Sunday, October 26, 2014

Unmarked Graves

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, OT pages 191-192 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah, as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain – that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees – as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bethpeor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. Sermon The little choir who sang last Sunday, they were rehearsing on Wednesday night, getting ready to sing in front of all of you, and their director, Ms. Marcy, asked if they’d like to wear the nice white robes like the big choir wears. “Yes, Ms. Marcy,” they said. “And can we decorate them?” Molly Potts asked. Now that’s a good question, and it’s fun to imagine what those robes would look like if we let those 5, 6, and 7 year olds decorate those white robes – there’s a part of me that would like to see them covered with Hello Kitty stickers and puff paint ballet slippers – and there’s a part of me that would like to see the adult choir singing in robes decorated with Hello Kitty stickers and puff paint ballet slippers even more. They might look less like a church choir however, and this is one of those difficult things about a church. This is your church, those kids sing in their choir, and it’s your right to act like that’s your pew that you’re sitting in, but you can’t go decorating the choir robes, even in a world where everyone wants to leave their mark, even if it’s only on a bathroom stall – “Joe was here”. On the other hand, Moses “was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bethpeor, but no one knows his burial place to this day”. In a way that seems like a tragedy. Everyone deserves a marker and an unmarked grave is one of those terribly sad things. I grew up close to the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield, the site of a great battle of the Civil War, and my friends and I would walk the trails to the grave of the Unknown Soldier. In those days we didn’t worry about his mother who didn’t know where to lay flowers, who spent her days wondering where they had laid his body to rest, we just scared each other imagining his ghost that surely still haunted those fields wanting someone to know his name, but no one knows who it is that is buried there to this day. We all want to be known and remembered. We don’t want to have to introduce ourselves again and again, and so we look for some organization, a group of people, a church even, some place where people are anxious to get to know us, where people care enough to ask us who we are and where we’re from, and who don’t get too upset if we sit in their pew, but being a part of a group can be a difficult thing – so many pastors end up making that uncomfortable phone call: “We sure have missed you,” which is followed by, “Well, I didn’t think anyone had noticed that I wasn’t there.” How awful it is – awful as an unmarked grave is awful, because everyone has a name and a story but not everyone is given the change to tell it and it was almost that way with Moses. Moses felt fine simply shepherding his flock out there in the land beyond the wilderness. He ran from Egypt after growing up in the palace of Pharaoh and he established himself, made a home for himself, started a family and everything was just fine, he had all that he though he needed as many do. In those days after leaving Egypt I’m sure he was like many of us. He wanted life to be simple. No more dressing up to impress people as they had to do among the high ranking officials. No more rushing from one meeting to another. Here he was out in this land beyond the wilderness where no one could touch him and he could focus on other things like watching football. Spend the little time that you have where you’re not at work or at school or at soccer practice doing what you want to do, but the Lord called Moses out of a burning bush. “Moses, Moses,” the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt…The cry of the Israelites has now come to me…So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Many years before they laid his body to rest, the Lord called him to use his voice, and the Lord’s call to Moses might not be so different from the Lord’s call to you. “No one knows his burial place to this day,” but we still know Moses, because even though he didn’t want to use his voice, even though he would have been just fine not being noticed, even though he was perfectly happy with how things were out there by himself in the land beyond the wilderness, we still know Moses because even though he didn’t want to use his voice he did and so must you. The world is happy for you to stay at home, but the Lord calls you back to his people. Now that can be hard for many reasons. It’s the case in every group from the perspective of the new person that everyone already knows each other. Often groups seem already established, so the temptation is to stand back rather than to step forward, but you have to try. It wasn’t any different with Moses. He didn’t’ want to speak and he was right to be afraid because as soon as he started talking people started getting upset. The Lord told him to go back to Egypt and even though he didn’t want to he did, and as soon he opened his mouth his worst fears were realized. They didn’t like what he had to say, and soon