The Principles of Living
Exodus 19: 1-25.
I have a relationship with my wife.
I know that sounds like a weird way to start a sermon but it is important.
I have a relationship with my wife.
But that doesn’t explain what that relationship is like.
Understand that relationship and you understand us.
A few weeks ago the whole family and all the dogs went out for a walk. And Iona decided to put a web cam on her dog to see what the dog looks at when we are on the walk. As it turns out this is what the dog looks at...
Not so much my bum but the back
pocket where I keep the dog treats.
So the next morning, very early on while we are in bed, Iona sends that picture through a family chat line.
As Roseanna's phone is beside the bed she opens it up and shows it to me...then goes off to the toilet to brush her teeth and leaves her phone on the bed.
So, from her phone, so that everyone thinks it is Roseanna saying it, I write in big capitals...JUST LIKE ME.
I go downstairs to get my breakfast and Roseanna gets back to her phone horrified that her children think that all she does is look at my bum. So I hear from my phone the beep that says there is another message and Roseanna has written....Dad wrote this not me!
Well then I get on my phone and reply so that everyone knows this is from me...I don't know what your mum is talking about. I had no idea that your mum looked at me as some kind of sex object. I feel so violated.
Nearly instantly there is another beep on my phone and it is Roseanna saying...You will be violated when I come down stairs.
To which the children reply with lots of laughing emojis
Now if you know Roseanna and me that is funny. And it also shows you what our relationship is like, and what that poor woman has to put up with.
Here’s the thing...
What type of relationship does God have with his people?
What type of relationship do you think God wants to have with you, with me?
Look at the 10 commandments.
I’ll admit that if I am doing a sermon on the Ten Commandments I read out the Ten Commandments. But the trouble with that is that it gives the impression that the relationship between God and his people is a one way relationship.
This is not a dialogue.
God speaks and others listen.
It’s a bit like that old poster you used to get that said, ‘When I want your opinion I'll give it to you.’
Now I will be the first to admit that if we are in relationship with God it is never going to be a relationship of equals...but it isn't one way either.
If we look at chapter 19 we see that there is a dialogue going on.
The start of the chapter talks about the people travelling and they get to the bottom of Mount Sinai.
God calls Moses up the mountain and tells Moses to remind the people that they have arrived there as free people because of the grace of God. They are free from slavery. Now if they want they can be his special people.
So down goes Moses and tells the people that.
And the people think that is fair and they tell Moses to tell God that they think this is fair.
So Moses does that...which means he has to go back up the mountain.
So God then tells Moses that when he talks to Moses he will talk in a big thunderous cloud so that they believe that it is God that is talking to Moses and not just Moses making stuff up.
This implies that Moses has had a wee bit of a struggle getting people to believe that God is speaking to him. Then God tells Moses that the people need to prepare for worship. It’s going to take a couple of days to wash clothes and get themselves in the right frame of mind.
So Moses has to come down the mountain and tell the people that.
Then the next day God appears on the mountain in a thundercloud just to make sure the people are certain that Moses isn't making stuff up.
But that so terrifies the people, that they might actually come face to face with God, that they decide that they don't want to do that...and poor Moses has to go up on his own.
So God then warns Moses to tell the people not to come on the mountain, probably scared that some of them might have a heart attack, and instead tells Moses just to bring up Aaron, so that Moses has a witness.
So down goes Moses again to say all that stuff.
Then chapter 20 starts ‘God spoke...’ which lets us know that God was speaking to Moses, which lets us know that Moses must have gone back up the mountain again to speak to God.
Here is the thing...yo could read all that and think...’What is all that about? What a waste of time. Going up the hill, coming down the hill, going back up the hill, coming back down the hill. Who cares?
I care. Because I read this and I find wonderful hope.
This is all about relationship.
It is so easy to think that our relationship with God is that we acknowledge that God is all powerful and God just bestows his wisdom on us without explanation or care. He speaks and we should just obey without questioning.
