Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
You Will Be for Me a Holy Nation - June 18, 2017 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Exodus 19:2-8a
Two weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost Sunday and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday and the fact that we worship a God who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday brought us to an end of our Easter Season, but not an end to our resurrection celebration. Indeed, the very reason we worship on Sunday is because each and every Sunday is for us Christians an Easter celebration. Today we move into what we call the non-festival portion of our church year and the season of Pentecost. The non-festival portion of our church year is that portion in which we do not have a lot of celebrations, as we did with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. This non-festival portion of our church year continues until Advent. So, beginning today and for the next twenty some odd Sundays we will hear the Sunday as the Sunday after Pentecost.
Today is also a secular holiday as most of you know. Just as it is fitting and as we did celebrate mothers and motherhood a few weeks ago, so today we fittingly celebrate fathers and fatherhood today. So let us acknowledge our dads and say, Happy Father’s Day to all our fathers here today and we are glad you are here.
Our text for this morning is our Old Testament reading and it reminds us that we can never truly be independent as we might think ourselves to be. While this inability to be independent is especially true in our spiritual life, it is also true in our daily life as well. We are constantly dependent on other people for many things in life. We depend on the grocery store to have a supply of food to purchase. We depend on the city to make sure we have water. We depend on the power company for gas and electricity. We depend on so many people in our world. As a nation we may be independent from the rule of any other nation and we elect our own leaders, but we must never forget that we are never independent from God. It is when we begin to forget that we are dependent on God that we begin to fall prey to other temptations, which we can see is happening in our nation today.
With our own independence and our nations independence in mind, let us look at our text and see how God related to the nation of Israel and how dependent they were on Him. Very briefly, the background of our text is that the children of Israel had just experienced the first Passover. They had witnessed the lose of the oldest child in each Egyptian family. They had been lead out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea. They saw the Egyptian army drown in the Red Sea. Now here they were at the base of the mountain, ready to receive the Lord’s commands.
Our text begins with God reminding Moses and the Israelites of all that He had done for them. We read, “3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (19:3-4). The imagery of the eagle is one which brought to mind that God is a strong, yet caring God. The eagle is the symbol of strength. It is a very strong bird, but the eagle is also a bird which cares for its young. When the mother eagle is teaching her young to fly she takes them high in the sky and lets them go, literally drops them. As they fall helplessly toward the earth the mother swoops quickly under the baby bird in order to safely catch it before it hits the ground. Here in our text God tells Moses to remind the people how much He cares for them, so much that He used His strength to carry them out of their bondage and slavery in Egypt.
In verse five He goes on to explain to Moses His plan for making His covenant with the Israelites and what is their part of the plan. We read, “5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine” (19:5). Israel’s part of God’s plan was simply to obey the commands of God. God said, if you obey me then all nations will be my treasure. God chose Israel to be a part of His plan to save the world, notice to save the world, not just Israel. Israel was to be the mediator of the knowledge of Yahweh, between He and the world. Israel was not to keep their knowledge of God from the rest of the world, they were to be God’s instruments to bring salvation to the rest of the world.
God even tells them how they are to do this, “6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (19:6). The Israelites were to be priests, set apart from the rest of the world, in order to serve the living God. They were to be set apart, wholly consecrated to do the will of God. They were to be a holy nation, different from the surrounding heathen nations. They were to be God’s examples to the world.
To all of this the people responded and answered, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8). What other response could they give. They had just been reminded of all their so recent experiences and how God so lovingly brought them out of their misery in Egypt. How could they respond with anything except that, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).
Are we any different from these people of Israel? I do not think so. Each and every Sunday we are reminded of what our Lord has just done for us, continues to do for us and will continue to do for us. Each and every day as we read our Bible and remember our baptism we are reminded of what all our Great God has done for us. We have seen what God has done for us, how He gave us our very life at our birth, even at our conception. How He gave us new life at our baptism. How He gives us forgiveness on a daily basis. How He gives us His Word and sacraments and how He comes to us through these means. How can we respond any differently from the children of Israel and say anything other than, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).
That may be what our response is immediately following our Divine service, but it changes at some point on the way home. Our response that we will do everything changes to something like, “I might do something if I am asked.” So much for our response. Our response becomes a burden. A burden especially for the person to whom you will be the twentieth person to turn down. A burden to you because you really have a great excuse as to why you cannot help with whatever it is you are being ask to consider to do.
Our response shows on whom we are depending for our physical necessities as well as for our salvation. We decide how we will respond to all the Lord has first given to us with our time, our talents, and our treasures, how much we will return to the Lord. We decide we need more of what God has given to use in service to Him while we are young, but we will decide to give God more when we get older and can afford to. So much for responding to God’s gifts. Rather than responding to God’s gifts we think we are the master’s of our fate. We think that what we have is ours. We think we are doing God a favor by offering our measly crumbs to Him.
When we are asked to volunteer, we sit back and wait to be asked personally. And when we are asked personally to do something, like teach Vacation Bible School, or Sunday School, like being on a Board or committee, we say, “no,” because we think we are supposed to do something, something we think we are not equipped to do. We forget that it is the Lord who works in and through us to teach or to work on any board of committee. We so easily forget what God has done and continues to do for us.
God’s covenant to us is the same covenant He made with the children of Israel. He has said that He will be our God and that we will be His people. We are very much in the same situation as the Israelites. We were enslaved, in bondage to sin. Sin was our master and sin still tries to keep us under its bondage. A quick run down of the ten commandments reminds us of our failures. A quick look at our response to God’s work, or rather our lack of response will also remind us of our shortcomings.
Because we are slaves to sin, God sent us a mediator. Jesus is our mediator. In much the same way that Moses spoke to God for the children of Israel, Jesus is the one who pleads our case before our Father in heaven. Jesus is also our high priest. He is the one who intercedes, prays, for us before our Father in heaven. Jesus is the ultimate mediator, the ultimate High Priest, because not only does He mediate our case, not only does He offer intercession for us, He gave the ultimate mediation, the ultimate intercession, the ultimate sacrifice of Himself for us on the cross.
God asked Israel and us to respond to His saving work by obeying His commands. In the same way that Israel could not perfectly obey God’s commands, neither can we. In the same way the Jesus came as Israel and perfectly fulfilled God’s commands, so Jesus came as you and me to perfectly obey God’s commands. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are His holy nation.
I keep telling people in private conversations, and in Bible class, we know we get it right when we point to Jesus, when we do it the way God has given it to us to do and that applies to everything in life, our response of faith of our time, talents and treasure. So to make sure we get it right I want to reread our text. (reread Ex. 19:2-8a) “2They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19).
Today, as always, we are reminded that God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives us life at conception and new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God calls us to and gives us faith and He calls us to a response of faith. Very much like Israel our initial response is “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” But then the realities of life settle in and the devil, the world and our sinful nature pull and tug us in other directions. We tend to seek our own independence thinking we are our own person. As the struggles of life close in, God continues to call out to us. He continues to loves us and care for us. As we sink in the muck and mire of this world our Lord reaches out His hand and pulls us out of our sins, washes us, clothes and robes us in His robes of righteousness. Ultimately, through the faith that He gives to us in His Son whom He gave to give His life for ours, He calls us to heaven and seats us at His banqueting table where He feeds us His eternal manna. Today, our response might best be, “All that the Lord has spoken we will fail to do, yet thanks be to God that Jesus has done it all for us and the Holy Spirit works in and through us to imperfectly do some of what His desire is for us to do.” And most certainly He stirs in us to rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.