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First Reading = 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
We are still in our series looking at covenants in the Bible. Covenants are promises that God makes to us. Sometimes God places expectations on us, but the strength of the promise comes from God’s commitment to it, not our ability to uphold it.
That’s especially true today as we will be looking at when God gave the Ten Commandments. To put this in historical context, this happened a little bit after God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. So these people had seen the plagues sent upon Egypt. They had seen the waters part as they walked across dry land. They had seen God lead them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They had a healthy respect for the power of God. But they had a lot to learn. Most of the time, Moses spoke with God and then delivered the message. But this time? This time God had the people prepare themselves to hear from God directly. What a great opportunity, right? Well…let’s see.
Sermon Reading = Exodus 20:1-17
20Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You 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. 5You 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, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But 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. 11For 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.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You 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.
Not Up to Standard
Shane is one of my favorite engineers on YouTube, and he has a penchant for making some wild projects. He made a basketball goal that analyzed your shot in real time and moved and tilted the basket to make sure you never missed. He made an automated robotic barber. That one didn’t work quite as well, and I would be very nervous about losing my ears, but it was still impressive.
His latest one was a pool cue that had a robotic end that made sure you always made the shot no matter how bad you were at pool. The idea came to him after losing about ten games in a row to his wife. He needed a way to win! And why practice more when you can build a robot, right?
So he got it all hooked up. He could see the robotic cue tip moving to optimal position as he moved it around. It looked great! With excitement he lined up his first shot. It struck the ball cleanly. The ball rolled toward the pocket and…missed? Strange. So he lined up another shot, and it…missed, too!
Five days of agonizing debugging and ripping out hardware and rewriting software later, he discovered one of the problems. One of the key parts wasn’t performing up to standard. It wasn’t rotating as far as it was supposed to, and it was throwing off the shot. The manufacturer gave the specifications. The manufacturer certified it was up to standard. But it wasn’t.
This happened to NASA recently, too. An aluminum manufacturer had lied about the specifications of aluminum for 19 years, charging extra without delivering the real goods. After two failed satellites and $700 million in losses, NASA figured out the source was this sub-standard aluminum. It was supposedly up to standard. But it wasn’t.
For an example a bit closer to home, does your phone or laptop get as much battery life as they say it will? I have never in my life owned an electronic device whose battery life was equal to the marketing materials! If you have, tell me what you’re buying! Unless you’re still on a flip phone. That’s just not worth it.
In our text today, I already shared that the Israelites knew God had incredible power. They had felt the heat of the pillar of fire. They had scooted across the dry seabed with walls of water on either side. They didn’t doubt God’s existence or God’s power. But they did want to know God’s expectations.
And so God obliged. Here’s how God spoke to them. In the previous chapter it says, “there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.” And then God’s 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!”
If you’ve ever wished that God would speak to you directly, some of these Israelites would say, “be careful what you wish for!” In fact, it’s hilarious, right after our text today they tell Moses not to let God speak to them directly again. They say to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”
Why were they so afraid? Well, the presentation probably contributed to that. A booming voice from a mountain of lightning and thunder might give anyone pause. But they were also afraid because they realized they weren’t up to God’s standards. God throws out a whole bunch of “you shalls” and “you shall nots.” God sets the standard. But they realize they tend to “shall not” when God said “you shall,” and they tend to “shall” when God said, “you shall not.” They aren’t up to God’s standard.
But Timothy Keller, the Christian author and pastor, takes this a step further. He says to imagine that you have a body camera that records every time in your life that you said to someone else, “you should” or “you should not.” All it records is your own definition of right and wrong. Not God’s standard – your own standards for right and wrong as spoken throughout your life. Got it?
And now imagine that God says on judgment day, “I’m a fair-minded God. I’m going to use your own moral standard to judge your decisions.” And then God watches the recorder and compares it to how you lived.
How confident are you that you have actually lived up to your own moral standards? How confident are you that you have actually lived a “good life” as you define it? How confident are you that you have always lived up to your own standards?
I am personally very confident. 100% confident, even. I am 100% without-a-doubt confident that I have NOT lived up to my own moral standards, let alone God’s. I have not always done what I believe to be right. I have often done what I believe to be wrong. Like that part in the robotic pool cue, like that bad aluminum sold to NASA, like the battery life in my cell phone, I’m not up to my own standard, let alone God’s standard. How about you?
Gospel of Grace
William Penn – the namesake of Pennsylvania – grew up in the upper class in the mid-1600’s. It was the predominant fashion among the upper class to wear a sword. It wasn’t really there for a purpose. It was a status symbol. It set apart the high brow from the low brow – the moneyed from the poor – the well-born from the peons.
But at age 23 William Penn became a Quaker. They believed, in their devotion to Jesus, that one should refuse to use violence and one should abolish class distinctions. Pacifism and equality were two of the cornerstones of how they lived their faith in Jesus.
Penn approached his mentor, because he was so accustomed to wearing the sword. He pleaded with his mentor, “May I continue to wear the sword?” But it was a symbol of violence and intentionally designed to distinguish the classes. It seemed to violate two of the core principles of the Quaker faith.
His mentor told him something I consider surprising. His mentor told him, “Wear the sword as long as you can, William, wear it as long as you can.” I find that surprising. Why?
