Things sure have changed a lot in a short amount of time. Our secure, comfortable schedules have been displaced and torn to shreds. The rhythm of our days has become a page of staccatos without the usual flow of the masterpiece. What we have always relied on has been altered and changed. And let’s be honest, some of us handle it better than others. Some are angry at everything…waiting anxiously to lash out at anything that shows up. Some of us appear a bit lost…wandering around aimlessly trying to find a sense of direction. And some of us are simply trying to adjust to the new rhythm, trying to find a new sense of normalcy in a chaotic piece of art. It is scary and enlightning all at the same time. Every time we think we have this new rhythm down pat, the whole piece changes and we are required to re-adjust. And some of us are not great at the re-adjustment. Our world is different and we are not okay with it. So we might blame anyone we can and yell at anyone who will listen. We may even find ourselves lost in the mess of it all.
This isn’t the first time the world has changed in the blink of an eye. It has been happening since the beginning. There have been uproars and wars. There have been times of peace and contentment. There have been times when things are going well and all seems to be in place. And there are times when many worried there would never be peace again. This isn’t the first time.
I have been thinking about the Israelites in all of this. What we are encountering is nothing compared to their struggles. They were slaves in a land that was not their own. God sees and hears them. But that meant they had to leave their homes in the middle of the night and run…and keep running. They kept running until they reached…the wilderness. That’s right…not the Promised Land they would have liked to have seen. They reached wilderness – vast dryness and nothingness. They were there with no food, no water and little supplies. They reached the end of their lives. And in their honesty, they found a longing for their days in captivity…at least they knew what was expected there. Here, everything was unexpected and variable. They didn’t know about their next meal. They didn’t know what they would do or where they would go. They didn’t understand that God was working to rescue them. All they knew was this place wasn’t what they thought and they just wanted to go back. Only…they couldn’t. They had come too far now. And they were scared.
What did God do to help them in their fears? What did he do to show them that this was not the end? He provided for them. They were given food and water. They had tents for shelter. Their basic needs were cared for. They were not left alone. God saw them. He heard them. He was in the process of providing rescue. Along with providing for them, he gave them a visible sign of his presence. God let them know that he was with them always. There was a cloud…there was fire…God was there. They only had to look around them to see that he had not left them.
And then God gave them a new rhythm. He gave them something to hold onto. He gave them something that they could grasp and know he was in this. It wasn’t what they expected, I am sure. It wouldn’t be what we would expect either. But it was God’s response to their human need. He got that they needed direction and guidance. He provided the 10 commandments.
Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss what I am going to say…stay with me. We have come to view the 10 commandments as an archaic set of rules that should be made into statues or monuments, but not so much followed. We have viewed them as a list of do nots and a way for punishment. They are not often seen as God’s answer to the needs of his people. He gives them these commandments as a guide to help them in their dismay. They have lost their way. They do not know which way to turn. They are looking for stable ground. When wilderness is all you see, you need direction. And this was his answer for his people in their time of great need. It was not for their harm or a way to keep them under control. This was a gift of protection and love. This was a reminder that in their great distress, God had not left them. These words were meant to help them when they didn’t know what else to do.
So if we read them in a different light, we might hear something different.
We have the commandments recorded in Exodus 20. I want to focus only on the first few of the commandments this morning because it is the basis for the rest. If you get these, the remainder seems to fall into place. And it seems to me that the first is the first for a really good reason. I do encourage you to go back and read the remainder. They all have something powerful to teach us.
20 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You 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. 5 You 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I hear…God brought you here and he hasn’t left you. I hear that God has brought us here and God has not left us. This may not be a place we would have picked but this is not the end. We may only see wilderness, but this is not the end. God is God and we are not. And he expects and commands us to keep him first. To keep him first in all things is the guide. There should not be competition between God and other things in our lives. God is first and stays that way. When we are lost, he is our grounding. When we are scared, he is our security. When we feel empty, he takes care of our needs. His presence is with us…just look around. While our world is changing, God is not. He is with us.
If God is with us, whom do we fear? Why are we so angry if God is our guide? Why are so filled with rage if the God of love is our salvation? Why do we hold so tight to our things on this earth if our treasures are not here anyway? Why do we fight to have things our way if what we really want is God’s way?
We are told that God did not give us a spirit of fear…but instead a spirit of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We are given a spirit of love. That doesn’t leave room for our selfishness. It doesn’t leave room for our desire to have things our way. It does give us reason to look at things quite differently. What would it all look like if we lived in love? How might it look differently if we found our solid foundation in the commandments to guide us? We might just find that we are wrong on some things. We might find some of our fears are not justified. We might see that those fighting for justice are onto something. We might realize that God is working and it is a matter of opening our hearts and minds. We might find a different rhythm and it might be freeing. It may be a masterpiece God is preparing. Can you feel it?
May we find grounding in the commandments…and may they be the guide for our lives in times like these.