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Responding to His Love
November 3, 1974

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EXODUS 20:1-17, COLOSSIANS 3:1-17

The exodus, the escape from Egypt must have been quite a sight. Emotion must have been really high to narrowly escape with the soldiers prevented from following them by the water wall collapsing. I wonder what Moses felt as he stood in safety and looked at his people. He had been through several emotional confrontations with the Pharaoh, finally secured his permission, organized the people into some kind of wagon train. They packed and left hurriedly with all their possessions or at least as much as they could carry, herded their animals together and took off.

Now Moses looks at his people and sees a motley crowd—uneducated, former slaves, no trained leaders, no book of directions, no how-to-do-it manual, no Methodist Discipline—just an escaped band of slaves. I wonder if Moses felt like Robert Redford in the movie “Candidate” who spends the entire movie running to get elected as senator. On election night, when it is announced he has won, all the emotion, drive, momentum of the campaign culminates in the final line of the movie where the candidate says to his manager, "What do we do now?" Moses had quite a job.” Now I’m in the wilderness. 1’ve got to get these people together somehow. We’ve got to build a community. What do I do now? Now that we've made it, now what do we do?”

And the people! They escaped from slavery, they miraculously walked a corridor with a wall of water on either side. Do you know what their response was? They complained, they griped, they didn't like the accommodations. They said, “We should have stayed in Egypt. There we had food! There we had water. Better we should have stayed. Did you bring us out here to die? We could have died in Egypt.'' Moses had quite a task. He found them food, found them water, began to organize them, keeping the twelve tribes intact.

Early in the 40 year wandering, he gave them a code, a law by which they would be governed. He chose Mt. Sinai. He had happy memories of Mt. Sinai where he had spent many happy years tending sheep for his father-in-law. Here he had married and began his family. And it was here he saw the burning bush and heard the call to go back to Egypt and lead the people out. So he now returned to Mt. Sinai, went up the mountain, stayed many days working out his plan, thinking his situation through, praying. And the Lord blessed his efforts. God gave him the Ten Commandments or Ten Words as they are called in the Old Testament. Scholars feel that the embellishments of the law are from later times, but the simply stated, basic, direct Ten Words were given to the people by Moses at this time in the wilderness.

The Ten Commandments can be divided into two sections: responsibility to God and responsibility to neighbor. Jesus summarized the commandments into two and restated them in positive terms rather than the negative form of "You shall nots." Jesus summarized, “You shall love Lord your God, and you shall love your neighbor."

What does it mean to love God? At the least, minimally, to love God means to have no gods before him, make no images, revere his name, give God loyalty, devotion and reverence, and observe the Sabbath.

What does it mean to love one's neighbor? At the very least, minimally, it means to honor parents, don't kill, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet.

These simply stated Ten Words or commandments are the bases of human civilization. They are ancient, time-honored principles. They were not law. Moses did not deliver a new moral system to the people. The ten commandments were derived from the moral and religious precepts of that day and ancient times. They are therefore ancient, and they have proved themselves over the centuries that a civilization breaks these laws to its own peril. Can a civilization long survive if there is not a common unity, a central purpose and goal which is the central thrust of the first three commandments? Can a civilization, a person, last long if he denies the need for a sabbath--to rest periodically his mind and body? Can a civilization last long where there is no respect between children and parents, where life is not considered sacred, where property of another is not respected, where lying, cheating, adultery are accepted as givens?

The Ten Commandments are not restrictive, but constructive. They are not confining and rigid. They contain the basic elements of community living. Without them there is chaos. But the Ten Words also meant something else to ancient Israel wandering in the wilderness. Moses gave them the law not just as means of ethics, not just to govern the community. The law was an expression of the covenant, and the covenant is the heart of our faith. Not understanding the covenant is to not understand the Bible. Not placing the commandments, the need to live moral, ethical lives within the covenant is to miss the faith of the Bible. There are so many tragic examples throughout church history of the church and Christian people failing to understand the covenantal relationship within which the Ten Commandments reside. The exodus from Egypt and the establishing of the covenant in the wilderness show the proper relationship. God acted. God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God came to them in the person of Moses. God heard their cry, states the ancient creed in Deuteronomy. That is what people do to establish a relationship with God. To be saved, they cry for help, for deliverance. God heard. God acted. God saved them. God made them his people.

This is the basis of the covenant: God initiates. He reaches out in answer to a cry. There is nothing the people had to do first before God would save them, before he would establish a relationship with them. Then, after the covenant—the pact, the relationship—was established, the people's response was systematized, objectified, spelled out in the Ten Commandments. The covenant is God loving his people, and the people loving God by living out the covenantal relationship through obedience to his word and commandments. Now, the commandments are not obeyed in order to be loved, in order to be accepted. We have often misunderstood the covenantal relationship and have the cart before the horse. God doesn't love us because we do good or are good. God loves us without any strings. We then do good because we are loved and accepted. Faith produces good works, good works do not produce faith.

There are so many driven, restless, uptight people desperately trying to excel, to succeed, to obey the commandments, trying to prove themselves, "Look, Mama, look how good I am. Look, God, look at me. Look at all the good I'm doing. Look at how good I am. Look, Lord, love me.” They are unhappy, intolerant of others, especially mistakes, intolerant of themselves, and therefore harsh and hard on others. They are trying to prove themselves, but the gospel says we are justified, we are approved by the grace of God, the free, loving grace of God. God saved them through the exodus before they even heard of the commandments. And the children who are taught by their parents, by their schoolteachers. "Oh, Johnny, you did well. You are so good, such a good boy. 0h, you picked up your room, you 're such a good boy. 0h, you were so good, so polite.” The child learns that it is what he does that brings him acceptance, rather than being accepted and loved for what he is. Watch how you praise. Praising can backfire if not placed within the framework: your goodness, your worthwhileness as a human being is not based on your ethics, your obedience, your being good. Your worthwhileness as a human being is based on God's love of you. Because God loves you just as you are, you can relax, quit trying to prove yourself, quit trying to earn love, relax, love yourself. Have a good healthy opinion of yourself and your abilities because God has a good opinion of you, and you are called to do something great with your life.

Then, out of a healthy self-image which is the greatest gift a parent can help a child attain, relaxed, content in the covenant because God loves you, comes the desire to obey, the desire to love God and to love neighbor, to live a life worthy of one's calling, not out of desperation, but out of gratitude and love. One who is living a lousy life, disobeying commandments, ruining his life, his community, those around him, does not need instructions in how to live better. He needs an experience of God’s love. When he experiences God's acceptance of him as a person, his living will shape up as his self-image and goals blossom.

Our New Testament lesson captures the essence of our response in the covenantal relationship. “If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above… Set your minds on things above…Put to death what is earthly in you. Put on as God's chosen ones love which binds everything together in perfect harmony…And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

© 1974 Douglas I. Norris