Most people would have taken one of two different approaches. Many would have said, “That’s OK, William. It’s just a fashion statement.” Others would have said, “Get rid of that sword and turn it into a plowshare like the Bible says!” But Penn’s mentor didn’t say it was OK and he didn’t say stop it immediately. He said, “Wear the sword as long as you can, William.”
That’s fascinating! He didn’t offer blanket endorsement and appeasement. He didn’t offer relativism. But he also didn’t offer blanket judgment and condemnation. He turned the question back to William Penn, placed him in conversation with his faith, and trusted him to eventually make the responsible choice for a Quaker.
He offered young William Penn grace instead of judgment and condemnation. But he also offered young William Penn an expectation that he would examine himself in light of his faith and eventually make the responsible choice for a Quaker.
I believe that is a fabulous demonstration of the dual nature of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What did Jesus say to the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery when the crowd wanted to stone her to death? “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” He said two things to her. The first was “neither do I condemn you.” The second was, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus said both things!
We see in the Bible, in the book of Romans, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It doesn’t say, “after we clean up our lives, God will love us.” It doesn’t say, “once everyone around us thinks we’re good, God will love us.” It says, “while we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves you for who you are today. That’s good news.
But God ALSO loves who you could become. Jesus said, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus desires us to live a certain way. Jesus desires us to become more responsible in the eyes of God. Jesus wants us to live the life that God dreamed for us when he formed us in our mother’s womb! That’s good news, too.
Both things are true. Jesus does not condemn us for who we are today. AND Jesus is eager for us to live the life that God dreamed for us before we were born. Both things are true.
Moses demonstrated this with his response to the Israelites who were terrified after hearing the voice of God. Remember I shared earlier that they told Moses not to let God speak to them again because they were afraid they would die. They weren’t up to God’s standard.
But Moses said to them, “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.” Two things there. Do not be afraid…AND do not sin.
At the beginning of the Ten Commandments, God says, “I am the Lord your God” as a statement of fact. It is not contingent. It is not conditional. It just is. AND here are some expectations for living responsibly in the eyes of God. Both things are true.
As William Penn’s mentor said, “Wear the sword…as long as you can, William.” Grace and expectation of responsibility in the eyes of God. Both things are true.
This is good news! But it is also bad news.
When we want to wear our sword like William Penn, our badge of honor, our sense of superiority, our notion that we are right and those people are wrong and must be put in their place, this is bad news. This is bad news for us when we want to feel better than other people, when we want to point our fingers at those people and put them in their place. This is bad news when we’re feeling like that. We’ve all done it at some point.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t live up to our own standards, let alone God’s standards. We don’t have the moral high ground in the eyes of God. We are all sinners saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Two Hard Prayers
A late night comedian put up a photo of a famous person and spent several minutes mocking him because his face was one color and his hands were another color. And he was wondering what kind of makeup person wouldn’t notice the difference. To highlight the point he held up his own hands to his face and had a startling revelation. His own hands were a drastically different color than his face!
He confessed, “I mean, it’s not as bad, but it’s close. I’ll be honest. I regret going on this riff now because…I am in a glass house chucking some stones!”
I’m going to encourage us to have the courage to pray two hard prayers from within our own glass houses. And I mean “us.” I have needed to hear both of these things within the last year. Within the last month. Probably within the last week. I’m not sure about this morning, but the day’s still young! There’s still time!
First hard prayer is simple. “Jesus, give me your eyes of love.” Let me say that again: “Jesus, give me your eyes of love.”
Whenever we find ourselves thinking or saying someone has to look a certain way – whether that’s respectfully nice or honestly casual – whenever we find ourselves thinking or saying someone has to look a certain way to be a true follower of God, “Jesus, give me your eyes of love.”
Whenever we find ourselves thinking or saying that someone has to act a certain way to be a true follower of God, “Jesus, give me your eyes of love.”
Whenever we find ourselves thinking or saying that someone has to smell a certain way or vote a certain way or think a certain way to be a true follower of God, “Jesus, give me your eyes of love.”
That’s a hard prayer sometimes for me. What about you? But that grace is part of the Good News of Jesus.
Second hard prayer. “Jesus, help me live more responsibly in your eyes.” Let me say that again: “Jesus, help me live more responsibly in your eyes.”
I’m reading a book with a group of pastors right now called “Failure of Nerve” by Edwin Friedman. Friedman was one of the foremost practitioners of family systems, and he said that troubled families and troubled systems don’t change by focusing on the problem behaviors or the problem person or the weak link. In his decades of experience, families and systems change when someone or some ones behave with greater responsibility. When someone chooses not to be manipulated, when someone chooses not to be controlled by the anxiety in the system, when someone chooses not to be goaded into another fight, when someone chooses not to react in the same old ways, that’s when the family or system starts to change.
Sisters and brothers, when we live more responsibly in the eyes of God, we influence the people, families, and systems around us. You reap what you sow, right? So if you want the world to be more Godly, be more Godly. But that doesn’t mean finger-wagging judgment, because we have a Gospel of grace. And that doesn’t mean saying that our choices are always fine and dandy in the eyes of God. Because Jesus wants us to do the will of our Father in heaven.
When we pray, “Jesus, give me your eyes of love,” and “Jesus, help me live more responsibly in your eyes,” we sow Christ around us.
What will we sow this week? And what will we reap later on? Amen.