It doesnít take much for us to get into trouble with God. Oh, I donít mean the overworked view where God gets mad and punishes us for our behavior. I am talking more about the separation we make from God that harms us the most. It is difficult to know and stay connected with God, without hearing a voice, having a photo, or perhaps seeing an appearance or two. An invisible relationship, does after all, present its complications.
We know from our own photo taking, that even with the most advanced cameras, we are still limited in capturing the full person, sunset, or event before us. It is limited to only what lens will allow. The photos we treasure of people in our lives donít begin to describe the talent, the character, or the beauty of the one pictured. This is even truer for God who cannot be photographed. God has chosen more descriptive ways to be revealed that give a much broader view of who God is. Because we are each created differently, we each see and hear God more clearly in some ways than others. God is revealed through creation, through people, through nature, history and events, and specifically through other people, to name a few. A rather sobering thought is that God chooses to be revealed through us as well.
Through these and other ways, God sharpens the focus of our picture of God. It was what God was doing with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, when God saw them so helplessly worshipping the images they had made. God saw them drifting from god to god, putting their trust into false gods without results. They plead for rain, fertility, food, or happiness, without response. They have made tangible gods to explain the unexplainable, to make visible the one who is invisible. But their take charge behavior has left them with no direction, no purpose or joy in living. They were lost in the desert.
So this God decides to be introduced to the people in a new way. Here, in the Pentateuch, the name for the first five books of the Bible, we find the story of how God reaches out to these wandering people to get acquainted and to form a nation; a nation of new believers. These are the ones, who for generations to come will give others a better grasp of who God is. It is the story of how God calls specific leaders for the people. It is the story of being lost and then found; of being alone and then connected. It is the story of love promises from God that turn the people from their ways. It is their story and it is our story. And in the process, this invisible God, gives us a picture that is more descriptive than any photo could ever be.
It is here in the Pentateuch, where we meet God through the creation, in Noah, Abraham, Sarah and others. But now God shifts from leaders to relationship by choosing The Ten Commandments to show the people a love they have never known. They are designed to provide and protect them, but not automatically. They must agree to follow them, for a covenant involves the promises of both parties; they are love promises for each other.
The people are learning that they have been created for the very purpose of being in relationship with God and with each other; but they do not know this yet. They have found themselves in Egypt for generations, as slaves to the Pharaoh. They have suffered greatly under his cruel treatment and not been heard. They have pleaded to their false gods but not been released. But now, when they cried out to the God of Moses they were heard! They were freed from Egypt and followed Moses through years in the desert, to settle in a land that will be theirs. No longer will they be controlled by a Pharaoh who is brutally and unconcerned about their welfare. No longer will they be slaves.
It is a long and arduous journey. Many have died along the way. Food and water are a constant worry and the people are grumbling. Where is this Promised Land? they ask. Nomadic life is difficult. There is no relief in sight, and the people are losing hope. Now imagine Moses at this point, chosen to lead without any training; seeking to be faithful to a God, without any guarantees or answers; and a rebellious people on his hands. This invisible God is absent, unresponsive when they call, uncaring and undependable. At first they were thankful for their freedom but now they wonder why they have been brought to the desert to die. And Moses has no explanations.
So without proof that God is real, without appearances or guarantees that all will work out in the end, the people demand something more tangible than a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night. They donít know yet, that faith doesnít come on demand. They donít know that faith takes time, life experiences, risk and communication to build. They donít know that when their pleading is not answered, God is still present behind the scenes about the business of building relationships that donít happen overnight. For years they have followed Moses to no avail, and now they are so absorbed in their suffering, that fear begins to rule.
Fear is a threatening experience for all of us and is most prominent when we lack control, unable to affect the outcome. Throughout our lives we all walk through our own desert experiences, unsure of the outcome and afraid.
Like the Israelites, we react too. We may cry, or yell, or blame someone else. We may seek quick solutions or get angry with everyone around us. We may plead on our knees for God to do something, usually with specific instructions and timelines! When that doesnít work, we even separate from God. We forget that we are not always in control, nor will God be controlled.
When things donít go well in our lives, sometimes taking charge can be a helpful action. We are in a meeting and someone erupts; someone needs to intervene. One of our children decides to take their scooter off the sidewalk and into the street. Someone needs to take charge. There are times in our lives when we must take charge. But when it comes to God, we are not in charge and when we try to be, we never have the total picture, power, wisdom, or love that belongs to God alone.
There must have been times when Moses wondered if he had misheard Godís call, doubted his own leadership ability, maybe even afraid of his lack of crowd control. Yet Moses did not give up, get mad, or exit, but remained faithful even without answers or any guarantee that everything would work out.
So they arrive at Mt. Sinai and Moses goes up the mountain leaving the people to their own devices. Fed up, the people say if God wonít take control, then we will, and they convince Aaron, the brother of Moses and a priest, to help them create a tangible god that will help them worship. This will be an image that will respond when spoken to, fix things when asked, and do what they command. They think they have control.
At the same time the people are throwing all their gold items into the fire to make the golden calf, believing God is absent, God is actually creating some rules to help them and we learn how to live in relationship. It is an act of love.
The Israelites wanted a tangible God, and so do we; one we can see and touch, but God seeks relationship. We put our trust in everything except God, following what our world knows and worships, instead of God. We want to see God, but spend more of our time on money concerns, family, entertainment, jobs, sports, than we do on God. When things donít go well we blame God. So why do we keep repeating the same behavior? Why do we keep offering explanations as though we knew the mind of God? Why do we keep making demands of God when God will not bow to that behavior? Why do we seek things more than relationships when we know how precious and irreplaceable they are?
