Sermon for March 4, 2018: “Covenant: The Because/Therefore Life”

God does expect us to honor these commandments.
And try our best to live them out in our lives.
Even when we will fall short, and sin, that does not mean we stop.
I mentioned the importance of Confession and Forgiveness in our worship service.
And I want you to think of the Confession as the moment we fail.
Where we go against God’s law.
But then comes the Forgiveness: the “Let’s do it again.”

Exodus 20: 1-17

A few years back, I was playing golf with two of my best friends: Scott and Dennis.
Scott is a good golfer.
Dennis and me? Not so much. But we have fun.
During the round, Dennis and I joked about all the golf shots we wanted to hit but had no chance of hitting.
” 300 yard drives.
” Sand shot
” A 3 foot putt.
And I told him how many of my friends will say,
“Lord, if you just let me hit this one shot, then I will…”
Maybe some of you have been there.
Well Dennis said he refuses to pray like that.
I asked him why
And he said, “I don’t think I can live up to the THEN part.”

He had a point.
I mean, doesn’t that sound like the way we Christians view our relationship with God?
“IF God does this, THEN we will do that…”
Where does this idea of IF/THEN come from?
Many people will point to our first lesson from Exodus.
The Ten Commandments.

The last few weeks I have been talking about Covenants:
How God makes these covenants (God is the main player)
How God keeps his part of the covenants (in spite of the sins and failures of people like Noah, Abraham, Sarah)
This week our covenant is the Ten Commandments.
Many Christians see this Covenant, these commandments, as IF/THEN statements.
“If I love God, Then God will love me.”
“If I love my mother, father, neighbor, Then God will love me.”

But here is the fault in that type of thinking.
It means our relationship with God hinges on a condition.
And it hinges on what WE do.

So this morning I will show you another way to look at these commandments,
And help you say goodbye to the “If-Then’s”

First, the ten commandments are law.
No doubt about it.
But for centuries, Christians have looked at these commandments
as if they were given by God out of spite and anger.

Like God was saying, “Ok, y’all. (Yes he said, Y’all, I have had it with you! Here are the rules! If you don’t follow we are driving all the way back to Egypt!”

But when you really read the covenants that God give us,
Especially the ones that have been in our lessons these past few weeks,
Then you realize that God never gives a covenant out of anger.
God gives out of his love and grace for us.
The covenant with Noah:
God was going to start over, but God loved Noah, found favor in Noah, that God included Noah in the new beginning.
That was a gift of love and life.
The covenant with Abraham and Sarah:
Abraham and Sarah were not perfect people.
They disobeyed God,
They doubted God’s vision,
But God did not give up on them.
He instead gave them what they always wanted: a son.
And a covenant to bring life to all nations.
And then we have the story of Moses and the Israelites.
The first 19 chapters of Exodus tell the story of Moses and the Israelites’ escape from Egypt.
We have deep and powerful stories of:
” The burning bush
” The ten plagues
” The crossing of the Red Sea
Once the Israelites cross the Sea, and Pharaoh’s army is destroyed, the people are safe.
But then comes the big question:
What happens now?
These people who were once slaves are now free.
How will they live in this freedom and in this new land?
What is going to happen to them?
So God gives them a map.
A guide as to how they not only can live in the freedom,
But flourish in it.
This map is the 10 Commandments.
Ten rules.
Ten laws.

Whenever you give or get a gift, what do you write on the label?
To: and From:
Well, our story opens with God’s “TO:” statement.
“I am the Lord, YOUR God, who rescued you.
Who brought you out of captivity into freedom
Out of the wilderness into the Promised Land
Out of death into life.”

