The title that Pastor Leanne assigned to today’s service is “Mountains and Belongings.” It might be a bit tricky for me to weave that into a meaningful sermon, but I’ll try. That’s not the only thing that’s problematic for me in today’s reading, but I’ll get to that later.Right now, let me set the stage for you. We are beginning a series of reflections on the Ten Commandments—minus Charlton Heston, the Red Sea, and the Hollywood special effects, though I suspect Pastor Leanne might include a Tik-Tok clip or two. Today’s reading does not even mention the Ten Commandments, though the next line following today’s reading says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We’ll have to await Pastor Leanne’s return to hear specifics on that and on the other nine.
My knowledge of geography, especially ancient geography, is sorely lacking, so it’s a bit hard for me to envision the journey of the Israelites, following their liberation from the Pharaoh in Egypt. (I didn’t even know what direction it was from Egypt to Mount Sinai—though I’ve now consulted a map and confess that I was totally wrong in my made-up, internal map!) But the text tells us that they wandered for three months—that is, “following three new moons”—facing no food or water and fighting the Amalek along the way. (pause) The battle with the Amalek at Rephidim was the one where the Israelites won only when Moses held the staff of God above his head, and so when he grew weary, two of his companions—his brother Aaron and a man named Hur—each held one of Moses’ arms above him. There is a lesson here for us on the critical importance of supporting one another and working together for the good of all. But I digress. . . .
So, Moses and the Israelites camp at Mount Sinai, and God calls Moses up the mountain and reminds him of the way God has saved them. The key word here, for me at least, is the word covenant in this declaration, “Now 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, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (pause) God is inviting God’s people into a covenant—into a holy and lasting relationship, a relationship that begins with God reaching out to us. That reality reminds me of “The Hound of Heaven,” the story where God will never stop pursuing us. That is the Good News. But what is critical, of course, is our response.
Let’s look first at what God is not saying to Moses. For me, the problem is that it’s easy to see the text exalting the Israelites above other nations. But I believe God is not offering an exclusionary relationship, nor is God sanctioning a nationalistic supremacy of the Israelites in an “us against them,” “we’re #1,” one-upmanship view of the world. I think God is not calling us to act like notoriously outraged parents at their kids’ t-ball games, thinking there is no room for any other champions than their own kids. I believe God is saying that the whole world could be a holy nation. Wouldn’t that be something, if we could all get along and live in harmony with one another and all of creation? How the heck would we do that, I ask.
That’s the point of trying to live communally in covenant with our creator. To do that, we need guidance—or at least I do. And that’s where the Ten Commandments come in—guides for how to live in community. We’ll hear a whole lot more about those in the coming weeks, but for now I’d just like to focus on the goal—being called by God into relationship and belonging.
I’m reminded of the first book I ever bought Terry, Hinds Feet on High Places. It’s the story of a young deer, a hind named Much Afraid, that is trying to climb up the mountain to find what would be God. Two companions are sent to assist her—Sorrow and Suffering—and she has delightfully named relatives, like her cousin, Craven Fear. Her story is not unlike the Israelites’ three-month journey to the Promised Land. Learning how to climb to God’s holy mountain is not without its challenges, although living in a land of milk and honey does make the rewards of the journey quite enticing.
So, God has invited us to live in covenant with God. Yes, but—how exactly do we do that? There are various tools we can use to discern if we’re on the right path. The Torah provides 613 Laws for right living. The Ten Commandments give ten. Then there’s Micah 6:8, where we’re given three instructions: “to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God.” And finally, we have the two Great Commandments given us by Jesus during His time of public ministry, i.e., to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind, and to love our neighbor as ourself. The simplicity of Jesus’ command always reminds me of the KISS admonition—KISS being an acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or “Keep It Simple, Sweetie.” Dare I mention the WWJD measuring rod?
As an aside, let me mention a card I bought at the Crystal Cathedral gift shop in California years ago. It shows Jesus looking at his WWJD bracelet, and the caption above the picture says, “Jesus in a Dilemma.” The inside of the card has Jesus saying, “What would I do?” (pause) Can you relate? I can, but I believe wanting to do God’s will, is God’s will for my life. I’m still a work in progress, as are we all.
So, all of this—the 613 Laws (which I do not know), the 10 Commandments, Micah’s three instructions, and the two Great Commandments—all point to one goal. That goal is to respond in love to God’s invitation that we live in covenant with God, knowing that we belong to God and are called to live in love and service to others. That, I believe, is what God is offering us this day—a path forward that is wide enough to include all of God’s children.
The good news is that God does not leave us to figure it all out on our own. Through Scripture, we are given suggestions on how to live in right relationship, and Jesus modeled this for us during his earthly life. We can strive to emulate Jesus in all areas of our life. We can find ways to demonstrate love and offer service in a million different ways, using the unique gifts and talents God has given each of us. Each area of our life challenges us to respond in love and service.
Perhaps we can learn to be more patient with our own family members;
- or we could serve a neighbor by cutting the lawn or offering coffee;
- or we could serve our church by writing to the shut-ins, signing up to host a coffee hour, or learning to help with the music ministry or video streaming system;
- or we could volunteer to spend time with shelter animals at HAWS or continue to support Family Promise, the Oconomowoc Free Clinic, or the area food pantries;
- or we could volunteer at the library or at one of the local hospitals—which leads me to ask if you think I’m too old to be a candy-striper. Never mind answering that!
- or we could find ways to get involved in larger societal issues like prison reform, mental health and AODA services, or Afghan and Ukrainian resettlement efforts;
- or we could be a better team member at work—whatever that means!
- or we could just be more gentle and loving with ourselves.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m dictating a long spirituality “to-do” list. There are, though, so many, many places that need our help to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. Whatever we might be called to do, let us remember the words of Mother Teresa—“Do small things with great love.” Whatever mountains we might be asked to climb, love is the way we can answer God’s invitation to live in covenant, knowing we belong to God and to each other, forever. AMEN.