enough Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why did you ever send me.” And it didn’t get any better. As soon as they really got on their way, free from Pharaoh’s oppression, across the sea and headed towards the Promised Land, that’s when Moses really began to wonder, “O Lord, why did you ever send me?” because they got mad at him and he got mad right back at them. He wanted to leave them to fend for themselves and they would have been glad for him to do just that. It’s not any different from the church. You finally step out and get to know some people which takes courage, then after getting to know some people maybe you start to express some opinions and you suggest that the choir decorate their robes with Hello Kitty stickers. It’s a challenging thing, a congregation. It takes commitment for it to work. There’s a Lutheran pastor named Nadia Boltz-Weber who knows that well enough. Her church is growing by leaps and bounds, but every time someone new joins that church she warns them saying, “Now sooner or later you’re going to be disappointed by me or by this church, and the temptation for you will be to walk away, but don’t you do it, because if you’ll do you may miss the chance to see God at work for where the church falters, Christ steps in.” It wasn’t Moses who kept the Israelites going, and it’s not any one of us who keeps this church going either, but could any of us keep going without this church? The last Sunday of each month I’ve been driving to Central Presbyterian Church in Culleoka to preach just after the early service. I rush over and then rush back, and last month I was in such a hurry to get back here for the late service that I backed right into a tree. This is something that I’m proud to do. The church is small, about a dozen people are there, and this morning the piano player didn’t show up and they asked me if I knew how to play, but I’m proud to go there because the world would be glad for them to just stay home, but when we are isolated we are afraid. That’s why the Lord calls us together, even though it takes work. An incredible thing about Moses is that he dies, right here at the edge of the Promised Land, only getting to see with his eyes what the Lord promised to his people. But he did not die unhappy nor did he die unremembered even though no one knows his burial place to this day, for no one who lives their life committing themselves to a people, no matter how imperfect, no one who lives committing their life to God, labors in vain. No, he didn’t set his foot in the land flowing with milk and honey, and I haven’t either, but the more I commit my life to the Lord the more of it I see. I caught a glimpse of it just yesterday morning as a matter of fact. After a long drive that had so many twists and turns it felt like we were wandering through the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land, with a few members of our youth group we woke up in Harlan, Kentucky where it is already cold in the morning. We got to the armory early, a line of people had already formed at the door though it was still dark, and we put out the hats stitched by the fingers of this congregation, and there they sat in a big pile among so many clothes, blankets, shoes, and school supplies. Before the doors opened I knew just where they were, they were so colorful they stood out in the grayness of that big room, they were as plain to see as a choir robe decorated by Molly Potts, but within an hour there was no sign of them, and to this day I can’t tell you exactly where they went, but I saw them go. They left that table where they were so easily accounted for, but as young mothers placed them on the heads of their small children, soon enough for me they were only a memory. Soon enough, Moses’ burial place was only a memory too. “No one knows his burial place to this day.” but today we all remember Moses, because Moses risked his voice and gave himself over to a people, and while that people frustrated him, while that people even broke his heart, he committed himself and led them towards the Promise Land. For his time, he led his people forward, and for this time, you are called to move this church towards the goal. I’m calling you to use your voice, to use your gifts, to take that pledge card and fill it out so that together we might continue the journey that the Lord has set us to. Certainly the easier thing, the safer thing, is to hold back. Sometimes we are even tempted to walk away, but as Moses looked over into the Promised Land and breathed his last breath he knew that his life had counted for something. His name is not etched on a rock somewhere, but is his name not etched on the heart of his people? Commit yourself to this church, and may our names be etched on each other’s hearts. Commit yourself to this church, and together let us walk to the Promised Land. Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Settling for Scraps

