tell us the truth about who we are ...
That we are broken individuals ... “sinful and unclean” ... who are desperately in need of the grace and love and goodness which God offers ...
Rather than perfectly perfect people whom God finds irresistibly wonderful on all counts.
It’s NOT a tool by which we might point out the flaws in our neighbors ...
It IS a tool by which we can see the truth about ourselves.
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So take ... just for instance ... a snippet of that what Miss Susie read for us from Exodus 22.
It began with a declaration about how we are commanded NOT to exploit those in our communities who lack for social capital.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.”
Then it went on to command us NOT to exploit those in our communities who lack for financial capital.
“If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor's cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor's only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”
And ... thus far ... that sounds like part of the party platform of one of the political parties that dominates our national debates these days.
And there’s a whole bunch of people out there who would say “Oh yeah ... that’s exactly what we’re trying to do” ... would they not???
But look at precisely what follows upon those abjurations:
“You shall not revile God, nor curse a leader of your people.”
Gulp! Has there been no small amount of cursing of a certain leader of our people that has become a sort of national pastime these days by that same group of people who are so affirming of what came just before it???
Point being ... the very people who aspire to abet the first of those commandments thumb their nose at the last ...
While. the folks who champion the last of those commandments are sometimes pretty silent about the first.
Which all seems to point to the fact that we’d much rather use God’s law as a magnifying glass to hold over our neighbors than as a mirror by which to examine ourselves.
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So let me just leave you with this today.
Mirrors ... good.
Magnifying glasses ... bad.
For what was it that Jesus said?
For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you obsess about the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own?
Think on these things!