Total Pageviews

Monday, February 24, 2020

“A Hillside way of Life” (Exodus 20:1-19)

watch it here -

Image result for exodus 20

February 16, 2020

            Let’s play guess the quote.  I’ll read it and you guess who said it and the source. 
            “Mos Eisley spaceport.  You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  We must be cautious.”  - Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars:  A New Hope.
            “I confess, it is my intention to commandeer one of these ships, pick up a crew in Tortuga, and, raid, pillage, plunder, and otherwise pilfer my weasley black guys out.”  - Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

            Both quotes precede a story of a ragtag band of heroes descending into chaos space to throw together a team of rogues who will help them fight a corrupt empire.  The agents commissioned to maintain law and order, the Empire in Star Wars, and the British navy in Pirates of the Caribbean have turned out to be cruel and untrustworthy.  So, the heroes, Will Turner and Luke Skywalker, turn to a pirate, Jack Sparrow, and a smuggler, Han Solo, for help.  When the established order turns out to be evil, our movies heroes seek salvation in those who survive and even thrive in disordered madness.
            It’s Darwinian.  Who survives?  The fittest.  Survival is the goal and there’s no overarching power or ultimate goodness to turn to for help.
            I don’t know if life ever feels like that to you.  Bills stack up faster than your income.  Mistakes and bad decisions cut you off at the knees.  The people you hope will help you turn out to be unreliable.  And sometimes the friend you counted on becomes part of the problem that’s vexing you.  Where do you turn?  Your job?  The university?  The government? The challenges before you seem utterly insurmountable.  And then your health fails.  A period of recovery and a massive hospital bill are added to your rising stack of burdens. 
            Does it ever feel like the universe is out to get you?  A Darwinian would say no it is not.  The universe just hums along and natural selection determines who will survive and possibly thrive.  There’s no purpose.  Whether you are suffering or flying high, whether your life is an ever-worsening agony or a sun-sparkling joy, there is no greater purpose. 
            To this bleak fatalism, Star Wars or The Pirates of the Caribbean propose that hope and abundant life must be won through deadly, authority-defying quests.  These movies are fun, but miss something we see in Exodus, something important.
            Exodus is a story of God and His people.  In the face of struggles that make it feel like all the universe is out to get us, we keep in mind that there is an ultimate good overseeing all.  This ultimate good is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom we know through the crucified and resurrected one.  He is over the story and in the story – both the Exodus, and the story of your life.
            Remember the 10 Commandments come in the midst of the story of God and God’s people.  Instead of just listing them, one-by-one, to feel the force of the commands, enter the story.
            Exodus 2:23-24 - “The Israelites groaned under their slavery [in Egypt], and cried out.  … Their cry rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham.”  This story’s hero won’t, like Luke, turn to a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy;’ Moses doesn’t even know he is the hero until God calls him.  Once he is called, then his only source for help is the God who called him.  Even then, after embarking upon the journey, several times, Moses tries to get out of it.
            Exodus 5:22-23 – “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people?  Why did you ever send me?  Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people and you have done nothing.”  How does God respond to his exasperated prophet’s accusations?
            “You shall see what I will do to Pharaoh.  I am the Lord … God Almighty.  I have heard the groaning of [my people].  I have remembered my covenant with their father Abraham.  Tell the Israelites I will free them and bring them into the land I promised them.”
            I don’t recommend barking at God, “Hey, you up there!  You’ve done nothing to help me.”  I won’t give pastoral sanction to such an approach to prayer.  But I also don’t recommend against it.  God’s best interactions with us come when we are honest with Him.  Moses was at his wit’s end when he said those things and God knew it.  God welcomed his outburst.  God responded to it with promise.
            So, whatever approach you take to prayer, be fully honest before God.  Don’t endeavor to pray well.  Pray transparently.  Pray from all your anger, frustration, pain, hurt, loss, and disappointment.  If those real emotions bubbling up in you lead to unholy words, then direct those profane words to God.  And then be ready to receive God’s response.
            God did what He promised.  He led Moses and the people to the shore of the Red Sea, and then through it on foot, walking the dry ground in the middle of the Sea God had parted in his limitless power.  That impossible trek behind them, God led the people to the foot of Mount Sinai. 
            Exodus 19:17-19 – “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.  … Moses spoke and God answered him in thunder.”