Exodus 33: 12-23, OT page 80 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” The Lord said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to the Lord, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” the Lord said, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” Sermon Every once in a while when we were kids, maybe once a month or so, my Mom had dinner with her book club, and when that happened my Father was in charge of feeding us supper. I don’t know what that meant in your family, but for my sister, brother, and me, our Father cooking supper meant that he’d drive us to the local grocery store, lead us to the sardines, and then he’d say, “Pick out whatever you want!” Nothing could have been so wonderful, that’s how we felt about it, until things changed, the chief change being that we heard about a place called Chucky Cheese – which is the kind of place that has ski-ball, video games, a ball pit, soft-drinks, and pizza – all of which cast a harsh light on the sardine section of our local Ingle’s Grocery Store. I imagine that this is the way things are supposed to progress – we go from a place of satisfaction with simple things, moving on to something better – and while I’d today compare Chucky Cheese pizza to cardboard topped with ketchup and cheese, that’s only because I’ve moved on ever farther from the sardine section. Life is a journey – and we move from one phase of the journey to the next – progressing on from one thing to the other, and we could think of the Exodus this way. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt but Moses led them by the hand like a flock out from the sardine section and towards the glory of the Promised Land. The only problem is that they made their home in Egypt, they were slaves there, and slaves can grow used to slavery. Therefore, when the Lord sent Moses to invite them to freedom, to go and experience something even better, they wanted Moses to leave them alone. Moses went to Pharaoh calling him to let the people go – to free them from oppression, and we think of Pharaoh’s hardened heart as the greatest obstacle that stands between Israel and her freedom – but in reality – there is a greater obstacle still. Back in Exodus chapter 32 which we read just last week - “The Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people.” This statement reminds me of an age old theological question – the irresistible force paradox it’s called: “Can God create a stone so heavy that not even God is strong enough to lift it?” – the reality that Scripture presents is that our God can do many things, move mountains, topple empires, create the universe in all its glory, but our God is continually defied by the stubbornness of the human heart. Can God create something that God cannot move or change? The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people,’” because even after being set free from Pharaoh’s oppression, still the people are slow to accept freedom, being so quick to fall back into idolatry and disobedience. The people are stiff-necked. They are obstinate, stubborn. Rather than give thanks for manna in the wilderness, the people complained. Rather than trust that the Lord would quench their thirst by providing fresh water to drink, the people doubted. Rather than worship the Lord, they built for themselves a Golden Calf. And rather than live by God’s Commandments, they are disobedient, so the Lord is done, for the Lord wanted nothing but to bring these people freedom, happiness, joy – wanting nothing so much as that their joy would be complete, however they are too stiff necked to do their part. The great Christian author, CS Lewis, wrote that we are all like children making mud pies in a dark back alley, only an invitation has come that we hesitate to accept – an invitation to go and experience the ocean. All that the child must do is accept the invitation, get up from the ally way and go – but so often the child stays right there, like a dog grown used to the scraps that fall from the table, too afraid to ask for anything more, and maybe we do so because that’s how the world has taught us to be. To stay in our place, accept our lot, be happy with what we have, and don’t ask for anything more. Get used to giving things up. Don’t try too hard for anything. Don’t put up a fight – just be a nice, polite, Christian who doesn’t cause a fuss and doesn’t ask for too much. The problem is that the heroes of the Bible who are lifted up as the great examples of what it means to be faithful are not demure, nor are they passive, nearly so much as the faithful are the ones who demand more out of life and more out of God. “Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”” The disciples didn’t want to reward a woman for such a request. They didn’t want to entertain the demands of a Canaanite woman who couldn’t even ask politely, but instead just came right out and started shouting. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” and no one should shout, especially not in polite company. “Lord, help me,” she couldn’t stop saying, so finally Jesus said to her in a moment of human frustration, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith!” And her daughter was healed instantly, because it is human to be stiff necked and stubborn, to accept the prejudices of a sin sick society without question, on the other hand, it is divine to listen and to change. The Lord’s response to you is not definitive this Scripture lesson tells us, as though just because the door that you knocked on was not answered the first time you knocked – you must keep knocking because our God is still listening. Sometimes it the case that we should give up and be thankful for what we have – but other times that longing in your heart – it’s not telling you to change your expectations or