God has made it clear that relationships are to be the most valued; with God first and others second. The Ten Commandments are proof of the importance of our relationships. They have lasted for thousands of years for a purpose. God offers these 10 rules for living healthy lives as a gift of love. If you agree to follow these rules you will have relationships that no material gain can offer. These are not harsh laws with a threat attached. They are an act of love to protect and provide for us. We can choose not to follow them and there will be consequences.
During the last 3 weeks I have been particularly aware of the subject of relationships. While preparing for this sermon, there have been so many wonderful events of relationship, I canít help but recognize God in the midst of them. Let me share a few with you as a way of inviting you to consider the relationships in your own lives. We all have some we wonder about, some we have given up on, some we mourn and some we hold as precious gifts. At the same time I have been thinking about the Commandments and their purpose of connection with God and others, I have been experiencing them back to back in my own life.
The first event was a reunion of 5 college friends, who have made a commitment to meet every other year to connect and invest in each other. Each time it is in a different place, but each time the agenda is the same. Relax, share our stories, walk with each other in the transitions of our lives, and celebrate. We are all very different and would probably not be friends to today living in different states, but it is our historical connection and our appreciation for our differences and our faith that makes it so rich. Each of us is that this connection is a holy gift from God meant to provide and protect us in ways we are only beginning to discover.
Following this, I spent 2 days with my sister who is going through a tough time. I only see her once or twice a year, so each minute is precious to me. I was able to be in her world, her workplace, her home, her situation that connected us. There is an interesting phenomena in families that seems biological, whether they are estranged or not, that keeps their hearts connected. For some families it seems hopeless, but it is not. For others distance is threatening. I believe this feeling is planted there for a purpose.
The next 2 days was spent with my former pastor and wife, long time friends, whom I donít see often enough. He was preaching that weekend and we worshipped there, I thanked God for still having these friendships who have shaped who I am becoming.
Several months ago I initiated a womenís clergy group. We have met several times, but donít know each other very well. Recently, one of them suggested an overnight for relaxation and getting acquainted. We all agreed, but when I returned I wondered why I had said yes. I didnít know them well, I didnít know what agenda might evolve; I needed the time elsewhere. What evolved was an amazing time of connection and new professional relationships that filled my cup.
Finally, just this weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a patio party with women who had been together for over many years, some of whom I had met but did not know well. They laughed and reminisced, they celebrated their lives, a birthday, faith and survival; they prayed and gave thanks for each other while they included me at the same time.
Historical, family, professional and new relationships all have their place. I share these events because they are God made visible. I have been able to "see" God in each of them, reaching out to me, teaching me, feeding me, like no material thing can do. Each has been God reminding me that God is above all and my false gods are worthless. I came out of them rested and refreshed, certain that God was in the background preparing the way for me without me knowing or needing to know what the future might bring. All was in its place because God was in charge. This is true for you as well.
Only God could create our desire to be connected in these ways, so when I think of the Ten Commandments I trust this God who gave them to me. Putting God first in our day, first in our decision and first is our behavior has enormous benefits.
Graven images, idols, the other things we worship, are insidious. They can sneak around in the form of good things not easily recognized, like family, travel, friends or work. Or they can come in the shape of values, like loyalty or responsibility and before we know it we have elevated their importance above our relationships, and when we do we are worshipping false gods.
So God offers these Holy Commandments as ways to protect us from harm, from our lack of consciousness, from our following others, even from ourselves. So why would I jeopardize my relationship with God by worshipping other things? Why would I risk my relationships with others by not investing in them? Why would I worship time instead of spending it with God and others most? Why would I choose isolation and separation over being connected?
I pray that I wonít and I pray that for you too.
I share these events because I know you have had similar experiences. I have been able to "see" God in each of them, reaching out to me, teaching me, feeding me, like no material thing can do. Each has been gifts in ways that have fed and healed me. They each have been God speaking to me and loving me. I came out of them rested and refreshed, certain that God was in the background preparing the way for me without me knowing or needing to know what the future might bring. All was in its place and God was in charge. Who else could create love in another person for me? Who else but God could create a desire for being connected with others that protects and provides for me?
So when I thing of the Ten Commandments I trust this God who gave them to me. I want to be right with God and others and know I canít do it on my own. So why wouldnít I want to follow the Ten Commandments? Why would I jeopardize my relationship with God by worshipping other things? Or ignoring the Sabbath? Why would I risk my relationships with others by not investing in them? Why would I worship time instead of spending it with them? God chooses to be revealed in others so why would I risk losing that in order to cheat, or lie, or covet? Why would I choose isolation and separation over being connected?
For me my cup was being filled.
Graven images, idols, things we worship are insidious. We are not always aware we are worshipping them as we set God aside. Other gods can be good things like family, homes, and friends. They are things like loyalty and responsibility and before we know it we can elevate their importance above our relationships, and when we do we are worshipping them.
So God offers these holy Commandments as ways to protect us from harm, from our lack of consciousness, from our following others, even from ourselves. Wanting for us happy and productive lives is an act of love.
We can break these commandments, but when we do things donít go well. We can focus on not killing, lying or stealing, but if we forget to put God first above all things, the others donít mean much. God promises us. "If you will be my people, I will be your God. If you put me first, I promise that idols will not pull you away. We will be a family that cares for each other; where relationship supersedes material gain; a place where love will last forever."
What are some of the other gods that sneak into your life? What sporting events take more time than God receives from you? What jobs do you have that get more of your attention? What nature times, especially here in Colorado, do you allow to take the place of worship? What money concerns suck the life out of you? How much family time takes the place of time with God?
Letís take a few moments to consider our other gods and pray for balance with God