Ours is not to question, ours is not to doubt.
Our path is to listen and obey. That's it.
When God shouts, ‘Jump.’ We reply, ‘How high?’
We are no more that God’s puppet, to obey God’s every whim. Because he is God and he knows better than us.
The trouble is that too many people think that is their relationship with God.
And those people are quite happy to strap bombs to themselves, or others, and kill innocents...all in the name of a God that they dare not question.
I have heard of, what I could only call acts of evil, done in the name of a God that cannot be questioned.
And when we read the Ten Commandments, and just the Ten Commandments, that is the relationship that we think exists between God and ourselves.
God gives out the commandments and we obey.
But that’s not what happens.
If that was what was meant to have happened then things wouldn't have worked out the way that they did.
If that was the way things should happen, if that was the way God wanted to have a relationship with us, then God would have started with the people while they were still slaves in Egypt.
God would have gone to the people while they were slaves in Egypt and said, ‘This is the word of God. Obey these Ten Commandments to the letter and then I will free you. If you are obedient to me then I will save you.’
But that’s not what happened.
God frees the people from slavery. For three months God looks after the people.
Then after all that God says to Moses, ‘They can see the care that I have shown them. Tell them, that if they want, then I can continue to take care of them.’
So Moses goes down the mountain and says that to the people.
And ALL the people say, ‘Yes of course we would want this all powerful God to look after us.’
But I suspect that’s not all they meant.
I suspect what they really wanted to say was, ‘Yes of course we would want this all powerful God to look after us. Because we have seen what happened to the Egyptians and we don’t want to have that happen to us if we offend him.’
Or maybe they just didn't want to challenge Moses because as a people they had spent hundreds of years as slaves, so they were used to having a slave master, and now they were in the middle of a desert without the foggiest what to do next. And what would be handy would be if someone took all the responsibility away from them because they are not used to it. So that nice Moses could be our new slave master and look after us.
Because people are people.
Give Libya freedom for elections after generations of only knowing dictatorship and they collapse into anarchy because there is nop new dictator to lead them.
Give Russia freedom of elections after generations of dictatorship and they vote for the most benevolent dictator that they can find.
No matter how much God may want his people to be free, the truth is that they are still slaves. So God keeps on going backwards and forwards with them.
They may not be free, but God can give them the rules so that one day they can be.
And until that day they will have stability to grow into maturity in some safety.
Is it messy?. Sure.
Is it confusing? Certainly.
But that is the way with any loving relationship.
Look at any loving parent-child relationship.
In a true loving parent-child relationship you have a parent that starts with just loving the child.
There are no rules.
The child poops and sleeps and eats and poops again.
The parents just care.
But the hope of the parent is that the child matures.
So with time there are rules.
This is the way you should act, this is what you don't do.
Not to restrict the child, but to create a safe environment where the child can mature in relative safety.
And when the child fails those rules you don't give up on the child.
There is discipline, there is forgiveness, and that is all messy.
Because it isn't about passing and failing some kind of test, it is about maturing and growing into the person we should be.
That’s why this passage should be read more.
That’s why every time we read about the Ten Commandments we should read about the messiness of how the people got there.
Because the how the people got there shows us that God cares.
He cares more about us than the rules, because the rules didn't come first, God’s care came first.
So here is what I want you to do...
Think about your own journey to here.
Maybe even get a piece of paper and a pen and write down birth then here. And between those words have line.
And on that line put in the significant parts of your life.
The things that changed you, effected you, made a huge difference in your life.
Maybe things that make you smile as you remember them, or cry, or laugh.
And look around those things to the people who helped you, or hindered you.
And think about how God helped you, or taught you, or strengthen you, or humbled you, or encouraged you.
Once we have done that, then maybe we can look on the Ten Commandments as they are meant to be...not as rules to be obeyed and if not obeyed, punished for,
but guidelines to help us with all our relationships,
to help us to grow closer to God and to others.