            In the desert wilderness, dependent on God for their very existence, seeing this fiery display of raw power, the people understand how horribly awesome God is.  They also understand they are his possession.  They’ve been rescued from slavery to serve, love, and worship God – this God; the only God.
            They will be different than all other peoples.  Other tribes created carved statues, and then worship the things they made.  Other nations were ruled by kings, however good or evil the king might be.  These people, in this Sinai moment, clearly see that they are called to be different.  Later, they will forget and build a golden calf for themselves and worship it. Later, it won’t be enough for them that they are God’s and they will demand a king even when God tells them the king will ruin them.  For now, though, they see who they truly are – God’s.  It is enough. 
            After the miraculous deliverance, after the promise of covenant, after the display of might in the fire descending on the mountain, then God gives the 10 commands.  The first four deal with the relationship we have with God.  The final six govern how we relate to one another in society.  Taken together, they serve as bullet points for the two great commands of Jesus: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.  How do we live out these commandments of Jesus within our daily lives and our social lives?  Stay within the boundaries drawn by the 10 commandments. 
            We see how to live.  But it only makes sense in relation to what God is doing.  In Israel, God, working through the exodus and then the prophets and priests is constituting a people.  God creates a nation unlike any other.  This will be a nation of priests that shows the world how to live in relationship with God.  This vision comes to fruition in the final chapters of Isaiah, where God welcomes the world into His embrace as the kings of the world come in drove to Israel seeking God. 
            The world is chaotic and governments and strongmen and systems of control, supposedly providing order, are as oppressive and untrustworthy as Star Wars or The Pirates of the Caribbean present them to be.  Within a world in which Egyptians enslave Hebrews and force them to build pyramids, God calls out a people to be his own.  God constitutes a people to live in the world, fallen as it is.  His people are to be beacons, pointing the way out of chaos and into order and Shalom for all humanity.  The commandments give humans the ground rules for the Hillside way of life.
            What conditions do you experience in the hardest parts of your daily life that show the world is still fallen?  In Jesus Christ, God shows you the path to peace, order, and love, and God is a trustworthy, merciful overseer.  Know his commandments, live by them, and see how different things look and feel. 
            Walter Brueggemann calls the hillside way of life delineated in the commandments a “viable alternative to Egyptian slavery” (p.184).  Imagine leaning into the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it – Jesus the one whose life and teachings brought the commandments to fulfillment.  How is the Kingdom of God a viable alternative to the life you’re living now?  From our current situation, how do we lean in to that Kingdom? 
            We approach God with hands open and hearts ready to receive.  Michael Fishbane describes a “divine pulse of giving and care” that is the “eternal truth” of the hillside, Sinai (p.129).  When we try to live on our terms, by our own rules, cut-off from God’s rule, then we are cut off from God’s love. We have consciously turned away from the divine pulse. 
            We begin sensing that the way of life to which God calls us, regulated by the commandments, can truly come about when we receive.  From God we receive rebuke, forgiveness, joy, love, hope, strength, words and wisdom, warning, redirection, and so many other gifts.  Receiving is a humble posture, so it is the perfect one to adopt before God.  Resisting our need for self-reliance, we come before God receptive and willing to be formed and molded.  God constitutes us as a people – His people called to tell His story.
            Our town is as fallen and chaotic as anywhere.  I love our town.  I love my neighbors, both the committed followers of Jesus and the disregarders of Jesus.  Our town needs the story of salvation.  God has placed us here to tell it.  Every time someone believes and turns to Christ, he or she joins this covenant community, and enters God’s way, the Hillside life. 
            So, we close seeing that like Luke Skywalker or Will Turner we face dangers and we have struggles.  For us, help does not come from Han Solo or Jack Sparrow, whom we find in some rogue-filled saloon.  Our help comes from the Lord.  This world is his and so are we; we are his possessions.  We come before him with the offer of humble worship and the readiness to receive whatever He gives.

Brueggemann, Walter (1997.  Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.  Fortress Press (Minneapolis).

Fishbane, Michael (2008).  Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology.  University of Chicago Press (Chicago).

Martens, Elmer (1981).  God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology.  Baker House Books (Grand Rapids).

No comments:

Post a Comment