to wait until the blessing falls in your lap – that longing in your heart is telling you that there are some things worth asking for – even if you have to ask for them again and again and again. I know that it’s true, because the other thing that I’ve learned since those days of eating sardines for dinner – is that my father would have taken us to Chucky Cheese; because when fathers are left alone with their children for the night they are afraid and they are desperate, and they will go to extreme lengths to make their children happy. My father would have taken us to Chucky Cheese in a second – had we only been bold enough to ask – and the glory of God is revealed to Moses, not because he was a polite little boy who waited his turn and took whatever good things came his way – Moses saw the glory of the Lord from the cleft in the rock because he was bold enough to ask. We learned it somewhere or another. Maybe it was from the ones who would rather deal with sheep than men and women, but the Lord did not create you so that you might settle for whatever scraps fall from the table. “Know your place,” they said to that Canaanite woman, and do you know that the Israelites in Egypt knew theirs too. “Know your place,” the world says, and don’t go looking for blessings, don’t go dreaming big dreams, learn to expect little and need less and pray measly little prayers that if they ask for anything it’s apologetically and meekly – “Lord, if it is your will, if you would see this request worthy of your time, because certainly I don’t want to be one of those people who demands too much out of life – my mother trained me to be happy the scraps from the table.” “Know your place,” the world says – and settle for the scraps, but what if the place the Lord intended you to occupy isn’t the place that the world has assigned to you? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.” If you’re anything like me, you know when not to look a gift horse in the mouth. The blessings that you have now you don’t want to go taking for granted, and so you hold on as tightly as you can. But what if the Lord intends to increase your joy and to make it complete? What if the Lord intends for you more, should you only have the courage to ask? Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Golden Calf

Exodus 32: 1-14, OT pages 78-79 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I have commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring to his people. Sermon Fall has come again, and every fall, during my four years of High School, brought with it the Homecoming Dance. That was probably the case for you too. The Homecoming Dance would come along, it was held in the high school gym, and a well-meaning committee would decorate the gym and try to make it look less like a gym than it really was. There’d be streamers, and some kind of tarp on the floor so your shoes didn’t leave marks, the lights would be low and music would be playing but the basketball goals were still there and I remember once that some creative person stuck a fern in each of the basketball hoops to dress it up a little bit. A lot of work goes into a high school dance, and I put a lot of work into getting a date to the high school dance. One year I knew for sure of one young lady who would say yes, which gave me an inappropriate amount of confidence, so what I did was I asked three other young ladies first, knowing that if those three said no I had someone to fall back on. Well, all three of those first young ladies did say no – they had already been asked, but I wasn’t disappointed, I just went to the one I had in mind from the beginning, told myself I was glad it had worked out this way because she was the one I liked the most anyway, only to find that she had been asked the day before. And often this is the way that it goes. That’s why you must be careful taking someone or something for granted, because sometimes you’ll turn your back assuming that she’ll just be there waiting on you, only you’ll turn back around and she’ll be gone. The people had grown tired of waiting for Moses, and assuming that he’d be back sooner or later, or maybe imagining that they could afford to explore their options a little bit, “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Now a note of clarification. You may have figured this out already, but someone much smarter than me had to point it out, not noticing it on my own. The people say that they are replacing Moses with this Golden Calf – it’s him that they are tired of waiting on, not realizing that he wasn’t the one who got them out of Egypt, he’s just the servant of the Lord and not the Lord himself, but it’s God who ends up being hurt by all of this, and that’s where this lesson from Scripture really reminds me of the date that I could have had if only I wouldn’t have taken her for granted. When the people turn to this calf and make offerings to it and kneel down before it, “the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”” Now have you ever imagined that such a thing were possible? That after all of our wandering around, getting distracted, finding ourselves and our way, that during all that time when we were exploring our options God might have been exploring his options as well? “Now let me alone,” God said to Moses, “So that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” You have