2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.
3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You 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 obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."
7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one: "Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do."
Despite some public venues cautiously being allowed to carefully reopen, #SaferAtHome continues countywide for everyone who can rock it.
God of the desert, God of abundant provision, God who claims us in Jesus Christ as your specially treasured ones, events around the world and in this city have unsettled us; they've disrupted everything, but they've also been helping us imagining possibilities for our future. In the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, may we listen to your words, may we see our neighbors needs, may we be your presence wherever we go; in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
The church's year of grace has journeyed into a 6-month long season of green and growing Ordinary [ordered, arranged, structured, organized] Time when we count Sundays after Pentecost. Matthew's year continues, so most of our gospel readings will be from Matthew.
Pentateuch – Exodus
Today's first reading is from Exodus, one of the five books of the Pentateuch or Torah. Like "Pentecost," Pentateuch starts with the prefix Pent or five. Exodus mainly tells the story of the Israelites (Children of Israel in some versions) making their way or exodus out of slavery in Egypt, into freedom in the promised land of Canaan. In the chapter after today's reading we find the Ten Commandments or Ten Words [decalogue: deca=10 logo=word].
You also can find the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant in Deuteronomy 5:5-21.
These Are the Words
3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say…"
5"If you obey God's voice and keep God's covenant … then you shall…"
God's love always is unconditional, but God's protection and the fulfillment of God's promises usually require human obedience.
Verse 5 calls God's people a "treasured possession." The Hebrew segullah is a fun word and concept! "Treasured possession" in verse 5 of today's first reading goes beyond a simple object into the idea of a real treasure that's highly valued and monetarily or emotionally precious. Because the King James Version says "peculiar people," it's no surprise I needed to know the etymology of the adjective peculiar. I found it all over the interwebs, so no need to cite a specific site.
From mid-15th century, peculiar is from Latin peculium that literally means property in cattle originating from when cattle (pecus) or flocks were the most important form of property. Even now we sometimes say something is "peculiar to" (or particular to) to indicate belonging to a situation, item, place, or person. Later on "peculiar" started to mean distinguished, special, particular, or select—mostly in terms of wealth. Around 1600 it became unusual, odd, unique, uncommon. English has the related word pecuniary.
So when God calls people peculiar, the root of the word tells us those people are God's treasure, God's wealth, God's bounty.
7"So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him."
We've mentioned the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant are working papers for our life together. On Lent 4 2019 we discussed Covenant in Scripture if you'd like to review it—or if you weren't there.
Doing the Word
You have seen – therefore – if – then you shall
8The people all answered as one: "Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do."
As a result of liberating the people from slavery in Egypt and gracing them with presence and supply in the desert, God had convinced Israel this God was worthy of obedience, so they received the commandments as a gift of grace rather than as random untethered demands. Moses announced, "these are the words" and the people agreed, "we will do the words." In God's words spoken through Moses, [because] "you have seen" God's mighty acts of deliverance, the people knew obeying God would lead to life.
Let's update into this year 2020 and make that, "we have seen – therefore – we shall do." Because we have experienced Jesus crucified, dead, risen, and ascended, we know keeping covenant with God and with one another will lead to life for all creation.
Israel left imperial Egyptian slavery and trekked through a series of deserts on their way to the land of promise. We know life teems beneath the still appearance of the desert's surface, and ecology hasn't changed all that much, but without easily available food, water, and shelter, they needed to trust God for everything. In addition, in a desert you can't plan or plant, administer or stockpile anything.
Like Israel, when we're in a geographical desert or one of life's metaphorical deserts, we only can receive life as gift. In the desert you can't plan or plant, administer, manufacture, or stockpile. Both COVID-19 and the strong recent revival of Black Lives Matter with its call to justice for everyone everywhere qualify as uncharted desert wilderness? We need to fully trust God in these matters? Yes! It's both painful and reassuring, but trials, difficulties, and disappointments shape, form, and refine us to a far greater extent than when "stuff" happens as we planned or expected or hoped.
5"…if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples… 6you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation."
God making Israel holy meant Israel would take on God's characteristics and nature, just as (we discussed last Sunday) baptism immerses us into the characteristics and nature of the Trinity. As the scriptures tell us, as Jesus showed us, God's nature includes passion for justice and mercy, care for the stranger and the marginalized—and love of a party with good drinks and tasty eats!
God called Israel to represent God by caring for each other and for strangers, foreigners, sojourners (literally resident aliens!), widows, orphans, all who don't have legal or social protections and may already have fallen through the cracks. Lacking legal protections and falling through the cracks? Wouldn't that include the environment? In the same way God called Israel, God calls us to represent Jesus everywhere we go. The Old Testament outlines God's Ten Commandments as Words of Life for living in covenant with God and with one another; the New Testament gives us Jesus' capsule version to love "God, self, and neighbor."
Doing the Word – Where We Live
The baptismal hymn in 1 Peter 2:9 we recently heard on Easter 5 closely parallels this OT passage and describes us in the church as chosen, royal, holy, God's own people. "Holy" means sanctified like God; it also means being set apart for a particular purpose. Doubtless the writer of 1 Peter knew the Hebrew scriptures well, so probably composed this as a riff on our Exodus passage.
The past few months have torn open expectations of every kind of stability: economic, social, religious, etc. Even essential workers who've regularly left their homes for work have more unscheduled time, more time to consider what now. What's next.
The people Moses helped get out of Egypt announced they'd do God's word in the world. God calls us to speak out and act out words of life wherever we are, wherever we go. How do we bring God to life for people we encounter?
What's now for us? When we get back to the church campus, we'll have a lot of discussion about the direction of our existing ministries and about new possibilities. For example, will we revive and continue CERT training?
I don't have any suggestions or questions this week. How about you?