God makes it clear who has done the saving.
God makes clear that God has been with the people throughout the whole ordeal.
And the Commandments help form the Israelite’s vocation.
God did not intend for the people just to escape but to live as well.
And to do that, he says “Here is How You Will Live From Now On.”
And that is what God says to us this morning.
“Here, right here, is hoew Y’all will live from now on.”
We (just like the Israelites) are to put God before everything.
The first three commandments are all about focusing on God.
What God has done, and what God gives.
God gives us:
” His name,
” his Sabbath,
” and his devotion.
And then the commandments make a shift.
But not the one you might expect.
Commandments 4-10 do not focus on the self.
They focus on the neighbor.
Starting with honoring our father and mother and ending with the neighbor’s spouse and property.
Now I could go on about the beauty of each commandment.
But today I want to focus on how God uses covenant to make a relationship with us.
How God associates with us.
And I want to remind you that there is no If/Then with God.
God never asks us IF his gift of covenant was okay with us.
God just does it.
God does expect us to honor these commandments.
And try our best to live them out in our lives.
Even when we will fall short, and sin, that does not mean we stop.
I mentioned the importance of Confession and Forgiveness in our worship service.
And I want you to think of the Confession as the moment we fail.
Where we go against God’s law.
But then comes the Forgiveness: the “Let’s do it again.”

It is like people who admit to me they have already broken their Lenten discipline.
Or my friends at the gym who get angry because they fell off the diet they are on.
I tell them, get back up, and start over.
Just don’t quit.
And when you fall,
there is God ready to lift you up and say, “Let’s do this again.”

But that is very hard for many of us Christians to do.
I believe it is because we suffer from The If Then’s.
We have seen these commandments as Conditional and not Eternal.
You know what that does to one’s faith?
It’s not good.
First off, when we live by the IF/THEN rule, it makes it all about us.
I failed.
I sinned.
I am never going to get it right.
There is no way God will forgive ME.
And I say,
” Well if God can make a covenant with Noah, who verses later gets drunk and tells one of his sons to leave for good
” If God can make a covenant with Abraham and Sarah after Abraham has a child with a slave, and it was Sarah’s plan, and when Abrahm lies about his relationship with Sarah to save his own skin, when they doubted God’s love,
” And if God can call a man who actually kills an Egyptian guard,
Then I am going to go out on a limb and say God will forgive you.

Second, when we live an IF/THEN life:
We never look at God as a loving and understanding God.
We make God distant and mean
and very thin-skinned.
It also makes God indecisive.
Like God is taking a flower petal and saying, “I love him. I love him not. I love her. I love her not.”
And that is not right.
God never questions His love for us.

So today I want to introduce you to a new way,
A different way,
And a biblical way to look at God’s Ten Commandment,
At God’s covenant:
Say goodbye to the IF THEN’s…
BECAUSE God has rescued us, THEREFORE we live like this…
By doing that we take all the pressure AND the attention away from us
And put it back on God
Look at what God says to Moses:
“I did this for Moses.”
“I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
“That was me.”
“No one else.”

That is why that first commandment is so important:
Martin Luther says the call is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
This commandment is the grounding for all other commandments,
which draw out what loyalty to God entails in various aspects of the relationship

Another reason to get on the BECAUSE/THEREFORE bandwagon:
It also helps us make God’s love present and active AND future.

Are you familiar with WWJD?
What Would Jesus Do?
There was a writer in a Lenten devotional who wanted to change WWJD to WIJD
From What Would Jesus Do
What IS Jesus DOING!
What Jesus is doing in our lives right at this moment.

Think and reflect on how Jesus is in YOUR life right now.
Look around you, look at your loved ones, your friends, your job, your pets, your car, your possessions, your neighbors,
God is working around you.
BECAUSE He loves

When we live a BECAUSE THEREFORE Faith
” We live with a feeling of
” Relief: (God did the saving)
” Release (God did the saving because He loves us)
” Repentance (Wow! God did that for me? How can I NOT change for the better?)
And finally BECAUSE/THEREFORE helps us think of our neighbor.
Because God love me, because God did what He did for me,
THEN I am going to give that same love to someone else.
How you think about God will deeply affect how you think about and act toward your neighbor.
Instead of showing fear or anger at someone,
Show them grace
Because God did it for you,
And continues to do it for you.
For all of us.

Take time.
But it’s an incredible life!

You know why?
It takes the conditional

And returns it to the Unconditional.
The unconditional love and grace of God.