to be careful taking someone or something for granted, because sometimes you’ll turn your back assuming that she’ll just be there waiting on you, only you’ll turn back around and she’ll be gone. When I was 5 and 6 years old I spent so many days at my grandmother’s house. She was my father’s mother, a painter who I loved, and growing up I thought it was so interesting how she loved Capri Sun juice boxes, because she always had them in her refrigerator, not realizing then that I was the only reason she had them. In the years before her death she struggled to recover from a stroke, learning how to walk again, struggling to remember what she was going to say, and when I was 12 she died, and I remember the funeral was hours away, the family plot in a place we never went to, but I made a promise then that I would go back when I turned 16 – that when I could drive myself I’d drive and put flowers on her grave, only when I finally went, I couldn’t remember how to get there. We just assume that waiting a little while is no big deal, and so I tell our daughters “just a minute” all day long, only they won’t accept that as a reasonable response because they know now what I’ve forgotten – that some things will pass you by if you don’t do something right now – some relationships will pass you by if you put them off. You can’t wait until the weekend to spend time with your children. You can’t wait until your anniversary to celebrate your marriage. You can’t keep putting off the phone call to him because he won’t always be there to answer. You can’t just sit there watching TV assuming that he’ll come around sooner or later, that they’ll be time to talk once this show is over, because once the show is over he may well be gone. “Just a minute” – that’s what we say to our children, our spouses, our parents, our church, and our God. Just a minute – I’m working on a Golden Calf right now and if this doesn’t work out for me I know you’ll still be there, but don’t you be so sure, because your relationship with God, like any other, depends partially on you. There are places on this earth where I’ve felt God’s presence, and I know well enough to value a place like that because not every place is, so I’ve been meaning to get back to this camp I grew up going to. It’s on a lake, and not only did I go there as I kid I was also a camp counselor there, and it’s a place where my call to ministry was affirmed, one of those places where I gained some direction for my life. I’ve been meaning to get back to that camp for years now, only just last week I learned that the presbytery who has funded it for years had to sell it to make ends meet. Every building has been torn down, and this is a lesson to me and to you and to every person who cares about a place like this one – do not neglect this place – because the temptation is always there to sleep in, sit back, and wait for next year before you really pull out your check book and make a pledge, but remember that if you’re melting down your ear rings to make a Golden Calf this church is sitting in the back seat, and is that where your church should be? It’s not that God is going anywhere. God threatened to walk away but Moses talked God right out of it, and more than anything else, the faith that this church stands on offers this guarantee that no matter how frustrated God gets with us God will not walk away, but what about you? Look to the Cross and know that our Lord faced rejection and would sooner face rejection now than walk away from you – but still – here it is Stewardship Season once again, and as you calculate the amount you’ll pledge there’s so much to think about, so many directions that you’re already pulled, sometimes away from God and towards things that are not. Where will that money to God fit in? After the mortgage, credit card payments, vacation fund, cable TV? If there’s any gold left over from the Golden Calf, then God can have the left overs. That’s how humans think. It reminds me of a new minister who was trying to enter our Presbytery. Before a new minister can serve a church here in Middle Tennessee he or she must be examined on the floor of the Presbytery in front of every other minister and so many elders. Some of the questions are hard to answer, but at some point or another every new minister will be asked as this one was, “Son, do you love Jesus?” The new pastor was nervous, but with confidence he said, “Yes I do, but not nearly as much as he loves me.” There’s a lot to balance when it comes to your time and your treasure, but I tell you that you must make God your first priority, because you are always his. Amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

All these words

Exodus 20: 1-20, OT page 66 Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Sermon Most of these words I imagine that you’ve heard many times before. The 10 Commandments are as familiar as any other passage of Scripture. These words are not only here in Exodus chapter 20, but reoccur in Deuteronomy chapter 5, then you can see them outside or inside of courthouses all over this country, and religious groups will put up a fight should anyone threaten to move them. If you drive out near Zion School there are a yard signs with the 10 Commandments printed on them, and if you are anything like me, you’ve heard about these commandments for your whole life, but something that I’ve only recently noticed is how the people reacted the first time they heard them: “they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”” God appeared to them with thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking – all of which are terrifying, but there are few things as terrifying as the voice of one who names the wrong that you embody. I had some blood work done for cholesterol. There were needles involved, which I don’t care for very much, but infinitely worse is the voice of a doctor affirming your fear; it’s in the case of your blood test results when you’d prefer a computer print-out that is impossible to discern rather than a color coded one that clearly defines your level of fitness by putting you right into the red. Do not let God speak to us – because God is too much like my little sister’s speech pathologist. She was six and had what we all thought was the cutest lisp that anyone ever heard. She wasn’t Elizabeth, but Elizabuth, and we all loved hearing her say it until the evaluation came home and all of a sudden what we called cute was a problem that needed to be corrected. There are so many things in life that I’d rather just leave in the gray, leave undefined, never really look at or address – my cholesterol, my body mass index, or my sin – but God spoke all these words and opened my eyes to what is broken. “I am the Lord your God,” we hear, which means that if the Lord is God than you are not and neither am I. There can be no more idols – no more ideologies or philosophies that govern my life – no goals that become more important to me than living in the righteousness defined by my Lord and God. The Lord’s name is not to be used flippantly, but with respect – not for manipulation but honored and set apart. The Sabbath day is to be a day of rest, for if our God could create all that there is – the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky in six days than what makes you think that you need to work on the seventh. Honor your father and your mother, for family, even with all its imperfections, is still flesh and blood. You shall not murder, nor commit adultery, nor shall you steal or accuse your neighbor falsely. With eyes tuned to what you don’t have in covetousness you’ll have no time left to be thankful, so yes – the television piping in commercials, the magazine adds, and the longing in your heart when you see something that you really want – the word isn’t wishful thinking or window shopping, it is coveting and it’s time to give it up. It’s time to name it – that’s what God is doing here – saying that it’s time to name the wrong, because all that is wrong will continue if it remains unaddressed and unnamed. But I for one will resist hearing such defining words as long as I possibly can. I can relate to the ones who cry, begging for God to stop with the words, because once the sin is named I fear it will name me. If you’re anything like me, than in such a circumstance of being in the wrong, knowing somewhere within you but not wanting the wrong named, then you’ll call on the friend who brings with him sympathy and understanding, rather than the friend who provides honesty and advice. Years ago, the day after a baptism went all wrong I had breakfast with my friend George. I told him that the mother had asked me to do the baptism, but that as I was the Associate Pastor, the Senior Pastor I worked with thought it would be better if she did the honors. I submitted to her request, but I never told the mother and no one else did either, so she tried to hand the baby to me at the baptismal font and her face dropped when the Senior Pastor stepped in. She should have been smiling, but her face went from an expression of disappointment to an expression of severe anger, all while her baby was being baptized, and when I recounted all of this to George I wanted sympathy. But instead, he looked at me squarely and said, “Well Joe, you messed up, and I mean you really messed up. But it’s OK, because you’re going to do better next time.” As soon as it has a name shame gets involved doesn’t it, but until it has a name, until you hear words like those, you can’t do anything about it and the sin persists. But worse than that, until your sin has a name, until the words are spoken and your sin stands boldly right defined right in front of you so you can’t deny it anymore, until you see yourself clearly in the wrong, it’s not so easy to see your Savior standing right there over it either. Paul said it as well as it can possibly be said, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… to be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based in faith.” When I hear the law, and more so, when I hear my violation of it named, I know so clearly my need and I know so clearly that there is no righteousness of my own – if there is any righteousness within me it comes from Christ. Too many of you will still cry to hear your sin named. You will still hide behind the good that you’ve done when confronted with the bad. But so long as you go on ignoring the sin that is in you, you will fail to see the righteousness that is in him. Too often we think that grace is a God who looks the other way; that forgetting is just as good if not a little bit better than forgiveness. But the more you know your need for a savior, the more the savior of our world will be yours. Amen.